6/25/13 at Nationals Park

It was my mom’s birthday, and we celebrated by driving down from New York City to Nationals Park. Here we are outside the center field gate:


Believe it or not, this was her idea. The last time we’d attended a game together was ten months ago — 8/22/12 at Citi Field to be specific. That’s the day she tripped on these stupid steps, and I lost my beloved Rawlings infielders glove in the hectic aftermath, so we were eager to give it another shot. Of course, knowing that I dislike both New York stadiums, she suggested that we take a little road trip, so here we were.

Look who else was here:


In the photo above, that’s Rick Gold on the left and Mateo Fischer on the right — two good friends, who both happen to be talented ballhawks. As for the cardboard box, that contained 1,500 All-Star ballots, which Mateo had punched out. (He’s insane and dedicated — two marvelous qualities.)

Here’s where I stood for most of batting practice:


The Red Porch seats uses to be great. Now they kinda suck, but I still snagged a few baseballs. The first one was thrown by Jordan Zimmerman, and I handed it to a little girl on my right. Ten minutes later, I got Ross Ohlendorf to throw me another by shouting that it was my mom’s birthday. Here she is holding that ball . . .


. . . and if you look closely, you can see Ohlendorf (No. 43) standing in the background.

My mom, by the way, didn’t mind being “used” for my own personal ballhawking gain. In fact, I’d even go so far as to say that she enjoyed it, and she was good at it too; when I first shouted at Ohlendorf, and he turned around to look at me, my mom smiled and waved — perfect timing and instincts.

My 3rd ball was a Jayson Werth homer that landed in the seats. Ball No. 4 was thrown by Ross Detwiler as the Nationals started jogging off the field, and then I snagged another from the gap with my glove trick. I handed that one to the closest fans and then changed into my Diamondbacks gear.

Okay, time-out for a moment . . .

Remember when I had lunch with Heath Bell before the game on June 5th in St. Louis? Remember when we talked about hanging out in New York when the Diamondbacks come to Citi Field? Well, Heath didn’t know that I was going to be at Nationals Park, so while I was driving, he happened to text me to ask when I was going to be free the following week. (The D’backs will be in town for four games, starting on Monday, July 1st.) With my mom’s help (because I was driving), I texted him back to say that I was on my way to the game and that we should discuss our plan in person.

Okay, time-in . . .

Soon after the D’backs started taking BP, Heath spotted me in left-center and came over to say hey. We talked for a few minutes and made a plan for New York. Then he and my mom chatted for a bit:


That pretty cute, no?

Twenty minutes later, I saw this:


In the photo above, the guy with the shaved head is D’backs manager Kirk Gibson; he and Heath were clearly talking about pitching mechanics.

I moved to right-center for the last group of hitters. Here’s a photo of the very last guy to take swings:


It was some random army guy — I’ve never seen that before — who failed to hit the ball out of the infield.

I didn’t snag any balls during the Diamondbacks’ portion of BP; the players just weren’t tossing much into the crowd (thumbs-down to A.J. Pollock), and the few homers went to right field or straight-away left.

After BP, my mom and I got pizza and ate it here:


The nearest usher saw us standing there and asked, “Where are your seats?” When I told him we were gonna be in left-center field, he offered to seat us in his section. He was actually the second usher who offered us a spot. The other was in right-center. I politely declined his offer, but when several Diamondbacks came out to do their pre-game throwing, I asked if I could go down into the seats for a few minutes to try to get a ball. The usher said it was fine, and as a result, I worked my way down to the dugout and got Willie Bloomquist to toss me my 6th ball of the day. THIS is how a stadium should be run. THIS is how fans should be treated. But in New York City, it’s just the opposite.

Anyway, this was our view at the start of the game:


In the top of the 1st inning, I had an entire empty row on my right . . .


. . . but it didn’t stay like that for long.

