Let me start by saying two things:
1) Several people seem to believe that my consecutive games streak is over. That’s because I attended a single-admission doubleheader on 8/29/11 at Citi Field and didn’t snag anything during the second game. Newsflash: since I started ballhawking in 1990, I’ve always counted single-admission doubleheaders as one “game” in my stats, and I addressed this very issue on page 317 of my newest book, The Baseball, so calm down, people. The streak is very much alive. If you think this cheapens my streak, or that I should now suddenly have an asterisk in my stats, then let me ask you this: how am I supposed to handle games that get rained out? If I enter a stadium on a rainy day — 4/12/11 at Yankee Stadium, for example — and snag a few baseballs and then the game gets postponed, how should I list it in my stats? As half a game? No game at all, perhaps? Baseballs don’t materialize out of thin air, so if I snag a few, I must account for them somehow. Remember when I hung out behind the Green Monster for Game 1 and Game 2 of the 2007 World Series. I snagged a few balls each day during BP and counted them as “games” in my stats — but technically I wasn’t AT those games. Right? I’m not trying to cheat the system. My intention is to document things as best I can, and yes, at times it feels arbitrary, so I just do what makes the most sense. I hope that clears things up.
2) Yesterday, this was the view from my bedroom when I woke up:
I was at my friend Brandon’s place in San Clemente, CA. (If you’ve never fallen asleep to the sound of ocean waves crashing gently from afar, you’re missing out.) Because the Dodgers were scheduled to play at 12:10pm, and because Dodger Stadium was going to open at 10:10am, and because we had to take a 90-minute train ride (followed by a taxi) to get there, we had to wake up pretty damn early. Luckily for me, I was still on east coast time, but for Brandon, a California native who normally sleeps late, it was torture, and he bitched about it all day. (I ended up bitching about all the foul balls that I didn’t snag, so Brandon, if you’re reading this, let’s call it even.)
When we arrived at Dodger Stadium, we headed to the Top Deck. I wanted to get a sneak peek at the field to see if, by some miracle, there was batting practice. I also wanted Brandon to take a photo of me with my stadium number sign, and in addition to that, we had to buy tickets. The ticket window up there is always open early — except, evidently, on days when games start at 12:10pm. We cautiously approached the nearby employee entrance, where two security guards sat at a desk. I asked them two questions, starting with, “Where can we buy tickets right now?” The guards stared dumbly at each other and came to the conclusion that we couldn’t. (Then they misinformed us that the gates would open at 10:40am.) My second question was, “Can we come inside for a minute and take a few photos of the field?” To my surprise, they said yes.
This was the result:
No batting practice. Shocker.
As you probably know, I’ve been making faces in all my stadium photos to show how I feel about each place. (Here’s a collage of the first 15.) Dodger Stadium is beautifully ugly, thoroughly unique, and a colossal pain in the ass. Some security policies are unnecessarily strict, while others are virtually nonexistent. Overall, the good outweighs the bad, and vice versa. Every time I enter the stadium, I’m simultaneously dazzled and annoyed; the culmination of these conflicting emotions is a big whatever.
On our way out of the Top Deck, the guards suggested that we look for a ticket kiosk near Gate G (wherever THAT was). Instead, we stopped by the club level to ask someone else. There was a female guard at the entrance, standing 30 feet from a shuttered row of “will call” windows. She had no idea about tickets and went inside to ask. A minute later, one of the windows opened, so we made our purchase. We figured that the guard had helped, but no, when she came back out, she was surprised to see that we were all set.
WHY IS DODGER STADIUM SO DIFFICULT?!?!?!
(As difficult as this was, it’s nothing compared to my experience here on 9/2/08.)
Anyway, we had half an hour to spare, so we hung out near the Field Level gate. Here’s a photo of Brandon (who hates having his photo taken) sitting on the curb:
Finally, at 10:10am, the moment arrived. The gates opened, and I rushed into the seating bowl:
Look what I found in the seats along the left field foul line:
In the photo above, the reason why I look so pissed off is that the usher was in the process of yelling at me to get out of that fancy row of seats.
Five minutes later, Blake Hawksworth threw me his warm-up ball, and when the rest of the stadium opened at 10:40am, I headed to the right field corner to catch up with an old friend. Here we are:
When Heath Bell first saw me, he shouted, “Zack! You didn’t tell me you were coming out west.”
“Well,” I said, “sometimes I like to surprise you.”
