My goal for the day was simple: I wanted to talk to Heath Bell. I hadn’t seen him since last season, and as you might already know, he and I are pals. But before the Diamondbacks took the field for BP, there were Yankee baseballs to snag — or rather baseBALL, singular. Here’s the only ball I caught during the 25 minutes that the home team was hitting:
It was a home run. I don’t know who hit it. All I can tell you is that I ran the full length of that empty row and caught it on the fly near the side-fence of the bullpen.
Then I headed into foul territory . . .
. . . and had to compete with my friend Greg Barasch for toss-ups for the next few minutes. (In the photo above, he’s the taller of the two fans standing on the right in red D’backs gear.) I ended up getting two baseballs in that area — one from Cliff Pennington and another from pitching coach Charles Nagy.
I headed back to my regular spot in straight-away left field, and when I saw Heath jogging toward the bullpen, I shouted his name REALLY loud. I had to because he was about 150 feet away. Thankfully, he heard me and looked over in my direction, and when I waved my cap, he came over to say hey:
He started by asking me how my off-season was, and the conversation took off from there. I told him that I’d emailed and texted him over the winter about writing a book with him, but never heard back. He told me that his email address had changed, and he started giving me the new one, but it was kind of long and complicated, and he didn’t want any of the fans standing near me to overhear him, so we started talking about his phone number. I grabbed my iPhone and pulled up his contact info and read him the last four digits.
“Gimme your phone,” he said, so I reached down and handed it to him. That’s when the nearest security guard walked down the steps and told me not to “hang over the wall.” (Yankee Stadium is SO MUCH FUN!!!) Whatever. I was just glad that Heath had my phone, and I took the following photo as he typed in his new contact info:
After he returned my phone, he told me that he had actually been thinking of calling me about doing a book together.
“You’re the only person I know who writes books,” he said.
“That’s surprising,” I replied, “because you must know a lot of people, but anyway, here’s the important question that we should be asking ourselves: Do you think I could pitch better than you could write?”
“I *was* once clocked throwing 79 miles per hour,” I told him.
“Then definitely,” he said.
“But I’ve probably lost 10 to 15 ticks on the gun since then,” I confessed.
Then I asked him how his wife and kids are doing — they’re still living in California, he said — and how his off-season was. The main thing he talked about was the difference between the Marlins and Diamondbacks and how his mechanics got all screwed up last season and how the Marlins tried to fix him their way (which didn’t work) and how the D’backs have taken a much better approach and helped him HIS way.
“I’m back on track,” he said. “I figured it out.”
We talked about his mechanics for a bit. You know how he has that little jump-step where he sort of goes up high and then comes back down before pitching the ball? Well, that’s the main thing that he’s been working on. He said his velocity is fine and WAS fine last season, so he really couldn’t understand what was wrong. It was great to talk about all this stuff with him.
Then I showed him my new glove. Here he is wearing/inspecting it:
“I should get you a glove,” he said — so then we talked about gloves for a while.
Then I told him that I’m being sponsored this season by BIGS Sunflower Seeds. I mentioned that they’re gonna be sending me to all 30 major league stadiums and challenging me to snag a game-used ball at each venue, and that for each place where I succeed, they’re going to donate $500 to Pitch In For Baseball. (Heath knows about that charity because he made a sizable donation to it through my fundraiser in 2009. By the way, did you know that Pitch In For Baseball was recently featured on the NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams? Click here to watch the segment.) I told Heath that I’ll see him in San Francisco next week. (BIGS Sunflower Seeds is sending me to Angel Stadium on April 21st, PETCO Park on April 22nd, AT&T Park on April 23rd and 24th (when the D’backs will be there), and Safeco Field on April 25th and 26th. If you’re going to be at any of these games, find me. There might be some free seeds in it for you.) Heath asked when I’m planning to be at Chase Field. I said I’d let him know, and that was pretty much the end of it.
As I was walking back up the steps, I heard him shout my name. I turned around and saw him back in the outfield.
“Text me!” he yelled, and I gave him a thumbs-up.
I don’t know how many home run balls I missed during the 10 or 15 minutes that we were chatting, but it was worth it. I seriously love that man.
Halfway through the Diamondbacks’ portion of BP, I headed to right field and had to compete with my friend Ben Weil. In the following photo, he’s wearing the Randy Johnson jersey.
He snagged a *lot* of baseballs out there, but I got a few as well. I’m not sure who was hitting — probably Eric Hinske and Eric Chavez — but anyway, my 4th ball of the day was a homer that sailed directly over his head and into my glove. My 5th and 6th balls were home runs that landed in the seats, and I do mean *in* the seats. (I gave one of those away.) My 7th ball was a long home run that landed in the mostly-empty bleachers behind me. There was one kid up there, probably about 10 years old, who would’ve easily snagged it, but unfortunately for him, the ball took a horrendously unlucky ricochet and bounced completely out of the bleachers as he chased it down the steps. I made a lunging bare-handed grab (facing away from the field) as it dropped down into my section, and without hesitating, I tossed the ball up to him. He was thrilled, and everyone thanked me, and THAT’S when it occurred to me that that was my 6,500th ball. DAMN!!! I thought about it for a minute and came up with a solution that would make everyone happy: I walked back over to where the kid was standing (he was about 20 feet away) and said, “Hey, I’ll trade you a brand-new ball for the one I just gave you.”
“Really?!” he shouted.
