This was the scene when Camden Yards opened at 11:30am:
No batting practice.
But that was to be expected.
Not only was it unbearably hot and humid, but the Angels and Orioles had played the night before. I figured there wouldn’t be BP, and I nearly skipped this game as a result.
That said, my day still got off to a pretty good start. When the Angels first came out and began stretching, bullpen catcher Tom Gregorio spotted me in the front row and tossed me a ball. Just like that. I didn’t even have to ask for it. Then, 15 minutes later, I got two more toss-ups from Scott Downs and Jordan Walden. I was deeper in the seats for these two baseballs — in the 10th row for Downs and all the way back in the cross-aisle for Walden — because there was a bit of competition. Mateo Fischer, Garrett Meyer, and Flava Dave were also there and trying to get the players’ attention. I had moved way back, hoping that the players would opt for the longer throws to me rather than the easier tosses to my buddies down in front. And it worked. (Don’t feel bad for these guys because they ended up snagging a few balls too.)
Half an hour later, I got my 4th ball of the day from Jake Arrieta behind the 1st base dugout. Nothing fancy there (other than the fact that he threw it left-handed). He’d been playing catch in shallow right field, and when he started walking back toward the dugout with the ball, I cut through the seats and asked him for it. Then I found my people and grabbed a seat with them in the shade:
In the photo above, you’re looking at:
1) Garrett Meyer (my post-game accomplice on 6/18/09 at Kauffman Stadium)
2) Ben Weil (who arrived late…just because)
3) Jona (who also arrived late…because she *had* to go to Whole Foods)
4) Flava Dave (whose last name remains a mystery)
5) Mateo Fischer (a Watch With Zack client on 7/27/10 at Citi Field)
For more than half an hour, there wasn’t any action on the field, so we all just sat there. And waited. And talked. And ate the free ice that the Orioles were kind enough to provide. Check out the following photo of one of the “ice stations.” This one was set up in the field-level concourse behind home plate:
Camden Yards is the best. That’s really all there is to it.
Shortly before game time, I wandered out near the bullpens…
…and got a very unexpected ball from Orioles pitching coach Rick Adair. There were other fans in front of me, and I didn’t have time to take off my Angels shirt, so I didn’t bother asking for it. I just stood there and watched, and for some reason, he looked at me and held my gaze for a moment. I responded by holding up my glove, and he lobbed me the ball. Very strange.
I’d given away eight balls over the previous two games and was planning to give more away at this one, but I decided to wait a bit. Instead of handing out balls so early in the day, I wanted to wait until the game was over. Just because.
You know what else had happened at the previous two games? I’d snagged two foul balls — one each day — and I’m not talking about BP. I’m talking about the game itself. My goal, as I mentioned on Twitter, was to make it three in a row, but when the game was about to start and I saw how empty the left field seats were, I decided to go for home runs instead. But not just any home run. I specifically wanted to catch one hit by Angels mega-prospect Mike Trout. He’d just been called up two weeks earlier and had yet to go deep in the Major Leagues.
This was my view at the start of the game:
Did I mention that it was hot? Officially, it was 99 degrees at game time, but with the sun beating down on me and sizzling my dark green plastic seat, it felt like 199 degrees. Of course, that was a good thing (skin cancer excluded) because it kept a lot of folks away. Look how empty it was on my left:
Most of the fans were sitting in the first six rows; I could’ve sat anywhere but chose to stay farther back because (a) it doesn’t exactly take a bomb to reach the left field seats in Baltimore and (b) I had much more room to run.
My friends were scattered throughout the stadium. Mateo was hanging out in the right field Flag Court, Ben was wandering in search of food, and Dave and Garrett were also in left field. As for Jona, she was sitting 50 feet behind me under the overhang of the second deck. Here’s a photo that she took from that spot.
In the photo above, that’s me facing the camera, hands on hips, red Angels shirt on head. I didn’t care how stupid I looked. Despite all the sunblock I’d been rubbing into my skin, it felt like I was being cooked, so whatever. Comfort over beauty, right?
Halfway through the game, Ben came out and found me, and once again, he was rockin’ the Troy Glaus Turn Ahead The Clock jersey:
Ben wasn’t in left field to compete with me for home runs. He was just there to hang out.
As the innings rolled by, one of the many topics that we discussed was Mike Trout. I told Ben that if I were to catch his first major league homer, I’d take him with me when I went to give it back. There was never any doubt that I’d give it back. I wasn’t there to cash in. I just wanted to be a part of baseball history — to add “Mike Trout’s 1st major league homer” to my ballhawking résumé — and I really felt like I had a great chance. As I mentioned before, there were lots of empty seats all around me. All he had to do was HIT it.
