There are three things you need to know before we get started . . .
1) Dodger Stadium is confusing and annoying. Four years ago, I wrote a blog entry explaining why, but basically, the parking lot doesn’t officially open until the stadium itself opens, so you need to be strategic about gaining early access to the property.
2) This was a Watch With Zack game . . . sort of. My “client” was my cousin Howie, along with his wife Susan and their two kids Juliana and Sam. Howie had offered to pay me, and when I told him how stupid he was for even suggesting it, he insisted on paying for my flight.
3) I had heard that Dodger Stadium was now opening half an hour early for season ticket holders, so Howie and his family got me there even earlier than that. They were willing to wait in the car outside the parking lot while I went in on foot and tried to talk my way into the stadium.
At around 4:20pm — two hours and 50 minutes before game time — I ran into this guy:
His name is Jose, but he’s known as “MANNYWOOD.” That’s because he attends every Dodgers home game and used to dress up like Manny Ramirez. Check out this photo of us from Game 2 of the 2009 NLDS. How awesome is that?
In the photo above, did you notice what I was pointing at? It was Jose’s season ticket holder ID card. (Ooh yeah.) Here he is leading the way past security:
I was so excited that I neglected to note the exact time, but I know that it was still close to 4:20pm, which means that Dodger Stadium opens THREE HOURS EARLY for season ticket holders! And okay, so I missed the first 10 minutes, but whatever, batting practice was just getting underway, so I really didn’t miss much. This was my view as I headed down into the seats:
I should mention that the whole stadium doesn’t open at 4:10pm. Fans with early access have to enter near the left field foul pole and then stay between the left field bullpen and the 3rd base dugout. (To elaborate because I know everyone’s going to ask: if you have a bleacher [aka “pavilion”] ticket, you can still enter the main part of the stadium at 4:10pm. You just have to show it to security, and then they wave you through, the assumption being that you’ll leave at 5:10pm and head over to the pavilion and get it scanned there. The pavilions have their own separate entrances. Right field is separate from left field, so you can’t go back and forth, and both pavilions are separate from the main part of the stadium. [See what I mean about Dodger Stadium being annoying? And wait, there’s more!] The main part of the stadium — specifically the gate near the left field foul pole — opens at 5:10pm for non-season/field-level ticket holders only, but until 5:40pm, everyone has to stay on the left field side. Phew! I’m probably forgetting some rules and messing up others, so consider this a basic overview.)
If Jose hadn’t gotten me in early, I might’ve been able to tag along with this guy:
That’s my friend Devin Trone, who seems to turn up everywhere. Last year I ran into him on 6/13/11 at Safeco Field and again at the All-Star Game in Phoenix and again on 9/5/11 at Angel Stadium. According to his profile on MyGameBalls.com, he’s snagged a lifetime total of 593 baseballs — a number that would be much higher if he went for toss-ups.
As for me . . .
I settled into a spot beside the foul pole and promptly snagged this:
It was a grounder that was pulled down the line by a right-handed batter. I’m not sure who hit it, and I really don’t care. I was just happy to discover that I could reach the warning track, and of course I was glad to get on the board. This was the 300th consecutive game outside New York at which I’d snagged at least one ball; the fact that it was commemorative made it even sweeter. (Yes, Jeremy Guthrie had hooked me up with one of these balls on 5/22/12 at Marlins Park, but it was nice to snag one *at* Dodger Stadium.)
Moments later, as Jose was getting ready to take my photo with that ball, I scooped up another grounder. This was my reaction immediately after:
Meanwhile, look where my cousin Howie was:
I felt bad knowing that while I was living it up inside the stadium, he and his family were stuck at a parking lot tollbooth, but what was the alternative? For me to sit in the car with them?
I caught two more grounders near the foul pole, the second of which was hit by Matt Kemp.
Jose was hanging out in foul territory and Devin was positioned several rows back for home runs, so my main competition was a fan with an ingenious snagging device. Check it out:
Stadium security doesn’t allow fishing nets, so as you can see, this guy legally improvised by extending his cap.
My 5th ball (which I snagged just before the stadium opened for real at 5:10pm) was a ground-rule double that skipped into the seats and deflected near me. Here’s a photo of it:
Nearly every ball that the Dodgers were using was commemorative. I loved it. And then I snagged a couple more. The first was a LONG foul homer that landed in the second deck and bounced down. The second was a grounder that the security guard standing right in front of me was nice enough to sidestep when I yelled, “Let it roll!”