“Yeah,” I said and held up the replacement ball. He then tossed down my precious milestone ball, and I tossed him the pearl. That was a huge relief for me, and he was even more excited than before.
Back in left field, I caught one final BP homer on the fly. Once again, I have no idea who hit it. It was a righty, and I made a nice play on it, but only because I misjudged the ball in the first place and had to recover. Basically, when it was hit, I moved down a row, but then as the ball was approaching, I realized that it was going to sail a bit over my head, so I climbed back over a row of seats (which, evidently, is now a felony at Yankee Stadium) and then jumped as high as I could and caught it back-handed and then pretty much fell over in a belly-flop position onto the empty row of seats behind me. My right knee is now bruised as a result, but it was totally worth it. Thankfully, the security supervisor (who had told me two days earlier not to climb over the seats) didn’t see any of that.
Ben had snagged nine balls at that point. Here’s how he labels/differentiates them:
In case you can’t tell, that’s his 9th ball of the day wrapped in a napkin, on which he has messily written:
“9 – Caught
rail in 103″
That would be section 103 in right field. Ben doesn’t like to mark the balls themselves, so he writes notes that he keeps with them, and when he gets home, he puts each ball in a Ziploc bag and labels it neater. (By the way, did you notice his Sesame Street hat in the photo above? He’s quite a character.)
Ben had never reached double digits at the new Yankee Stadium, and because he was nice enough to give me an extra ticket in left field, I let him go for the pre-game t0ss-up from the bullpen. Later in the game, he got another ball and ended the day with 11. We try to stay out of each other’s way and not rob each other. Sometimes we can’t help it, though, and then we just end up trash-talking and laughing like hell.
Twenty minutes before the game, I sent the following text to Heath: “Hey, it’s Zack. Great catching up with you today. I’ll let you know when I’m gonna be at Chase Field. See you tomorrow.”
(Around that time, I received the following email from someone I don’t know: “Hi Zack, are you interested in selling all of your baseballs?” I had a good laugh, showed Ben, and eventually wrote back and said, “Nope, but thanks for asking.”)
Ben and I sat together during the game. This was our view:
Heath Bell wasn’t kidding when he declared that he’s “back on track.” Here’s a photo of him warming up in the bullpen . . .
. . . before entering the game in the bottom of the 8th inning and striking out the side. Now, I know what you might be thinking: how can someone with an ERA of 9.00 claim to have it all figured out? Well, okay, fine, that *was* his ERA at the start of the night. He had allowed four earned runs in four innings (three of which came in his very first outing in which he worked just one-third of an inning). Now his ERA is down to 7.20, and if he pitches another scoreless inning or two, he’ll be back in the land of respectability. Meanwhile, in five total innings of work this season, he has walked one batter and struck out ten. That’s pretty damn impressive, so let’s just see how it goes.
In the photo above, did you notice the “4” on his back? The Yankees were celebrating Jackie Robinson Day. Normally it takes place on April 15th, but because these two teams didn’t play that day, all the players were wearing No. 42 at this game instead.
The Yankees ended up winning, 4-2. Robinson Cano (who was named after Jackie Robinson) hit a three-run homer, and Mariano Rivera notched his 611th career save.
Eleven minutes after the game ended, Heath texted and said, “Great seeing u too.”
I responded with, “Awesome 8th inning tonight. That was really fun to see,” and then he sent me back a smily face. BFFs forever!! <3
Ben was kind enough to drive me home, and when I got there, these two boxes were waiting for me:
It was my long-awaited shipment of BIGS Sunflower Seeds. (The ball in the photo is there to show you the size; that’s my 6,500th ball, by the way.)
I opened one of the boxes:
It was a bucket of seeds. Here’s a peek inside . . .
. . . and here are all the packs of seeds spread out:
As you can see, there were 16 packs and four different flavors — Sizzlin’ Bacon, Dill Pickle, Buffalo Wing, and Original. Here’s a closer look:
I do like seeds, but I gotta say that I’ve always been an “original” kinda guy. I never really got into flavored seeds, but I’m willing to give all this stuff a shot. And for the record, the folks at BIGS didn’t ask me to photograph the seeds and blog about it. They said I could do whatever I wanted with them, but I *did* want to blog about it. I’m excited. Free seeds! What’s not to like? You know how much I blog about my food in general — ballpark concessions, unusual meals when I’m traveling, my plate at most Thanksgivings, and so on.
Anyway, here’s a closeup of my 6,500th ball . . .
. . . and here are the six that I kept:
I was surprised to discover that all six baseballs have invisible ink stamps, some more noticeable than others. Check it out. Here’s a side-by-side comparison in regular light versus black light:
That’s it for now. I have a zillion things to do, and I’m heading back to Yankee Stadium in a few hours.
• 8 balls at this game (six pictured above because I gave two away)
• 42 balls in 6 games this season = 7 balls per game.
• 878 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 403 consecutive games with at least two balls
• 2 stadiums this season with a game-used ball: Citi Field and Fenway Park.
• 6,501 total balls
(For every stadium this season at which I snag a game-used ball, BIGS Sunflower Seeds will donate $500 to Pitch In For Baseball, a non-profit charity that provides baseball equipment to underprivileged kids all over the world. In addition to that, I’m doing my own fundraiser again this season for Pitch In For Baseball.)
• 23 donors for my fundraiser
• $1.26 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $10.08 raised at this game
• $52.92 raised this season through my fundraiser
• $1,000 from BIGS Sunflower Seeds for my game-used baseballs
• $22,458.92 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009