Unfortunately, the opportunities were dwindling, and when Trout stepped to the plate with one out in the top of the 8th, I remember thinking, “This sucks. He basically has to hit a home run right row or else I’ll never have a chance to catch it. This is probably going to be his last at-bat, and then the Angels are traveling somewhere else.”
Ben wasn’t in his seat when the at-bat began. Having signed up as a “designated driver,” he was on his way back with two free Cokes. Meanwhile, I moved four rows back. I’d been doing that on and off throughout the game for the more powerful righties: Mark Reynolds, Derrek Lee, Mark Trumbo, and of course Mike Trout. I’d seen all these guys mashing tape-measure home runs during BP and thought that moving back a bit might help.
After Orioles reliever Mark Worrell had already thrown a couple of pitches to Trout, Ben made it back to the seats and offered me a soda. I declined and said sarcastically, “I can see how much YOU want to catch this ball.”
“Well, his at-bat is still happening!” he said.
Ben told me later that when the count went to 3-1, he made a comment about how Trout was going to do it. I don’t remember that, but that’s not to say that Ben is a liar. All I remember is this:
Trout BLASTED a deep drive on the next pitch, and the first thing I thought was, “Ohmygod, here it comes.”
I knew right away that it was going to be a home run and that it was going to land pretty close to my row, but regardless of the distance, the first thing I had to do was get in line with it, so I jumped out of my seat and bolted 20 feet to my left. By the time the ball reached its apex — only 83 feet high according to Hit Tracker — I determined that it was going to sail a bit too far over my row. For a split second, I was sure that I wasn’t going to be able to reach it, so I thought about turning around to play the ricochet. But hell, I still had another second or two to work with, so I proceeded through my empty row, and at the last second, I was able to jump/lunge to my glove side and catch the ball high above my head — or at least I thought that’s what happened. It wasn’t until I got back to my hotel later that evening and watched the highlight on MLB.com that I realized that I’d climbed back over a row while the ball was in mid-air. Check out the following screen shot. I’m inside red circle, and if you look closely, you can see that one of my legs is up:
Evidently, my instincts had taken over. I didn’t think about climbing one row back. I just did it. It was something I’d done countless times during BP, and I was proud of myself (and shocked) when I discovered that I’d done it here, when it really mattered.
Here’s a screen shot of me catching the ball:
Here’s another screen shot of the catch. Check out my extension…
…and check out that humongous wet spot on my crotch. That’s sweat, okay? I swear!
Here’s a screen shot that shows me reacting after the catch:
Jona had already grabbed her camera by that point, and she took a photo moments later:
She had no idea that it was an extra-special home run until this happened:
As you can see, an usher, security supervisor, and police officer descended upon my section within 30 seconds. By that point, I had been called over to the Angels’ bullpen by one of the players. (I think it was Bobby Cassevah.) He told me that it was Mike Trout’s first home run, and then he asked for it. I told him that I was aware of the significance of the ball and that I wanted to give it back to Trout myself.
Moments later, the head of stadium operations arrived. He’s the guy wearing sunglasses in the following photo:
In the photo above, that’s Garrett in the red shirt on the far left. Ben is bending down just behind the head of stadium operations, wearing a blue backpack. I’m also in there between the stadium operations guy and the cop.
I was pretty damn happy…
…not to mention excited as hell:
People ask me all the time, “What’s the best ball you’ve ever caught?” and for several years, I’ve had two answers:
1) the last Mets home run ever hit at Shea Stadium
2) Barry Bonds’ 724th career home run
I knew right away that the Mike Trout ball would ultimately end up becoming one of my answers, and hey, speaking of Bonds, this is kind of freaky…
A friend pointed out to me that Trout was born on August 7th — the day that Bonds hit his 756th career home run to become the all-time leader — and that Trout hit his first career homer on July 24th — Bonds’ birthday. And there’s more. Bonds’ birthday is 7/24, and I caught his 724th career homer. (Cue the Twilight Zone music.)
Anyway, when the head of stadium operations asked me what I wanted for the ball, I told him that I wanted to give it back to Trout myself so I could shake his hand.
“Well, this is a getaway day,” he said, “so I can’t guarantee that.” He then explained that the timing was going to be difficult because the Angels were going to be in a rush to leave.
