9/11/12 at Citi Field

Let me start with a photo of two employees standing on the Party Deck:

See the guy wearing the vest?
See the baseball in his right hand?

Well, moments after I took that photo, he tossed it to me; he recognized me from TV and thought it’d be cool to add to my collection. (As I’ve mentioned many times, I don’t count balls that are given to me by fans, but I do count balls from stadium employees.)

My 2nd ball of the day was thrown from more than 100 feet away by Nationals catcher Sandy Leon. (The Mets, by the way, finished hitting at 5:19pm — nine minutes after the stadium had opened. They’re useless.) The previous day, the Nats had been using old commemorative balls during BP, like this and this, so I was looking forward to snagging a whole lot more. Unfortunately, though, the ball from Leon looked like this . . .

. . . as did nearly every other ball.

My 3rd ball was a homer to straight-away left field that sailed over my head and landed in the seats. Somehow I didn’t see it trickle past me, and since there weren’t any other fans nearby, a security guard, who happened to be walking down the steps at that moment, pointed it out. (Duh.)

My 4th ball was a homer that I caught on the fly in left-center. As soon as it was hit, I moved two rows back and then drifted 15 feet to my left. Although it wasn’t a dazzling catch, I felt good about having picked the exact spot where the ball ended up.

My 5th and 6th balls were Bryce Harper homers that I caught on the fly in left center. I jumped for the first one in the front row, then ran to my right and jumped for the second ball in the 4th row.

My 7th ball was a homer that I grabbed in the seats in left-center. I have no idea who hit it, so don’t ask. (As a general rule, if I don’t mention who hits a home run, it means that I don’t know.)

My 8th ball was thrown by Edwin Jackson, and there’s a story behind it. Two minutes earlier, he had caught a deep fly ball behind his back, so I started shouting (politely) and asking him to throw me a ball so I could catch one behind MY back. Eventually he did, but he flipped it backwards. In other words, he was facing the field and flung it back over his shoulder in my direction, so his aim was justifiably somewhat off. The ball sailed too high for me to make a behind-the-back catch, so I reached up over my head and caught it the normal way. Jackson didn’t care. He wasn’t even looking. But several fans started heckling me and yelling, “That wasn’t behind the back!!” It was pretty funny.

My 9th ball of the day . . .

. . . was thrown by Bo Porter, the Nationals 3rd base coach. No one knew who he was or even noticed that he was holding a ball, so if I hadn’t called out to him, he surely would’ve chucked it toward the bucket. (This is what my friend Andrew Gonsalves described as “manufacturing a ball” in his excellent blog entry about ballhawking.)

After batting practice, I got my 10th ball of the day from a Nationals coach at the 3rd base dugout. This ball, as you’ll see in the following photo, has a mis-stamped logo that barely overlaps the stitch holes:

Stephen Strasburg signed autographs for a few minutes . . .

. . . but I didn’t get him.

Soon after, a goofy-looking Gio Gonzalez started signing along the left field foul line . . .

. . . and I got him twice on some tickets:

Gonzalez is VERY nice. He was particularly friendly last year when I saw him in Oakland, and he was cool this time too, signing for a such a long time — easily 15 minutes — that everyone who wanted his autograph got it.

Before the game, there was a 9/11 ceremony:

In case you’re wondering . . . yes, I was in New York City when the Towers went down, and no, I don’t know anyone who died in the attack. I’m friends with a woman who lost her uncle, and I’m friends with another guy who lived so close to the World Trade Center that his entire apartment was filled with dust, and he had to move out for weeks. But let’s get back to baseball, shall we?

R.A. Dickey started this game for the Mets, so I wasn’t expecting any action in the left field seats. (He began the night with an 18-4 record, a 2.64 ERA, and 195 strikeouts.) If anything, I expected him to throw a one-hit shutout, but nevertheless, here’s where I sat:

Dickey allowed a run on two hits in the top of the 1st, but settled down after that and really found his groove. The Mets (somehow) scored two runs in the bottom of the 5th, and that’s where things stood until the top of the 7th. That’s when THIS happened:

The screen shot above shows Tyler Moore, a rookie outfielder who was pinch hitting for Tom Gorzelanny, swinging at a 76mph knuckleball. Moore connected solidly and sent a rocket of a line drive flying in my direction. I knew right away that it was going to be a home run and that it was going to land within a few feet of me. At first I thought it was gonna sail five feet over my head, but then I realized that it had been hit at the perfect height and distance . . . so I froze. The only issue at that point (and keep in mind that this all took place within a four-second span) was which side of the railing it was going to land on. (I’m talking about the railing in the middle of the staircase.) I assumed that the ball was going to hook to my side, so I held my ground and waited. Unfortunately I guessed wrong and the ball stayed on the other/left side of the railing. By that point, there was no time to run around it or climb over, so I leaned to the side as far as possible and hoped that (a) the ball would hook just enough for me to reach it and (b) the gloveless fan sitting near me in the front row wouldn’t deflect it.

