Do you remember the blog entry that I posted two months ago called “Tampa vs. Philadelphia“? To refresh your memory, a potential Watch With Zack client was interested in booking me for two games, and I was trying to decide between the two options that he’d given me. Several weeks later we picked Citizens Bank Park — and now here I was with him and his family:
In the photo above, the guy wearing the purple shirt with the “Transformers” logo is the one who’d initially contacted me. His name is Nick, and he’s 21 years old. His 13-year-old brother Alex is on the left, and their 18-year-old sister Emily is on the right. The two folks standing next to her are their parents, Ray and Donna (and in case you’re new to this blog, that’s me in the Lowell Spinners shirt).
Nick and his family live in Australia and LOVE baseball. Nine days earlier, they’d flown for 14 hours from Sydney to Los Angeles. Then, after a brief layover, they flew to Dallas/Fort Worth and attended four A’s-Rangers games at Ameriquest Field. After that, they flew to St. Petersburg for a three-game series between the Rays and Yankees at Tropicana Field. And now here they were at Citizens Bank Park to see the Phillies and Braves.
When the stadium opened at 4:35pm, I bolted inside and snagged my first ball within seconds. I don’t know who hit it. All I can tell you is that when I first saw it, it was already flying toward the left field foul pole. I cut across the empty seats (from left-center) and ended up grabbing the ball in the front row, just as a 60-something-year-old usher was walking toward it from the other end of the section. Then I jogged back to left field, handed the ball to Ray, and caught another home run on the fly. I tossed that one to Alex, and several minutes later, I snagged another homer and handed it to Nick — not a bad start to the day.
Here’s what the seats look like soon after:
In the photo above, Alex is about 15 feet away, leaning against a seat in the 4th row and looking at me. His father is three rows behind him with his arms up in the air. Nick and Emily, meanwhile, were standing right behind me . . .
. . . and if you look closely at that photo, you can see their mother sitting seven rows behind them, wearing a red cap. Another thing about that photo: the guy on the far right in the light blue shirt recognized me from this blog. His name is Tim, and if my lens were just a bit wider, you’d see that he was wearing a glove on his left hand. Unfortunately Tim and I only got to talk for about 30 seconds, but that’s just how it goes during BP when I’m running all over the place.
Whenever I book games with people, I ask them what they want to do and how I can help them have the most fun and get the most out of their time at the stadium. Nick’s answer to this question (several weeks earlier via email) went as follows: “I’m perfectly fine with catching as many as we can during batting practice and then just sitting down, watch the game and pick your brain. You’re more than welcome to run around until your hearts content. We’ll just see what sounds good when we get there.”
As it turned out, Nick and his family weren’t concerned about who caught all the balls; they just wanted to see me in action, and they wanted to go home with as many as possible. That made things easier for me because (a) I was able to give them a few pointers and (b) run around and do my thing without worrying about them. If they followed me and actively tried to snag some balls, cool, and if they sat 20 rows back in the shade and just watched . . . also cool.
Halfway through the Phillies’ portion of BP, Ray snagged a John Mayberry homer that he knocked down with his bare hands. (His experience playing cricket helped.) Then I caught a Placido Polanco homer on the fly after climbing up on a seat. I handed that ball to Donna, then snagged a Hunter Pence homer in deep left-center (which I should’ve caught on the fly) and gave it to Emily. I’d only been inside the stadium for half an hour, and I’d gotten a ball for each of the five people I was with. Go me.
As soon as the Braves started hitting, I got Chad Durbin to toss a ball to me over several rows of fans. I gave that one to Alex and promptly ran to right field. This was the view:
When the rest of the group caught up with me, I positioned Alex and Emily in the corner spot in right-center. Here they are:
I didn’t catch anything else during BP, but I’m glad to say that my group of aspiring Australian ballhawks snagged three additional balls! Nick and Emily each got one from a groundskeeper in the bullpen, and Ray out-scrambled the competition for a home run that (I think) was hit by Freddie Freeman. He got a bit scraped up in the process and said it was totally worth it. What a cool dad.
After BP, two different fans approached me and asked me to sign baseballs that they’d snagged. Their names were Darren and Jack. Here they are with their freshly-inked autographs:
I was surprised how many people recognized me throughout the day. There were three guys who were particularly friendly and asked if they could take photos with me, so I wanna give them a shout-out here. Their names were Scott, Steven, and Michael, and if I’m getting all my facts straight, they all recognized me from YouTube.
