8/3/11 at Tropicana Field

On weekdays, Tropicana Field opens two hours early, but fans aren’t allowed to enter the seats for the first 30 minutes. At my previous game, I spent the first half-hour here, staring aimlessly over the outfield wall in deep left-center field, but on this fine day, I found a much better spot. I was with a friend named Andy, who’s been a season ticket holder for years and knows every inch of the stadium. Just before the gates opened, I asked him if there was any spot where I could actually see the field during the first half-hour.

“Yeah,” he said, “but I don’t know if you’ll be able to get a ball.”

“Just get me there,” I replied, “and I’ll find a way.”

As soon as we got inside, Andy led me to the secret spot — up some stairs to room/balcony overlooking the Rays Tank in deep right-center — and as soon as I saw it, I knew that I was going to get a ball. Have a look for yourself below. The following photo (taken by Jona) shows me reaching up with my glove and calling out to one of the Rays players:

If you look closely at the photo above, you can see a white sheet of paper in my right hand. That was my “cheat sheet” with rosters of both teams, but I still needed Andy’s help to identify the player. It was Jake McGee, and when he looked up at me, he made a windmill motion with his left arm as if to say, “I can’t throw that far.”

“You’re in the MAJOR LEAGUES!!!” I shouted. “Come on!!! Let’s see the gun!!!”

McGee ended up giving the ball to David Price, who fired a strike right to me. Here I am with it:

As you can see, there wasn’t a whole lot of competition there for baseballs, so when McGee and Price wandered off, I got Jeremy Hellickson’s attention and got him to throw me another.

A couple other fans finally got in on the action and got Hellickson to throw another ball — but guess what happened? It fell short and landed on the netting and rolled into the Rays Tank. Here it is floating in the water:

Two other toss-ups ended up in the water and were fished out by employees. I ran downstairs and tried to get them, but got denied for two reasons:

1) The Rays Tank wasn’t yet open to the public so the doors were locked.
2) I was told that all the balls that land in the water get sent to the Florida Aquarium.

When the Blue Jays took the field, I headed back upstairs and changed my outfit accordingly. Five minutes later, I convinced Mark Teahen to throw a ball to me. Here it is flying in my direction:

The Rays Tank opened several minutes before the rest of the stadium opened, so I hurried downstairs and took a quick peek:

As you can see, people are allowed to reach into the water and touch the rays. Part of me really wanted to touch one, but the other part was scared silly. In the end, courage trumped fear, and I reached in for a quick feel (and shrieked like a little girl). It was slimy and rubbery, and I jerked my hand out of the water and washed it with soap and warm water and got the hell out of there.

My goal for the day was to snag seven more balls and reach double digits, but all the Blue Jays players in left field recognized me from the day before. As a result, the only two balls I snagged there were home runs. I climbed up on a seat in the front row for the first one (not sure who hit it) and reached way over my head and caught it in the tip of my glove. Then, ten minutes later, I moved 15 rows back and grabbed a Yunel Escobar home run ball that landed near me in an empty seat.

Jona was still hanging out at the Rays Tank, so she missed all the action. By the time she came and found me, I was getting ready to head over to right field. She decided to stay in left field — waaay back in left field so she wouldn’t get hit by a ball. Five minutes later, I took the following photo of her from across the stadium. She’s the fan inside the red circle:

As I mentioned last night on Twitter, I was filmed at this game for a segment on the local CBS news. The guy who filmed/interviewed me had another assignment that ran a bit late, so he didn’t get to Tropicana Field until 6pm. Here’s a photo of him heading toward me:

The photo above shows why it’s tough to catch home runs at this stadium. As you can see, there are only a few rows of seats between the outfield wall and the tunnels. Those rows fill up first, and the tunnels prevent you from running too far to the side, so you basically have to stand behind the tunnels. And if you’re all the way back there, most home runs will fall short.

Anyway, when Jona saw me being filmed, she hurried over to right field and took some photos. Here’s one of them:

Unfortunately, there wasn’t much to photograph. Ricky Romero threw me my 6th ball of the day, and toward the end of BP, I got a toss-up from coach Torey Lovullo.

That was it.

The guy who filmed me is named Adam Freeman. Here’s a photo of him helping me get miked up after BP:

He had set up his tripod and camera in the seats behind the dugout. Here he is asking me a question…

…and here I am on his camera’s viewfinder:

Nice place to do an interview, right? Well, stadium security had an issue with it and crashed the scene. Here’s one of the guards looking skeptically at Adam’s media credential:

Five minutes later, another guard came down to investigate:

I know that these guys were just doing their job and making sure that Adam was legit, but still, it was annoying to be interrupted mid-interview. Finally, when they granted us permission to continue, we got back into the swing of things. Here I am explaining the three most important strategies for catching baseballs in the stands:

For the record, Adam’s boss had contacted the Rays ahead of time and gotten permission to film. For some reason, though, there was a bit of miscommunication, so when he actually started filming near the dugout, security had no idea who he was.

Before the game, I got a warm-up ball tossed to me behind the dugout by Yunel Escobar. As soon as I caught it, I handed it to the fans sitting next to me, and yes, I would’ve done that even if there hadn’t been a TV camera present. I had actually tried to give away the ball that Romero threw to me in right field, but every kid I approached had either gotten a ball already or wanted to catch one on his own.