Because of the ridiculousness of (a) the parking lots and (b) the gate opening times, my family didn’t find their way into the stadium until 5:35pm. Here they are:
In the photo above, that’s nine-year-old Juliana crouching down in front and her twin brother Sam in the green sweatshirt. Howie (my father‘s sister’s son) is on the right, and his wife Susan is standing behind the kids.
When the entire stadium opened at 5:40pm, we all headed to right field. Here I am with Sam and Juliana:
It was completely dead out there for the first 20 minutes. Not only weren’t Phillies tossing many balls into the crowd, but they were scooping up all the grounders. Eventually I convinced Antonio Bastardo to throw me a ball, and Howie got a video of it with his Flip Cam. Here’s a screen shot of Bastardo just before throwing it . . .
. . . and here I am reaching up for a two-handed catch:
As you can see, it was VERY sunny.
I handed the ball to Juliana . . .
. . . who then showed it to Sam:
Then they handed it back to me. I had told them that I was going to give them lots of baseballs, so we decided that it’d be easier for me to hang onto them until the end of the night. I had a drawstring backpack. They didn’t. It was that simple.
Two minutes after I got the ball from Bastardo, Howie snagged a ground-rule double and beat out several other fans in the process. Sam and Juliana were so psyched that they literally jumped into his arms:
Here they are with the ball:
That was it for the Phillies’ portion of BP, but when it ended, we were in the perfect position behind the dugout. Here’s first base coach Sam Perlazzo flipping a ball in our direction . . .
. . . and here I am reaching out for the catch:
I wanted Sam and Juliana to catch some baseballs on their own, but they weren’t too concerned about it. They mainly wanted to hang out with me and watch me in action, knowing they they’d end up getting to keep lots of the balls anyway, so I served as their Designated Snagger.
The ball from Perlazzo was my 9th of the day. As soon as I caught it, I handed it to Juliana . . .
. . . who had it snatched away by Sam . . .
. . . but as you can see, she didn’t seem to care:
She and Sam were exceptionally well-behaved, and they got along great with each other.
After Perlazzo disappeared into the dugout, a ballboy started transferring baseballs from the basket to the equipment bags. I got his attention by shouting. Then I got him to throw a ball in our direction by pointing at the kids:
The ball sailed high and to the right . . .
. . . and landed just beyond my reach in a sea of hands. Look closely at the following photo, and you’ll see the ball being bobbled in the upper right corner:
Here’s another shot of the ball . . .
. . . as it plopped down into the gap that separates the normal seats from the fancy dugout section.
Here I am leaning all the way down and grabbing it with my glove:
(In the photo above, did you notice that the ballboy was about to throw another ball into the crowd?)
Several things happened at that point:
1) A security guard scolded me for leaning over the wall.
2) I asked Howie if he’d gotten footage of my ass up in the air.
3) A different security guard scolded me for “using inappropriate language.”
“What did I say that was inappropriate?” I asked sarcastically. “Air?!”
“You said A-S-S,” she hissed. “This is your only warning. If I hear you use any additional inappropriate language, you will be escorted from the stadium.”
“Are you kidding me?! That word is used all the time on network television.”
“This is your only warning,” she repeated. “There are children right next to you, and we strive to maintain an environment that’s suitable for all our fans.”
The lecture was absurd, but whatever, I wasn’t gonna stand there and argue with her any longer. There was pizza to be eaten, and there were more baseballs to be snagged.
Roughly 20 minutes before game time, I took Sam and Juliana to the right field bullpen. Here we are watching Joe Blanton warm up:
Several minutes later, he bounced one of his pitches. The ball was then tossed aside to bullpen coach Mick Billmeyer, who flipped it right to me.
Howie stayed near the bullpen with Juliana while I took off with Sam for the seats in foul territory. I gave Howie some pointers on how/who/when to ask for a ball, and it paid off. Just after I left, he got a ball from Billmeyer.
Here’s where I ended up with Sam:
We couldn’t get any closer than that, but it didn’t stop me from getting Hunter Pence to lob a ball right to me. It was beautiful. The photo above was taken just after Pence hooked us up; you can see him signing autographs on the left.
