5/24/13 at Rogers Centre

It was 6:45am when the phone in my hotel room rang, and I wanted to tear it right out of the wall. Yeah, I was the one who’d requested the wake-up call, but dammit, now that it was blaring in my ear, it felt like the middle of the night. Why do the most important days always start with the least amount of sleep?! I was scheduled for a live TV interview on FOX, so not only did I *have* to drag my butt out of bed, but I was also gonna have to be perky and enthusiastic.

Neal Stewart from BIGS Sunflower Seeds drove me to the TV station. Here we are at the security checkpoint:


We arrived at 8am and were led through a school-like hallway to the following green room:


I had half an hour before I was going to be on the air, so I wandered around with my camera. Here’s a photo of the hallway . . .


. . . and here’s a peek inside the bathroom:


Don’t worry. I was the only one in there. I wasn’t being a creeper — just getting a shot of the couch (which you would’ve done too because, let’s face it, how often does one see a couch in a bathroom?).

At around 8:30am, I got miked up. Five minutes later, I was standing here inside the studio . . .


. . . and two minutes after that, I was live on the air. Here’s a photo that Neal took during the interview:


Here’s a screen shot from the actual broadcast that shows my name on the screen . . .


. . . and here’s another that shows me with the host:


Her name is Anqunette Jamison, but everyone called her “Q.” Here’s a photo of us after the interview:


She was great — totally respectful and lots of fun. My segment lasted a little under four minutes, and if you want to watch it, click here.

Now, here’s something random for you . . .

The previous day, Neal and I had gotten a bunch of tweets from a guy in Detroit named Andy Dupont. He’d been looking forward to meeting me at Comerica Park and getting me to sign his copies of my books, but because the weather was so bad, he had to skip the game. Check out this tweet he posted, along with this one and this one and especially this one. Seriously, click those links to see what he was saying. It was sad, but also touching, and quite frankly, it was a real honor that he thought so highly of me. Neal and I talked about it and eventually got his info — and get this: at the time that we were going to be driving to Toronto, Andy was going to be at work 30 miles north of Detroit (at a Chrysler assembly plant in a town called Romeo), so we decided to pay him a visit. Check it out — here I am with him:


Unfortunately for Andy, our visit was so unexpected that he didn’t have the books with him, but we still enjoyed hanging out and chatting for a bit — and as an added bonus, Neal gave him a bunch of BIGS seeds.

The drive to Toronto should’ve taken four hours . . .


. . . but because we hit traffic and ultimately got lost (because we were in Canada and our smart phones were being stupid), it took more like six. Still, we had a good time in the car . . .


. . . and I was excited when I finally saw the CN Tower looming up in the distance:


Because Neal had done all the driving, he needed some time to relax and catch up on work, so while I waited here for Rogers Centre to open . . .


. . . he was doing his own thing elsewhere.

My goal for day (beyond snagging a gamer and raising $500 more for Pitch In For Baseball) was to snag six balls and reach a lifetime total of 6,700.

Batting practice got off to a decent start. The Orioles were already hitting when I ran inside . . .


. . . and within the first few minutes, I got two baseballs thrown to me in left field. I’m pretty sure that the first one came from Nolan Reimold; I’m certain that the second ball came from Nate McLouth.

15b_brian_matusz_2013A few minutes later, Brian Matusz jogged toward the warning track to retrieve a ball, and when he looked up and spotted me in the stands, he said hello. That surprised me, but it shouldn’t have. I keep forgetting that he knows who I am. Every time I see the Orioles, I end up chatting with Chris Tillman, who has recognized me for years. Tillman and Matusz often hang out together in the outfield during BP, so of course Matusz knows me. Duh. This time, however, Tillman was nowhere in sight because he was going to be the starting pitcher.

“How about a ‘Welcome to Canada’ ball?” I asked Matusz.

He inspected the ball and shouted, “It doesn’t say ‘Canada’ anywhere!”

