9/6/11 at PETCO Park

The day started slowly in deep right-center field:

In the photo above, that’s me on the right. There wasn’t a whole lot of action, so I had some time to catch up with a friend and fellow ballhawk named T.C. Here we are:

T.C. has snagged so many baseballs over the years that I included him in The Baseball as one of the top ten ballhawks of all time. (See pages 281-282.) He caught Chad Curtis’s 1st career home run, Terry Pendleton’s 100th, and Adam Dunn’s 250th. He also caught a walk-off grand slam (by Bip Roberts in 1995), and he once caught two Ken Caminiti homers in one game, each hit from a different side of the plate. Not too shabby. T.C. is a regular at PETCO Park, and he never sets foot in foul territory, so he’s easy to spot. Go find him and say hello and bask in his greatness.

The day’s slow start also gave me time to catch up with another friend — the one and only Heath Bell. Here we are talking through the chain-link fence:

Twenty minutes after the stadium had opened, I got a toss-up from Padres pitcher Cory Luebke. Here’s a photo of the ball sailing toward me:

In the photo above, the guy wearing the yellow shirt is a well-known photographer named K.C. Alfred. He works for the San Diego Union-Tribune, and he was there to get some shots of me. He’d already taken a bunch of photos of me with Bell, and after I caught the ball from Luebke, he asked me to hold it up for the camera:

Just as I was accepting the fact that I was gonna be trapped in right-center field for the first hour of BP, I ran into a season ticket holder who told me that he could get me into the seating bowl 30 minutes early. The guy’s name is Ismael, and if you’ve been reading this blog for years, you might remember him from this photo that I took on 8/31/08 at PETCO Park. Ismael claims that he’s attended *every* Padres game for 17 years, and I believe him. He knows EVERYthing about the stadium and everyone in it.

At 4:55pm, I exited the stadium with him — we got our tickets stamped on the way out — and headed around the corner to a different gate. There were season ticket holders on line there, and at 5pm, when they were allowed to enter, Ismael brought me inside as his guest. (It’s amazing how friendly everyone’s been to me on this trip. People keep doing me favors to help me snag extra baseballs, and I truly appreciate it.)

For the next half-hour, I pretty much had the stadium to myself. I started out on the right field foul line…

…and headed to the 3rd base side when the Giants came out:

With the Padres still hitting, I moved to the corner spot down the left field foul line and snagged a line drive that landed in the totally empty seats behind me.

That’s when K.C. took off; I’d started the day with a season total of 903 baseballs, so as far as he knew, that number reached 905.

When the Padres cleared the field, I raced through the seats toward their dugout on the 1st base side. I was the *only* fan there, and as a result, I got a ball tossed to me by one of the players. (Not sure who.) Then I ran back to the Giants’ dugout and got a ball thrown to me by Shawon Dunston (who, according to Wikipedia, is a “special assistant”).

Five minutes later, I headed to the seats in straight-away left field and unsuccessfully chased a few home run balls. Here I am going for one of them:

My 5th ball of the day was tossed by a pitcher that I couldn’t identify. If I had to guess, I’d say it was Santiago Casilla, but I’m really not sure. My 6th ball was tossed by Javier Lopez, and my 7th came from coach Roberto Kelly. Toward the end of BP, I used my glove trick to snag two baseballs off the warning track. Here I am leaning out to get the second one:

I gave both of those balls to the nearest/smallest kids. Look closely at the following photo, and you’ll see two things:

1) The kid (being held in his father’s arms) is holding one of these balls.
2) I’m walking toward a fan who was reaching back to give me a high-five.

Check it out:

Warning: PETCO Park security does not allow retrieval devices (even when those devices are used to snag baseballs that are given to cute little kids who are decked out in Padres gear), so proceed at your own risk.

After BP, I was photographed by a small group of Giants fans who recognized me from TV:

Time out for a second…

Want to see something weird? Have a look at these two baseballs that I got during BP:

Never mind the magic marker streak that’s creeping up from the sweet spot on the right. As I mentioned on 9/3/11 at AT&T Park, that’s how the Giants mark their balls. Does anything else look strange? The answer is that the placement of the MLB logos varies drastically. See it? On the ball on the left, the logo is pretty far from the stitches, and on the other ball, it’s much closer. Weirdness!

Okay, time in…

Shortly before game time, I got Orlando Cabrera to sign my ticket…

…and then I got my 10th ball of the day from the Giants’ strength/conditioning coach. In the following photo, you can see him (wearing black) reaching back with his right arm before under-handing it to me:

In case you can’t tell, I’m the fan with my arms up in the photo above. I’d also like to point out the fact that the kids on my left weren’t asking for the ball. They were all there for autographs.

My friend Brandon was at this game with his girlfriend Siobhan. (Brandon is the one who made things happen with the Union-Tribune, so big thanks to him.) They were sitting on their own. I was with Jona. And in the middle of the 1st inning, she took a photo of me with my stadium number sign:

PETCO Park is the 21st stadium that I’ve been to this season. (Here’s a collage of the first 20). As you might be able to determine from my facial expression, I love it.

