Last month, I did a couple of Watch With Zack games with a 14-year-old ballhawk named Ross. Remember? Our first game was on 7/14/11 at Camden Yards, and then we went back (and took a tour of the ballpark) the following day. As I mentioned then, Ross knows his way around major league stadiums and doesn’t need help snagging baseballs; as a fellow New Yorker, he merely needed help getting to the stadium — and that’s where I came in. Same deal here. This was technically another Watch With Zack game, but once we arrived at Camden Yards, we kinda did our own thing.
Unfortunately, the weather screwed us over and wiped out batting practice at the last minute. Here I am with Ross and a bunch of Camden Yards regulars, showing how we felt about the wet conditions:
In the photo above, Matt Hersl is standing on the left, and Avi Miller is wearing the orange shirt. We were all *supposed* to be making a “thumbs-down” sign, but Tim Anderson (wearing the plaid shorts) just HAD to mess it up. The tall guy who looks like a pimp from the 1970s is Ben Huff. I’m wearing the “Willets Point/Shea Stadium” shirt. (Gotta represent!) The kid in the black Orioles shirt is named Emory — you might remember him from this photo — and Ross is standing on the far right.
As you can see in the following photo, the batting cage was set up. And it was sunny. And the grounds crew was removing the tarp from the field:
I was hoping that the players would resume taking BP once the tarp was gone, but no, that didn’t happen. In fact, nothing happened, and as a result, this turned out to be one of the slowest/deadest days I’ve ever experienced inside a major league stadium.
Ross managed to get a toss-up from one of the few White Sox players who came out to throw, and thanks to my glove trick, I managed to snag the ball pictured here:
I didn’t know it at the time, but Avi took a bunch of photos of me using the trick. Here’s the best one:
Avi later told me (and I think he was 82 percent serious) that he was going to charge me $1 for each of his photos that I used in this entry. But you know what? Rather than handing him money, I think it’d be much better for him if I link to his blog and encourage everyone to go check it out. Don’t you agree? Don’t you want to see all of Avi’s brilliant Orioles analysis? Don’t you want to read about his adventures at Camden Yards? Yes, of course you do because it’s going to save me a dollar. In fact, if Avi’s traffic increases a lot, I might actually charge HIM a dollar. That sounds fair, right? Anyway, here’s his blog. And hey, as long as I’m sharing links, here’s Avi on Twitter. (Avi, you now owe me $2. I hope it was worth it.)
After I snagged the ball with my glove trick, things went completely dead.
At Camden Yards, the indoor batting cages are located on the Orioles’ side, so when there’s no BP on the field, the visiting team’s players walk across to the 1st base dugout. That’s where I hung out for more than half an hour. Here’s a photo of A.J. Pierzynski walking toward me:
Nice farmer’s tan, pal! (Actually, I have a pretty bad one myself right now.)
Why was I hanging out in that spot? Two words: Alex Rios.
As you might recall, my 5,000th ball was a BP homer hit by Rios on 5/28/11 at Rogers Centre. (If you haven’t yet seen the YouTube video of me catching it, click here.) I really really *really* want Rios to sign it, so I brought the ball with me to Baltimore, and surprise-surprise — when Rios came out, he completely ignored me. If there were such a thing as the Ignoring Olympics, he would’ve won the gold medal. I’m currently trying to work a connection to get him to sign the ball when I’m at U.S. Cellular Field next month, but damn, it really shouldn’t be this hard. If there are two dozen fans in the entire stadium, and if one of them is decked out with the gear of your (lousy) team, and if he’s asking *very* politely for your autograph, you sign the damn autograph. I truly don’t understand why some players are so anti-fan. I’m not saying that every player should sign autographs for every fan all the time, but this was one of those times when it would’ve been easy and appropriate. Right, Alex?
Rios had ignored me on his way into the Orioles dugout, and he ignored me on his way out. It was then that I shouted, “Alex! What would it possibly take to get your autograph?! I will PAY you for it! I will do *whatever* it takes! Just tell me what to do and I’ll do it! Please!! Is there ANY chance?! It would mean SO MUCH to me!!” The stadium was basically empty, and I was shouting really loud, and he was less than 50 feet away, so I know he heard me.
Of all people, why did my 5,000th ball have to come from HIM?
Ross, meanwhile, was positioned behind two players along the left field foul line:
He didn’t get that ball because it was tossed to a very little kid.
