9/12/11 at Great American Ball Park

It had been six years since my last game at Great American Ball Park, and I have to admit that I wasn’t looking forward to going back. The stadium is perfectly nice and pretty and all that, but from a ballhawking perspective, it’s really annoying. At the two games that I attended here back in 2005, I snagged a whopping total of eight baseballs, and yes, okay, it rained at one of those games so there wasn’t batting practice, but still. Not good.

That said, I did have a reason to be optimistic this time around: instead of having to wait until 5:40pm to enter, I was going to get inside at 4:30. I’ll explain in a moment, but first I have to show you my view of the stadium as I walked across a bridge from my hotel in Covington, Kentucky. Check it out:

When I made it to the stadium, I used my camera’s 10-second timer to take this photograph of myself…

…and then dealt with the ticket situation. (Here comes the explaining.) Great American Ball Park opens in three stages. It didn’t used to be like that, but here’s how it works now:

1) All gates open to the general public 90 minutes before game time. This game was scheduled to begin at 7:10pm, so the gates were going to open at 5:40.

2) Season ticket holders can get in half an hour earlier, but until all the gates open at 5:40pm, they have to stay on the right side of the stadium — anywhere from the 1st base dugout to the seats near the batter’s eye in right-center.

3) The outfield seats in right field open at 4:30pm for people holding “BP Tour” tickets. (Note: you also need an actual/separate game ticket to take advantage of this opportunity, but it doesn’t need to be a season ticket.) These tickets cost $15, are limited to 50 per game, and are sold at the Reds Hall of Fame.

Are you with me?

Good.

I had a BP Tour ticket (in addition to a seat for the game in straight-away left field), and when the “tour guide” led everyone inside of the stadium from the Hall of Fame, this was the scene:

That was the entire group. There weren’t 50 people. It was more like 20.

In the photo above, do you see the guy wearing the gray “Cincinnati” jersey? He’s wearing a black backpack. His name is Rocco, and he’s one of the few regular ballhawks at the stadium. Here he is with another regular named Michael:

These guys were both super-friendly, and they *wanted* to see me snag as many baseballs as possible. I mean, they still ran out there and competed with me, but they were hoping for me to succeed. Rocco actually gave me advice on all the best places to go inside the stadium. He told me where to go for foul balls, home runs, umpire balls, Easter eggs — you name it. I was truly touched by his (and Michael’s) warmth and generosity.

Ready to see how crowded it was in right field for the first 40 minutes of BP? Have a look below:

Pretty sick, huh?

You’d think (or at least *I* thought) that I’d have a monster day with such little competition, but just the opposite happened. For the first 26 minutes, every single batter was right-handed, and when the lefties started hitting, they turned out to be worthless. Jay Bruce and Joey Votto? All they did was hit line drives to right field and deep fly balls to left-center. The lack of ball-snagging opportunities was unbelievable, and in those rare moments when home runs did reach the seats, it was hard to run for them. Take another look at the photo above. Do you see how long those railings are on the staircases? They blocked four out of every five rows, and in addition to that, the tunnels in straight-away right (halfway up the section) also got in the way. As a result, I only snagged two baseballs during the first hour of BP. The first was a ground-rule double by a right-handed batter on the reds. (No idea who.) The second was a home run by Juan Francisco that I caught on the fly in left center. Take a look at that ball below, and then I’ll explain why it was significant:

At the start of the day, I had a streak of 299 consecutive games with at least two baseballs, dating back to the 2007 All-Star Game. The Francisco homer made it 300 games.

My third ball of the day was thrown by Cubs catcher Koyie Hill in right field.

When the rest of the stadium opened, I was a bit late getting out to left field, and I watched in horror as a handful of guys grabbed handfuls of baseballs in the empty seats. Everything was going wrong. No matter where I went or when I got there, I seemed to be 30 seconds late. I was making bad strategic decisions, and I knew it. I was having bad luck, and it sucked. During the Cubs’ portion of BP, I had endless room to run for home runs…

…but there weren’t any being hit. (See the railings in the photo above? They’re killers.) It was so frustrating that I felt like this all day:

At around 6pm, I got a ball thrown to me by Andrew Cashner, and toward the end of BP, I caught an Alfonso Soriano homer on the fly. It was so dead in left field that I wandered over to the foul line…

…but things were just as dead there.

That was it — two solid hours of BP in a near-empty stadium and only five baseballs. That might sound like a decent total, but given the circumstances, it was actually quite disappointing. I did get a ball thrown to me by Ryan Dempster at the 3rd base dugout when the Cubs cleared the field, but still…bleh. The best part of the day, at least at that point, was making some new friends. Check out the four-part photo below, and then I’ll tell you who everyone is:

UPPER LEFT: Jarrod. He brought his copy of The Baseball (which he’s holding) and gave me a copy of Josh Hamilton’s book, Beyond Belief (which I’m holding).

UPPER RIGHT: Anthony. He also brought his copy of The Baseball. Really nice guy. We kept running into each other throughout the night.

LOWER LEFT: Ryan. We’d been emailing on and off for more than a year, so it was great to finally meet him. He’s a Cubs fan, so I threw on my Cubs gear for the photo.

LOWER RIGHT: Rocco and Michael. Michael forgot to bring his copy of The Baseball, but Rocco brought his copy along with my first book, How To Snag Major League Baseballs.

Before the game, I got my 7th ball of the day in shallow left field from Cubs bullpen catcher Andrew Lane.

During the game, this was my view from straight-away left field…

…and here’s what it looked like on my left:

How awesome is that?