In the bottom of the 1st, I took Jona to the 2nd deck in left field. Look at the glorious cross-aisle up there:

Both starting pitchers were left-handed. Most batters were right-handed. I thought there might be some home run action up there, and I was almost right. Brett Pill, making his major league debut for the Giants, led off the 2nd inning with a home run to left field. Unfortunately for me, the ball was pulled down the line, hit the Western Metal Supply building, and bounced back onto the field. Unfortunately for Pill, Padres left fielder Kyle Blanks retrieved the ball and tossed it into the crowd. Blanks lobbed it so high that I was almost able to reach it from the second deck, but it fell about five feet short of my glove. I’m not sure if Pill got the ball back, but let’s assume that he did. This is San Diego. People are friendly and laid-back here.

In the 3rd inning, I was told that I wasn’t allowed to stand in the aisle, so I headed here with Jona:

There was a decent amount of room to run — my entire row was empty for the final two innings — but there weren’t any balls that came near me.

I headed down to the Giants’ dugout in the bottom of the 9th…

…but didn’t get anything after the game.

Final score: Giants 6, Padres 4.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

•10 balls at this game (eight pictured here because I gave two away)

• 913 balls in 109 games this season = 8.38 balls per game.

• 770 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 295 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 5,575 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.)

• 58 donors

• $7.18 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $71.80 raised at this game

• $6,555.34 raised this season

As for the Union-Tribune, check out what ran on the front page of the 2nd section the following day:

That’s the entire piece — two photos and a paragraph. My favorite things about it are that (a) my road trip was mentioned, (b) there’s a photo of me with Heath Bell, and (c) my name is spelled right. When I get back to New York in a couple weeks, I’ll scan the piece (so it looks better) and add it to this page on my web site.

12 comments

  1. NuzJunkie

    Zach — you are AMAZING. First off, you didn’t mention that it rained that morning and then the temp was over 100 degrees when the gates opened. That humidity was nothing we’re used to in San Diego. It was so bad I couldn’t put my 8-year-old daughter thru the marathon of a ballhalking day.

    Secondly, the game Sophia and I went to earlier against the Giants (where we watched the game with Ben) we only got 6 balls and that’s with a cute kid! The Giants are horrible to their fans — I don’t know how you got so many toss ups. Great job. Looking forward to your quest to 1,000. You can do it!

    P.s. I’ve seen that guy (Ismael?) at every game I’ve been to. He’s a regular at that season ticket early-entry gate and very friendly.

  2. Brendan Adams

    Hey Zack just thought I’d tell you that I just got your first book, “How to Snag Major League Baseballs” and I absolutely love it! You are the awesomest person ever!

  3. Andrew Meeusen

    Looks like it was a nice day in SD. It finally dipped below 100 degrees for todays Diamondbacks game here, although we had higher humidity. Petco Park is one of only three different stadiums I’ve been to, but your number 21 sign doesn’t seem to relay its awesomeness… you look more like “Whaaa? Huh?” lol… Too bad you’re not coming back to Chase Field… that place is rockin’ lately with the DBacks’ successes!

  4. Nick

    PETCO Park has always been good to me, happy you had a good experience as well! That was where I caught my first (and so far only) homer.

  5. Jerry Shaw

    Good job Zack, San Diego is a great city, I was there in the Navy back in the 1980’s. Got my only 2 foul balls at Jack Murphy Stadium. Never got close to a ball since but I still have those 2 and the ticket stub. August 16,1986. I miss San Diego, there is always something fun to do.
    Keep up the good job and I wish you all the luck on getting that 1,000th ball.

  6. Nick Badders (@nickbatters on twitter)

    I have always wanted to got to San Deigo. I might make a point to go there next year.

  7. Cook & Son

    In the pict of the photographer taking the picture with you and the Luebke ball, is that Brandon in the middle? Its hard to tell with all of the rays of sun beaming down. Assuming it is Brandon, why is he wearing an Angels hat at a Padres game? Aren’t the Padres his squad?

  8. t c

    hi again ZACK TC here i was still thinking about the two Sandoval homers the night before.the first 5 feet behind where we were standing…..only two beach jacks this whole year chipper jones…………. .Dont forget about Kyle Blanks first career hr i snagged or dropped Piazzas 400th had for a splitsec .call me DT clown seven one four 457 765 eight …..

  9. Brendan Adams

    Just finished your first book! Loved it and can’t wait to use those tips at Safeco Field! Thanks for being so awesome!!!!

  10. Zack Hample

    NUZ JUNKIE-
    Meh, the weather was nice compared to what I’m used to dealing with on the east coast.

    BRENDAN ADAMS-
    Wow. Thanks. And good luck.

    ANDREW MEEUSEN-
    I’m watching the D’backs right now as I’m typing this — Game 4 of the NLDS. Not really sure who to root for, but it’s a good game so far.

    NICK-
    You need to catch more homers. You can do it!

    JERRY SHAW-
    You got two foul balls there in one day? Very cool.

    NICK BADDERS-
    I highly recommend it.

    YOUNG9-
    You mean…the direction that the stitches face? Good call.

    COOK & SON-
    Yeah, that’s Brandon. Evidently he likes the Angels now, in addition to the Padres.

    T.C.-
    It was great seeing you at this game. Wish we could hang more often.

  11. warner Myerson

    Hey Zack,
    In the bpicture with the MLB logos on the balls being misplaced, I also noticed that the seams are pointed in different directions. I looked at balls that I have and almost every one of them has the seams pointing to the left. That is weirdness!

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