I rarely get excited about going to Citi Field, but I was pumped for this game. The weather was perfect, the Mets were out of the Wild Card race, kids were back in school, and both starting pitchers were left-handed. I figured there’d be some action in the left field seats, but when I ran inside the stadium at 5:10pm, I was greeted with disappointment. This is what I saw:
The Mets were nowhere in sight, and the Braves were slowly getting ready to hit. I later heard from a security supervisor that the Mets *had* taken BP; for some wonderful reason, they just happened to finish at around 5pm.
When the Braves finally started throwing, I noticed that Chad Durbin was the odd man out, so I asked him if he wanted to play catch. He smiled and thought about it for a moment, and as he turned to toss me the ball, Kris Medlen shouted, “DON’T DO IT!!! HE’S A BALLHAWKER!!!” (For the record, it’s ball-hawk, not ballhawk-er. I don’t particularly care for that word in the first place, so it’s doubly irritating when people get it wrong.) I was half-annoyed and half-amused by his antics, but not surprised. (Medlen, you may recall, had recognized me on 8/12/12 at Citi Field and called me out for changing into Braves gear.) Thankfully, though, Durbin still tossed me the ball, and we played catch for about 30 seconds. That’s when Durbin’s throwing partner showed up, so he kept the ball and used it to get loose.
Here’s what it looked like from where I was standing:
In the photo above, Durbin is on the lower right, wearing No. 32. Medlen is the next guy over, standing on the corner of the tarp.
“Kris!” I shouted moments later, “there’s no need to ruin my fun! Come on!”
He didn’t respond, but I did get a wave soon after from Craig Kimbrel, who also recognizes me. If I’d stuck around until Durbin finished throwing, I probably would’ve gotten the ball from him, but I didn’t bother because there were other baseballs to chase. (I decided NOT to count the Durbin ball in my collection. I could make a case for it either way, but ultimately it just didn’t feel right.)
The first ball that I snagged was a home run that landed in the second deck. When I ran upstairs to look for it, I discovered that two balls had landed there; I only got one because there was another fan already scouring the seats.
I headed back downstairs and settled into my regular spot. This was the view:
Now, do you happen to remember the guy named Tim who asked me to sign a ball last season? I’m guessing you don’t, so to refresh your memory, this was the game when I met him, and here’s a photo of him holding it. Does that ring a bell? No? Well, Tim is a really nice guy, and he’s good at catching baseballs, and I’ve seen him several times since last season. I’m mentioning him now because he was at this game, and I owe him one. My second ball of the day was a home run that landed near him in left-center field; it eluded him as it trickled down the steps, so I was able to run over from my spot two sections away and snag it. That’s not why I owe him. My third ball was a home run that I caught on the fly in left-center, reaching waaay out over the railing. That’s not why I owe him either. I owe Tim for the next ball that I caught — another home run, this one off the bat of Reed Johnson — because he probably could’ve caught it. Do you remember when I backed off from a BP homer on 7/21/12 at PETCO Park so that my friend T.C. could catch it? Well, that’s what Tim did here for me, except he still kinda went for it. I got the sense, though, based on his positioning in the stands, that he could’ve outreached me if he’d really tried, so I gotta say “thanks” and give him the assist.
My fifth ball of the day was a Martin Prado homer that I caught on the fly. It barely sailed over a kid’s head in the front row, so I immediately handed it to him without thinking.
One minute later I saw this:
See the kid holding all those baseballs? Yeah. That’s who I gave the home run to. It was his fifth ball of the day, and I’d seen him catch all the others. I just instinctively handed the ball to him without realizing what I was doing. I don’t blame him, though. In fact, I like him. Catch four and go for another? Hell yeah, kid. That’s how to do it.
Halfway through BP, I headed to the seats in right-center because there was a group with two power-hitting lefties. One was Eric Hinske, and the other was . . . Jason Heyward? I forget, but anyway, I ended up snagging a couple of balls out there — not home runs or toss-ups, but rather with my glove trick. Check out where they were sitting:
If you look closely at the photo above, you can see a third ball, which is considerably dirtier than the other two. I didn’t bother going for it because (a) I was paranoid that security was coming for me, and (b) it didn’t look like an official ball. I never did see the logo, but I could tell based on the raised seams that something was off. Of course, while I was dickin’ around with my glove trick in right-center, half a dozen homers landed near my spot in left field.