Although I didn’t say this to him, I didn’t care how big of a rush the team was in. Quite simply, if I wasn’t going to be allowed to personally hand the ball back to Mike Trout, then I was going to keep it. That’s the only thing I wanted — just a chance to meet him and say hello and be connected to this special moment — and I didn’t think it was too much to ask.
Meanwhile, I was getting mobbed by fans:
Many of these folks said they were friends or relatives of Mike Trout, so of course they were all concerned about what I was planning to do with the ball, and how much I was going to ask for in exchange.
A few minutes later, the head of stadium operations told me that he’d take me down to the Angels’ clubhouse after the game.
I told him that I wanted to bring a few people with me and identified Jona as one of them. Here I am pointing her out:
I was told that I could only bring one person with me.
That really bothered me, and I was tempted to play hardball, so to speak. I thought about demanding to bring my whole crew and threatening to leave with the ball. I’m sure that the Orioles and Angels would’ve caved in and allowed me to bring anyone I wanted if that’s what it was going to take, but I didn’t want to be difficult. I didn’t want to taint the situation with negativity, and I kept thinking about how great I’d been treated over the years at Camden Yards. It really is one of the most laid-back, fan-friendly places in the Major Leagues — that’s why I drive down there so often from New York — so I wanted to return the favor and just go with the flow. Also, this wasn’t about me. It was about Mike Trout. I was just glad to be a part of his big moment. I wanted him to get the ball back, and I wanted the situation to proceed as smoothly as possible.
In the bottom of the 8th inning, his parents (Jeff and Debbie) and brother (Tyler) made their way out to the left field seats. Here I am in the tunnel with them:
In the photo above, that’s Jeff in the red Angels cap and Tyler wearing sunglasses.
I had actually met Mike Trout’s mother two days earlier. During that game, I’d been standing in the cross-aisle when I saw a woman walking toward me with a snazzy “Hooked on Trout” t-shirt. I stopped her and asked where she got it. She then told me that she was Mike Trout’s mother. When I reminded her of this story after catching the home run, she remembered me. That helped establish a friendly rapport, and I think it make her feel a bit more relaxed. I got the sense, though, that the whole family was really cool, so even if I hadn’t had that chance encounter with her two days earlier, it wouldn’t have made much of a difference.
I posed for a bunch of photos with the Trout family. Here’s one of us from above/behind:
Little did I know that the Angels’ TV broadcast was showing the whole thing in between pitches. Here’s a screen shot…
…and here’s another regular photo of me with Mike Trout’s parents:
See what I mean? Friendly.
When I told them that I was going to give the ball back to their son, Debbie asked if she could take it for him. I then explained that I wanted to hold onto it a bit longer and give it back to him myself. She understood my desire, and I really appreciated that she let me do that. Of course, it was still technically MY ball, so I was free to do anything with it that I wanted, but I still wanted to make sure that she was cool with my plan. She thanked me for being generous and asked if there was anything that they could do for me — anything that I wanted.
I really wasn’t planning to ask for anything, but when she offered, I decided to present an idea that I’d had for years.
“I don’t know if this is too much to ask,” I began, “but I’ve never gotten a jersey. Do you think I could possibly get one that belongs to your son? Maybe an actual game-worn jersey?”
“That’s not too much to ask,” she said. “I don’t know about a game-worn jersey, but I think that’s doable. I’ll talk to Mike to see if he has any extras, and when you meet him, give him your contact info.”
I told her that if I couldn’t have a jersey, it was no big deal and that I was still going to give the ball to him regardless — and that’s pretty much how we left it.
Once the Trout family was gone, the security supervisor told me to go back to my seat:
I’d been laughing it up and posing for photos and soaking in every moment of the situation, but he and the head of stadium operations were all business. Their job was to make sure that I didn’t disappear with the ball or pull a little switcheroo. Of course, right after I’d caught the ball, I was the first person to suggest having it authenticated, but apparently that didn’t matter now, and they watched me like hawks. In the following photo of the ball, you can see them standing in the tunnel in the background:
Just before the game ended, a random fan asked me if I wanted to sell the ball.
“No thanks,” I said. “I already told stadium security and Mike Trout’s parents that I’m going to give it back.”
