I’d like to introduce you to Max — my newest friend and baseball-snagging superstar. Here we are standing outside Gate 6 at Yankee Stadium:
Max was my Watch With Zack client for the day, and his goal was simple: to snag as many balls as possible. My goal, meanwhile, was a bit more complicated. Not only did I want to make sure that he went home with an absurd number of balls, but I wanted to snag exactly two for myself — just enough to keep my streaks alive (815 consecutive games with at least one ball and 340 consecutive games with at least two), but not too many to ruin my plan to snag No. 6,000 two days later at Fenway Park. My lifetime total at the start of the day was 5,995, so yeah, I knew I could snag as many as four, but I wanted to leave a little breathing room.
As soon as we entered the stadium and bolted to the right field seats, I got Hiroki Kuroda to throw me a ball by asking him in Japanese. Then I spotted an “Easter egg” in the front row near the bullpen, but instead of grabbing it, I pointed it out to Max. I wanted to take his picture before he picked it up, but (a) he’s not really into posing for photos and (b) he was understandably too excited to just stand there while I monkeyed around with my camera. As a result, this was the best/only photo I got:
For the record, this wasn’t the first ball that Max had ever snagged. It was his fourth . . . which is pretty good . . . especially for a 12-year-old. Of course, I saw his lifetime total as a challenge; I wanted to help him snag more baseballs in one day than he’d previously snagged in his entire life. First, though, I had to get my second ball out of the way, and thankfully it didn’t take long. Less than a minute after Max grabbed the ball that’d been sitting in the front row, I raced up the steps and snagged a Nick Swisher homer that landed near the back of the section. (Random statistical side note: that was the 200th ball that I’d ever snagged at a Watch With Zack game.)
I put my glove away after that, and let me tell you, it felt strange. I don’t know what I would’ve done if a home run had come right to me. I suppose I might’ve tried to catch it bare-handed (just for the challenge) or stepped aside in the hopes that Max would snag it on the rebound. As it turned out, we didn’t have good luck with homers, so we focused on getting toss-ups.
When the second group of Yankees started hitting, Max and I ran to the left field seats. Here he is in the front row:
I should mention that Max had brought a ball with him . . . and that we’d played catch with it before the stadium opened . . . and that he caught every single one of my throws (even the knuckleballs) . . . and that he made it look easy. I knew that he’d have no trouble catching toss-ups from the players. All he needed were some opportunities, so when the Yankees cleared the field, I lent him my extra-large Rays shirt. Here he is putting it on:
Once he got his arms through the sleeves, I grabbed his drawstring backpack (no need for him to carry it) and led him into foul territory. From that point on, Max and I worked as a ballhawking team. I shouted at the players and got their attention, and when they threw the balls toward us, Max made all the catches. Here’s a photo of B.J. Upton throwing one . . .
. . . and here’s a photo of Evan Longoria tossing another:
Unfortunately, because Yankee Stadium is crazy-strict, that was as close as we could get to the field, but it didn’t seem to affect us. I was shouting so loud that the players could easily hear me, and Max was killin’ it with his no-effort catches. He had already doubled his lifetime total, and I had a feeling that we were only getting started.
During the first group of Rays hitters, I suggested to Max that we run to the right-center field bleachers. (We probably would’ve gotten a ball if we’d stayed in left field, but (a) I wanted him to see different parts of the stadium, and (b) exercise is good.) Here he is looking out at the field:
In the photo above, do you see the player crouching in right-center? It was same guy who’d been crouching the day before during BP: Burke Badenhop. I waited until the moment was right and then screamed my head off at him. He didn’t throw Max a ball right away, but made a subtle gesture that indicated that he would. Two minutes later, Badenhop came through and chucked a ball in our direction. Here’s a blurry photo that shows what happened:
That photo was blurry because Badenhop airmailed Max, and if I hadn’t ducked out of the way, the ball would’ve hit me. I suppose I could’ve caught it, but like I said before, I didn’t want to snag any more balls, and also, because the bleachers were mostly empty, I figured that Max would be able to scramble after it — better for him to snag it on his own than have me catch it and hand it to him. The ball landed in the fourth row, bounced back to the 10th row, and started trickling down the steps. I quickly chased after it and positioned my body between the ball and the nearest fans. They got the message, and Max ran over and grabbed it moments later. He had now snagged more balls in 45 minutes of batting practice that he had up to that point in his entire life.
We ran back to the seats in straight-away left field, and when David Price fielded a ball soon after, I pointed Max down near the corner spot. I shouted at Price and waved my arms and pointed at Max — and Price let it fly. The throw fell a bit short, and I wasn’t sure if my man was going to be able to reach it. Here’s a photo of him lunging over the wall:
The ball had disappeared from my view for a moment . . . but he caught it! That was No. 5.
Toward the end of BP, Max caught this toss-up . . .
. . . from J.P. Howell.
He now had six balls. That was DOUBLE his previous lifetime total.
When BP ended, we made our way to the seats behind the Rays’ dugout. I failed to get an action shot of what happened next, so you’ll have to settle for this instead:
When the Rays cleared the field, I noticed that Wade Davis had a ball in his hand, so I shouted at him and got him to throw it to Max. BOO-yah!! That was No. 7.
Okay, ready for a challenge? See if you can spot the ball in the following photo, taken less than 10 minutes before game time:
Here’s a hint (courtesy of Photoshop):
In both versions of the photo, you can see Max’s hat and glove at the bottom. The player standing directly above his hat is Desmond Jennings. That’s who threw the ball, and this probably won’t come as a surprise, but Max caught it.
