6/11/96 at Shea Stadium

Yeah, that’s right, I’m taking you back in time to the summer of 1996 and writing about the game at which I snagged my 1,000th ball. Ready? Here goes . . .

I started the day with a lifetime total of 998 balls. The weather was iffy, and while I hoped more than ever that there’d be batting practice, I was confident that I’d reach No. 1,000 regardless. I pretty much had to be; not only were my parents with me, but I was planning to meet a freelance journalist outside Gate C — some guy named Charlie Butler who was going to write an article about me! First, though, I had to buy our tickets, and since this was a special day, my folks documented everything with their camera. Here I am at the ticket window:


Here I am outside Gate C soon after:


Charlie showed up at the last minute, and when the stadium opened at 5:10pm, we hurried toward the right field corner.

Guess what?
And it wasn’t even raining.

Things got worse from there. I’d brought my video camera to this game so that my dad could film me. And guess what? Both of the batteries turned out to be dead. I don’t know what the hell happened. All I can tell you is that I was devastated. Baseball was my life, and snagging 1,000 balls had become my ultimate goal. I wanted everything to be perfect, and now that the day had arrived, everything was falling apart.

Anyway, here’s a photo of me from afar:


In the photo above, do you see the fan wearing yellow underneath the “Armitron” sign. That’s my dad.

Here’s a closer look at us:


Here’s a photo of me and Charlie, and as you can see, a bunch of players were now warming up:


I ended up getting Bob MacDonald to hook me up with lifetime ball No. 999. Then I hurried to the other side of the stadium, where Mark Wohlers and Pedro Borbon Jr. were playing catch. At one point, the ball got loose and Wohlers walked over to retrieve it. Given the fact that he had an extra ball and that the outfield grass was slightly damp, I thought he’d toss it to me FOR SURE, but no, he not only kept it, but told me that he wasn’t gonna give it to me. I have no idea what that was all about. I had asked him politely, and I was wearing a Braves cap, so what the hell? What more did I have to do?!

Thankfully Borbon ended up with that ball, but when I asked him for it, he ignored me and started walking toward the bullpen. (Stupid Atlanta Braves.) Then it occurred to me that he probably didn’t speak English too well, so I asked him again in Spanish. That did the trick! He looked up at me and chucked the ball in my direction . . . but it was falling short. Did it have enough distance for me to reach it?


Here I am leaning out over the wall for the catch:


(I shouldn’t have been wearing my backpack, but I was only 18 years old and didn’t know any better. There’s a lot I didn’t know back then. It’s embarrassing now when I think about it. And while we’re at it, what’s with those light blue jeans? I’m not exactly a fashion guru these days, but DAY-um.)

My mom was super-excited about my 1,000th ball and made a bigger fuss about it than I would’ve liked. (Talk about embarrassing!) But hey, it’s better to have parents who care too much than to have parents who don’t care at all, right?

I’d never gotten any of my baseballs signed — I always wanted to keep them in their original condition — but I was hoping to make an exception for Borbon . . . and I’m happy to say that on his way back from the bullpen, he came over and signed:


I wanted to get him on the sweet spot, but unfortunately that wasn’t possible. This is what the ball looked like when I snagged it:


STUPID ATLANTA BRAVES!!! Over the years, lots of teams have marked their baseballs, but of all the balls in the world, why did THIS one have to be marked?!

All I could do was hand Borbon the ball and let him sign it wherever he wanted. This is how it turned out:


Even though it wasn’t perfect, I was still glad to have his signature, and since he didn’t seem to mind giving multiple autographs, I had him sign my ticket stub:


My dad had the camera at that point and took this photo of me with the ball and ticket (while my mom ducked out of the way):


Here’s a better photo of me with the ball:


Did you notice the tarp in the background? I wasn’t kidding when I said there wasn’t BP.

Here’s something random and fun, although it didn’t really register at the time: there was a VERY attractive woman sitting nearby, and when she overheard a snippet of conversation about the number of baseballs that I had, she started talking to me. Check it out:


My head was seriously up my ass. It didn’t even occur to me that she was attractive until my dad pointed it out. I was a late bloomer with girls (thanks in part to attending an all boys school from 1st through 6th grade), and this woman was probably a decade older than me, but still. What the hell, younger self?!

She was there with a friend, and when they both started asking me about my hobby, I pulled out my wallet and showed them a photo of my collection:


(As a public service announcement to all the teenage boys out there: this is an example of how NOT to impress women.)

The hottie clearly knew that she was hot, and eventually I realized it too. Just look at this photo.


And this one:


(Nice work with the camera, Dad!)
(Get a haircut, younger self!)

When I headed up the steps to the cross-aisle, several vendors who recognized me asked what was going on, so I showed them the wallet photo:


Then I half-heartedly attempted to snag a ball during pre-game warm-ups:


It might sound strange, but I was only going through the motions at that point. I didn’t really want to snag another ball. I wanted to end the day with exactly 1,000.

Before the game, I wandered through the concourse and ran into several guys I knew on the cleaning crew:


In the photo above, the guy on the left is named Shawn. Several years later, he got promoted to the grounds crew and ended up tossing me a few baseballs.

Here’s a photo of my parents that I took during the game:


Here’s a photo of the sprinklers going off in the top of the 9th inning:


(Ohhhhh, Mets.)

