9/10/11 at Comerica Park

This was my first game at Comerica Park since 2003. It was also the first game that my friend Brandon decided to skip on our road trip — a real shame because he missed out on some amazing stuff, and it would’ve been great to have him there taking photos.

I was hoping to arrive in time to walk all the way around the outside of Comerica. That’s something I always do when I’m at a new stadium. Obviously, this place wasn’t new, but I didn’t remember much from my last visit, so I wanted to treat it like I’d never been there. That said, I arrived much too late and only got two photos on the outside. Here’s the first…

…and here’s the second:

In the photo above, that’s me on the right, attempting to stand tall next to my 6-foot-6 friend Dave. He and I first met on 8/3/10 at Camden Yards (he’s wearing the Ripken jersey in this photo) and kept in touch. He lives about an hour from Comerica Park and attends lots of games with his six-year-old son David. David couldn’t make it to this game, but Dave knew I was going to be there, so he brought his copy of Watching Baseball Smarter to get signed. That’s what he’s holding in his left hand.

One more thing about the photo above…

Did you notice the little black microphone clipped to my collar? That was there because I was being filmed for the Korean documentary. James, the filmmaker, had contacted half the teams in Major League Baseball; despite the fact that he’d gotten approval from MLB International and agreed to pay $1,000 per minute of game footage that ended up being used, the Tigers were the only team to give him permission to take his camera inside the ballpark. (The Orioles, it should be known, had promised that if he got approval from MLB, they’d let him film. He then got approval, and they changed their minds the day before he was set to meet me at Camden Yards.) Here he is filming me on the 1st base side inside the stadium:

Three things about the photo above:

1) Batting practice is not taking place. That’s because it had rained an hour earlier. (Aarrghh!!)

2) A pair of Twins players are throwing in shallow right field. Jose Mijares was one of them, and when they finished, I got him to throw me the ball — all the way from the foul line to the row just below the cross-aisle.

3) The stands are completely empty. That’s because we had media credentials and got to enter the stadium half an hour early. Here’s my credential:

In case you’re wondering, “KBS” stands for Korean Broadcasting System.

According to the text printed on the bottom of the credential, I wasn’t allowed to ask for autographs, but it didn’t say anything about snagging baseballs. Therefore, when Brad Penny started throwing on the opposite side of the stadium, I headed over there with James. This was my view of the field…

…and this was the scene directly behind me:

Penny tossed me the ball when he finished, and yeah, it felt kind of cheap to be ballhawking in a totally empty stadium, but whatever. The way I saw it, it was payback for all the times that the security guards at Shea and (the old) Yankee Stadium went out of their way to prevent me from getting baseballs.

Soon after the stadium opened to the public, I had a chance to snag another ball from Twins pitcher Glen Perkins. He was standing on the foul line in shallow left field, playing catch with one of his teammates. I was pretty certain that he was going to toss me the ball, but when he finished, he launched it toward the bullpen in left-center field. Evidently, he was trying to reach it on the fly because he threw his arms up in disgust when the ball fell short. I’ll give him credit, though, for a ground-rule double; the ball landed on the warning track and bounced over the wall. I was disappointed at first because it was a ball that I probably would’ve gotten — but then I realized that I still might be able to get it. I ran halfway around the stadium, and when I peeked into the bullpen, it was right there waiting for me:

I used my glove trick to knock it closer and reel it in. There was a man standing nearby with two boys. They congratulated me on snagging the ball and asked to see how my glove was rigged. I gave them a brief tutorial and then gave each of the kids a ball. Here they are:

They thanked me, and we chatted for a few minutes, and when I mentioned that I’m from New York, the man said, “My brother pitched for the Yankees for half a season.”

“No way,” I said, assuming he meant the minor leagues, or that he was flat-out lying. “Who’s your brother?”

Paul Assenmacher,” he said.

“Are you serious?! I know that name. He pitched for a whole bunch of teams, and you know what? I think he might’ve once thrown me a ball.”

My friend Dave (the tall guy) had wandered out to the left field seats by that point, and since I don’t have a smart phone, he let me use his for a minute. I went to my web site, then clicked the baseball collection link at the top, then clicked the “lists” box on the lower left, then clicked the thrown balls link at the bottom, and started scrolling. Sure enough, this man’s brother’s name was there — and by the way, the man’s name is John.

