The weather was perfect, the stadium was practically empty, and I’d learned from all the stupid mistakes that I’d made the day before. Of course, even with all those mistakes, I still managed to snag nine balls, so you can imagine what kind of monster numbers I put up here.
Things got started at 4:30pm in right field. This was my view:
The previous day, one of my mistakes was that I wasn’t aggressive enough with the glove trick. Several balls had rolled onto the warning track, and I don’t know what happened inside my brain, but I was scared to go for them. I thought I was going to get in trouble, so I just stood there passively and watched my opportunities slip away. At THIS game, however, when the first ball rolled onto the track…
…I was all over it, and guess what happened? Not only didn’t I get in trouble, but my “tour guide” (for the early BP experience) wanted to see how I’d managed to make the ball stick inside my glove. Ha! Her name was Connie, and when another ball rolled onto the warning track soon after, she called me over and encouraged me to snag it. (I love Cincinnati.) I thanked her by giving her the ball, and she asked me to sign it. Here she is with it:
Several minutes later, I noticed that a player on the Reds randomly tossed a ball into the empty seats behind the 1st base dugout. At the time, I wasn’t allowed to run over and look for it because that part of the stadium hadn’t yet opened, so I kept my eye on the clock and kept doing my thing in straight-away right. Jay Bruce threw me a ball. Then Sam LeCure threw me another. And when the seats along the right field foul line opened at 5:10pm, I raced toward the dugout. This was the result:
When I made it back to straight-away right field, someone on the Reds hit a deep fly ball that carried to the outfield wall in front of me. I reached out to catch it, only to be robbed by a player who jumped up and caught it at the last second.
“You robbed me!” I shouted. “Any chance for a little help?”
The player turned around and flipped me the ball. I found out later that it was a rookie pitcher named Matt Maloney.
Look how empty it was in right field:
It was 5:14pm. The left field side of the stadium wasn’t going to open for another 26 minutes, so I still had some time to work with over here.
The next 10 minutes were dead, so I ran back to the 1st base when the Reds cleared the field. That’s where I got my 7th ball of the day — a toss-up from coach Billy Hatcher.
I ran back to right field when the Cubs started hitting and immediately snagged a home run ball that deflected off a man’s head in the front row. Thankfully, he was okay because he’d managed to get a piece of it with his bare hands, but it was still scary, and I gave him the ball. Then I snagged another homer that landed behind me in the mostly-empty seats. I’m not sure who hit these balls, but if I had to guess, I’d say that the 2nd one came off the bat of Tyler Colvin.
Remember all those mistakes that I talked about at the beginning of this entry? Well, another stupid thing that I did the day before was that when the left field seats opened at 5:40pm, I didn’t bother racing over there to look for Easter eggs. Big mistake. The guys who ran over found a bunch of balls in the seats, and I vowed to get in on that action the next day.
Long story short: I found FOUR balls in the left field seats, so my total for the day jumped from nine to thirteen. That’s when I realized that I had a chance to snag 20 balls — and I sure as hell had enough empty seats to work with:
Ramon Ortiz tossed me my 14th ball of the day. Then I snagged a home run that fell two rows short and ricocheted back to me. (How often does THAT happen?!) My 16th ball was tossed by rookie pitcher John Gaub, and No. 17 was thrown from afar by a player that I couldn’t identify. All I can tell you about that one was that I was standing on the steps in the 6th row and had to jump as high as possible to catch it.
By the way, did you notice that I didn’t catch a single home run on the fly all day? The lack of catchable home runs confirmed my previous day’s opinion about Great American Ball Park. The layout is bad for ballhawking; the only reason why I was putting up big numbers is that the place opened extremely early (two hours and 40 minutes before game time) and no one was there. Anyway, when the Cubs’ portion of BP ended, I got a ball from coach Dave Keller at the 3rd base dugout. That was my 18th of the day. Here’s a photo of four different balls with interesting markings — scuffs, grass stains, practice stamps, et cetera:
Cool guy. Our paths crossed several times over the course of the day, and we ended up chatting quite a bit.
Just before the game started, I got my 19th ball from Darwin Barney at the 3rd base dugout. I forget who he was playing catch with it, but whatever. There really wasn’t anything to it. There was absolutely NO competition, so when he finished, he had no choice but to throw the ball to me.
When the game started, I really wanted to head out to left field and try to catch a home run, but DAMN, I was still stuck at 19 balls, so I stayed by the Cubs’ dugout in the hopes of snagging a 3rd-out ball. This was my view:
Drew Stubbs struck out to end the 1st inning, and Mike League went down swinging to end the 2nd. Both of those balls got tossed into the crowd at the home-plate end of the dugout, but it was still early. I still had hope.
When Joey Votto bounced into a 4-6-3 double play to end the 3rd inning, I figured I was in the perfect spot to get the ball from Cubs 1st baseman Carlos Pena — but he ended up jogging back toward the home-plate end of the dugout. Damn.
With two outs in the bottom of the 4th, Juan Francisco hit a towering pop-up to the right side of the infield. Pena drifted back and called for the ball. Darwin Barney drifted to the side and settled under it as well. I was praying that he’d call off Pena. If Pena caught it, he’d take the ball to the wrong end of the dugout, but if Barney caught it, he (and all the other position players) would jog in toward my end. As luck had it, Barney called off Pena at the last second and started heading toward me. I moved down to the front row and took off my Cubs hat to make it harder for him to recognize me, and when he reached the warning track, he tossed me the ball.
This was just the 13th time in my life that I’d snagged 20 balls at a single game, so it was a pretty big deal.
I moved to straight-away left field after that, but there wasn’t any action — and that was fine. At that point, I was content to just sit there and watch the game. Mike Leake outdueled Ryan Dempster. Final score: Reds 2, Cubs 1.
After the game, I posed for a photo with a fellow ballhawk named Michael who’d brought his copy of The Baseball:
Then, on my way out, I gave away three of my baseballs to kids.
Here’s a photo of my 20th ball of the day outside the stadium:
I made sure to keep that one for myself.
• 971 balls in 115 games this season = 8.44 balls per game.
• 776 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 301 consecutive games with at least two balls
• 173 lifetime games with ten or more balls
• 13 lifetime games with twenty or more balls
• 5,633 total balls
(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)
• $147.20 raised at this game
• $7,146.56 raised this season