This was my second (and final) Watch With Zack game with my new friends from Australia. Here we are outside the left field gate:
In the photo above, Emily (age 18) is on the left, Nick (age 21) is on the right, Alex (age 13) is standing in front, and their father Ray (age unknown) is in the middle. Ray’s wife Donna had attended the previous game, but she wasn’t feeling 100 percent when it was time to leave for this one, so she regrettably decided to skip it.
When the gates opened at 4:35pm, I bolted inside, and just like last time, it didn’t take long for me to snag my first ball. Phillies pitcher Brian Sanches threw it to me in left-center field, and as soon as I caught it, I took the following photo to capture the scene:
Sanches wears uniform No. 48, so in the photo above, you can see him standing second from the right.
Several minutes later, I stepped up onto the folded-up part of a seat to reach as high as possible and catch a home run on the fly, and soon after that, a young fan approached me with his copy of The Baseball. Here we are:
That fan’s name is John Lisankie, and if he sounds familiar, it’s because he posts lots of comments on this blog. It was great to finally meet him in person after having emailed and commented back and forth for such a long time. (John has his own blog. Here’s his entry about this game. He got some incredible photos of a crazy fan who ran on the field and tried to climb into the Phillies’ bullpen.)
Meanwhile, Nick and his siblings weren’t trying to snag baseballs. They were sitting in the shade near the back of the section . . .
. . . after after a while, Nick appeared on my staircase with this:
It was SO hot that I thought I was seeing a mirage. The temperature had reached 102 degrees earlier that afternoon, and the humidity was insane. Within the first few minutes of batting practice, I was drenched in my own sweat — not a bad ballhawking strategy, I suppose, because it probably made other fans want to keep their distance. At the previous game, I drank seven bottles of water, and at this one I drank six. I really didn’t mind the heat or humidity or sweatiness — the way I see it, that’s what showers are for — so I’m not complaining. I’m just trying to describe what it was like to be out there, and by the way, as long as we’re on the topic of “Things That The Aussies Gave Me,” did you notice the shirt that I was wearing? They generously gave that to me along with two Australian delicacies. Here’s a photo of them that I took when I got back home to New York City:
Vegemite! Ha-HAAAA!!! Awesome. I once had a taste at a friend’s place and hated it, but I’m willing to give it another shot, especially now that I own my very own jar of it. As for the Tim Tams, those got completely melted in my car, but I took Ray’s advice and stuck ’em in the fridge when I got home, and that did the trick. They were delicious, and I polished them off with my girlfriend in one sitting. But anyway, let’s get back to Citizens Bank Park, shall we?
Other than myself, Ray was the lone member of the group who tried to snag baseballs. You can see him in the center of the following photo, wearing a red shirt with the No. 26 on it and holding his glove just above his head:
Ray had snagged two baseballs at the previous game, but he didn’t get any at this one — and that was fine. He wasn’t heartbroken. He didn’t have a streak to maintain. He and his kids just wanted to hang out and watch me do my thing, knowing that they’d end up going home with just about all the balls that I caught.
Halfway through the Phillies’ portion of BP, I snagged a home run that deflected right to me off a man’s glove in the front row. Then, several minutes later, I moved 15 rows back for Hunter Pence and made a running/jumping catch on one his many bombs. At the previous game, I’d given away the balls as soon as I caught them, but at this one, at least during BP, I tossed ’em all in my backpack and distributed them later.
When the Braves took the field and started playing catch, I ran to the seats behind their dugout on the 3rd base side and got Chipper Jones to throw me a ball. He was standing right next to the batting cage, and I was half a dozen rows back. I took the following photo after I caught it . . .
. . . so as you can see, he had to put a little velocity on it in order to reach me. I stuck that ball in a separate compartment of my backpack so that I’d remember later on which one it was.
The ball from Chipper was my 5th of the day, and I should’ve gotten another one at the dugout. Jack Wilson chucked it to me from about 150 feet away, but it sailed 10 feet over my head. I still would’ve gotten it, but it took a horrendously unlucky bounce off a seat and deflected right to a middle-aged woman with no glove. Aarrghh!!