I asked him if we could at least play catch with it, and once again, he surprised me, not only by throwing it in my direction, but then flapping his glove to indicate that he wanted me to throw it back. So I did. I tossed him a knuckleball that was good enough to make him nod and raise his eyebrows. We threw the ball back and forth a few times, and eventually he let me keep it.

My 4th ball of the day was thrown by Freddy Garcia in right-center field. I handed it to the nearest kid (whose bare hands it had bounced out of) and ran back to left-center. Look who I saw hanging out near the batter’s eye:


That’s the famous trio known as Cook & Sons — Todd (giving the thumbs-up), Tim (age 7), and Kellan (age 2). They attend games all over the place, and I keep hoping that they’ll adopt me. Most recently, I’d seen/fist-bumped them on 5/8/13 at PNC Park.

My 5th ball was an Adam Jones homer that I snagged several rows back in straight-away left field. I had to run a long way for it, but didn’t quite get there in time to catch it on the fly. That brought my lifetime total to 6,699 baseballs.

Chris Davis and another lefty were hitting in the next group, but I stayed in left field. More specifically, I moved to left-center because I know the Orioles, or at least I had a hunch. Several minutes later, Davis launched a deep drive in my general direction, and I knew right away that it was gonna reach the seats. To set the scene, I was standing in the front row, the ball was heading roughly 15 feet to my left, and there was a 12-ish-year-old kid in the way. He was standing five feet to my left and had a glove, and when the ball was hit, he tentatively began drifting toward it. Obviously I wasn’t going to knock him down — that’s not my style — and I also decided not to reach in front of him, so here’s what I did: I drifted with him and very carefully moved behind him. (We were both in the front row.) If he reached up and caught the ball, good for him, and if he somehow missed it, then it was gonna be mine. That sounds fair, right? Well, for whatever reason, this kid stopped drifting at the last second, and as the ball descended, I reached out to my left and caught it with full extension. (Several people who witnessed it told me later that it was pretty cool how I didn’t ever make contact with the kid or reach in front of him.) He was kinda stunned by the whole thing, and even though I hadn’t robbed him, I still gave him a ball — not THE ball, but rather one of the other BP balls that were zipped up in my backpack. He and his father were very appreciative, and when they turned their attention back toward the field, I took this photo of them along with my 6,700th ball:


Several minutes later, I caught another Chris Davis homer in the same spot — this time without all the fancy maneuvering, as it came right to me.

“Hey!” said a voice from below. I looked down and saw Orioles pitcher Tommy Hunter staring up at me from the warning track. “How do you know where to be for all these home runs?” he asked.

17b_tommy_hunter_2013“Wait, what?! You know who am I am?”

Everyone knows who you are!” he said, and then he rephrased his question: “How do you decide where to position yourself?”

“Well, Davis obviously has a ton of power,” I began, “and I know that he likes to go oppo, so I figured that this section in left-center was a good bet.”

“No, not in batting practice!” said Hunter. “What about the big ones that you caught, like the Barry Bonds homer? How did you know where to be for that?”

Hunter and I ended up chatting for another minute or two, and I kept wondering how he knew about me. Had he seen me on TV somewhere, or had Tillman told him about me? Regardless, it was pretty cool, and I loved the fact that all these guys on the Orioles who recognize me are young. Hunter and Matusz are both 26, and Tillman is 25, so I’ll have some friends in the major leagues for quite some time.

I snagged one more ball during BP — a toss-up from Miguel Gonzalez in left-center — and then I met up with a bunch of fans behind the Orioles’ dugout, starting with this guy:


His name is Drake, and as you can see, he had asked me to sign a baseball. (For those who don’t know, I often sign my name with a number after it; that number represents my lifetime baseball tally. Also, FYI, if you want to catch up with me at a game, this is usually a good time/place — behind the visiting team’s dugout after BP.)