James had been filming my glove trick attempt from across the stadium. I had actually called him before I snagged the ball to make sure that he could see me and that his camera was ready to roll. He didn’t have a great view — he could only see me from the waist up — but he told me to go ahead and do my thing. Ten minutes later, he came out and found me near the bullpen and asked if he could see me use the trick again.

“I don’t think there’s going to be another opportunity,” I said.

James (whose English is pretty good) responded by pointing at the grass inside the bullpen.

“You want me to put the ball back down there and do it again?” I asked.

That’s exactly what he wanted. Despite my fears that the nearby/on-field security guard would see me and raise hell, I tossed the ball back and reenacted it. Here are a couple of photos that Dave took from above:

Dave was awesome. He realized that I didn’t have anyone to take photos, so he grabbed my camera on several occasions and documented the action. For the record, the guard did see me dangling my glove over the wall. Predictably, he started running toward me and shouting, but I reeled in the ball seconds later, so that was the end of it.

Phew!

Five minutes later, I ran into John (in the cross-aisle in deep left field) and gave that ball to a little kid that was with him. So yeah…I’d snagged three baseballs and given them all away. If I didn’t snag anything else, and if I ended up leaving the stadium without a ball for myself, so be it. I actually sacrificed a ball or two (during pre-game warm-ups) to take advantage of two special privileges that my media credential provided. Take another look at the credential, and you’ll see that it says:

Admit one:
PRE-GAME FIELD
PRESS BOX
PHOTO DECKS

I didn’t give a damn about the photo decks, but the other two things were very appealing. I started by walking up the steps from the field level seats into the concourse. Then I entered the “admin offices” and took an elevator down to the bottom level. (There were people checking my credential along the way, so don’t even think about sneaking there.) When the doors opened, I found myself in a concourse that led to the umpires’ tunnel. I had very limited time — less than 10 minutes to actually spend on the field — so I didn’t stop to take any photos until I got here:

That’s the staircase that leads to the tunnel. See the bright doorway in the photo above? As soon as I walked through it, this is what I saw:

This was my view at the top of the tunnel:

James was with me. We each had to sign in (on a clipboard) before stepping onto the warning track. We had to write our names and our affiliation and our credential ID number.

And then?

We got to go on the field — the perfect place to get a photo with my stadium number sign:

(Thanks to Dave for grabbing my camera and coming through for me once again.)

Comerica Park is the 24th major league stadium that I’ve visited this season. If I had more time right now, I’d make a new collage with all the photos, but instead, you’ll have to settle for this week-old image of the first 20.

I probably took 50 photos on the field. This is my favorite:

The guard at the umpires’ tunnel gave me a few extra minutes to hang out on the field, but since I had to stay on the warning track *and* stay in front of the protective screen, there wasn’t much else for me to see or do, so I took off and headed up to the press level. Once again, there was an elevator involved, and when we got off, we had to walk along this balcony:

Then we found ourselves outside this door…

…and when we entered, we had to show our credentials (for the 10th time) and sign in again. I’m not complaining — just reporting. Comerica Park security did a great job of making sure that we were legit.

Once we signed in, we headed down this hallway:

We passed the visitors’ radio booth…

…and made our way to the cafeteria. Here’s a photo of James deciding what to order:

It was a tough decision. Not only was there food in front of him, but there were menus on the walls (listing a different set of options) as well as this menu on the counter:

The prices were great. Bottled water, if I’m remembering correctly, cost $1.50, but of course they were out of bottled water. Given the fact that I drink nothing but water, I’m glad to say that there was a soda machine with one of those secret water spouts. And ice. And a stack of huge cups. I was very happy.

