9/8/11 at Miller Park

Epic road trip.
Day nine.
Miller Park.
Hell yeah:

Brandon and I arrived at around 4pm and grabbed a table on the outdoor terrace of Friday’s. Here I am looking out at the field:

The bad thing about sitting on the terrace is that there’s a $30 minimum and a one-hour time limit. But whatever. We were starving and had to eat anyway, and I snagged four baseballs before the stadium officially opened. (Tee-hee!!) Look closely at the following photo and you’ll see me in the distance, using my glove trick to reel in my 1st ball of the day:

I gave that ball to a little girl on my left, and when I got another ball tossed up soon after by an employee down below, I gave that one to her friend. There were actually four girls sitting together on the terrace (with one of their fathers). They’d already gotten a ball on their own, which was great, but it meant that they were still one short. Thus, they continued screaming like hell, and not surprisingly it didn’t take long for yet another player to respond. This time it was John Axford, who retrieved a ball from the warning track and looked up at them. I was standing right next to the girls and didn’t want to interfere, so I moved away from the railing and stood behind their table. I decided that if they dropped the ball, I’d use my glove trick to snag it for them, but instead, Axford airmailed them and the ball came right to me. I immediately offered it to them, but the father declined. He said he wanted to see if they could get another ball on their own, so I told him that I was going to be there for another 20 minutes, and if they didn’t get another, I’d give them this one. He thanked me, as did several other fans sitting nearby, and I returned to my table on the far end of the terrace. Five minutes later, Kameron Loe tossed a ball to the final girl, and she caught it. The father and I then exchanged thumbs-ups from 100 feet away — and Loe ended up tossing me a ball soon after. Brandon, standing next to me at the time, took a photo of Loe just before he chucked it:

When the rest of the stadium opened at 5:40pm, I made a beeline toward the left field foul line and used something that I call the “half-glove trick” to snag my 5th ball of the day. The ball was sitting on the warning track, no more than five feet from the stands, so I let out a bit of string, swung my glove out at it, and tugged it back at just the right moment to knock it closer. Piece of cake.

Then I changed into my Phillies gear and raced to the 2nd deck in left field. That whole section was pretty much dead, so the only ball I got was a Hunter Pence homer. Here I am tracking the ball when it first started flying my way…

…and here I am reaching up for the catch:

In case you didn’t notice, the ball (in the photo above) is less than a foot from my glove. Brandon gets amazing shots.

When the Phillies’ power-hitting lefties (Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Raul Ibanez, etc.) started taking their cuts, I moved to the right field side. Here I am standing around in the 2nd deck:

Brandon didn’t get any action shots of me there because there *was* no action. During the 15 minutes that I spent in that section, there wasn’t ONE home run that landed there. Batting practice was shockingly lame.

Toward the end of BP, I headed down to the lower deck and got my 7th ball of the day from a 6-foot-8 rookie pitcher named Michael Schwimer. Here’s a photo that I took soon after he threw it to me:

At that point, Brandon was hanging out behind the Phillies’ dugout, getting shots like this…

…and this:

In the photo above, that’s me in the red shirt on the staircase. It figures that as soon as I left the 2nd deck, several home runs landed there.

At the end of BP, I used my half-glove trick to knock this ball closer…

…and then used the standard glove trick to reel it in.

After the national anthem, I got my 9th ball of the day from Michael Martinez in shallow left field. (He and Placido Polanco had been playing catch — nothing fancy about it.) As soon as I caught the ball, I scanned the section to see if there were any kids, and after a moment, I spotted a little boy with a glove, standing 30 feet to my left. I waved to get his attention, then held up the ball, and when his eyes lit up, I walked a little closer and tossed it to him.

Now, as I mentioned on page 304 of The Baseball, Miller Park provides “the best in-game foul ball opportunity in the majors.” I showed why in the book, but let me show you again here. This was my view during the game…

…and during those rare moments that I got away with standing in the aisle, this was the view to my left:

Not only was I positioned at the perfect angle and height for foul balls, but I had endless room to run. In the three games that I’d attended at Miller Park (one in 2003 and two in 2009), I’d snagged a total of three foul balls during games. That’s a pretty solid average, and as I mentioned on Twitter before arriving at the stadium, my goal for the day was to maintain it.