After chatting with Drake for a couple of minutes, I posed for a photo with a fan named Shane and signed a ball for him too:


Then I did the same thing for a guy named Josh . . .


. . . and then I met a young lady named Jessica:


After that, I spent a few minutes catching up with this guy:


His name is Mike, and did you see what he was holding?! Here’s a closer look:


That’s a photo that we’d taken together on 5/26/11 at Rogers Centre. He had brought all three of my books that day, and now that I was back in Toronto, he had printed that photo from my blog and gotten me to sign it. I love stuff like that.

Here’s where I sat in the 1st inning:


I was hoping that the third out would be a strikeout and that Orioles catcher Matt Wieters would toss me the ball on his way back to the dugout. As luck would have it, J.P. Arencibia *did* strike out to end the frame, but stupid Wieters rolled the ball back to the mound.

By the bottom of the 2nd inning, I had moved one section over toward the outfield end of the dugout. (I figured that Wieters was a lost cause and that I should focus on the position players.) With two outs, Melky Cabrera popped out to 3rd baseman Manny Machado in foul territory. Machado caught the ball so close to the stands that I was surprised when he didn’t immediately toss into the crowd. Instead, he jogged across the field with it, and I drifted down the steps. There were a few fans shouting for it in the front row, but I got his attention, and he under-handed the ball to me, right over everyone’s outstretched hands. It was perfect! And as I caught it, I heard a little “cha-ching!!” inside my head. Not only did this game-used ball represent another $500 donation from BIGS Sunflower Seeds to Pitch In For Baseball, but it pushed my grand total of money raised past the $30,000 plateau — that is, since I started my fundraising campaign in 2009.

Neal found me soon after (he’d seen me snag the ball from afar) and took my picture:


We sat together behind the dugout for an inning and clowned around a bit. Here’s a photo of Neal with a whole sample pack of sunflower seeds crammed into his mouth:


I can’t tell if that’s funny or just downright creepy. What do you think?

A little while later, I gave one of my BP balls to a little kid who was at the game for his birthday.

Eventually I needed some food, and I also wanted to check out the new party deck in center field. Here’s a photo that I took on the way there:


Do you see the area between the red “Rogers” and “Budweiser” ads? That’s the party deck. Here’s what the concourse looks like behind it:


In the photo above, do you see the guy wearing the blue “Reyes” jersey? Well, here’s what the view looked like when I went and stood beside him:


Here’s one of the staircases that leads to the party deck . . .


. . . and here’s what it looked like on the deck itself:


I hate most party decks because that’s where the loudest, drunkest, and least-interested baseball fans hang out, but hey, maybe that’s a good thing. Give them a space where they can congregate? Keep them away from everyone else? In all seriousness, though, the new party deck at Rogers Centre is beautiful. There are three levels where anyone with any ticket can hang out and watch the game. In general, the fewer rules the better, not just at baseball stadiums, but in life. Fans like being able to walk around; standing room is good, and the Blue Jays now have lots of it in center field. (If only the team would start opening the stadium earlier; this whole 90-minute thing is horrendously UN-fan-friendly. Bad Jays.)

When I finished touring the party deck, I ran into a bunch of familiar faces in the concourse:


In the photo above, from left to right, you’re looking at . . .

1) Todd’s father Jim
2) Todd
3) Todd’s son Tim
4) Tim’s little brother Kellan
5) Neal
6) Mike

Some time around the 5th inning, I headed here:


I had to ask an usher for permission to sit there, and he let me. (The fact that my actual seat was behind the 1st base dugout is what got me into this outfield section; the usher used common sense and realized that I was downgrading my seat location, so he was cool with it. For the record, downgrading is not allowed at either New York stadium. You buy a ticket. You go to your section. The end. It blows.) Why did I want to sit all the way out in left-center? Because of all this space:


Why was there so much space? Because it was the “no alcohol” section, which is nice in theory, but in actuality, it was a total joke. I saw several fans walk down the steps with full cups of beer, sit in the adjacent section and drink, and then cross over into my section to sit and watch the game. Anyway, there were no home runs hit anywhere near me . . . of course.