Just when I was getting ready to head off to another section, Jeremy Guthrie made an appearance:
I waited patiently while he talked to a few other people. Then, with the usher’s permission, I moved down to the front row and shook Guthrie’s hand and thanked him for participating in The Prank. (Check out my entry from 7/23/11 at Camden Yards to read about it from my perspective.) I forget his exact response, but it was something along the lines of, “It was no big deal. Your friends did all the work.”
Shortly before game time, I got Omar Vizquel to sign my ticket:
I *really* wanted to get one more ball in order to keep a certain streak alive. This was the 747th consecutive game at which I’d snagged at least one ball, but I also had a long streak of games at which I’d snagged at least two — 271 games, to be specific, dating back to the 2007 All-Star Game. Well, after I got the Vizquel autograph, I moved over to the dugout. Alexi Ramirez was playing catch with Alejandro De Aza, and when they finished, Ramirez ended up with the ball. He walked right toward me with it. I asked him for it in Spanish. There weren’t any kids near me, or even any grown-ups who were asking for the ball. I figured this was going to be a super-easy snag, but no, Ramirez ignored me and disappeared with the ball. Ross hadn’t gotten any additional baseballs either, and with the game about to start, we each had just one. Here’s how we felt about it:
I moved all over the place during the game. For most right-handed batters, I stood here for foul balls:
For many of the lefties, I moved out to the Flag Court in right field, and Ross came with me. The arrow is pointing to him in the following photo:
Late in the game, while heading to the Flag Court, I saw something rather peculiar. In fact, for a split second, when I first saw it, I was really concerned. Have a look:
A fan in a wheelchair was tilted ALL the way back. At first, I thought he was falling, or perhaps stuck in a crazy position and unable to call for help. But then I noticed that he was perfectly calm and that his friends sitting nearby didn’t think anything of it. This guy’s chair was (evidently) made to lean far back, and for whatever reason, he was chillin’ like that.
When the 8th inning rolled around, Ross and I still had just one ball apiece. In the bottom of the frame, when Mark Reynolds came to bat with two outs, I knew what I had to do: get down to the home-plate end of the 3rd base dugout. Reynolds strikes out more than anyone, and he happened to be facing Chis Sale, a tall/lanky lefty with nasty stuff, who averages slightly more than one strikeout per inning. I just *knew* what the result of that at-bat was going to be.
Well, I did make it to the seats behind the dugout — and just in time. Moments after I took the following photo…
…Reynolds got fooled by a curveball and watched it sail past him for a called third strike. I bolted down the steps, and when A.J. Pierzynski brought the ball back to the dugout, I got him to toss it to me. It was too easy, and yet it felt incredibly satisfying to make the catch. When I walked back up the steps to the cross-aisle, I noticed that there was one other fan in the section who’d been trying to get a ball — a young girl who must’ve been about 10 years old. I wanted to keep the game-used ball, so gave her the one that I’d snagged earlier in the day. The usher came over to thank me, and as our conversation deepened, I knew what was going to happen. I can’t count the number of times that I’ve gotten held up at Camden Yards for just a few seconds, only to watch helplessly as a foul ball landed *right* in the place where I would’ve been. And yes, that’s exactly what happened here. With the hard-throwing Chris Jakubauskas on the mound, Brent Lillibridge fouled one back RIGHT into the cross-aisle where I’d been standing all damn night. My first thought (when the ball first nicked the bat) was, “What kind of God would allow this to happen?” My second thought (as the ball sailed over the protective screen) was, “Where’s Ross?!” My third thought (as the ball slammed into a brick wall at the back of the aisle) was, “That’s Ross running after the ball!” And my fourth thought (as I saw how it all played out) was, “ZOMG!!! Ross just snagged it!!!” As I mentioned last night on Twitter, it was the very first foul ball that he had ever snagged during an actual game. Here he is with it:
Nice job, Ross! Well played and well deserved.
Congrats are also in order for Tim (the guy in the plaid shorts who ruined the first photo). In the top of the 2nd inning, he snagged a Carlos Quentin homer in straight-away left field.
The White Sox won the game, 4-3. After the final out, I moved down to the front row behind the dugout…
…and got nothing. Ross went to the tunnel directly behind home plate and got a ball from umpire Tom Hallion. And so…he ended up outsnagging me, 3-2.
Here I am with Ross after the game:
Not a bad night after all.
• 709 balls in 86 games this season = 8.24 balls per game. (BTW, 86 games is the most I’ve ever been to in one season. My previous record was 85, and that was back in 1993.)
• 747 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 272 consecutive games with at least two balls
• 5,371 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)
• $14.24 raised at this game
• $5,048.08 raised this season