The day started with (1) returning the rental car in San Diego, (2) a flight to San Francisco, (3) checking into a hotel, and (4) a cab ride to my first interview:
The guy in the photo-collage above is named Neal Stewart. He works for BIGS Sunflower Seeds, the company that’s sponsoring me this season, so he’s traveling with me and making sure that everything runs smoothly.
As for the interview, here’s a photo that Neal took as it was wrapping up:
In the photo above, the guy on the right is named Bennie Martin. He writes for the San Francisco Examiner. (See the voice recorder in his right hand?) His article about me was published online several hours later — click here to read it — and there was a print version the following day.
From there, Neal led me to my next interview . . .
. . . at a nearby radio studio. Here I am with the sign in the lobby.
We had a few minutes to spare before the interview, so I wandered the hallways:
At the last minute, I learned that the interview was going to air on 500 stations in 177 countries. (No pressure, right?) It started at 4pm, and Neal (who was in the studio with me) filmed the whole thing. I’m not gonna post the video (because it’s 15 minutes, and who really cares?), but here are a couple of screen shots. The first one shows Ron Barr, the founder of the station and the host of the show . . .
. . . and the second one shows me:
After the interview, I was asked to sign the wall:
Then Neal and I jumped in a cab to AT&T Park. We headed to the Marina Gate (which is in center field), and within a few minutes, I saw a familiar face:
In the photo above, the guy with the bike is featured in The Baseball as one of the Top Ten Ballhawks of All Time. His name is Lee Wilson, and in case you haven’t seen the book, he caught Nomar Garciaparra’s 1st major league hit (which was a homer), and he also caught Barry Bonds’ 64th home run in 2001 — the year that Bonds set the single-season record. Not bad.
Then I caught up with another Top-Ten Ballhawk:
The dude pictured above is named Alex Patino. (Check out pages 283-284 in the book to see the full interview with him. He’s absolutely hilarious.) He has snagged thousands of baseballs including 97 game home runs (including two or three Bonds homers, depending on how you look at it; he was involved in a lawsuit after scuffling for Bonds’ 700th).
The stadium opened at 5:15pm, and I was the first fan to run inside. As I hurried through the concourse toward the left field bleachers, I found a ball at the bottom of one of the staircases. Several minutes later, as the bleachers began to fill in, Alex shouted at Giants pitcher Chad Gaudin for a ball. (Actually, he’s always shouting.)
“I’m here every DAY, baby!!” he yelled. “Hook it UP!!”
Gaudin ignored him, and when things quieted down, I called out and said, “I live in New York City, so I’m NOT here every day. Any chance you could toss one up, please?”
That did the trick, and Gaudin threw the next ball to me. Here are the two baseballs:
A minute or two after that, I snagged a home run that landed deep in the bleachers and ricocheted down to me in the cross-aisle. I’d been inside the stadium for five minutes and gotten three balls. Unfortunately, those were the only ones I got during batting practice. AT&T Park is gorgeous, and the layout (with all of its cross-aisles and standing-room areas) is ideal for ballhawking. As a result, there are a zillion ballhawks, so there’s an extreme level of competitiveness and aggression.
For some reason, everyone was standing *on* the bleacher benches:
That makes no sense. It’s not like they wouldn’t have been able to see if they were standing on the ground, right? And what the hell were they all planning to do when home runs were hit? Run on the benches? That doesn’t sounds safe, does it?
Halfway through BP, I switched into my Diamondbacks gear, but that didn’t help.
I hid my frustration when this young man approached me and introduced himself:
His name is Austin, and he recognized me because he reads this blog. He’s 12 years old and has collected seven major league baseballs — a respectable total which puts him ahead of my pace, as I only had four at that age.
Look where Neal was this whole time:
In the photo above, that’s him looking up at me from the warning track. Somehow, he’d worked his way down there into a private party, but he didn’t snag any baseballs.
Several lefties were batting, so I walked up the steps in deep right-center . . .
. . . and headed to the standing room area in right field (aka “The Arcade”). Look who had the same idea:
In the photo above, that’s Lee Wilson, and when a bunch of righties started taking their cuts in the next round, I found him back in left field.
One cool thing about AT&T Park is that there’s no restriction about using ball-retrieving devices. In fact, so many people use them that it has become part of the ballhawking culture here. That said, check out the following photo:
In case you can’t tell, two different fans had flung their “cup tricks” at a ball on the warning track. A Diamondbacks coach was messing with them by repeatedly tapping the ball away from them with his bat. Eventually, a third fan flung another device at the ball — a large net attached to a rope — and the coach backed off and watched them all battle for it. Alex Patino is the king of ball-retrieval devices. He uses a metal cooking pot (yes, he’s allowed to bring that inside) with a bungee cord stretched over the open part. The device is indestructible and can hold three our four balls, so if he sees a few sitting near each other on the warning track, he can go bang-bang-bang and pretty much get them all at once.
After BP, I met another ballhawk named Spencer who’s been reading this blog and following my baseball adventures. Here we are:
Spencer, who has snagged 172 lifetime baseballs, has a profile on MyGameBalls.com, and he’s also on Twitter, in case you want to see what he’s up to. Really cool guy. I love the fact that I get to meet so many people when I travel; no matter what stadium I visit, it seems that a bunch of folks always recognize me and want to say hey.