Adam was allowed to film during the first inning of the game, but he wasn’t allowed to film the game itself. He got some shots of me standing in a tunnel…

…and then had to take off. Here we are together, just before saying goodbye:

Adam told me that the segment would probably air the following day at some point between 5:00 and 6:30pm. That day is now TODAY, so if you live near Tampa or St. Petersburg, tune into WTSP Channel 10 and check it out. The segment might end up online, so hopefully I’ll be able to link to it.

For me, the best part of the game was seeing the Rays get three consecutive guys on base with bunts — and scoring two runs in the process. To hell with the four homers that were hit. Bunts are much more exciting. Here’s Robinson Chirinos laying one down for an RBI single:

I had miserable luck with foul balls. Two of them landed in my exact spot on the first base side, but they happened to land there during the few moments that I wasn’t there all night. As a result, I finished the night one ball short of my goal; I got a 3rd-out ball from Adam Lind after Johnny Damon struck out to end the 3rd inning. Damon had swung at a pitch that landed short of home plate, so Blue Jays catcher J.P. Arencibia had to throw him out at first base.

Late in the game, Jona and I moved closer to the field and sat here:

What was the big deal about that spot?

Check out the view to my left:

I was SO ready to jump over that chain and run after a foul ball, but it wasn’t meant to be. I was also ready to get kicked out of that section at any moment, but no one said a word. That’s what happens, I guess, when the attendance is only 11,803. Everyone who worked at the stadium was super-friendly. At one point during the middle innings, a security supervisor offered me a seat when he saw me standing in one of the tunnels and I explained what I was doing.

Tropicana Field might be funny looking, and I might’ve dissed it (a few times too many) in my previous entry, but it really is a fun place to watch a ballgame.

After the game (which the Rays won, 9-1), I took a photo of the dome from the parking lot:

Back at the hotel, I asked Jona if she wanted to photograph the eight baseballs that I’d kept. She asked if she had to photograph them a certain way, and I said no. I told her that she could do it however she wanted and that I’d just “go with it.” Normally, my baseball photos look like this, so she got creative. First she lined them up:

Then she stacked ’em in a corner…

…and made a smily face:

I’d told her that I was only going to post one photo of the balls, so she took four different shots to give me options. But then I decided to show them all. Here’s my favorite:

Nice work, J. That might be the cutest baseball photo that I’ve ever seen.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 9 baseballs at this game (eight pictured above because I gave one away)

• 675 balls in 81 games this season = 8.33333333 balls per game.

• 742 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 267 consecutive games with at least two balls

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

• 3 consecutive games at Tropicana Field with at least seven balls

• 5,337 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 learn more.)

• 56 donors

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

• $64.08 raised at this game

• $4,806 raised this season

13 comments

  1. Nick Badders (@nickbatters on twitter)

    Zack, you are headed to Sun Life Stadium no, correct? One more thing, if you found a jersey with just the MLB logo on the front and you could get it personalized on the back, would you? And in case you are wondering, no I haven’t found one, but I am working on it.

  2. Lindsey

    Hey Zack!
    I recently started reading your blog and you are absolutely hilarious! I love your writing style and 5,337 balls, WOW. I’m going to the Brewers/Mets game at Citi on August 20th at 4:10. Would there be BP? Also, any tips on getting autographs? My seats are in section 110 next to the Mets’ dugout.

  3. Mary

    Haha! I love the baseballs in the bed photo, Jona! And the face you’re making at the security guys, Zack!

  4. Linda

    Yes, “Baseballs in Bed” is awesome!!! Throughout the years, it can be referenced as the BIB photo! ;)

  5. David

    I have been following your blog for about 3 years now and enjoy it tremendously. I am in my forties and am a kid at heart as far as baseball is concerned. I guess that is why I love reading your blog so much. I have only been to four major league stadiums. Old Atlanta Fulton Co. Stadium, Turner Field, Camden Yards and Tropicana. I don’t believe anything could beat Camden Yards, (The Memphis ball park is the best Minor League stadium I have ever attended) however, I too feel that Tropicana gets a bad rap. People who do not enjoy the indoors there have evidently never attended a game in Atlanta in July or August. I went to two games in Tropicana a couple of years ago and enjoyed the games more than any others I have ever gone to. I would go there more often if I lived closer to Tampa than 12 hours. Thanks again for the blog. I will dread the off-season again this year until hopefully you will start again next season. God Bless!!!

  6. Matthew Hiett (@LSThrasher04)

    Hey Zack, just catching up on your entries after vacation, which included a Rays game lol. It was their 16-inning game vs. Boston on Sunday Night Baseball a few weeks back. I can’t say I have a favorable opinion of Tropicana Field. During that one game, two balls hit the catwalks and one busted a light causing a delay to pick up glass off the field. I’ll disagree with David’s comment and sweat it out in Atlanta so I don’t sit in a dungeon lol. Indoor baseball is great when executed properly like in Arizona.

    Can’t wait to see you here next month.

    -Matt H

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