There’s something about the World Series that brings out the best in people — and in goats:
Three and a half hours before game time, that was the scene outside the stadium, and for the sake of Rangers fans, I hope that the goat was allowed inside or else the team is gonna be cursed.
Speaking of fans, look how many people there were outside the 3rd base gate:
The game was scheduled to begin at 7:05pm (central time). The gates opened at 4pm, which probably sounds great, but consider this: batting practice hadn’t yet started, which meant that the seats were going to get increasingly crowded before I had a chance to snag any baseballs.
I passed the time by heading down to the front row in straight-away left field:
In the photo above, do you see the yellow thing on the railing? Those things were all over the place. Here’s a closer look at one of them:
As you may recall, this is the section where a fan named Shannon Stone had fallen to his death three months earlier. The reason why I went there the other day was to see if anything had changed as a result. I expected there to be a net covering the gap and thought that the railing might be higher, but no, the only difference that I recognized since my last visit in April was the abundance of the yellow stickers.
At around 4:10pm, I wandered over to the 1st base side. Look how crowded it was:
BP got underway three minutes later, so I raced back to left field. Look how crowded it was:
A funny thing happened a little while later. I was standing in left field, hoping for a home run to fly my way, when I saw a ball drop into the gap behind the left-center field wall. I decided to run over and try to snag it with my glove trick, but first I had to grab my backpack off a nearby seat. That took two seconds. Then I began to run up the steps, but before I got far, I sensed that everyone around me was jockeying for position, so I stopped and turned back toward the field and looked up and saw a home run flying right at me. With my backpack flung over my right shoulder, I jumped up and caught the ball with my left hand, then bolted up the steps and ran to the bleachers in left-center and snagged the other ball with my device. (In case you’re wondering, these balls did not have the World Series logo; they were just regular balls.)
After that, I thought about playing the berm in dead center, but look how crowded it was:
I ended up finding a spot along the railing, but never jumped over. With dozens of overeager kids and aggressive adults surrounding me, the idea of running out onto the grass seemed like an injury waiting to happen, so whenever a ball landed there, I just stood and watched the ensuing scrum. It wasn’t exactly how I’d planned to spend my time during BP, but it’s not like I had many other options. Look how crowded it was:
Then another funny thing happened. Josh Hamilton launched a home run toward my edge of the berm. Half a dozen gloveless fans jumped over the railing and reached for the ball simultaneously, causing it to deflect off their hands and bounce gently *right* to me. I didn’t even have to lunge or reach for it. I mean, if I hadn’t caught it, it would’ve hit me in the stomach.
“Thanks, guys!” I yelled sarcastically to the fans on the berm, prompting everyone else around me to laugh.
Halfway through the Rangers’ portion of BP, Darren Oliver threw a ball to a little kid in the front row, roughly 30 feet to my right. Not surprisingly, the kid dropped it and the ball ended up in the gap. As I headed over to have a look, the same thing happened again with the same kid: another dropped toss-up that landed in the gap. As I began setting up the rubber band for my glove trick, I decided to give one of the balls to the kid, but just before I had a chance to lower the glove, Oliver threw another ball. By this point, I was standing next to the kid, and as it turned out, the throw sailed a bit too high, so I reached up and caught the ball bare-handed and immediately handed it to him. The kid’s father (who was standing in the 2nd row) thanked me, and then I went to work with the glove trick. Unfortunately, one of the Rangers pitchers found his way into the gap as I was reeling in the first ball, so of the two that had been sitting there, I only snagged one. That said, my total for the day had reached five, so I wasn’t about to start complaining.
Several minutes later, I saw something that I’d never seen before: someone on the Rangers tossed a ball into the crowd which *appeared* to have the cowhide cover partially torn off. From where I was standing, it was hard to tell. As the ball sailed through the air, all I saw was an extra white blob attached to it, so I assumed that that’s what it was — and when the ball fell short of the stands and landed in the gap, I got VERY excited. I hurried over to have a look, and sure enough, part of the cover was indeed separated from the ball. Check out the following photo of me (taken by my friend Frank). It shows my glove dangling above the ball:
For two solid minutes, I failed to get the ball to stick inside my glove. I knew why I was struggling — the partially detached cover made the ball too wide — but I didn’t know what to do about it. Finally, a solution popped into my head, but right at that moment, a college-aged kid approached me from behind and asked if he could “take a crack at it.” I noticed that he had a ball-retrieving device of his own, and while I greatly appreciated that he checked in with me first, I simply needed to test my new strategy. I asked him if he’d let me try once more — and he very kindly held back while I gave it a final shot. My solution was easy: move the rubber band over so that it created a bigger space at the tip of the glove. DUH!!! I should’ve thought of it sooner, but anyway, my slightly modified device worked perfectly, and I managed to snag the ball. (The other kid snagged a ball two minutes later, so everyone was happy.) Here I am taking a photo of it…
…and here I am posing with it:
Is that crazy or what?
For a split-second, I debated whether or not to count the ball in my collection, but my main thought was that it should absolutely count. This ball was no less of a ball than, say, a person with a missing leg is no less of a person. Furthermore, it was an official major league ball, and it had come from a player who was on the field at a World Series game, so why NOT count it, right?
(One of the main things that I love about ballhawking is that it never gets old. After 22 years of going to games, and after snagging more than 5,800 baseballs, I’m still experiencing new things and solving wacky challenges.)