After the game, which the Orioles won, 10-6, I got my 10th and final ball of the day at the Orioles’ dugout. I’m not sure who tossed it to me because there was a whole cluster of players walking in from the bullpen. Was it Pedro Strop? Maybe. Probably? No clue. I handed that ball to a little kid on my right and then took the following photo . . .


. . . just because.

Before heading out, I caught up with a guy named Ivan (aka “Toronto Ballhawk“) who’d brought his copy of The Baseball. Here we are:


After signing the book for him, I signed a ball for Mike with my up-to-the-minute number . . .


. . . and that was it.


Good times in Toronto.

Oh, one last thing: click here to read Neal’s recap of this entire trip, which also included games in Chicago and Detroit.


42_the_six_balls_i_kept_05_24_13• 10 balls at this game (six pictured here because I gave four away)

• 245 balls in 32 games this season = 7.66 balls per game.

• 904 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 17 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, Progressive Field, PNC Park, Camden Yards, U.S. Cellular Field, Comerica Park, and Rogers Centre

• 6,704 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.)

• 27 donors for my fundraiser

• $1.68 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $16.80 raised at this game

• $411.60 raised this season through my fundraiser

• $8,500 from BIGS Sunflower Seeds for my game-used baseballs

• $30,317.60 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009


  1. Mateo Fischer

    While it’s nowhere near actually getting on-air, it’s pretty cool to see a video I filmed appear in a television segment. Also, I think I’m ahead of you in line to get adopted by the Cooks since I’m younger and have already gone through the adoption process.
    P.S. I wonder if Wieters ever brings the ball back, because I’ve never seen him do it.
    P.P.S. This gets me thinking if Tommy Hunter would recognize me from an exchange I had with him at Target Field.
    P.P.P.S I should probably go to bed since I’m going to Baltimore in the morning. Peace!

  2. Charli Brown

    Zack, I really enjoyed the details of your front row competition with the kid going for the BP home run ball in this blog from Toronto.
    Since I’ve been following you, I’ve really grown tired of people bashing you and accusing you of pushing and shoving kids out of the way.
    Not only did you give the kid a fair shot at getting the ball himself, but you ended up giving him a ball when he missed out anyway! Kudos, man….You’re a class act and it’s fun to follow your blogs and tweets this season!

  3. DanR

    In the photo of Neal stuffing his face, I count 2 undershirts (white and maroon), a button up shirt (potentially long-sleeve) and a jacket. I’d hate to see what he’d wear to a playoff game in Minnesota.

  4. kslo69

    Couches are pretty commonplace in the Woman’s Room, not so much in the Men’s Room. Don’t ask me how I know this… That photo of Neal could easily be a still from a B grade horror flick. Has anyone here ever seen “The Stuff”?

  5. Tommy M.

    Good interview with FOX Zack, you were pretty peppy, but damn u looked tired! I also liked that “Thumbs down” shot with Neal and that other lame seed company, and that pic you took after the game… Just because! Lol! Way to knock Toronto off the list and good luck on the next!

  6. Cook & Son Bats

    Yes, we’re famous! Cool. Unfortunately, I think Avi is first in line on our adoption list. His application has been pending for several years. Anyway…I don’t think your description of catching the ball behind the kid did it justice. My dad and I watched it all play out and it was a thing of beauty. It was clear that you were only going to try to catch it if the kid missed it. It looked sort of like guy cozying up to his girlfield on a couach, reaching out to put his arm around her shoulder, but then reaching out further and catching a ball behind her head with your arm fully out-stretched. That might not do it justice either. But it was darn impressive. When you caught it, my dad turned around and said, “Boy, Zack surely knows his way around” or something like that. I responded, “That was his 6,700th ball, watch, he’ll go get a different ball to give to the kid.” And you did. Great seeing you, again. And thanks for the Jim Johnson assist.