This is where we ate…

…and this is what I ate:

I got three huge chicken tenders and a freshly cooked cheeseburger. The plate on the right has two (free) corn muffins as well as some ketchup and ranch sauce. Remember when I tweeted about eating whatever/whenever I want for the duration of my road trip? Well, I’ve been doing it, and I have to say that it’s been fun. I don’t feel like I’ve gained any weight. My belt actually feels looser than ever. I’ll post an update when I’m back in New York. (Last night at midnight, I ate a caesar salad and a pizza with buffalo chicken. I also drank two 20-ounce bottles of water, so I was completely full and bloated when I went to bed. This morning, as soon as I woke up, I went to the breakfast buffet in my hotel and had eggs with cheese and smoked salmon, pancakes with lots of syrup, oatmeal with brown sugar and dried cranberries, a blueberry muffin, and a raspberry danish. Oh, and fresh pineapple and strawberries. Mmmm-mm!!!)

The game had already started by the time we finished eating — and that was fine. I knew I was missing potential baseballs, but I was having too much fun to leave, and c’mon, I hadn’t yet checked out the press box. I *had* to do that. Here’s the view from the home-plate end of it…

…and here’s the press box itself:

I’ve been in major league press boxes before, but they’re often filled with other fans like this. That’s how it was when I took a guided pre-game tour on 7/15/11 at Camden Yards, so to be in the press box during the game was really cool.

Before heading downstairs, I was allowed to poke my head into the FOX television booth. This is what it looked like:

In the photo above, Matt Vasgersian is sitting on the left, and Bert Blyleven (who needs no Wikipedia link) is on the right. Hot damn.

When James and I made it back down to the seats, the plan was for him to set up his camera in the cross-aisle and film me running back and forth for foul balls — 1st base side of home plate for righties and 3rd base side for lefties. Unfortunately, he was approached by a Tigers employee who told him that he wasn’t allowed to film. Here’s a photo of James pleading his case:

(James is wearing the silly green White Sox cap that I’d gotten the night before in Chicago. James saw it sitting in the rental car and asked if he could wear it.)

To my surprise (and delight), James was allowed to keep filming while the employee went and checked everything out. James was ultimately allowed to film as much as he wanted, but he was hassled several more times over the course of the day by other employees who hadn’t gotten the memo.

This was my view for right-handed batters:

No, those Stormtroopers (“Wookiepedia” — ha!! I love it!!) weren’t standing there for the whole game, but it *was* Star Wars Day at the stadium, so there were people in costumes all over.

Comerica Park is GREAT for catching foul balls during games. There’s a nice wide cross-aisle behind home plate, and there’s actually standing room built into it. Technically, you’re supposed to have an actual standing room ticket to stand there, but the ushers are usually cool about letting people hang out. So that’s what I did. And I kept moving back and forth all game. As luck would have it, there weren’t any foul balls that came near me, but get this: despite the fact that I stayed behind the plate all game, I still found myself with a chance to snag a home run ball. Here’s what happened…

Joe Mauer, entering the game with a whopping season total of two home runs, led off the 4th inning and worked the count to 2-1. On the next pitch from Tigers starter Max Scherzer, he lifted a deep fly ball toward straight-away left field. I didn’t think the ball was gonna make it out — I was thinking it’d go down as a fly out to the warning track — but lo and behold, the ball carried and cleared the outfield wall and landed here:

In case you can’t tell, that’s a canopy/platform that separates the bullpens. The ball landed right in the middle of it and shot back toward the fans in the front row who were sitting directly behind it. Those fans collectively bobbled it, and the ball trickled slowly back out to the middle. It kept rolling…and rolling…and I kept my eye on it from more than 300 feet away. From my perspective, the ball was a little white speck. I mean, I could barely see it, and I kept waiting for it to (a) roll completely off the platform or (b) be retrieved by one of the security guards out there.

Five seconds went by. Then ten. And the ball was still there. It had stopped rolling, and I immediately knew what to do. Dave was hanging out with me, and James was keeping an eye on my backpack near his tripod.

“I’m gonna see if I can glove-trick it,” I said to Dave, and I bolted through the aisle toward left field.

It probably took me half a minute to reach the left field seats, and incredibly, the ball was still sitting on top of the platform. When I worked my way down to the seats in the front row, I realized that the ball was much farther out that I’d originally thought. It wasn’t five feet from the stands. It was more like 10 to 15, and the area was swarming with cops and security guards. A middle aged fan in the front row was in the process of taking off his belt. He was hoping to fling it out there and knock the ball back, but I knew he had no chance. I took a deep breath, let out some string, and decided to go for it. I figured I only had one shot before security would shut me down, so my aim had to be perfect. Sadly, when I flung my glove out, it landed two feet short of the ball. CRAP!!! Crap crap crap! I knew I was in trouble and figured I’d lost my shot.