My eighth ball of the day was a J.C. Boscan homer that I caught on the fly in left-center. I reached right above a middle-aged man for it, who was reaching for it himself with his own glove . . . so I handed it to him. I prefer to give balls to little kids, but there are exceptions to the rule.
My ninth ball of the day happened to be the 500th ball that I’ve ever snagged at Citi Field. It was thrown by Randall Delgado, and as soon as I caught it, I stuck it in my pocket so that I could mark it after BP and take a picture. I was fully aware of that milestone before it happened, but I completely spaced on the fact that my next ball — No. 10 on the day — was my 500th of the season. It was a home run (hit by Boscan, I think) that barely eluded Tim’s girlfriend’s glove and found its way into mine.
After BP, I wandered through the concourse into foul territory, posted this tweet, and took the following photo:
That’s the ball that Delgado had thrown me — my ninth of the day and 500th at Citi Field. See the practice stamp under the MLB logo? Well, of the eight balls that I still had in my possession at that point, five were stamped like that. Check it out:
As for the other three, one looked completely screwy. Here are two photos of it:
As you can see, the seams are asymmetrical, and the “practice” stamp on the sweet spot is way off-center. A ball like this would never find its way into a game, but it’s still good enough (according to the Braves) to be used in BP.
Several minutes later, I was approached by a man named Rich, whom I’d met several times before. He asked me to sign one of the two balls that he’d snagged during BP. Here he is with it:
Before the game, Chipper Jones signed a few autographs and waved goodbye to the crowd:
This was the last series that he’d ever play in New York (unless, of course, he doesn’t actually retire, which would be hilarious).
Some fans made signs for him . . .
. . . and the Mets posted a poorly-punctuated picture of him on the jumbotron:
(There’s supposed to be a comma after the word “congratulations.” Any time you address someone directly, you need to place a comma after the word before their name. For example: “Hey, Mets, you need to hire smarter interns.” And by the way, why exactly was Chipper being congratulated? “Congrats on your decision to quit playing baseball!!!” I don’t get it.)
As I headed toward left field before the first pitch, I took a peek/picture of the seats:
There seemed to be a decent amount of room to run — several empty rows, or least empty parts of rows. As I often say, the key to catching batted balls, whether during BP or the game itself, is to have lateral range. Sitting on a staircase is important, but if you can’t *also* run left and right, you’re gonna have a bad time.
This was my view in the bottom of the 1st inning:
I was in the 2nd row in straight-away left field, and I had lots of room to run — that is, until a bunch of terrible people sat in my row one inning later.
I ended up moving here . . .
. . . and when Chipper Jones came to bat from the left side of the plate in the 8th inning, I briefly moved here:
Chipper grounded out weakly to 2nd base. Then Freddie Freeman came to bat and grounded out too. It seems that no matter where I go or what I do at Citi Field, it never results in my catching a game home run ball. There’s often room to run, but there’s never anything to run for.
On my way back to left field, I gave away another baseball to a kid, and then I saw this:
For some reason, the doorway to the camera area in center field was wide open — and there wasn’t anyone guarding it. If I’d been anywhere other than New York, I would’ve walked inside, taken a bunch of photos, and played dumb when security came for me. (“Oh, I’m not allowed to be here? Really? Well, gosh, I’m terribly sorry. I didn’t mean to cause any trouble. I just saw the open door and thought I’d take a peek. Hey, which way is 3rd base from here?”)
When I made it back to left field and headed down the steps toward my row, I heard someone shout, “Zack Hample?”
It was a random guy named Jared who recognized me. He was there with three friends, and he was really cool, and we all chatted for a bit. Basically, I sat with them (several rows back in the middle of the section) whenever there was an inning break or a left-handed batter. Every time a righty stepped to the plate, I politely excused myself and moved down to my seat on the staircase. Jared and his friends knew the deal and found it quite amusing.
Here’s a photo of me with Jared:
Real men wear . . . Mike Piazza jerseys.
As for the pink shirt, I regret not tweeting about it earlier that day because NOW that I’m mentioning it, you probably won’t believe me, but whatever. I’m an honest person, and you can ask my girlfriend. She was there when I put it on in the morning.
“I think it’d be funny to catch a home run ball while wearing this shirt,” I’d told her. “Plus, it’ll be really easy for people to spot me on TV even if I’m just running around.”
Several hours later, I told the same thing to several people at work when they commented on it. You have to believe me! (Or don’t. I actually don’t give a damn.)