We all headed to right field after that, and I caught a special ball during the first group of Braves hitters. Never mind the fact that it was a home run and that I caught it on the fly after running one full section to my left. It was special because of the logo. Have a look:
Aww yeah, baby! It was a Houston Astros 50th anniversary commemorative ball. For some fantastic reason, the Braves were using two different types of commemorative balls during BP. Ready to see the other? Check out this photo of Nick:
Pretty sweet, huh? And get this: Nick and Emily snagged all three of those balls on their own! Emily got one tossed by Jonny Venters, and Nick snagged two Jason Heyward homers WHILE SITTING DOWN in the front row. The first one happened to land near him, and the second was a moonshot that landed in the second deck and bounced right down to him.
My 7th ball of the day was tossed by Braves bullpen catcher Alan Butts. Then I ran over to left-center and got my own Fenway Park commemorative ball:
That ball had been sitting on the warning track, and I was lowering my glove trick when Randall Delgado walked over and tossed it to me.
Two weeks earlier, the Braves had played a three-game series in Boston, so I can understand why they had those balls, but the ones with the Astros logo made no sense. The last time the Braves visited Houston was in April.
After BP, I got my 9th ball of the day at the 3rd base dugout from Braves coach Scott Fletcher.
Look how sweaty I was:
Given the fact that I looked like I’d wet my pants, it wasn’t the best moment to be recognized, but hey, I can’t control these things. Check out the following photo, and then I’ll explain who’s who:
The guy on the left is named Justin. He reminded me that he was the one who told me about the Ashburn Alley ball that I’d snagged SIX years earlier! (To be more specific, and in case you want to read my entry about it, I snagged that ball on June 14, 2006.) The other guy in the photo is named John. He informed me that he was one of the people who’d replied to my recent Arkanoid post on Reddit. (Reddit is probably my favorite website these days. If you’ve never seen it, I feel sorry for you.)
Something strange happened shortly before game time. Although the weather was perfect (and despite the fact that the batters’ boxes had just been chalked), several groundskeepers pulled tarps onto the mound and home plate area:
I figured they knew something that I didn’t, and when I saw them start to roll the tarp onto the infield . . .
. . . I was convinced that something was up.
In the photo above, do you see the fan in the red “PENCE” shirt? That’s Nick, sitting next to his family, and guess what? Those were our seats for the game. As comfortable as they all appeared to be, I felt bad about insisting that they move, but I knew it had to be done. It was going to rain, and I told them that if we acted fast, we could grab some empty seats at the back of the section, under the overhang of the second deck. They didn’t argue. If anything, they appreciated the warning, and we quickly relocated to the second-to-last row.
Twenty minutes later, this was the scene:
It wasn’t raining yet, but as you can see, the sky had gotten much darker, and people were making their way up the stairs. The public address announcer had just told everyone that a severe weather front was about to hit, and everyone was forced to take cover.
Ten minutes later, while thousands of people were crammed in the concourse, we had comfortable seats and a great view of the lightning:
Did you see the lightning in the photo above? There’s a faint/curved bolt coming down from the top, just left of center. Also, did you notice the American flags blowing like crazy? Surprisingly, it didn’t rain hard, but it was VERY windy.
Everything cleared up, and the players came out for their pre-game warm-ups:
That’s when I moved three sections to the left with Alex. My goal was to get a toss-up, and it happened with relative ease. I had to shout pretty loud and wave my arms like a madman, but eventually I got Martin Prado’s attention, and Prado told the strength/conditioning coach (or whoever it was) to hook me up. I nearly dropped the ball because when it reached the top of its arc, it was right in the lights, but I was able to stay with it. That was my 10th ball of the day, and I handed it to Alex. Here he is with it:
After a 58-minute delay, this was our view during the game . . .