Quite simply, I caught the ball.

Here are some more screen shots that show how it all played out. First, here’s Mets left fielder Jason Bay running back helplessly; you can’t really see me, so I’ve circled the spot where I was sitting:

Here’s a shot of the ball (in the top circle) descending toward me (in the bottom circle). Look closely and you’ll see me bracing myself on the railing with my right arm:

Were you able to spot me? I was wearing a gray hoodie and a black vest. In the screen shot above, the tiny, California-shaped gray thing inside the left part of the circle is my right arm. Are you with me?

Here’s another screen shot in which I’ve spotlighted myself. (Enough with the red circles.) This was taken just after I’d caught the ball, and as you can see, I’m leaning waaay over the railing — trying not to flip completely over and land on my face:

This was my reaction:

Given the fact that I’d done everything wrong . . . and that it was the 3rd home run that I’d caught on the fly in 15 days . . . I didn’t feel like I deserved to go nuts and celebrate. Instead, I just held up the ball with an unimpressed look as if to say, “Yeah, I caught a home run. Again.” The catch itself was impressive, but my inability to judge the ball caused it to be impressive. It’s like an outfielder who breaks back on a shallow fly ball because he gets fooled by the batter’s powerful swing and then has to sprint forward and making a diving catch. Yeah, he’ll make it onto SportsCenter‘s Top Ten Plays, but he knows he’s really just a schmuck who should’ve judged it better in the first place.

Anyway, while I was beating myself up mentally about how dumb/lucky I was, Moore was getting high-fived and showered with bubble gum:

Now that I’ve described how it all went down and shown you some screen shots, click here to watch the video highlight on MLB.com.

Here’s a photo of the ball . . .

. . . and here I am with a fan named Brian, who’d been sitting next to me when the ball was hit:

Brian looked vaguely familiar when I first saw him, but I couldn’t place him, and I’ll admit that I didn’t remember his name. Thankfully he was kind enough to remind me that we had met on 6/8/10 at Citi Field . . . and sure enough, when I looked back at my blog entry about that game, I saw this photo of him, and it all came back to me. (Not only do I suck with names, but I meet lots of people at games, 99 percent of whom I’ll never see again. It’s not that I don’t care. It’s just easy to forget, so if you see me and we’ve already met once before, do me a favor and remind me what your name is before I start feeling bad for not remembering.) Brian was chill about the home run ball. He’d been sitting in the front row for several innings before it was hit, but then he moved back to sit next to me. If he’d been sitting down in front when it was hit, he would’ve been able to scoot five feet to the left and make an easy catch. His take on the whole thing was that if he’d been in the front, then the ball wouldn’t have been hit there. I definitely know the feeling — when it seems that I’m more of a ball repellant than the “magnet” that everyone calls me.

The fans sitting directly behind me were hilarious. (I was actually sitting in one of their seats and had to move one row up when they arrived after a couple innings.) I’d been talking to them before the homer, and we were laughing it up later, especially when I took a pic of myself and they photo-bombed me:

Here’s a photo of the railing that I had to deal with:

In the photo above, do you see the two kids wearing blue caps in the 2nd row? When the home run was hit, they were sitting in the 3rd row, and I reached across the railing into the 2nd row. No one was angry at me for robbing them. (People were angry, once again, that I refused to throw the ball back onto the field.) If anything, I’d saved them from getting drilled. According to ESPN Home Run Tracker, the ball jumped off the bat at a speed of 106.7 miles per hour, and while it certainly wasn’t traveling nearly that fast when I caught it, it *did* still have some velocity. Anyway, several minutes later, I pulled a couple of BP balls out of my backpack and handed them to the kids, and let me tell you, they were excited. Here they are looking at the baseballs:

Their father was so appreciative that he gave me NINE coupons for free food and beverages — three for french fries, three for burgers or hot dogs, and three for soda. (I don’t drink soda, but still . . . pretty cool.) Check it out:

I told him that it wasn’t necessary — that I hadn’t given away the baseballs in order to get anything in return, but he insisted. He told me that he had many more coupons (which were going to expire in 16 days), so I shrugged and accepted his gift. I try not to buy food at either New York stadium because the money just ends up going to people like Jason Bay and Alex Rodriguez, so I was excited. This was going to be a good way for me to eat and not feel bad about it.

