My day at Progressive Field was supposed to start with two local TV interviews outside Gate A. Forty-five minutes before the first one, while I was rushing through lunch at a nearby sports bar, I got a call from the woman who produced both shows.
“I’m sorry that we’re gonna have to cancel,” she said, “but I’m sure you’ve heard the news.”
“What news?” I asked with a sinking feeling in my gut.
Three weeks earlier, I’d been bumped from “SportsCenter” because of the Boston Marathon bombings, so this time around I assumed the worst. Was there another attack somewhere? Were lots of people killed? Hopefully not in New York City. The new World Trade Center?! My mind was racing, but as it turned out, it was good news, albeit with a heinous backstory: three women who’d been kidnapped ten years ago IN CLEVELAND had *just* been discovered and rescued. Talk about bad timing, huh? I mean, couldn’t they have waited one more day?! I’m kidding. That type of news is obviously much bigger than my quest to snag baseballs, so what could I do? I felt happy/sorry for the women, but ultimately I just shrugged it off and ate a leisurely lunch. Life goes on, right? (Fifteen years ago, when my dad was on “Oprah,” his segment got bumped because of a plane crash. We Hamples are used to this. Maybe we’re bad luck? Next time I have a big interview planned, perhaps you should stay home and lower the blinds and barricade the door, just to be safe.)
Anyway, one nice thing about Progressive Field is that it opens two and a half hours early; the not-so-nice thing about it is that everyone has to stay in right field for the first 90 minutes. Thankfully, though, the stands out there are expansive, and because it wasn’t terribly crowded, I was able to take advantage.
My 1st ball of the day . . .
. . . was a ground-rule double to right-center, and I owe a hearty “Thank you!” to my friend Rick Gold. For some reason — perhaps because I’d been fiddling with my camera — I hadn’t seen the ball coming, and if he hadn’t been charging in my direction through an empty row, I wouldn’t have known to look up. At the last second, I saw the ball bounce into the seats near me. Rick scrambled to get there, but it trickled away from him under a seat, and I grabbed it. (Sorry, Rick. Can we still be friends?)
My 2nd ball was thrown by Chris Perez, and we briefly played catch with it. At one point, I tossed him a pretty good knuckleball, to which he responded: “Now you’re just getting fancy!”
Neal Stewart from BIGS Sunflower Seeds was at the stadium with me, but neglected to photograph my throwing session. That’s because he was on the phone, going over some last-minute details for my 6pm interview with the MLB Network.
Neal was still on the phone when I snagged another ball that Perez randomly flipped into the stands in right-center . . . and when I snagged this one with my glove trick from Indians’ bullpen:
While I was reeling in that ball, an usher walked over and mumbled through his thick gray moustache, “I don’t think you’re supposed to be doing that.”
As it turned out, he didn’t realize that the glove belonged to me; he assumed it had been sitting on the bullpen mound and that my string simply had a hook on the end. I explained that the glove was mine and that I was simply trying to snag a baseball.
“Is that okay?” I asked.
He shrugged and said, “I guess so.” Then he stood next to me and watched what I was doing.
The ball itself, in my opinion, was mud-rubbed to perfection, but the usher didn’t see it that way. “That’s not much of a ball,” he remarked when I pulled it from my glove.
When the A’s took the field, Yoenis Cespedes tossed me my 5th ball. Neal found me after that and got a few cool photos of me snagging my next ball — a Brandon Moss homer that landed in the seats. When the ball was hit, I happened to be walking through the second row with my backpack. I determined quickly that the ball was going to land deep in the seats, so I climbed back into the third row:
I don’t know why I did that. It would’ve been easier to just keep heading through the second row and then turn right at the stairs. Maybe I assumed that the people in the front row would climb back into my row? As you can see in the photo above, they hadn’t yet moved.
Here I am running up the stairs . . .
. . . and grabbing the ball from the folded-up portion of a seat:
In the photo above, that’s Rick on the right. He had snagged 10 balls the day before, and he ended up with seven at this game, so don’t feel bad for him.
My 7th ball was as cheap and flukey as it gets, but nevertheless, it counts. Basically, it was tossed to a little kid in the front row by A’s pitching coach Curt Young. The kid dropped it, and it trickled to the far edge of the platform that separates the outfield wall from the stands. The kid couldn’t reach it, so I leaned out and gloved it and handed it to him.
My 8th ball was thrown by Michael Taylor, my 9th ball was a Josh Reddick homer that I grabbed in the seats, and my 10th ball was tossed by Evan Scribner (thanks to Rick, who doesn’t go for toss-ups and identified him for me).
Now, do you remember what time I said my MLB Network interview was scheduled for? That’s right: 6pm. Do you know when batting practice typically ends before a night game? Yep, usually around 6:20pm. Do the math. NOT GOOD. But what was I supposed to do? NOT do the interview? Obviously I was gonna do it, so at around 5:55pm, I made my way to the very back of the right field seats . . .
. . . and met up with Neal, who had arranged for a security guard to take us to the interview. Here they are, heading toward the concourse in center field:
We rounded the batter’s eye and passed through these fans, who were waiting to run into the bleachers at 6pm:
Here’s what I saw as I walked through the standing room area in left field, aka “The Home Run Porch”:
Normally, when the gates are about to open, I’m on the outside looking in, so this change of perspective was rather odd. (And fun!)
I followed Neal and the guard into foul territory . . .