Neal and I shared some garlic fries before the game and each got our own “main course” — a chicken sandwich for him and a sausage with onions and peppers for me. Then we parted ways. BIGS Sunflower Seeds has been great about buying me tickets near the dugouts at all these stadiums, but in some cases, they’re only buying one ticket there per game. In other words, they want to help me get close so I can go for game-used balls and raise lots of money for charity, but at a place like AT&T Park, which is hella pricey, they don’t want to pay for Neal to sit with me — totally understandable, in my opinion. Neal, therefore, had a crappy seat in the upper deck (poor guy) and I had a ticket that allowed me to be here:
Check out the view from the front of the tunnel:
I stood there for as long as the ushers would let me, hoping that an inning would end with a strikeout and that I could get D’backs catcher Miguel Montero to toss me the ball.
Inning after inning passed — and no luck. One inning *did* end with a strikeout, but the ball bounced in the dirt, and Montero barely missed tagging the batter (like, by two inches), so he had to throw the ball to first base. That was painful.
I was getting more and more stressed, but at least I was having fun being so close to the action. Several fans recognized me as the guy who snagged two home runs on 4/18/13 at Yankee Stadium, one of whom invited me to sit in his seat beside the dugout while he went to the get food. Speaking of that Yankee game, do you remember the Diamondbacks’ TV reporter who interviewed me that night in the left field seats? Her name is Jody Jackson, and get this — when she saw me here at AT&T Park, we ended up texting. Here she is sending me a message:
Our text conversation went as follows:
JODY: Surprised you are sitting there.
ZACK: Just for a few minutes. Trying to snag a gamer for charity.
ZACK: Cool, no problem.
JODY: I think it’s awesome what you are doing- did I read 500 per ball to charity?
ZACK: $500 for every stadium at which I snag a game-used ball. None yet tonight, unfortunately, but I did get three in BP.
JODY: What’s the charity?
ZACK: Pitch In For Baseball. They provide baseball and softball equipment to underprivileged kids all over the world.
JODY: Awesome. Thanks for the info.
ZACK: Thank YOU.
Jody is super-cool, as you can probably tell. Follow her on Twitter and show her some love.
A bit later in the game, I moved to another open seat here:
In the photo above, that’s Didi Gregorius on deck. You may recall that he hit the first of the two home runs that I snagged the other night in the Bronx, and that it was the first of his major league career. After that game, I met him outside the visitors’ clubhouse and gave the ball back to him, so when I saw him so close during this game here in San Francisco, I couldn’t resist saying something. I waited until there was a lull in the action and then shouted, “Didi! I got your first home run last week in New York!” (I tweeted about this at the time. Remember?) He looked up and smiled wide and pointed at me. He obviously couldn’t talk, but he totally recognized me, which was cool.
Then I moved back to the seats next to the dugout:
Neal, meanwhile was sitting here:
I finally gave up on snagging an inning-ending strikeout and moved behind the outfield end of the Diamondbacks’ dugout:
Finally, thankfully, mercifully . . . Buster Posey popped out to D’backs 2nd baseman Martin Prado to end the 8th inning, and Prado tossed me the ball on his way in. All I could think was, “Cha-ching!! Another $500 for Pitch In For Baseball,” and let me tell you, it was a HUGE relief to get that ball and take care of my AT&T Park challenge:
(In addition to the money that BIGS is donating, I’m doing my own fundraiser for Pitch In For baseball. Click here to learn more.)
The fans sitting in front of me asked if they could get a photo with the ball:
One inning later, with the game going into extras, I got another 3rd-out ball from 1st baseman Paul Goldschmidt — no extra money for the charity for that one, but it still made me feel good.
At that point, I gave one of my BP balls to the nearest kid. (I’d given another ball away earlier in the game.) One of his parents asked if they could take a photo of him with me, so I obliged and then asked if I could get one with my camera. Here we are:
The kid’s name is George. He was very appreciative of the ball. (I normally only give baseballs to kids with gloves, but occasionally I make exceptions.)
The D’backs won the game, 6-4, in 11 innings, thanks in part to my man Didi Gregorius who hit a one-out hustle-double and scored the go-ahead run. After the final out, two things happened:
1) Diamondbacks coach Steve Sax tossed me my 6th ball of the day.
2) Didi was interviewed in the dugout by Jody Jackson:
How good are your eyes? Did you notice the THREE baseballs in the previous photo? Didi tossed them all into the crowd, including one for me. That made me very happy.
I was one of the last fans to leave the stadium — good thing I wasn’t in the bleachers because the seagulls were raiding it for scraps of food:
My final photo before leaving was taken with a 17-year-old named Connor, who’d brought his copy of my book:
To be fair, Connor and I are the same height; he was standing one step below me because security was kicking us out, so we didn’t have time to stop and get settled. (Thanks to his friend Sam for taking that photo.) He and I had met once before on 9/3/11 at AT&T Park. Do you remember this photo of him holding a ball that I had signed? You probably don’t, but anyway, I signed the book for him in a fancy, under-the-stands concession area, and while we were there, Heath Bell walked by (in street clothes) with some friends. I walked over, said hello, gave him a fist-bump, and said I’d see him tomorrow.
It was pretty late by the time I left. Neal had taken off after the 9th inning because we were gonna have to get up at 5:30am the next day for another radio interview.
It took forever to find a cab, but at least I had a nice view of the stadium while I waited:
• 79 balls in 11 games this season = 7.18 balls per game.
• 883 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 408 consecutive games with at least two balls
• 6 stadiums this season with a game-used ball: Citi Field, Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium, Angel Stadium, PETCO Park, and AT&T Park
• 6,538 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)
• $8.82 raised at this game
• $99.54 raised this season through my fundraiser
• $3,000 from BIGS Sunflower Seeds for my game-used baseballs
• $24,505.54 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009