I had a terrible day of travel from New York City. Not only was my flight delayed to the point where I nearly missed part of batting practice, but after going through airport security, I somehow managed to lose my driver’s license.
Thankfully, things got much better once I actually made it to Miller Park. I arrived in a taxi at around 4:30pm . . .
. . . and headed straight into Friday’s. That’s where I met this guy:
His name is Evan, and he was there to get video footage of me snagging baseballs during BP. Let me explain . . .
You know who Neal Stewart from BIGS Sunflower Seeds is, right? Well, Neal couldn’t make it to Milwaukee, and I was scheduled to appear on CBS the following morning; the people at CBS said they wanted B-roll footage of me, but (for whatever reason) weren’t able to send a TV crew to the stadium to film me themselves. That’s where Evan came in. He lives in Milwaukee. He and Neal have been friends for years. Neal called him and asked if he could meet me at the stadium, and voila! Here we were.
Soon after the Brewers started hitting, I got my first chance to snag a ball — a home run that barely cleared the outfield wall and landed in the gap 15 feet below me. Here’s a screen shot from a video that Evan filmed, which shows me setting up the glove trick:
Here’s the video itself, which shows me lowering the glove and snagging the ball:
Everything slowed down after that. There were a few more potential glove trick opportunities, but each time, the balls got caught on/under something that made it too hard for me to snag. Take another look at the video, and you’ll see one of these balls stuck on a metal ridge just behind the outfield wall.
During the next 45 minutes, the highlight (other than the free food I was eating) was seeing a few familiar faces: Nick Yohanek (aka “The Happy Youngster”), Shawn Bosman (aka “Ballhawk Shawn”) and Kenny Kosta (aka “Kenny Kosta”). All three of these guys are local ballhawks, and you’ll see a photo of them later on (along with Shawn’s mother, Sue, who’s awesome and attends games regularly).
At around 5pm, I noticed a little kid with a glove at the table behind me. I chatted briefly with him and his father, and I told the kid that if he didn’t get a ball by 5:30pm, I’d give him one. Several minutes before the cutoff, I got my 2nd ball of the day tossed by Donovan Hand, and since the kid was still empty-handed, I hooked him up. Here’s a photo of him looking at the ball while his father was thanking me:
When the stadium opened for real, I hurried to the seats along the left field foul line and did this:
That’s what I call the “half-glove trick” because I don’t actually rig the inside with the rubber band and Sharpie. Because the wall in that spot was so low, I only had to use the string to lower my glove and fling it out. Then, after knocking the ball closer, I crawled/reached out over the tarp and grabbed it:
In the photo above, did you notice that my feet were hooked around the inner edge of the railing? Technically, I was still “in” the stands and therefore not breaking any rule, but Shawn told me that if he did that, he’d get arrested. Like so many ballhawks who frequent particular stadiums, he’s a marked man. The ushers and security guards are truly out to get him and have a special set of rules that he’s forced to obey. He’s not even allowed to use his ball-retrieving device. Believe me, I felt his pain, but at the same time, I enjoyed going for baseballs that may have pushed the limits.
Several minutes later, I met a ballhawk from Minneapolis named Brandon. Here we are shaking hands:
We only got to talk for a few seconds, and unfortunately we didn’t see each other for the rest of the night. That’s the bad thing about meeting people during BP: there’s no time to talk, but at least when I meet a fellow ballhawk, there’s an understanding.
As the A’s pitchers finished their warm-ups, I got Hideki Okajima to throw me a ball by asking him for it in Japanese. Here’s a screen shot that shows me reaching out for the catch:
Evan did a great job of filming it, and while I *did* later send this clip to CBS, I decided it wasn’t special enough to post on my YouTube channel. I do have another video later in this entry, and it’s truly a must-watch — more on that in a bit, but first, this was the scene shortly before I snagged my 5th ball:
In the screen shot above, I’ve circled two ushers who kept looking at me . . . and then not looking. Did you see the ball sitting in the bullpen? It’s the little white speck in front of the mound. I had to wait for just the right moment, and then I worked fast. Here’s my glove hovering inches above the ball:
After that, I headed up to the 2nd deck in right field. This was my view:
Here’s what it looked like on my right:
In the photo above, that’s Shawn in the green shirt. He’s a very talented ballhawk, but other than him (and Kenny, who was also there for a bit), there was very little competition.
Okay, here’s the video that you have to watch. It’s only 49 seconds — and then I’ll explain a few things:
When the video started, I was hanging out near the foul pole, having just tried unsuccessfully to get a toss-up. Then I jogged back to my spot (one section over toward straight-away right field), and as I reached the stairs, the batter (not sure who) crushed a deep fly ball in my direction. I determined quickly that it was going to sail over my head, so I ran up the stairs, and at the last second, I got tangled up by the railing and leaned waaay over it for a back-handed catch — all of this with my backpack annoyingly draped over my right shoulder. Initially, I caught the ball in the very tip of my glove, but when the momentum (combined with losing my balance) caused my arm to hit the back of that bench, the ball squirted out and rattled around at my feet. That’s when I tapped it with my foot (to stop it from rolling away), and then I bent down and grabbed it. As soon as I looked up, I saw another home run heading toward the seats, this time back in the spot near the foul pole where I’d been. None of the other fans really went for it or even had gloves, but nevertheless, I still handed it to the nearest kid.