“SIR!!!” yelled the nearest guard as I tugged my glove back. “YOU CAN’T DO THAT!!!”

I completely ignored him and decided to give it one final shot. This was a GAME HOME RUN BALL hit by Joe Mauer. I couldn’t walk away from it. If they ejected me or arrested me, oh well. I’d call James from jail and ask him to bail me out, and hell, it’d make for some interesting footage for the documentary. I flung the glove back out, and I was successful in getting it to land beyond the ball. To my dismay, however, it landed to the left of the ball, so I knew that I didn’t have a good angle. If I’d had time (yeah right) to try once more, I would’ve aborted that attempt and tried to get the glove to land directly behind the ball, but that simply wasn’t gonna happen. The security guards were screaming at me and starting to climb up on the platform, so I gave the glove a solid tug, and the ball started rolling toward the stands, but noooooooo!!! I’d knocked it back on an angle, and before it reached the front row of seats, it veered off to the side and plunged into the bullpen. I seriously could not believe that I’d pissed away my chance (albeit a difficult one) to snag a game home run, but at that point, I knew I had to get the hell out of there. The first few rows, however, were so packed that it took me a moment to start moving back, and of course I needed a moment to grab my string. I had noticed that as soon as the ball rolled off, the security guard bent down to pick it up, but at that point, the ball was out of my view, and I was more concerned with getting myself out of there. It did appear that the guard (who, by the way, and this is important because it comes up later, was a large African American man) was fumbling around with something for a moment down below. I didn’t know what was going on, but anyway, after I’d climbed back over a couple rows of seats, I took one final peek back at the area where the ball had rolled off the platform. The guard poked his head up and made eye contact with me, and I thought, “Oh crap! They’re looking for me! I’m so busted!” but to my surprise, he held up the ball and tossed it to me — right over everyone else’s outstretched arms. (WHAT THE–?!?!) I was so confused at that point, but also thrilled beyond words, but when I looked at the ball, I instantly began to doubt whether it was THE ball. Here are four different photos of it:

As you can see, it was rubbed up as if it had been used in a game, but the MLB logo was worn out, and there were a bunch of smudges and weird markings. Did the guard switch balls on me? Maybe he saved the actual home run for Mauer (or for himself?!) and tossed me a dummy ball to get rid of me? Could the Mauer home run have gotten smudged like that by hitting the canopy? I didn’t know what to think, but regardless, it was a cool experience, and James later told me that he got the whole thing on film. That’s how the story ended — sort of. When I walked out of the stadium, I had no idea whether it was *the* ball or not, but something happened the following day that gave me a definitive answer. Wait for my next blog entry, and you’ll find out.

The Tigers won the game, 3-2, on a solo/walk-off homer by Brandon Inge with two outs in the bottom of the 9th. As soon as he made contact with the ball, I knew that the game was going to end, so I bolted through the aisle and headed down the steps toward the umpire tunnel. Jerry Layne had been working the plate, and when he headed toward me, I got him to hand me a ball.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

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

• 934 balls in 112 games this season = 8.34 balls per game.

• 773 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 298 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 5,596 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.)

• 59 donors

• $7.36 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $36.80 raised at this game

• $6,874.24 raised this season

Hold on! I’m not done…

Back at my hotel, James interviewed me in my room for more than an hour. Here he is telling me to turn off the TV (which Brandon was watching) in the background:

(Hey, James…you can take off your media credential now. It’s gonna be okay.)

18 comments

  1. Nick Badders (@nickbatters on twitter)

    This is really, really awesome. 1) you got to go on the field 2) you got good food and 3) you saw the pres box in action. (Is Matty V as short in real life as he is on TV?) But seriously, this is the bets entry you have made all year (Except for the one that has me in it)

  2. Brad

    Very cool experience you had at Comerica. I like the suspense you leave us in ;) I hope that ball is the real deal by the way. The black mark could be just a bat marking smudge?