He asked why I was in California. I told him that I’m planning to visit all 30 stadiums this season, and that I’m trying to snag 1,000 baseballs.
“What’re you at now?” he asked.
“Eight hundred and fifty-two.”
We talked for a couple minutes. I told him that I’d see him on Tuesday in San Diego. And that was that.
Ernesto Frieri was finishing playing catch, so I waved my arms and called out to him:
This was the result…
…and that’s fine. I can’t argue with little kids getting baseballs, although I do prefer to see kids with gloves get them.
Several players and coaches saw what happened and must’ve noticed that I was the only fan in the stadium wearing Padres gear; one of them waved at me to get my attention, and when I looked over, he threw me a ball. I’m not sure who it was. I think it was the bullpen catcher.
Then I headed back to left field (and changed out of my Padres gear) and got Rick Honeycutt, the Dodgers pitching coach, to throw me a ball from the bullpen. Here it is sailing toward me:
Nathan Eovaldi started signing autographs soon after. Here I am handing him my ticket…
…and here’s the ticket itself:
When the Padres came out to play catch before the game, there was absolutely NO competition for baseballs. I was truly the only fan with a glove, and the few other folks wearing Padres gear were busy getting beaten up in the parking lot. As a result, Logan Forsythe had no choice but to toss me his warm-up ball:
Nick Hundley was playing catch nearby at that point, but I figured that he’d seen me get the ball from Forsythe, so I headed over to the dugout. Heath Bell and the other relievers were standing on the warning track, and I wanted to be near them. Moments after I got there, Hundley finished throwing and looked toward the stands. Guess what happened? There wasn’t ANYone near him who asked for the ball, so I started waving and shouting. The arrow in the following photo is pointing at me:
Hundley spotted me and turned to throw me the ball. Look where he was standing at the time:
That’s quite a distance, and his throw was right on the money. This was my 6th ball of the day, and I got another one soon after. Alberto Gonzalez tossed it to me at the dugout. Here’s a photo of the ball floating toward my glove:
After I caught it, I gave two baseballs to a couple of little kids who were sitting nearby with their father.
Ready for a challenge? The following photo shows me getting a 3rd-out ball as the 2nd inning ended — but I haven’t drawn any circles or arrows:
(Notice how empty the stadium is? Yeesh.)
Your challenge is to find/identify three things:
1) me (this shouldn’t be too hard)
2) the player who tossed it (considerably harder)
3) the ball itself (very very extremely hard)
Click the photo above for a closer look, and leave a comment with your answer(s). Bragging rights are on the line. Go!
After I got the 3rd-out ball, I was recognized by a nearby fan who had seen me two years ago on TV. I had a few minutes to spare, so I stopped and chatted. He was there with his two kids, and there was another young boy directly behind them. Brandon was sitting several sections away with my backpack, so I excused myself briefly and returned with three baseballs. (I wanted to keep the game-used ball for myself.) Here I am handing them to the kids:
“This is the first time I’ve ever shaken hands with a Padres fan,” said the man, reaching out toward me. It was a pretty special moment.
In the 3rd inning, Brandon and I moved to a prime foul-ball spot in the 2nd deck. Sure enough, there was lots of action, but luck wasn’t exactly on my side. (This is what caused all the bitching that I mentioned earlier.) Here I am climbing into the front row for a foul ball flying *right* at me:
Unfortunately, that ball fell two feet short…
…and by the way, Brandon deserves a standing ovation for these photos. I think he’s the first person to ever get shots of me chasing foul balls during an actual game.
An inning later, I took off through the empty 2nd row for this ball…
…which landed 10 feet away from me.
Then there was a bullet-like foul ball that shot back over the screen:
That one landed in a TOTALLY empty area. I was the closest fan to it by far. All the ball had to do was STAY THERE.
Anyone want to guess what happened?
It deflected off a seat and bounced out of the 2nd deck:
And things kept going from there.
At one point, a foul ball flew *directly* over my head and was caught by a gloveless man several rows behind me. This was my reaction:
I seriously couldn’t catch a break.
At least I was able to get a ball from home plate umpire Dan Iassogna after the game. (Final score: Dodgers 4, Padres 2.) Here he is walking toward me:
He gave baseballs to the two little kids standing below me and then, since there were no other kids in sight, tossed one my way.
Goodbye, Dodger Stadium.
• 859 balls in 103 games this season = 8.34 balls per game.
• 764 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 289 consecutive games with at least two balls
• 5,521 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)
• $64.08 raised at this game
• $6,116.08 raised this season