  7. uwfootball1

    when the braves were in town a few days later i snagged evan gattis 12th homerun of the seaon thanks for all the expert advice that you put out on your blog.

  8. Mark McConville

    i believe every stadium should open at least 2 hours before game time, the whole 90 minute thing is terrible. You don’t even get to see the home team hit. I was in Philly last night and they open left field 2 and a half hours early but i wish the whole stadium would open then. I was stuck in left and got nothing during the whole Phillies portion of bp. When the Red Sox came up i went to right and after about 10-15 minutes i made a jumping catch on a Jacoby Ellsbury homer. That was my 100th lifetime ball. After that i ran to the corner of the seats in right center and asked Junichi Tazawa in japanese for a ball but got nothing. Then a guard came up to me and said i wasn’t allowed to run through the seats because there were too many people and i could hurt a little kid and if he saw me do it again he was gonna kick me out of the section. Now let me just clarify that i was making sure i was running thru empty rows and that if there happened to be a kid in my way id either jump down a row or slow down to avoid him. I looked at the guy and was like “your kidding right? i’m running thru empty rows and haven’t come close to running into anyone”, he gave me the warning and i was just like “yea sure”. After BP i got one of John Lackeys warm up balls from Dana Levangi the bullpen coach and that was it for the night. I sat behind the sox dugout and there were way too many kids to go for a 3rd out ball and got no chances for foul balls.

  9. Ray Burton

    Ha Ha , looks like your navigating skills are up to their usual high standards ! It’s lucky you didn’t end up in Alaska . Shame about the Last Place Blue Jays , they deserve better for being so amiable to the fans and hospitable at Rogers. That photo of Neal- definitely creepy. Looks like he has a mouth full of insect larvae. Nice snag on the third-out. What is your favourite Bigs flavour ? Going to try and get some in Oz. Please ask Neal if there any Australian distributors or should I order some over the net. Should go down well if I start spitting seeds all over the floor at work. Happy 6700 and keep up the good work !

  10. jere80

    I’ve been observing this Neal character over the past few weeks through your blog, and I don’t know what to say, except that I wouldn’t be surprised if you told me he used to play in Mudhoney. Having said that, I realize that statement also might make sense to those who don’t know I’m referring to a band.

  11. jumpnhigh


    It really is unfortunate about the gates opening times. I’ve always said this because after all this is the home team and people are coming to Toronto games wanting to see the Blue Jays.

    Just to clarify though; 7:07 (7pm) evening games the gates open 1.5hrs before the game at 5:30pm. You will only see the visiting team take BP as the Blue Jays just left the field minutes before you were let in. But don’t let that discourage anyone. If you rush to your favourite BP spot you’ll probably find some lonely balls in the seats that were hit by the Jays. 100 left Field is the best spot in my mind. But make sure to look “IN” the seats.

    But wait!!!

    Then for the weekend afternoon 1:07pm first pitch games the doors do open 2hrs before at 11:00am. At this point it’s a free for all rush to the 3rd base Blue Jays side as they are still on the field, but for a really short time. What really sucks is that 80% of the time none of the players stop to sign while coming off the field. Boooo.

    I hope this helps some of you coming to Toronto and the Rogers Centre/ Skydome in the future. This building is the 1st retractable dome to be made of its kind and is running on 24 years since opening back on June 3rd, 1989.

  12. jumpnhigh

    First off Congrats on 6700++++ in Canada and at Rogers Centre.

    You know what Zack as you jogged my memory with this blog entry, I saw you playing catch with the Orioles player as I was perched up in section 237 and said to myself “Wow, that’s a first!”

    I wanted to try and figure out your schedule so I could meet you, say hi and shake your hand. But you were a step ahead, and obviously I’m a slacker. Hopefully next time.