At around 6:30pm, I accompanied Ray and his boys to the team store in deep center field. One of their things is to buy t-shirts and hats of the home team at each stadium that they visit, so I hung out with them for about 10 minutes while they browsed. That’s when it occurred to me that the pitchers were probably warming up and that I had a chance to get a ball from the Braves’ bullpen. I told Ray that I was gonna run off for a bit, and he was fine with that. He told me to meet them at our seats whenever I was ready.
Here’s where I ended up:
(Quick side note: the bullpens at Citizens Bank Park are glorious, and I’m not saying this from a ballhawking perspective. I’m talking about the overall design and fan-friendlieness — how the ‘pens blend into the rest of the stadium and provide views and proximity. The only bullpens in the majors that are better are the ones at Safeco Field. I know Seattle is far away from just about everything, but it’s worth making a trip just to check out that stadium. Anyway . . .)
In the photo above, there’s lots of stuff happening in the bullpen. Tim Hudson is warming up on the left, the relievers (led by Craig Kimbrel) are walking up the stairs on the right, and two coaches are watching in the middle. The coach standing closer to the field is Eddie Perez. The coach standing to his left is Roger McDowell. Several minutes after I took that photo, Hudson threw a 55-footer, and when the ball was thrown back to him, he flipped it to McDowell, and McDowell tossed it to me. Then, when I met up with my group at our seats, I gave the ball to Nick.
(In case you’ve lost count, I’d snagged seven balls at that point and given them all away.)
This was our view during the game:
When Nick and I had been emailing months earlier, he never asked me where I wanted to sit, so when I learned that we were gonna be in the 4th row in straight-away right field, I was quite pleased. Ray sat on my left and took a bunch of photos:
The others sat on my right and just took it all in:
Early in the game, when I started to explain stuff to them, I was surprised that they already knew everything I was telling them. Nick was talking about pitch selection and on-base percentage and defensive strategies, and Ray was telling stories about various stadiums and his favorite players on the Rays. It was really impressive. How the hell did this family from Australia know so much about the sport? This is going to sound like a shameless plug, but it happens to be true: they’d read Watching Baseball Smarter. Ray told me that he “discovered” me several years ago while Googling something random about baseball, and that he’d gotten my books and had been following my blog ever since. That was awfully nice to hear.
I still explained stuff to them, but mainly we just sat there and sweated and drank cold beverages and watched the game and talked baseball. It was a great day all around.
When I got a huge cup of highly-seasoned crab fries (with white cheddar dipping sauce) in the 6th inning . . .
. . . the game was scoreless. Each team only had a couple of hits at that point, which was kind of disappointing. Ray and I agreed that pitchers’ duels are far more entertaining on TV, while slugfests are better in person.
The top of the 8th inning turned out to be a mini-slugfest; the Braves erupted for five runs, capped by a Brian McCann grand slam (which unfortunately landed in the bushes in dead center).
In the 9th inning, with Ray’s permission, I hurried off with Nick and Alex to the opposite side of the stadium. The plan was to (a) get down into the seats behind the Braves’ dugout, (b) snag a ball after the final out, and (c) meet the others in the concourse behind Section 130.
Everything went exactly as planned. This was our view for the final three outs:
The Braves relievers didn’t toss us anything when they walked in from the bullpen . . .
. . . but home plate umpire Jerry Layne hooked me up with this:
Nick insisted that I keep the ball for myself, and then we all gathered (with our DOZEN balls!) for a group photo:
(Nick never smiles in photos, but don’t let that fool you. He’s extremely friendly.)
In a delightful twist of fate, it turned out that we were all staying at the same hotel several miles away, so they piled into my car . . .
. . . and I gave them a ride. Here they are in the hotel lobby:
In the photo above, did you notice that Donna is holding copies of my last two books? They asked me to sign them, and then Nick had me sign one of his baseballs. They were all SO nice and easy to be with, and the next day, we were gonna be doing it all over again . . .
• 8 balls at this game (not counting the four that they snagged on their own)
• 247 balls in 33 games this season = 7.48 balls per game.
• 825 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 350 consecutive games with at least two balls
• 298 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 35 consecutive Watch With Zack games with at least two balls; click here to see an extensive list of Watch With Zack stats and records
• 6,066 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.)
• 38 donors
• $2.10 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $16.80 raised at this game
• $518.70 raised this season
• $19,675.70 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009