9/9/11 at U.S. Cellular Field

It’s hard to get excited when there’s no batting practice:

That was the scene on Friday when I ran inside U.S. Cellular Field — the 23rd major league stadium that I’ve visited this season.

For the record, I really did *run* inside, and it paid off. Three members of the Indians were walking in from the bullpen, and I got one of them to toss me a ball at the dugout. Here’s a photo (taken by my friend Brandon) that shows the ball being tossed to me:

I have no idea who that player was, so if anyone can identify him, I’d love to know.

Ten minutes later, Fausto Carmona threw me a brand new ball in shallow right field. Here it is sailing toward me:

Over the course of the day, Brandon took a bunch of awesome photographs. Here’s one of them, which I realize is similar to the first shot of me getting a ball tossed at the dugout, but I have to share it anyway:

I love the tranquility. That’s all there is to it. I mean, I would’ve preferred to be running around during BP, but given the fact that the tarp was out, I appreciated the calm pace of the day.

Soon after I got the ball from Carmona, Chris Perez fired a ball to me from more than 100 feet away. (People often ask me which players are the best to ask for baseballs. Perez is one of them, Livan Hernandez is another, and as I learned later on during this game, Paul Konerko tosses the infield warm-up ball into the crowd every inning — at least here in Chicago.) Perez must’ve thrown the ball 60 miles per hour, and as soon as I caught it, I handed it to the kid on my right.

It was only 6pm, and Brandon wanted to leave.

“C’mon, dog, you got your balls,” he said. “Let’s go.”

We were gonna have to drive 240 miles to Detroit after the game — or whenever we decided to leave the stadium. Brandon didn’t want to get there at 4am, and in all fairness, he was the one doing all the driving, but still…c’mon…this is a baseball trip, not a sleeping trip, and I was willing to be tired the next day. So we stayed. For a little bit. That was the plan. I told him that I wanted to stick around for at least a few innings, just to see how things went. If it started raining again, or if I just wasn’t feeling it, then we’d go.

We had about 45 minutes to kill, so we got food and watched the grounds crew do its thing. Brandon had the worst (stale) nachos of his life, and I had a lousy (flavor and consistency) slice of pizza. That was a real bummer, and to make matters worse, when I headed to the bathroom soon after, the stalls were so disgusting that I truly couldn’t use them. Not to be too graphic or anything, but when you’re living on the road, you sometimes need to do certain things in public restrooms, but it was so nasty in there (automatic flushers not working, for example) that I couldn’t do what I needed to do. (Okay, that was kind of graphic. Sorry.) I even walked 500 feet through the concourse to the next bathroom, which turned out to be just as bad.

ANYway…

Just before the game started, I headed down to the foul line in shallow right field and got one of the Indians position players to throw me a ball. Here I am reaching out to make the catch:

For some reason, I totally spaced out and forgot to look at the back of the player’s uniform to see who it was. I vaguely recall that it was some guy that I’d barely heard of — Lonnie Chisenhall or Jason Donald or Jason Kipnis or Cord Phelps. I know it’s hard to tell who it is based on the photo, but if anyone has some thoughts, I’d love to hear ’em. And by the way, I gave that ball away too.

I spent the first two innings running back and forth from one dugout to the other. This was my view from the 3rd base side:

My goal was to snag a 3rd-out ball, but it just wasn’t happening, so I found Brandon, and we moved here:

(When I said that we had the best seats ever, I wasn’t kidding.)

I had noticed that there were some empty seats near the White Sox on-deck circle, so I decided to go for it. The way I saw it, the outfield was too crowded to go for home runs, there was no cross-aisle to go for foul balls, and there were too many kids at the dugout to go for 3rd-out balls. Not only had I run out of places to try to snag anything, but my feet were clammy, and of course there was that five-hour drive to Detroit awaiting us. If we got kicked out of the section, I was prepared to head for the exit and say goodbye to U.S. Cellular Field — but as luck had it, no one said a word, and I eventually moved into the front row.

Brandon took advantage by getting some *incredible* photographs. (You might want to click on them to see them full sized. I’m not sure if scrolling quickly through these thumbnails will do them justice, but whatever, that’s your call.) Here’s Mark Buehrle looking at the ball:

Here’s Carlos Santana gearing up for the pitch:

Here’s Dayan Viciedo on deck:

Brandon tweaked the color in the photo above, and hey, speaking of color, the reason why the Sox were wearing green hats is that there was a “Halfway to St. Patrick’s Day” promotion.