The Reds and Cubs combined to hit seven home runs (including a 482-foot bomb by Juan Francisco that flew completely out of the stadium in right field), and I’m proud to say that I snagged one of them. Here’s how it played out…

Top of the 5th. Two outs. 2-1 pitch from Carlos Fisher to Starlin Castro:

Castro crushed it toward the Reds’ bullpen in left-center. The red circle below indicates where I was sitting when he connected:

In the following screen shot, the arrow is pointing at the ball; I’m inside the red circle, one full section to the right of where I’d started:

The ball landed on top of the protective netting above the bullpen. I cut through the final row of seats…

…to get as close to it as possible.

In the screen shot above, do you see the Reds relievers sitting behind the outfield wall? Sam LeCure was on the end, closest to me, so I called out to him and asked, “Sam, what would it possibly take to get that ball from the net?”

“Really long arms,” he said.

“Well, I do have THIS,” I said, dangling my glove trick several feet down, “but I don’t think the security guard would appreciate it.”

He laughed, and I had a good feeling about it. I just had to keep going and say one more funny thing to make him WANT to give me the ball. After all, there were a few other fans in the section who were also asking for it.

“I mean, come ON,” I continued, “that’s a CUBS home run. You don’t want the CUBS to get that ball back, right?”

“They won’t,” he said matter-of-factly, but I could tell that he was amused by the whole exchange.

“In that case, is there any chance that you could give me a little help?”

“I’ll help,” he said, but then he just sat there. It turned out that he was waiting for the inning to end, so once the third out was recorded, he stood up and walked slowly into the bullpen. I thought that the net was higher than it actually was — that he was going to have to poke it down with a long object — but it was low enough for him to reach up and swat it off with his hand. The ball went flying and landed in the area next to the bullpen. LeCure casually walked after it, then picked it up, looked up me, and gave it a toss. Ta-daaa!!!

Just like that, I’d snagged my second game home run ball in three days. (The other was a Joe Mauer homer on 9/10/11 at Comerica Park. Because these balls were tossed to me, I don’t include them on this list, but it’s still cool to have gotten them.) Here’s a photo of it with the bullpen netting in the background:

Here are four photos of the ball. Check out the weird, non-mudded areas alongside the stitches:

I’ve never seen anything like that. Have you?

In the 9th inning, I went here for an umpire ball…

…and failed to get one. I did, however, get a ball from one of the Cubs relievers when they walked in from the bullpen after the game. (Final score: Cubs 12, Reds 8.) I think it was Andrew Cashner again, but I’m not sure. I gave that ball to a new friend of mine named Laura and gave away two others to kids.

On my way out, I ran into a guy named Mark who looked familiar. It took me a moment to remember that I’d met him on 8/23/11 at Progressive Field. Does this photo ring a bell? It shows him holding a ball that I had signed for his son, Zach. This time, I got a photo with them, and since Rocco and Michael were standing nearby, they got in on it too. Here we all are:

I took one final photo of the stadium:

You may have noticed that I didn’t post a photo of myself in this entry with a stadium number sign. If I had, I would’ve been making an awful face. I still had two more games here and suspected that things were gonna get a whole lot better.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 9 balls at this game (none pictured here because I neglected to photograph them)

• 951 balls in 114 games this season = 8.34 balls per game.

• 775 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 300 consecutive games with at least two balls!

• 5,613 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)

• $66.24 raised at this game

• $6,999.36 raised this season

9 comments

  1. Shane T.

    Optimism, Zack! You’re too grumpy for a game where you racked up nine balls, and hit a milestone. Maybe the long season’s wearing you down, or maybe you’ll feel better once you get away from those high-hurdle handrails. (It’s like they designed the stadium without even thinking of ballhawks or something. ;-) )
    Anyway, keep your chin up. One thousand is coming, soon.
    (And I almost got through the whole post without bragging about being first. Almost.)

  2. hooksfan

    Zack, you need to made a minor tweak to the city….that would be Covington, KY. Your 1,000 ball for the season isn’t that far behind.

  3. Mike

    Zack,
    Two home run balls in three days? How awesome is that! As far as the home run ball, yes, I’ve seen something similar before from a ball I purchaced from a Fenway game this year.

  4. GiveUsBackOurTeam

    Congratulations on being the #1 MLBlog. Your story is amazing. Many fans spend their entire lives at games and never get a ball. To have gotten almost 1000 this year is unbelievable. You are an inspiration for the American Dream. Taking your love for the game and getting baseballs and then publishing three books and starting a business to take others to games to help them get balls is genius.

    I started the Outside the Dodgers blog (http://outsidethedodgers.wordpress.com) due to problems that we were having with Inside the Dodgers (http://insidethedodgers.mlblogs.com/.) I did not include it as a MLBLog because I did not want any restrictions with the format. The core group of ITD bloggers have made themselves at home there. And they have posting privileges as well.

    The top fifty list did not show page views. I am curious where OTD would fall into this group. In August there were 9,376 views. Can you tell me the views for your blog?

  5. Zack Hample

    SHANE T.-
    Nah, I’m not grumpy. I just know what I’m capable of doing, and it just wasn’t happening for me at this game.

    RYAN-
    You can find it in the “contact” link on my website.

    HOOKSFAN-
    D’oh! Thanks.

    BEN-
    I needed more time…

    STEVE-
    Tim is the man, but yeah, I’ve also been on the MLB Network.

    MIKE-
    Interesting.

    BEN WIDEMAN-
    Right back atcha. It was good to hang out and chat during the slower moments.

    GIVE US BACK OUR TEAM-
    Thank you so much!! I’ve been averaging more than 2,000 hits per day on my blog. there are days when I get about 3,000, and sometimes I only get about 1,500, but it’s been pretty consistent.

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