Our seats for the game weren’t too far from that area. Here’s a photo of Sam and Juliana with their parents and, perhaps more importantly, their pre-game baseballs:
I had picked those seats because I wanted to be (relatively) close to the Phillies’ dugout. Even with the partition that separates the fancy seats from the regular seats, Dodger Stadium is one of the easiest places to get a 3rd-out ball.
With one out in the bottom of the 1st inning, I headed here with Juliana:
Here she is on my left:
Matt Kemp ended the inning by lining out to 3rd baseman Placido Polanco, and whaddaya know, when the Phillies jogged off the field, Polanco tossed the ball to me over everyone down in front. Here’s a photo of it that I took when we returned to our ticketed seats:
Of the 13 balls that I’d snagged at that point, SEVEN were commemorative! Check ’em out:
(Sorry for the crotch shot, but there was no other way to simultaneously hide/photograph them.)
In the bottom of the 2nd, I headed back to the dugout, this time with Sam. James Loney ended the frame with a weak jam-job/pop-out to shortstop Jimmy Rollins, and HEY, I got that ball too. (Stadiums not named “Citi” and “Yankee” are so easy.)
I didn’t notice it right away, but when we got back to our seats, something about the ball jumped out at me. Here’s a photo of it that I took later that night:
In case you can’t tell, that’s a deep gash in the cowhide. How could that have gotten there? My only guess is that Loney broke his bat on the swing, and a jagged piece of the wood cut the ball. There’s no way that the ball would’ve had that gash before before being put into play, so that has to be the explanation. Right?
I didn’t go back to the dugout for the rest of the night. (I can sense when enough is enough.) Sam and Juliana didn’t mind staying in our seats because they had other things to keep themselves entertained:
As for the game . . .
One of the highlights (for me, anyway) was seeing the umpires huddle after Dodgers manager Don Mattingly came out to argue about a blatantly bad call:
Ryan Howard had flat-out dropped a throw, but 1st base umpire Wally Bell had initially called it a catch. He mistakenly thought Howard had dropped it while pulling the ball out of his glove to make a throw. Bell was wrong. I can’t even begin to describe how obvious it was, so I was glad when the umps reversed Bell’s initial call and ruled the batter safe. That never used to happen back in the day. Whatever the call was . . . that’s how it stood. Hooray for accuracy finally starting to trump ego.
The Phillies were winning, 3-0, at that point, but by the time Jonathan Papelbon entered the game in the bottom of the 9th, it was a 3-2 game. Howie took the kids back to the bullpen. I headed behind home plate . . .
. . . and continued walking through the concourse toward the 3rd base dugout. On the way, I saw a bunch of game-used balls for sale (for $50 each!) at a souvenir stand:
I thought it was cool how they were labeled and displayed.
This was my view at the end of the game:
I was in the perfect spot for an umpire ball, but didn’t get one. Why? Because there were lots of kids down in front (in the fancy dugout area), and you know what? I was okay with that. With the 14 balls that I’d snagged, I’d set a new Dodger Stadium record.
Howie’s night of snagging, however, wasn’t done. Just as the final few Phillies were walking out of the bullpen, he convinced bullpen catcher Jesus Tiamo to toss him a ball.
Final score: Zack 14, Howie 3, Phillies 3, Dodgers, 2.
Let me clarify that it wasn’t a competition between me and Howie. We were all on the same team, ballhawking together for the fun of it and for the kids.
Here we all are after the game with the 14 balls that I’d snagged . . .
. . . and here’s a closer look at the balls themselves:
Maybe Dodger Stadium isn’t so bad after all.
On the way out, we ran into Pat Sajak. The kids were very excited. And to top it all off, they ended up with 10 baseballs in their possession.
• 14 balls at this game (plus three more snagged by Howie that I’m not counting in my personal stats)
• 277 balls in 36 games this season = 7.69 balls per game.
• 828 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 353 consecutive games with at least two balls
• 194 lifetime games with 10 or more balls
• 37 consecutive Watch With Zack game with at least one ball; click here to see an extensive list of Watch With Zack stats and records.
• 6,096 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)
• $29.40 raised at this game
• $581.70 raised this season
• $19,738.70 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009