During the early innings, there was a disappointing lack of foul balls, but I was still in heaven, as you can kind of tell here:

Miller Park is the 22nd stadium that I’ve visited in 2011. (Here’s a collage of the first 20.) My plan is to hit up all 30 — and to snag 1,000 balls — and I’m almost there.

Over the course of the game, several foul balls landed within 100 feet of me, and eventually one came really close. Luck wasn’t on my side, though, and when the bottom of the 9th was about to get started, I was ready to give up and head downstairs for an umpire ball. I decided to stick around for one final batter. Ryan Braun was set to lead off against Cole Hamels, and I figured that if he made an out, I’d still have time to run downstairs and work my way down to the 3rd base dugout. So yeah. One final batter. One final shot at a foul ball. Brandon got his camera ready, just in case. Braun worked the count to 2-1…and then? He sent a foul ball flying back my way. Unbelievable! I darted ten feet to my left and then started drifting down the stairs. Here I am looking up at the ball:

At that point, I knew with 100 percent certainty that I was going to catch it. I’m telling you, there was absolutely no doubt in my mind, and as the ball came closer, I kept moving forward. Lots of hands reached up at the last second, but I maneuvered into the perfect spot and reached higher than all of them. Here I am getting ready to catch it:

BAM!!!

The ball smacked the pocket of my glove, and it felt great! After a whole night of waiting and hoping and anticipating and expecting, I finally got my chance and made the most of it. Miller Park is so awesome that there truly aren’t words to describe it.

Two pitches after the foul ball, Braun grounded out to second base. That’s when I took off and headed to the lower level, hoping that Prince Fielder would take a few pitches and give me some time to get into position. But no. Before I made it out of the 2nd deck, he swung at the first pitch and hit a towering (but otherwise routine) fly ball to Shane Victorino in center. AARRGHH!!! Obviously, it would’ve been worth sacrificing an umpire ball for a foul ball, but I was still hoping for both. Casey McGehee was due to bat next, and as I flew toward the Phillies’ dugout, he did me the favor of taking the first pitch for a strike. When the next pitch was thrown, I was running through the cross-aisle on the 3rd base side of home plate and hoping that he’d take it or swing and miss or better yet hit a foul ball off his ankle and need a visit from the trainer. All I needed him to do was NOT make the final out — anything to delay the impending end of the game. But no. He grounded out to 3rd base. (Final score: Phillies 7, Brewers 2.) As the umps started walking off the field, and as the fans started heading up the steps, I had to do some fancy footwork to get down to the front. I barely made it in time, only to see home plate umpire Greg Gibson toss ball after ball to other fans. He was literally emptying his pouches, and I hoped that he wouldn’t run out before he noticed me. In the following photo (which Brandon took from the 2nd deck), you can see me standing next to the dugout (wearing the blue shirt and red cap), leaning forward with my glove extended. Gibson had just flung a ball to another fan, and you can see the ball against the yellow background of the dugout, right near my glove. Check it out:

It kind of looks like that ball is heading for my glove, but trust me, it wasn’t. The angle is weird, and it was more than five feet to my right. In any case, Gibson wandered down the steps and pulled one final ball out of his pouch. He took a quick look at me, then scanned the crowd to see if there was someone younger or cuter, but there wasn’t, so he tossed it to me.

That was my 11th and final ball of the day.

Before heading out, I caught up with a friend and fellow ballhawk named Shawn Bosman. Here he is (rockin’ the “playoff ‘stache”) with his girlfriend Brooke:

Shawn and I had crossed paths all day. He very kindly gave me some space on the Friday’s terrace, and we did our best to stay out of each other’s way during BP and the game. (That’s the tough thing about hanging out with fellow ballhawks at stadiums. You want to spend time together, but you don’t want to rob each other of snagging opportunities.) Shawn, a member of the 1,000-ball club, snagged six at this game, and Brooke got one. I would’ve loved to spend more time with them after the game, but Brandon and I had to hit the road. I told Shawn that I’d probably be back the following week, but now that’s not going to happen. I’m in Cincinnati right now for the next three games (and I still have three others — one in Chicago and two in Detroit — to blog about).

BALLHAWKING STATS:

•11 balls at this game (eight pictured here because I gave three away)

• 924 balls in 110 games this season = 8.4 balls per game.

• 52 games in 4 lifetime games at Miller Park = 13 balls per game.