This was our view during the game:
Our seats were in a section that had waiter service, but eh . . . who needs it? The way I see it, a waiter at a baseball game is just one more person to block my view, and anyway, Max and I were hungry for stuff that wasn’t on the menu.
In the top of the 2nd inning, I offered to go get us some food. I was going to leave right at the start of the inning, but then Ben Zobrist grounded out to Robinson Cano on the first pitch, and Hideki Matsui grounded out to Derek Jeter three pitches later. My glove was in my bag. I had my wallet and ticket in my left hand. I was debating making a run for it with two outs — that’s the best time to head to the bathroom or concession stands because there’s no line — but I wasn’t quite sure what food to actually buy. Carlos Pena, meanwhile, stepped to the plate and took a called strike. Max and I had agreed to split a twenty-dollar bucket of fries and sliders, but it came with an odd number of sliders (five), and we had to choose between chicken and—
Pena hit a wimpy foul pop-up on the next pitch that was clearly heading in our direction. I realized quickly that it was going to fall a bit short, so I got up and drifted down the steps in case the ball was bobbled . . . and whaddaya know, it WAS bobbled, and it bounced right to me. I got my hands on it for a split-second, but because of my wallet and ticket, I bobbled it too. Thankfully the ball stayed near me, and before anyone else was able to lunge for it, I snatched it with my right hand. I immediately turned around and held it up so that Max could see it, and check this out . . . my friend Tony Bracco happened to take a photo of us from the 1st base side:
Tony is a ballhawk as well as a graphic designer and sports photographer. He brings his camera to every game and often takes pictures as baseballs enter the stands, so that’s how he ended up getting that shot of me. Here’s another that shows Max giving me a fist-bump:
Did you notice my wallet and (print-at-home) ticket in the photo above? I was still holding them in my left hand.
Here’s a photo that was taken by the people sitting just in front of us:
The man who took that photo asked me if that was the first ball I’d ever gotten.
“No, I’ve actually snagged quite a few,” I told him, although this ball DID represent a first. As I mentioned last night on Twitter, it was the first foul ball that I’d ever gotten during a game at the new Yankee Stadium.
Here’s another photo that Tony took. It looks funny, but I can explain:
The ball was sticky with pine tar, so Max and I were taking turns smelling it.
Let me show you something that smelled better (and contained about 5,000 calories):
It might not look like much from this angle, but damn, it was a LOT of food. Imagine the very biggest popcorn bucket at a movie theater, but instead of popcorn, the bottom half is packed with french fries, and the top half has a selection of sliders (two beef, two buffalo chicken, and one regular chicken). Oof.
Here’s another photo from Tony, taken several innings later:
As you can see above, one arrow is pointing at Max, and the other is pointing at me. Every half-inning, Max went down to the bottom of our section and tried to get balls tossed to him. When the Rays were taking the field, he went for the infield warm-up balls, and when the Rays were coming off the field, he went for 3rd-out balls. I think he had fun trying — it’s more fun to get up and shout at the players than to sit still and do nothing — but no one showed him any love. It was too noisy and crowded for him to be spotted, and there were too many adorable, little kids sitting directly behind the dugout.
When the Yankees put the finishing touches on their 4-1 victory, Max knew exactly what to do. We’d been discussing our post-game strategy during the 9th inning, so after the final out, he made a beeline down to the bottom row. We weren’t able to get the home plate umpire’s attention, but when the Rays relievers and coaches started walking in from the bullpen . . .
. . . I was hoping that one of them would have a ball.
The first cluster of guys had nothing, but a minute or two later, the last two guys who walked across the field DID have a ball. I shouted at them like a madman and got one of them (no idea who) to throw it to Max. I tried to get a photo of the ball floating toward his glove, but my camera was being dumb, and I was a second too late. This turned out to be a good thing because the flash went off just as Max was turning around to face me:
I think it would be safe to say that he was having fun.
Before we headed out, I got a photo of him attempting to hold all NINE of his baseballs:
That’s when we noticed a little girl hanging out with her family and thought that it’d be nice to give her a ball. I wanted Max to keep all of his, so I gave him one of mine to give to her. Here’s a photo of him handing it over:
Max is an absolute baseball nut who knows more about statistics and the history of the game than most grown-up fans. He and I talked baseball all night, and if the game had lasted 100 innings, we wouldn’t have run out of things to discuss.
When we left the stadium, he wanted to check out several of the nearby souvenir stores, but not to buy the typical crap that most fans throw their money at. Wanna see what he bought for seven dollars? Check this out:
“That’s a pretty cool item,” I said. “What made you want to get that?”
“1981,” he replied casually, “that was a good All-Star Game.”
“Oh yeah? What was so special about it?” I almost started laughing because I had no recollection of that game. I was three years old when it took place, and I had a feeling that I was about to get schooled by someone who would’ve been negative nineteen.
“Well,” Max began, “there were a lot of interesting things that happened. Have you heard of Mike Easler?”
Mike Easler?! Yeah, I’d heard of Mike Easler, but how the hell had *he* heard of Mike Easler? (Mike Easler?! Seriously?) And so it went — another long conversation about baseball as the No. 4 train rumbled back to Manhattan.
• 179 balls in 24 games this season = 7.47 balls per game.
• 816 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 341 consecutive games with at least two balls
• 168 consecutive Yankee home games with at least one ball
• 34 consecutive Watch With Zack games with at least two balls; click here to see my complete Watch With Zack stats.
• 5,998 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 about my fundraiser, and click here to see the prizes that I’ll be giving away to donors.)
• 32 donors
• $1.83 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $5.49 raised at this game
• $327.57 raised this season
• $19,484.57 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009