When the game went into extra innings, we moved closer to home plate. Here’s a photo of John Franco pitching to Fred McGriff in the top of the 10th:


The Braves ended up defeating the Mets, 4-3, in 13 innings.

Winning pitcher?
Pedro Borbon Jr.
It was like the reverse Hample Jinx.

Back at home, I posed for a photo near the updated fridge magnets:


It should be noted that my dad took that photo and got me to laugh by grabbing his crotch. He often did that before taking photos, and if I didn’t laugh . . . well, let’s just say he’d find a way to make me laugh. It should also be noted that he’s the one who added the “I’M FAY-MIS” to the fridge; this was the first time that I’d ever been interviewed for anything baseball-related, so it was a pretty big deal.

Now, in case you’re wondering how I managed to remember so many details about a day that took place 17 years ago, it’s because I wrote about it in my journal. I recently decided to comb through all my old journals (there are about 120 of ’em) and photograph every single page. Ideally, I’d prefer to have all this stuff typed on my laptop, but that would take forever. The next best option? Scanning everything. But that would also take a crazy-long time. That said, here are a few photos of my original journal entry (written the following day) about this game. I’ve blurred out a few curses, and you’ll probably notice a few spelling mistakes, but whatever. Here’s how it started:


The entry continued here . . .


. . . and here . . .


. . . and ended with two lines atop the following page:


Each one of my journals has 128 handwritten pages. That’s more than 15,000 pages overall, so this is going to be a massive project. I’m hoping to complete it this winter. Any interest in seeing more “Turn Back the Clock” entries?

Finally, in case you’re wondering about the article that Charlie Butler wrote, he pitched it to a bunch of places, and it was eventually picked up by a monthly magazine called Inside Sports. Here’s the cover of the issue that contained the article about me . . .


. . . and here’s the article itself:


In case you’re interested, you can click here to see all the articles about my baseball collection.


  1. Brian

    I bet you could’ve had a lot of fun w/ that blonde if you had played your cards right. Way to blow it, Zack! :-) It’s funny, 1,000 seems like a ton of balls, but in the same breath, because it’s you, it seems like a spec of sand on a beach. I’d love to read about more of your past adventures, so count me in as # 1!

  2. Tom Schoenfelder

    This post is amazing! I can still remember as a sixth grade student reading your first book. Meeting you and being on Korean TV was awesome. You do a great thing for our organization and we can’t thank you enough for your support.

  3. Mike

    Love the post Zack. Don’t be too hard on yourself about the blonde, with age comes wisdom.

  4. Cook & Son Bats

    Great entry, Zack! I started blogging our games in 2009 and went back over the 2009-10 offseason and wrote up all of Tim’s games between 2006-08 — 21 games in all. It was fun reliving those games. Luckily, I had taken a bunch of photos at all of them. Anyway, your old school entry made me a little sad that I never got a bunch of pictures like this at my old home, the Kingdome. Remember those pre-digital camera days? They were brutal. I went to tons of games at the Kingdome and I hardly have any pictures to look back on today — and most of the ones I do have are terrible. Your dad did a great job of taking photos for you at this game. Good to see Shea again.

  5. Big Glove Bob

    That older broad does nothing for me. Do-able? In a pinch I suppose, but in no way shape or form “hot”. This entry brings me back to the days when old Big Glove Bob had a flowing mane to call his own. Hope all is well in NYC.
    Big Glove Bob

  6. Father Puck

    FWIW, National Journal, which is a serious publication outfit covering, government and politics in Washington, D.C. is now using the word “s***” fully spelled out in its articles. It is used only when they are quoting someone, and I still think it is wrong, but in my view a serious journalistic line has been crossed. Interestingly, I think one of the first baseballs Puck Collector ever got was from Pedro Borbon when he was on the Blue Jays.

  7. Ben Weil

    Nice entry, I thoroughly enjoyed it. It felt like you were writing about a game you attended yesterday, so nice job keeping the details fresh.

  8. kslo69

    Big Glove Bob, I wonder if your judgment is based on her looks, or just the fact that she’s not wearing bondage gear and sporting a leather paddle?

  9. Zack Hample

    Yeah, well, I had *no* clue about women back then. Glad to hear that you enjoyed this “throwback” blog entry. I’ll try to post another one this week. I just have a lot of non-baseball stuff going on these days.

    You’re welcome! (Sixth grade . . . dang.)

    I’ll do more. I promise. Just not today. But soon . . .


    Well, I see where your priorities are.

    Yeah. I’ve become pretty wise since then, but still have a lot to learn.

    I have a few pics from the Kingdome. Just you wait.

    Thank you! I appreciate that.

    Okay, if you insist.

    Ha, thanks. I’ve learned that . . . the good way.

    You’re such a liar. You never had hair. I demand photographic evidence!

    Interesting about FWIW. I didn’t know that. Personally, I have no issue with cursing, and if I didn’t blog on an MLB-related website . . . well, let’s just say that things would be much more colorful.



    Looking back, I’m glad she didn’t. My first time ended up being about as meaningful/special as it gets.

    Is it really dying? Hmm, I just take it for granted. (Does that make me old?)

  10. NBA

    Puckcollector – Aside from seeing Borbon on Baseball Tonight, my only memory of him was trying to make a comeback during the lockout if 1994 and showing up way too hefty.

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