• 771 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 296 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 5,586 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)

• $78.98 raised at this game

• $6,634.32 raised this season

One more thing…

I have to share this because I find it amusing, and I assume you will too. Normally, when I return from a stadium, I photograph my baseballs at home or in my hotel room or wherever I’m gonna be staying for the night, but lately I’ve been ridiculously pressed for time and constantly on the move, so I’ve had to improvise. Take a look at where I photographed my Miller Park baseballs:

That wasn’t even in Milwaukee. I took that photo in a Best Western parking lot in Detroit three days later. Brandon and I were on the way to pick up his girlfriend at the airport, and when he ran inside for a few minutes, I made the most of my time. That’s the story of my life this month.

14 comments

  1. Todd A

    I’ll have to remember the Fridays trick the next time I’m at Miller. Were there any usher issues using the glove trick? Great post and great pics by Brandon. Hope you hit the 1000 soon. T-

  2. Bill Yates

    Zack – What do you do with all the balls you collect when you’re on such a long roadtrip? Must have a huge suitcase!!

  3. Aaron

    It was nice to meet you in the left field bleachers. Glad to see you had a good time.
    I was the one in the #37 Phillies Ryne Sandberg jersey that said hi to you.

  4. Shawn Bosman

    Z! Thanks again hanging out at Miller Park, it was a blast. Let’s be sure to cross paths again sometime soon, if not this season, early, early 2012! Good luck on 1,000.

    -Shawn
    (and Brooke)

  5. meggiez

    Wish I could be there to meet you at GABP (my home park), but school calls, unfortunately. Snag a few balls for me! (The bullpen guys are always great about throwing a few up and signing autographs too.)

  6. Nick

    Happy you’re doing well on your travels! Saw Ben at Citi Field last night. I snagged 3 BP balls and he had one heck of a home run catch.

    Can’t wait for more posts!

    N

  7. Dave Riyeff

    Zack…a quick TGIFridays story….a few weeks ago me and my 31 yr old son go to Miller Park. We go to Fridays 1st thing, and get a seat on the home run porch. We get a couple of beers (16 ounces?). The beers are on the table, along with 2 glasses of water(same size) It’s my son, me, and the waiter, who just took my son’s food order. The waiter is facing the field, and I turn to him to order. Right then, SMASH !!! a batting pratice home run ball makes a DIRECT HIT on my beer!! (and the water). and I mean, a DIRECT HIT. Instantly, all 3 of us are soaked from our necks to our belts. Thank God no one got hurt…you know from being on the porch out there how easily that could happen. Well, I scramble around looking for the ball, with no luck. As it turned out, it bounced off the wall and went down in the walkway behind the fence. Meantime, Craig Counsel, Axford, and another Brewer were right there in left field. They saw the whole thing. Once they knew nobody was hurt they were laughing, and all of us were, too. From ballhawking before, and from reading your blog, I know that you need to be ready when an opportunity presents itself.. Counsel was looking right at me, so I called out to him, “Hey, Craig!! How about a ball for the guys who got soaked?? He laughed, went and got a ball, and tossed it up to me. I said thanks and he says, “hey, you guys deserve it !!” Meantime, I was going to glove trick the ball, that hit the beer but it was gone…a grounds crew guy must have picked it up. When the stadium opened up, my son got an easter egg in the left field stands. Fun time. -Dave

  8. Zack Hample

    TODD A-
    Nah, no issues at all with the glove trick there.

    ATHENSBIGREDMACHINE-
    Not entirely by car, but mostly.

    BRAD-
    Glad you like it.

    BILL YATES-
    I gave a lot of balls away to kids, and on two separate occasions, I mailed balls home to myself.

    AARON-
    Great meeting you too.

    NICK BADDERS-
    Awesome.

    NICK-
    Busy watching the Packers on TV.

    SHAWN-
    You don’t need to thank me. I need to apologize to you for not making it back to Miller Park for a second game. Of course, I ended up snagging 36 balls on the day that I was supposed to be there, but still, it would’ve been nice to see you (both) again.

    MEGGIEZ-
    Wish you could’ve been there too.

    NICK-
    Ben keeps getting better and better.

    YOSSIF-
    I probably get one every five or six games, but it all depends on the stadium.

    DAVE-
    All I can say is…damn.

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