For the record, I give lots of baseballs to kids on a regular basis, even when there aren’t cameras (or authority figures) present. Yes, I run fast for balls at times, but I only do it when my path is clear. I don’t knock people down or shove them out of the way. I don’t steal balls from kids. I give balls to kids. Anyone who claims otherwise is lying and/or hasn’t actually seen me in person. It’s that simple.
Here I am running for another ball — a Josh Reddick homer that clanged off the benches near the foul pole:
Here I am reaching down and grabbing it:
That was my 8th ball of the day.
Evan had other plans in the evening, so he took off after BP. Meanwhile, he’d completely filled my memory card and nearly drained my battery, so I wandered and took a few photos with my phone. Here’s one that shows the Harley Davidson Deck from above:
I love stadiums that have interesting angles and features — beams and railings that jut out from nowhere, interesting uses of space. PNC Park probably has the most architectural quirks. Yankee Stadium has the fewest.
At around 6:35pm, A’s bullpen catcher Casey Chavez walked out to the right field bullpen and tossed four balls into the crowd. I got the third ball (which was my 9th of the day), and then I accidentally got the fourth one too. Take a look at the following photo, and then I’ll explain how it happened:
See the fan in the red sweatshirt? He’s sitting on the right side of the photo in the 6th row. Chavez (who’s standing at the back of the bullpen in the photo above) threw it to him, but the ball fell short and plopped onto the ground and began rolling down the steps toward me. I walked over and picked it up and then tossed it to the fan — and just like that, I’d stumbled into double digits.
I spent the entire game going for foul balls in the 2nd deck behind home plate. To the extent that the ushers allowed it, I hung out in the walkway (just in front of the press box) and kept moving back and forth. This was my view for left-handed batters:
Not bad, huh? Well, this was the view to my right . . .
. . . and to my left:
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: this is THE best spot for foul balls in the major leagues — the absolute prime area in any section in any stadium. Prior to this, I’d attended four games at Miller Park and snagged a total of four foul balls. I truly believe that if I had a full season ticket plan and attended 81 games there, I’d get at least 100. It’s THAT good. The distance from home plate is ideal. The protective screen is a non-issue. The height of the second deck could not be better. And of course there’s that cross-aisle, which provides endless room to run.
As it turned out, I didn’t need any room. Josh Reddick led off the top of the 2nd inning, worked the count to 2-0, and fouled the next pitch *right* to me. I was standing against the back wall at the time. If there hadn’t been any fans in front of me, I would’ve kept standing there and made a chest-high catch, but because I sensed a teeny bit of competition/interference, I took two steps forward and caught the ball above the bare hands of a tall guy who half-heartedly reached for it.
That was $500 more for Pitch In For Baseball.
In the middle of the 2nd inning, a 70-something-year-old man approached me and said, “You must be Zack.”
“Yeah, I am!” I said excitedly. “How did you know?”
“I heard you on the radio on the way over here and figured it had to be you.”
An inning later, I came so close to another foul ball that I actually reached out for it and squeezed my glove. Unfortunately, it fell two rows short of the walkway and was deflected by some fans, inches from my outstretched hand. I was actually disappointed that I didn’t snag any more foul balls, but that’s what happens when the starting pitchers — Marco Estrada for the Brewers and Tommy Millone for the A’s — can’t even hit 90mph on the radar gun. There just weren’t many opportunities, but I still had a helluva time moving back and forth all night.
Oh, I should mention that in the 7th inning, I gave away another ball to a little kid — and I gave handfuls of bacon-flavored BIGS seeds to his entire family.
The A’s won the game, 10-2, and outhit the Brewers, 19-6. It was a total blowout.
Shawn might not have snagged as many baseballs as me, but he certainly got the best one of the night — Brandon Moss’s homer in the 2nd inning. That ball barely cleared the outfield wall in right-center, landed in a gap near the A’s bullpen, and got tossed up by one of the relievers. Nick also snagged a gamer — the 3rd-out ball that ended the top of the 9th. John Jaso hit that one to Brewers center fielder Carlos Gomez, who threw it quite a distance to Nick (who made a nice jumping catch). Kenny didn’t snag any baseballs, but he’s gotten more than 1,000 lifetime, so we’ll give him a pass. Here I am with the gang after the final out:
In the photo above, from left to right, you’re looking at Shawn, Kenny (who kindly gave me a ride back to my hotel), me, Sue, and Nick. It sucks that I was only here for one day and barely got to hang out with them, but hey, that just gives me a good excuse to come back next year, or whenever . . .
• 270 balls in 35 games this season = 7.7 balls per game.
• 63 balls in 5 lifetime games at Miller Park = 12.6 balls per game.
• 907 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 432 consecutive games with at least two balls
• 155 lifetime foul balls during games (not counting toss-ups)
• 18 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, Rogers Centre, and Miller Park
• 6,729 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.)
• 28 donors for my fundraiser
• $1.83 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $20.13 raised at this game
• $494.10 raised this season through my fundraiser
• $9,000 from BIGS Sunflower Seeds for my game-used baseballs
• $30,900.10 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009