The guy just kinda shrugged, so I explained that I’ve never sold a ball in my life and that I didn’t want to start now. I told him that if I were able to get “life-changing money” for a ball, then I’d probably sell it, but that wasn’t the case with the one I’d just caught. I did think about the fact that if I held onto the ball and Trout were to end up in the Hall of Fame, I could potentially have a piece of memorabilia that would be worth six figures. Think about how much Albert Pujols’s first major league homer would be worth today. Or A-Rod’s first homer. I know those guys are two of the biggest starts in baseball, but if Trout lives up to all the hype, there’s no telling how great he’ll be. But whatever. I wasn’t going to deny him the ball based on a 25-year investment that might not even pan out. I mean, it’s fun to think about money, but ultimately it’s not what motivates me to go to games and catch all these baseballs. That said, I asked the guy how much he’d give me for the ball, you know, just for fun.
“Three hundred to five hundred dollars,” he said, “but I’d need to go to an ATM. I’ll do it right now if you want to sell it.”
Again, just to be clear, I had *no* intention of selling the ball. I was just rolling with the conversation for the hell of it. I asked the guy what he’d do with the ball if I sold it to him. He said he’d keep it. And that was the end of it.
Finally, when the Angels put the finishing touches on their 9-3 victory, it was time to head down to the clubhouse. As for who I got to bring, Jona had told Ben that he could go with me; the only requirement was that he had to use her camera to take a ton of photos.
Here I am holding the ball and waving to Jona as we headed off:
Here I am being led through the concourse. I might look all serious and mean in this photo…
…but this is how I really felt:
I was taken to the main entrance/lobby behind home plate.
Who was there at the security desk?
Mike Trout’s parents:
In the photo above, the woman wearing sunglasses is Mike Trout’s girlfriend Jessica, and evidently, while waiting to be taken downstairs to the clubhouse, I made her laugh:
I have no idea what I was talking about, but it looks like we were all having fun. And by the way, that’s Mike’s brother Tyler in the red shirt.
After the Trout family headed downstairs to a waiting room, I did my own waiting in the lobby. In the photo below, Garrett is wearing the red shirt without a cap, Mateo is wearing a red shirt with a cap, Avi Miller is wearing orange, and Jona is sitting next to me:
Finally, the head of stadium operations led me out of the lobby and into the concourse. Then he pulled out of a set of keys and opened this unmarked door:
The door led to a staircase, and I headed down it:
In the photo above, the woman that you see is named Amanda. She works in P.R. for the Orioles.
At the bottom of the stairs, we exited another door and ended up here:
And then here:
And finally here:
(There’s always time to be a clown.)
After standing outside the Visitor Clubhouse for a few minutes, the moment finally arrived. Mike Trout walked out dressed in black slacks and a fancy blue shirt, and he immediately bent down to sign a baseball:
“That’s funny,” I thought, “I wonder who that’s for.”
I thought he was going to send the signed ball to one of his friends or family members in the waiting room — or maybe it was going to be the consolation prize for the fan who’d been closest to me in the left field seats?
Trout then came over and shook my hand…
…and I realized then that the signed ball was for me. His mother obviously hadn’t gotten a chance to talk to him and tell him about my request for a jersey, so this was all I got. Here we are exchanging the baseballs…
…and here’s a close-up of his autograph:
I thought about mentioning the jersey to him, but once again, I didn’t want to taint the situation by asking for anything. I didn’t even want to ask him to personalize the autograph by adding my name to it, although that would’ve been really cool. (“For Zack, nice catch! Mike Trout.”) Also, I’d already given one of my contact cards to his mother, so if the jersey was meant to be, then I figured I’d end up hearing from her, and if not, no big deal. I was really hoping that Trout would walk out of the clubhouse with a jersey and hand it to me, or better yet, walk out wearing a jersey (on top of an undershirt) and take it off for me, so once that didn’t happen, I kinda put the whole thing out of my mind. I mean, I didn’t just want *a* jersey. I wanted a jersey *from* Mike Trout, you know?
I don’t mean to complain. I’m thrilled with how the whole thing turned out. If I really wanted a jersey, I would’ve insisted on getting one. More than anything, though, I just wanted to be chill about the whole thing and see how everyone handled it and just be a part of it. That’s what I did after catching Mike Nickeas’s first (and so far only) major league home run on 4/21/11 at Citi Field. I didn’t ask for anything in return — just a handshake — and it was interesting to see how that situation played out.
Trout and I posed for a photo outside the clubhouse:
In the photo above, he’s holding his home run ball, and I’m holding the one that he’d signed for me.
Now that I think about it, I did make one final request to him: I asked him to remember me. I told him that I attend lots of games and that in the future, it would be cool for him to come over and say hey if I call out to him from the stands.
He said he’d definitely remember me.