    One other thing I distinctively remember from this BP and it may have been your story about the kid in OF but I really don’t know. Was from my 200 level 3B line OF spot seeing in LF 100 level 2 bodies inching closer together, gloves raised while sighting a HR ball coming that way and then they gently bumped. The fan on the right came up with the ball in the end after the part that stuck out to me was the short aftermath of a prolonged, frozen in time, raised arm with the ball eating glove. And I don’t remember what happened after that. Cool story really.


    I have my one main ball that got me into this “hawking” fun and it was from a Blue Jays BP where Brett Lawrie knocked a HR into left field. Long story short (doors not open yet) I got the ball as I ran from home plate to LF. I never took my eyes off the srction and when i got thete it was sitting right in the very seat I calculated it would be in. Nice distinctive marks and hopefully an autograph will grace this ball eventually.

    I really enjoy catching up on your Blog Zack! Great tips to learn and you show respect towards others all while doing what you came to accomplish! Go get em and may the game balls flow in your direction for charity.

  13. Zack Hample

    I disagree. I think that once you’ve gone through the process, you should be disqualified from doing it again. Meanwhile, let’s see a link to that TV segment, huh? How was Baltimore? It’s crazy there now, huh?

    Thanks. I really appreciate that.

    I was tempted to take a nap on it.

    DAN R-
    Ha! Good point.

    Not until August, most likely.

    How *do* you know that? Never seen “The Stuff.” I’m a wuss when it comes to movies like that.

    TOMMY M.-
    If you think I looked tired here, wait’ll you see the interview that’s planned for me in Milwaukee next week. I’m gonna have to wake up at 5am.

    Damn! Avi is the leading contender?! I should’ve known. Well, let me know if it falls through for whatever reason. Once Kellan is no longer wearing diapers, I’d be glad to babysit. Anyway, thanks for sharing that description of ball No. 6,700. I love the details/images, and it was fun to read the exchange between you and your dad.

    Nice! How exactly did you get it? Did you catch it on the fly?

    Just because.

    Congrats on No. 100, but man, that sounds like a rough day overall. I’ve had some serious issues with the ushers in right-center field at Citizens Bank Park. Overall, though, I’ve pretty much been left alone there, and there’s an usher behind the 3rd base dugout who’s really nice to me.

    Skills? What skills! I’m the absolute worst with directions, so you can imagine how bad I am with *no* directions or GPS. Your “looks like” comment about Neal is even creepier than the photo itself — yuck! My favorite flavor . . . probably a tie between Salt & Pepper and Old Bay. Maybe I can get Neal to weigh in here and answer your question directly.

    Hilarious. And for the record, I have not heard of that band.

    Thanks for all the tips. I’m sure these will be helpful for lots of folks. And thanks for the kind follow-up comment. Very cool that you saw some of my day’s highlights from afar, but I’m sorry we didn’t get to meet. Next time for sure!

  14. Mateo Fischer

    1. I agree that Avi’s first in line, but I’m trying to make it a package deal by having his family partially adopt over this summer.
    2. I was talking about the Fox 2 segment in the entry. They played the “Knuckleballs at Yankee Stadium” video.
    3. It’s actually a little less crazy then it was when I was there las year, but that’s the problem. Last year there were still the excess of people in the stands, but this year with Reynolds gone, Orioles BP is much calmer. I went into foul ground for two or three rounds of BP and there hadn’t been one ball hit into left field by the time I got back.

  15. NBA

    What is it about the Rogers Centre that you don’t like? I read I think in your Marlins Park entry that the Rogers Centre is probably the most “extra” or “annoying” ballpark in the MLB.

  16. Zack Hample

    There’s no cross-aisle anywhere in the stadium, so in order to have room to run for a ball, the seats need to be empty. I hate having to rely on poor attendance in order to have a good time ballhawking. Also, there’s not really ONE good spot to catch home runs. Some go in the 2nd deck. Some fall in the gap in front of the 100 Level and disappear forever. It’s just a super-aggravating place.

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