Here’s a photo that really captures our view and location:

That’s me in the front row. Brandon was scared of getting drilled by a ball, so he sat behind me. I’ll admit that I was scared too. The protective screen ended several feet to my right…

…so if a left-handed batter had taken a check-swing and deflected a foul ball in my direction, I would’ve been in trouble. As a result, whenever a lefty was at bat, I crouched down so that only my head stuck up above the wall, and I kept my glove right in front of my face so that I could see over the top of it and protect myself. I truly don’t understand how a team can build a stadium with seats so close to the plate and not have protective netting there — and then not instruct its personnel to check people’s tickets in that section. Personally, I was thrilled to be there (and capable of protecting myself), but there were fans sitting just a few feet away who seriously could have died if a ball shot their way in excess of 90 miles per hour. I just don’t get it. Only one fan in the history of Major League Baseball has been killed by a foul ball (see page 50 of The Baseball); I hate to say this, but it’s only a matter of time before it happens at U.S. Cellular Field.

Let’s get back to Brandon’s photos, shall we? Here’s home plate umpire Alfonso Marquez inspecting a ball:

Here’s a close look at Brent Morel’s helmet and bat:

Here’s White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen:

We were sitting SO close that we heard Will Ohman scream an obscenity after giving up a two-run single to Kosuke Fukudome. Here’s a photo that was taken moments later. Check out the body language and facial expression of second baseman Gordon Beckham:

Here’s a ball sitting on the warning track behind the plate:

Here’s A.J. Pierzynski on deck:

Here’s Beckham glaring (playfully) at some flirty women sitting next to us…

…and here I am asking Marquez for a ball after the game:

He tossed one to me before walking off the field, and it was VERY rubbed with mud. Check out the side-by-side comparison below. The ball on the left is the pearl that I got from Fausto Carmona; the ball on the right is the one that I got from Marquez:

The Indians beat the White Sox, 8-4. Mark Buehrle took the loss. Jeanmar Gomez (who?!) got the win. Lonnie Chisenhall hit a pair of two-run homers, but committed the game’s lone error.

Sitting so close to the field is an experience like no other. I could see/hear things that I’ve never noticed before. I was practically ON DECK during the game and literally ON field level, and as you may have gathered, once we scored those seats, Brandon was willing to stick around ’til the bitter end.

There were post-game fireworks…

…but we didn’t linger. We got the hell out of there and headed to Detroit.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

•5 balls at this game (three pictured here because I gave two away)

• 929 balls in 111 games this season = 8.37 balls per game.

• 772 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 297 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 5,591 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)

• $35.90 raised at this game

• $6,670.22 raised this season

11 comments

  1. Jerry Shaw

    Zack, that player for Cleveland is Jason Kipnis. I saw play a lot last year down in Akron for the Aeros. Got a homerun ball of his he signed for me.
    Those are some nice seats you guys had for sure. Jerry- Aeros fan.

  2. Jerry Shaw

    Zack, sorry I had to look again at the photo. It is Lonnie Chisenhall for sure. You are lucky, the guy seemed to never toss any balls up in Akron last year. He is a very tough autograph to get to. Jerry

  3. Dan Sparks

    I say Chisenhall, maybe Donald, not Kipnis (he always has a distinct 5 o’clock shadow) and not Phelps obviously because he’s in the photo. Good luck at Great American

  4. Garrett Meyer

    Hi Zack,
    I am 99% sure the player is Lonnie Chisenhall. He tossed me a couple balls earlier this month. And you are right about Chris Perez! He is super friendly and throws lots of baseballs, but he always throws HARD to older guys with gloves. It’s fun!

  5. Shane T.

    “Halfway to St. Patrick’s Day”? Really? Despite it being a good week away from the actual six-month mark? I guess Chicagoans were just aching for an excuse to drink green-dyed beer.
    Your friend Brandon does have a way with the camera … and is pretty tolerant of late-night driving not to have left without you. Be kind to him: it is not everyone who will willingly drive into Detroit at 4 am.
    Keep up the good work. I’m starting to believe 1,000 will happen.

  6. Michael

    I just want to chime in on Brad’s comment about the photography. Legally he isn’t allowed to make money off any of these photos unless he has a contract with MLB. If he doesn’t, then the only way he could sell them would be to get a model release from the players and a release waiver from the team for their jerseys being in the photos. They could still be in a magazine, but as editorial only. Meaning no cash.

    And Zack, congrats tonight. I won’t spoil the surprise but I’m sure you know what I mean.

  7. Zack Hample

    BRAD-
    Thanks, but Brandon just does this for fun.

    JERRY SHAW-
    Thanks for helping me ID the player, but c’mon, you should know that minor leaguers rarely toss balls into the crowd.

    DAN SPARKS-
    Well, damn. Now I don’t know what to think.

    GARRETT MEYER-
    I need 100 percent certainty!

    BEN-
    Thanks.

    SHANE T.-
    Ew, is that what they were drinking? I did see some green liquid in cups.

    LIA-
    HELLO!!! And thanks. I miss you. We need to catch up soon.

    MALCOLM-
    Yeah…I guess.

    MICHAEL-
    Good points about the legal issues. And thanks for not spoiling the surprise.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s