Well, wouldn’t you know it, with two outs in the top of the 9th, Mets reliever Jenrry (pronounced “Henry”) Mejia hung an 0-2 curveball, and Dan Uggla launched it:
Once again, you’ll just have to believe me when I say that from the moment the ball hit the bat, I knew I was going to catch it. There was zero doubt in my mind. It was just like, “Well, here it comes.”
The ball was a towering fly that kept drifting and drifting. I’m pretty good at judging the high ones, and this one was as easy as it gets. The first thing I did was jump out of my seat. Then I crossed the staircase, moved one row back, and drifted 20 or 30 feet to my right.
Since you can’t actually see me in the following screen shot, I’ve drawn an arrow to show where I was sitting:
Moments later, I was in position to catch the ball:
There was one guy in front of me who reached up with his bare hand. He was the only person who had a chance to get a piece of it, but he whiffed, and I caught it. (I really didn’t have to “judge” the ball. I simply moved to my right, and it pretty much came right to me — right to my row.)
I flaunted my beautiful shirt for the cameras . . .
. . . but wasn’t shown for more than a second. Instead, the TV producer thought it would be a good idea to show Uggla circling the bases:
(Click here for a video of the homer on MLB.com.)
Jared gave me a high-five, but he was pretty much the only fan in left field who was happy for me. Everyone else was yelling at me to “THROW IT BACK!!!”
When it became clear that I had no intention of parting ways with my souvenir, a 20-something-year-old fan (who had already been reprimanded by security for behaving inappropriately) wandered over from the adjacent section, got so close to me that I could smell the cheap beer on his breath, and demanded that I throw the ball back.
“YOU catch a home run,” I told him, “and YOU throw it back.”
In retrospect, it was probably a bad idea to say anything to this guy. He was one of those people who was looking for a reason to get into a fight.
“Are you a Mets fan?!” he shouted.
“I’m a baseball fan,” I said, “and I’m keeping the ball.”
That’s when he called me a six-letter word that begins with “F” and ends with “AGGOT.” And that’s when security intervened and escorted him back to his seat. (Shea Stadium security ejected me four times in the 1990s for committing the horrible crime of catching too many baseballs and — Gasp!! — wanting to keep them all, but evidently, if you’re at a Mets game, it’s okay to threaten people with hateful/discriminatory language.)
Two things happened between innings. First, Jared took my picture with the ball . . .
. . . and second, the drunk fan in the next section tried to fight me. I happened to glance over in his general vicinity, at which point he abruptly stood up and pointed at me and then jabbed his finger in the direction of the concourse. I tried to make a calming gesture, as if to say, “No thanks,” but he kept at it.
Jared told me that he had my back — but Jared wasn’t planning to leave after one out and head toward the dugout. I thanked him and said goodbye, and as I started heading up the steps, the drunk guy also headed up, one section over. What the HELL was going on?
Thankfully, there were security guards at the tops of both staircases. I told the guard closer to me that I didn’t want to fight — that I just wanted to walk through the concourse and be on my way.
“Just walk alongside me,” he said, and he literally escorted me toward/past the next section so that he was positioned between me and the seats. Meanwhile, the guard in the next section blocked the staircase so the drunk guy couldn’t get out. It was truly absurd, and I was ashamed not only of my city, but of humanity.
Because of all the nonsense that I had to deal with in left field (and because stupid Daniel Murphy felt the need to ground out on the first pitch), the game ended while I was still in the concourse. As a result, the only thing I “got” after the game was a photo of my home run ball with Uggla being interviewed in the background:
Final score: Braves 3, Mets 0.
What a day.
• 501 balls in 63 games this season = 7.95 balls per game.
• 855 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 380 consecutive games with at least two balls
• 204 lifetime games with ten or more balls
• 20 lifetime game home run balls (plus five more that I don’t really count because they were thrown to me); click here for the complete list
• 6,320 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.)
• 45 donors
• $2.72 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $29.92 raised at this game
• $1,362.72 raised this season
• $20,519.72 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009
Finally, of the eight balls that I kept, only one has an invisible ink stamp that’s worth showing here. (Several balls have faint stamps.) Here’s a side-by-side comparison of it in regular light versus black light:
Wait! One more thing! Are you aware that I’ll soon be making another attempt to catch a baseball dropped from 1,000 feet? Monday, September 10th. That’s the date. I’ll be back at LeLacheur Park in Lowell, MA, trying once again to make history. Click here to see my blog entry from my first attempt, and stay tuned for an update . . .