Then we headed into the waiting room…
…where he hugged his father…
…and his mother:
Witnessing that was better than getting a jersey.
In a situation like this, I’d much rather experience something great than own something great, so in that sense…mission accomplished.
Here I am with the Trout family:
From left to right in the photo above, you’re looking at:
2) Mike’s father Jeff
3) Mike Trout himself
4) Mike’s mother Debbie
5) Mike’s brother Tyler
6) Mike’s girlfriend Jessica
Back upstairs in the lobby, Mike greeted some friends and relatives and signed a few autographs:
(Do I get to call him “Mike”? I think I earned the right to be on a first-name basis with him.)
After everyone cleared out of the lobby, I got a final photo with my crew:
I should explain why I was wearing an Angels cap during the game. Most of you probably know that I don’t have a favorite team and that I normally wear a cap of the home team during games. It’s easier to fit in that way; my intention is not to piss off the locals. But the fact is that I’ve liked the Angels ever since I worked for the Boise Hawks — one of their (former) minor league affiliates — in 1995. That was THE best summer of my life, and it was capped off by receiving this championship ring. How could I not like Angels? But that’s not the reason why I was wearing the cap on this fine day. It might be hard to believe, but I was wearing it in case I caught Mike Trout’s first major league homer — you know, so I’d be dressed for the occasion. I thought it’d look better on TV if his first home run was caught by an Angels fan, or perhaps I should say someone who appeared to be an Angels fan. Of course, I would’ve been celebrating regardless, but it might not have made quite as much sense to the public.
As I mentioned earlier in this entry, I intended to give some of my baseballs away after the game, but I was so distracted by all the home run hoopla that I flat-out forgot. I’ll give away an extra ball or two next game to make up for it. And no, I’m not going to count the ball in my stats that Mike gave me outside the clubhouse. I could make a case for counting it, but it just doesn’t feel right. I mean, it’s an outstanding memento, and I’m really glad to have it, but I think it belongs in a separate category. Check out my stats below and then keep scrolling down to see more photos and screen shots…
• 621 balls in 76 games this season = 8.17 balls per game.
• 737 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 262 consecutive games with at least two balls
• 16 lifetime game home run balls; click here for the complete list
• 5,283 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 learn more.)
• 56 donors
• $7.12 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $42.72 raised at this game
• $4,421.52 raised this season
Of the five baseballs that I kept, one has a beautiful invisible ink stamp on it. Here’s a side-by-side comparison of the ball in regular light versus black light:
And now, let’s switch gears for a minute and talk about Twitter…
Word spread fast across the internet that I was the one who caught Mike Trout’s home run. As a result, I got a few new Twitter followers in the 24 hours that followed. Here’s a screen shot of the Twitter notifications in my email inbox:
That’s 68 new Twitter followers, and people are still finding me. (Thank you all and welcome aboard.) For months, I’ve wanted my number of followers to exceed the number of tweets that I’ve posted, and I’ve finally gotten there, 947 to 926.
As you might expect, there were lots of people who mentioned me in their tweets. I’m going to show a ton of them in a moment, but first I want to post the two that stood out the most. I was really touched by what @TylerTrout (Mike Trout’s brother) said…
…and then I saw this tweet from someone I’ve never met:
It’s not accurate to say that I didn’t get anything in return, but still, I appreciate the kind words.
Here are all the tweets. Props to @ravensfan0321 for being the first:
Hours after catching the home run, I did a 48-minute phone interview about it with a columnist from the Orange County Register named Marcia Smith. Here’s a partial screen shot of the article she wrote:
Click here if you want to read the whole thing.
Kevin Baxter from The Los Angeles Times blog also wrote a story about me. Here’s a screen shot of the first part of it…
…and here’s the link to the whole thing.
Everyone always talks about how lucky I am, and how I always seem to be in the right spot, but I don’t really think I’m all that lucky. Obviously, there was a **HUGE** amount of luck involved with catching this particular home run, but think about all the other longballs that I haven’t caught. I’ve been to 76 games this season, and although I haven’t even sat in the outfield for half of them, I’ve only snagged three home runs (four if you count Robinson Cano’s final-round blast during the Home Run Derby). No one thinks anything of it when I go to a game and don’t catch a home run; people only seem to notice when I do, so to the casual observer, yeah, I must seem like the luckiest guy ever. The reality, however, is that I try to catch EVERY ball and fail most of the time, but I try so often that I still succeed fairly regularly. That said, it all comes back to one of my favorite quotes of all time:
“Luck is the residue of design.”