. . . and here’s Alex with my 11th ball of the day:
It was a 3rd-out ball from Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons (who, by the way, has one of the strongest infield arms that I’ve ever seen). With two outs in the bottom of the 2nd inning, Jimmy Rollins had been thrown out trying to steal 2nd base. Tommy Hanson had pitched that ball, Brian McCann had caught it and fired to Simmons, and now we had it. Pretty damn cool.
Fast-forward several innings . . .
With two outs in the top of the 6th, Dan Uggla swung way too soon at an off-speed pitch from Joe Blanton and hit a two-hopper into the Braves’ dugout. Eric Hinske was standing on the top step at the time, and I saw him asking someone down below for the ball; as soon as it was tossed to him, I asked him for it, and he flipped it to me. I handed that ball to Emily and then got some bubble gum from David Ross:
That wasn’t a major accomplishment because he was tossing out gum to everyone, but something funny happened a little while later. During an inning break, I walked down to the front row and told him that I needed more gum.
“I just gave you some!” he said.
“I know,” I replied, “and I appreciate it, but it lost the flavor.”
“You are high maintenance,” he said. His tone was serious, but I could tell — or rather I assumed — that he was amused by the whole situation. I sure was. And my request paid off. Ross disappeared for a moment, then poked his head above the roof and flung three more pieces of gum at me. That was all I needed to keep the flavor strong and blow respectable bubbles. Here’s one . . .
. . . and here’s another (with Alex pretending to punch me):
(For the record, Alex and his siblings couldn’t have any gum because they all wear braces.)
In the 9th inning, with the Braves holding a 6-3 lead, Alex and I moved one section closer to home plate. The change of location paid off almost immediately. Before the bottom of the 9th got underway, Terry Pendleton, the team’s 1st base coach, flipped the infield warm-up ball into the crowd. He wasn’t throwing it to anyone in particular. He just lobbed it randomly in our direction, at which point I jumped and lunged and bare-handed it, just above some gloveless grown-ups who didn’t seem to be paying much attention. Here’s Alex with the ball (and a piece of infield grass):
That was my 13th and final ball of the day. I should’ve gotten another after the game, but I happened to look down for a split-second, JUST as someone inside the dugout rolled a ball across the roof in our direction. (I think it was Cristhian Martinez.) I wasn’t upset about missing it because Alex grabbed it! He narrowly beat out another fan for it as it rattled around on the ground in the front row.
That was our final ball of the night, but I still have a few more photos to share. Here I am with two talented ballhawks named Mike (on the left) and Jerome (on the right):
I forget how many balls Mike snagged — it was either four or six — but I know that Jerome got three. Jerome had recognized me when I first ran inside the stadium, and he did some trash-talking, but I could tell that it was all in good fun.
As for my “clients,” here I am with them and all our baseballs:
I’d snagged 13, and they’d snagged 4, but as you can see, only 15 of the 17 total balls are pictured above. That’s because (a) I gave one to a little kid in our section who hadn’t gotten one and (b) Nick had forgotten to take the Chipper Jones ball out of his pocket — just as well because it was important to keep that one separated from the rest. Of the 13 balls that I snagged, I gave away 11 — one to the random kid and ten to my new best friends from Australia. They let me keep the two commemorative balls, but best of all, they told me that I’m welcome anytime to visit and stay in their home.
On a final note, don’t drink too much at baseball games or else . . .
. . . you might pass out and end up getting made fun of on my blog.
• 13 balls at this game (not counting the four that my clients snagged on their own)
• 260 balls in 34 games this season = 7.65 balls per game.
• 282 lifetime balls in 30 games at Citizens Bank Park = 9.4 balls per game; click here to see my complete list of stadium totals
• 826 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 351 consecutive games with at least two balls
• 299 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 193 lifetime games with 10 or more balls
• 36 consecutive Watch With Zack games with at least two balls; click here to see an extensive list of Watch With Zack stats and records
• 6,079 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)
• $27.30 raised at this game
• $546.00 raised this season
• $19,703.00 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009