The Nationals ended up winning the game, 5-2, and get this: because they were trailing by a run when Moore connected on that longball, and because there was a man on base at the time, his homer gave them a 3-2 lead. See where I’m going with this? Because the Nats held onto that lead for the rest of the night, I officially caught a “game-winning home run.”

After the final out, I got a ball tossed to me by home plate umpire Rob Drake. Then I headed over to the Nationals’ dugout and took a photo of the home run ball with Moore being interviewed in the background:

Here are the 10 balls that I kept:

Keep scrolling past the stats because this entry isn’t done . . .

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 12 balls at this game (ten pictured above because I gave two away)

• 521 balls in 65 games this season = 8.02 balls per game.

• 857 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 382 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 205 lifetime games with ten or more balls

• 21 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

• 6,340 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

(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)

• $32.64 raised at this game

• $1,417.12 raised this season

• $20,574.12 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

One of the best things about catching a home run during a game is hearing from people who saw it. Check out some of the replies/messages I got on Twitter:

I haven’t had a chance to respond to anyone yet, so don’t be offended if I haven’t gotten back to you. Just know that I *love* reading all the tweets (and emails), and I appreciate the positive vibes.

17 comments

  1. jere80

    Didn’t I tell you you’d “get the next one”? (And the one after that…) Nice catch. I’m happy to report I got 3 BP balls at Sox-Yanks tonight, which ties a career single-game high for me. It kinda stinks that when you did that “show me your balls” thing I had 6 total, and now I’m up to 25.

    Oh and I had a thought–when you show the blacklight pics of balls, you could call it the Zack Light.

  2. kslo69

    Hey there, Zack! Congratulations on your recent tear on HR balls, awesome! If I remember correctly, you started snagging around the time Selig took over the commissioner’s office, correct? So I was just wondering how many balls you have with an earlier commissioner’s signature, and who the earliest would be?

  3. Kurt

    Zack…man…I love reading all your stuff. I just wish you were on facebook! I’m not sure if others are hounding you to do that or not, but I figured if, perhaps, you may decide that if, say, 100 people want you to open a fb account…and I’m the 100th…then woo hoo! (I figure I will try anyway…lol.) In any event…love the blog and love the books! :)

  4. Mateo Fischer

    I’m pretty sure the reason Gio is so nice with autographs is his dad is an autograph collector. I met him once by the Diamond Club seats at Nationals Park, and because I was going for baseballs, he mistook me for an autograph collector. We ended up having a three-way discussion with an usher. During which, I learned that the usher-along with a few others- knew you. But I think I already told you that part of the conversation, maybe not. Anyways, given the day that I type this on: Happy Birthday!
    -Mateo
    http://mateofischer.mlblogs.com

  5. Ray Burton

    Hample , you are on fire with the game home run catches. You better slow down on the great plays or I’ll have to mortgage the house. Just kidding , it’s awesome to see you in action! Keep up the good work.

  6. Zack Hample

    JERE80-
    The Zack Light! Wow. And according to Rick Reilly, the glove trick is called the “Zack Trap.” I could name everything with *my* name, and then I’ll be like Donald Trump, except my hair is better.

    LEIGH B.-
    Thanks, pal.

    BEN WEIL-
    You think that’s really him?

    CBELTRAN15-
    Very cool video. Seeing the players tossing balls toward the camera made me feel like I was there. Now you gotta film yourself snagging some batted balls.

    CHRIS-
    Same here. And yes, as you’ve probably seen by now, I did go to Yankee Stadium for the Rays on Friday.

    KSLO69-
    When I first started catching baseballs, each league had its own ball, and the league presidents’ signatures were stamped on. I have hundreds of old NL and AL balls, starting with William D. White and Bobby Brown. Here’s a page on my site with some photos: http://zackhample.com/baseball_collection/photos/standard.htm

    KURT-
    I have been hounded quite a bit about Facebook, but right now, I’m just not feelin’ it. Thanks, though, for all the positive vibes (and of course for checking out the blog).

    MATEO-
    Very cool. I had no idea about his dad. Thanks.

    RAY BURTON-
    Many thanks to you and all the other Burtons. I miss you guys.

    FATHER PUCK-
    It would be hard not to like a guy who’s fan-friendly and worthy of the Cy Young Award.

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