The ball with the partially missing cover was my 6th of the day. Of the five that were still in my possession, four had the word “practice” stamped on the sweet spot. Check it out:
When the Cardinals took the field, I got Jaime Garcia to throw me my 7th ball of the day in foul territory. You can see him in the following photo (wearing No. 54) walking away from me:
I was hoping to snag three more balls and reach double digits, but that didn’t happen.
Look how crowded it was:
It wasn’t quite as crowded as the 2011 All-Star Game, but it had that feel, and as a result, I didn’t know where to go or what to do with myself. I wandered for the next 45 minutes, didn’t come close to snagging anything, and eventually headed toward the 3rd base dugout. Look how crowded it was:
I didn’t snag anything there. The only thing I got was a photo of this adorable sign…
…and a photo with my friend Ben Weil:
As I’ve mentioned many times, Ben owns more jerseys than you can even imagine. Someday, perhaps this coming off-season, I’m going to visit his home and photograph his collection and blog about it — so get ready. What you see will be shocking (and will hopefully make me look normal in comparison).
Ben had a standing room ticket and found a place to hang out near the left field foul pole. I had a ticket near the berm in right-center and had to do some serious bargaining in order to get the perfect spot. As I mentioned in my previous entry, I had the 3rd seat in, and I was prepared to do whatever it took to get the two people sitting next to me — whoever they turned out to be — to trade seats. As it turned out, those people were 20-something-year-old guys who didn’t want to move. Given the fact that they each had a beer in their hand when they first showed up, I offered to buy them all the beers they could possibly drink for the entire game. No deal. Then I offered them $100 cash. No deal. It was obviously their right to stay where they were, but as you can imagine, I was pretty frustrated and stressed; I had NOT flown all the way to Texas to be trapped in the middle of a row, so I was determined to find another way to get an end seat.
Before the game, this was the view to my right…
…and this was the view to my left:
The player introductions probably lasted 10 or 20 minutes, but I don’t remember any of it. I was so nervous about my seating location that the whole thing was a blur. (I don’t like the introductions anyway. Never have. Never will. It’s just a lot of useless hype. I know who everyone is. Play the damn game.) (Wow, I sound really cranky.) (You know what? I just realized why I don’t like the intros. Twenty-five years ago, it was impossible to find out the exact time when the first pitch would be thrown. The networks would say 8pm, but then when I tuned in, there’d be half an hour of B.S. and commercials. That always pissed me off, and THAT is why the introductions still annoy me. It brings back bad memories of my precious childhood being wasted. PLAY. THE. GAME.) (Does anyone else agree?) (Yay, parentheses!) (Okay, I’m going to move on now.) (For real.)
When the game started, there happened to be an empty seat at the end of Row 9, so I grabbed it, knowing that my time there was *very* limited. This was my view of the field…
…and this was my INCREDIBLE view to the right:
I had so much room to run that I was practically drooling at the possibilities. An inning later, as I was devising various ways to celebrate if I caught a home run, the people showed up for their seats. I had to think fast, so I asked the lady sitting at the end of Row 8 if she’d be willing to slide over and give me six inches of bench space for 80 bucks. My heart sank as she said no, but just then, the guy sitting at the end of Row 7 said, “HOW much?!”
“Eighty bucks,” I said, reaching for my wallet and pulling our four crisp twenties.
“You got yourself a deal!” he said, and just like that, I had the absolute best seat that anyone has ever had in the history of major league baseball.
Of course, of the six home runs that were hit during the game, none went to center field, but that almost didn’t matter. I was having so much fun just BEING there that the 80 bucks seemed like a bargain. Albert Pujols hit three of the homers, joining Babe Ruth and Reggie Jackson as the only players to hit three in a World Series game. Pujols ended up going 5-for-6 with six RBIs, four runs scored, and 14 total bases. There are no words to describe him.
Late in the game, I was visited by two fans who’d brought their copies of The Baseball. The first was a 14-year-old girl named Meggie, who’d recently won an essay contest sponsored by Major League Baseball. Meggie (aka “writerkid”) posted the essay in the comments section of my previous entry, and let me just say that if you haven’t read it, you really ought to check it out. Click here to see the comments and scroll down a bit. It’s truly inspirational and very well written, not just for a teenager but for anyone. Here we are together:
The other fan was a 20-something-year-old guy named Casey, and like Meggie, he waited patiently for me to sign the book. You see, when someone asks me to sign it, I don’t simply write “Zack Hample.” That would be lame, so I try to come up with an original inscription that captures something about the person and/or the situation. As a general rule, I always need a little bit of time to think, and in this case, since the game was in progress, I could only write a few words at a time during quick breaks in the action. Here’s a photo of me and Casey:
The Cardinals won the game, 16-7, to take a 2-1 series lead — kinda nuts to have such a lopsided game in the World Series.
After the final out, I was recognized by a Korean couple who asked if they could take photos with me. Here’s a photo (taken by Ben) of me being photographed:
When I asked the couple how they knew who I was, they said that they’d just seen the documentary about me. I didn’t even know that it was out yet, so that was a pretty cool surprise. (If you don’t know about the documentary, click here and here and here and here.)
On my way out of the stadium, I saw the cutest kid of all time (dressed as an actual Cardinal) and got permission from his parents to take a photo. Have a look:
That was it. My final game of the season was only 20 hours away…
• 1,150 balls in 130 games this season = 8.85 balls per game.
• 791 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 316 consecutive games with at least two balls
• 18 consecutive post-season games with at least one ball
• 6 consecutive World Series games with at least one ball
• 5,812 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.)
• 61 donors
• $7.47 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $52.29 raised at this game
• $8,590.50 raised this season