  3. Jeff (& Bram)

    Glad you had a good experience in the D. I ended up meeting you the next day with my almost 8-year-old son, Bram. Before I figured out who you were, you gave him one of your balls (#5599, I believe) which you were gracious enough to sign for him after the action slowed down. Thank you again for taking the time to do that!

    I forgot to mention to you at the time that I took him to the game as a birthday present for some quality father-son time without his brothers. He always insists that we get to the game in time to see as much BP as possible so that he can try and get balls. Of course, I’m always MORE than happy to oblige. We haven’t started counting officially but he and his brother combined are about 5,589 behind you (even more now, I’m sure). Watch out though…they have WAY more University of Michigan foul balls than you!

    Anyhow, I think I know the answer to the mystery of the Mauer HR ball (as do my boys) but will wait and see tomorrow. I guess there’s no way I can convince you to keep it a secret at this point, is there?…lol…

    One other item to note (I probably should wait until the 9/11 game to post, but whatever): a young girl sitting near us in Sec 101 showed us a ball that she had received as a BP toss-up from one of the Twins. It was an LA Angels commemorative ball! They had played the Angels two series prior. Very cool.

    Great to actually meet you, love the blog, and looking forward to tomorrow’s post.

  4. Mateo Fischer

    Just a note, I got an e-mail on the subject and I’m pretty sure it was Star Wars day in every stadium that day. It was a promotion called “Use the Force for good” it was to raise money for Stand Up To Cancer.

  5. David Lally Sr

    Zach,

    It was my pleasure to take pictures and help out a bit. What a great day. Just wish Jr could have been there. Thanks for the autograph for him. He was very happy to get that and the ball….We will talk soon!

  6. Mateo Fischer

    Actually, let me revise what I wrote in my previous comment, they are indeed not doing the Star Wars theme at every stadium on the same day. Instead, it’s simply a series of themed nights at different stadiums on different days. Looks like you won’t hit any from now on but you will have missed the one at Wrigley by a day.

  7. Matthew Hiett (@LSThrasher04)

    This Friday is Star Wars Night at Turner Field and I can’t wait. John Smoltz used to enter from the bullpen to the Imperial March lol.

    By the way, where’s the “Hall of Famer” tag for Bert Blyleven? He certainly waited long enough lol.

  8. Mike

    Zack,
    It’s possible that the black smuge is pine tar- I have plenty of balls from diffrent leauges with a similar smuge. Also, as odd as this sounds, some of the ball may have “imprinted” on the roof as it hit, thus the faded look of the logo.There is a similar imprint on the centerfield wall at Fenway, and you can clearly see the logo from where the ball hit.
    I look forward to your next blog about the ball

  9. Dylan

    I haven’t commented for a while. Good to be back. Anyways, great game and amazing on everything. The Mauer (hopefully) ball, the credential, the food. Greate entry.

  10. Zack Hample

    RICK-
    I don’t like carbonation, and I’m allergic to sugar.

    NICK BADDERS-
    Matt never stood up while I was there, so I have no idea. But thanks. Glad you enjoyed it entry so much.

    BIG MONEY 1010-
    Phew! Thanks.

    MALCOLM-
    Hey, I simply HAD to go for it.

    BRAD-
    A little suspense is healthy every once in a while.

    JEFF & BRAM-
    Great to hear from you, and you’re welcome for the ball. Would you like to adopt me? I can’t even imagine what it would be like to have a family member that appreciates baseball.

    MATEO-
    Good. I like Star Wars, but I don’t LOOOOOOVE Star Wars, if you catch my drift.

    DAVID LALLY SR-
    Cool, glad to hear it.

    MATTHEW HIETT-
    Oh, Jeez. I can’t put “HOF” for *every* person I mention who’s in the Hall. I’d never have time to get anything done.

    BRENDAN ADAMS-
    Hell yeah.

    JOSEPH-
    Yeah, well, syrup isn’t carbonated.

    MIKE-
    I like your theories.

    JOSHSMETS-
    He and I can co-win the award.

    STEVE-
    Yes. But I do hold back when I sense that things could get out of hand.

    DYLAN-
    Thanks, mister.

    MORGAN COTE-
    Great to hear from you. Thanks for the pics.

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