. . . and ended up here:
Actually, that’s not where I ended up. In the photo above, do you see the woman whispering into the man’s ear on the warning track? She worked for the MLB Network, and he was a security guard. I assumed they were talking about me — something along the lines of, “This clown is telling me he’s got an interview with you guys.” Anyway, THIS is where I ended up:
Neal was allowed to join me on the warning track, and he took lots of photos. Here I am adjusting my headset:
Did you notice BP taking place in the background? It pained me not to be in the bleachers, but I tried not to think about it.
Here’s the woman from MLB Network (I forget her name) showing me a little screen on which I could see myself:
The following photo shows the setup from my perspective. The arrow indicates the camera that I was instructed to look at, and the circle shows me on the little screen:
Here I am pre-interview looking wistfully at the bleachers:
Finally, after ten minutes of setup and prep, my interview began. Unfortunately it wasn’t live. It was taped for the show “Intentional Talk,” which meant that anything I said could (and probably would) be edited. I’d been hoping that Kevin Millar would conduct the interview — I was prepared to joke about his home run off Mike Mussina that I caught on 7/28/08 at Yankee Stadium — but instead I was interviewed by some random guy in the studio in Secaucus, New Jersey. I was told to include his questions in my answers because the whole segment was going to feature my words combined with MLB’s video footage.
I’m not sure when this segment will air, but I’ll post an update on Twitter (@zack_hample) when I hear anything.
Most of the interview was straight-forward, so at one point toward the end, I tried to shake things up a bit by juggling:
In the photo above, did you notice that BP had ended? I’d been hoping to get back out to the bleachers and snag a few more home run balls.
So much for that.
Here’s another photo that Neal took during the interview:
I mentioned BIGS Sunflower Seeds twice. Hopefully that’ll make the cut (I predict it won’t), but at least the logos were visible on my hat and shirt. Helping to promote BIGS this season hasn’t been a burden. I’ve enjoyed helping promote them. They’re doing so much for me and for Pitch In For Baseball that I want them to get as much publicity as possible.
Here I am just after the interview ended . . .
. . . and here I am walking off the field:
Neal took a photo of the base that was sitting on the edge of the warning track . . .
. . . and that was it. I hope the interview turns out okay. The thought of the entire thing being my voice seems awkward, no?
When I made it back into the stands, I caught up with a local ballhawk named Tom. Rather than sharing a generic photo of us posing together, here’s a candid shot:
Tom has only been ballhawking for a couple of seasons, but he’s snagged about 500 balls.
Before the game, Neal/BIGS treated me to a waffle cone with an absurd amount of vanilla custard:
I spent the first few innings going for foul balls here . . .
. . . along with 3rd-out balls behind the Athletics’ dugout on the 1st base side. I really wanted to go for home runs, but first I had to try to fulfill the charity challenge — $500 for Pitch In For Baseball for every stadium this season at which I snag a game-used ball.
When Drew Stubbs took a called third strike to end the 3rd inning, I finally got my chance. Decked out in A’s gear, I drifted down the steps and waved to get the attention of catcher Derek Norris. Check out the the following photo. It shows him throwing the ball to me:
Look what happened next:
As I reached up for the ball (which was clearly intended for me), the fan in the red cap tried to push me and my glove out of the way.
I’m glad to report that I made the catch, and when I returned to my seat, I took off the A’s gear and posed with the ball:
I spent the rest of the game in the outfield.
This was my view from left field . . .
. . . and as you can see, I had lots of room to run:
Despite that glorious cross-aisle, I decided to hang out on the Home Run Porch. Look how much room I had over there:
Moments after I took that photo, a police officer approached me.
“Is that your backpack?” he asked.
“Yes it is. Is there a problem?”
“I need you to stand near it.”
“You don’t think I’m already near it?” I asked. (I wasn’t being a smart-ass — just trying to understand what exactly I needed to do in order to not be hassled.)
“Don’t argue with me,” he said calmly. “Given recent events, we’re on high alert over here.”
(The world sucks. That’s really all there is to say.)
Things got better on the Home Run Porch after that. First I ran into a friend from Ohio named Dan, who hung out with me for a couple innings, and then I got a visit from a young ballhawk named Kyle, who asked me to sign a baseball:
I also met a guy named Bob, who works in the press box at Progressive Field as an attendant. He’s been reading my blog for a while, so when he spotted me on the Home Run Porch, he came over and introduced himself.
I didn’t snag any more baseballs for the rest of the night. That’s what happens when you’re chasing home runs and the final score is 1-0.
After the game, I gave two baseballs to a pair of little kids and got a photo (with a mouthful of ranch-flavored sunflower seeds) with Rick:
Neal and I gave him a ride to his hotel, and on the way back to ours, we stopped for food. I don’t know if I should be proud or ashamed of what I ate, but either way, I need to share a photo:
That’s a cheeseburger with mozzarella sticks. Oish.
• 157 balls in 20 games this season = 7.85 balls per game.
• 68 balls in 7 lifetime games at Progressive Field = 9.7 balls per game.
• 892 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 12 stadiums this season with a game-used ball: Citi Field, Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium, Angel Stadium, PETCO Park, AT&T Park, Safeco Field, Kauffman Stadium, Rangers Ballpark, Minute Maid Park, Great American Ball Park, and Progressive Field
• 6,616 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.)
• 26 donors for my fundraiser
• $1.63 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $17.93 raised at this game
• $255.91 raised this season through my fundraiser
• $6,000 from BIGS Sunflower Seeds for my game-used baseballs
• $27,661.91 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009