Thankfully, because of the layout of the Red Porch section, I was still able to get over to the bullpen when the seats began filling up, and I took advantage of the mobility a bit later. When Adam LaRoche hit a three-run homer in the bottom of the 3rd inning that landed in the bullpen, I hurried over to see if I could get Heath to toss it to me. Unfortunately, though, a security guard retrieved it and appeared to be keeping it, so I returned to my seat while the inning continued. After the 3rd out, I walked back over to the edge of the bullpen. I didn’t have my glove — all my stuff was on the seat next to my mom — so I was surprised to see Heath looking up for me. With no hesitation, he pulled a ball out of his pocket and threw it to me from about 30 feet away. I was holding my camera in my right hand, so I bare-handed the ball with my left.

The stadium was very loud at that moment (as stadiums often are between innings), so I tried my best to shout at him.


I wasn’t sure if Heath heard me, but he did seem to give me a subtle nod before walking off.

All I could do at that point was photograph the ball . . .


. . . and head back to my seat. Here I am with it:


I wasn’t positive that it was the home run ball, but I was pretty sure, so for the time being, I treated it as such. I even took a photo of the jumbotron when LaRoche came up to bat again in the 5th inning:


Knowing that he wouldn’t get the message until much later, I texted Heath to (a) thank him and (b) ask if the ball he’d tossed me was THE ball.

After the 7th inning, my mom and I moved here:


The 8th inning ended with an Anthony Rendon flyout to right fielder Gerardo Parra. Given the fact that I was 16 rows back on the wrong (home-plate) end of the dugout, I didn’t think there was any chance I’d get the ball, but as I saw it get tossed around between the fielders on their way in, I figured I might as well stand up and wave my arms just in case. Martin Prado ended up with it, and as he approached the warning track, I saw him scanning the crowd. Then in happened: he spotted me and fired a seed in my direction. It sailed over everyone’s heads down in front and came right to me. I had to reach up and maybe even jump a couple inches — I don’t remember that level of detail — but I can tell you that I caught it. My mom was stunned, as was Mateo who’d recently moved to my staircase (in preparation for a post-game umpire ball). And you know what? So was I. I’d never gotten a 3rd-out ball thrown from such a great distance.

After the game, which the Nationals won, 7-5, Mateo and I ended up at the outfield end of the dugout. Here he is, not quite prepared to have his picture taken:


Did you notice the three guys walking in from the bullpen? Heath was on the right, and when he approached the dugout (and stopped to sign an autograph for a kid), I asked him about the LaRoche home run. He said that the guard in the bullpen told him he was supposed to keep the ball and give it back to the Nationals, but when the guard set it down for a moment, Heath went over to the equipment bag and pulled out a different ball and swapped it with the home run ball. HAHAHA!!! I love it. (By the way, in case anyone’s wondering, Heath said I could blog about this, so it’s not like I’m gonna get him in trouble.) I feel sorry for LaRoche — the poor sap thinks *he* has the ball — but I consider it payback for all the abuse I’ve taken at Nationals Park over the years, including:

1) Management’s piss-poor handling of a rainout on June 3, 2009.
2) Getting elbowed in the face by a despicable security guard on August 17, 2011.
3) Getting falsely accused of selling baseballs and ejected on September 19, 2012.

You know what? The LaRoche home run is just the beginning of payback. The ushers were all very nice to me this time around — no doubt my mom’s presence had a lot to do with it — but the team still has a loooooong way to go before I’ll forgive and forget.

At around midnight, my mom and I found ourselves here:


That hotel room was in Baltimore. We were planning to be at Camden Yards the next day . . .


17_the_six_balls_i_kept_06_25_13• 8 balls at this game (six pictured here because I gave two away)

• 321 balls in 42 games this season = 7.64 balls per game.

• 261 balls in 19 lifetime games at Nationals Park = 13.74 balls per game.

• 914 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 439 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 30 lifetime game home run balls (24 directly off the bat; six tossed)

• 22 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, Miller Park, Busch Stadium, Wrigley Field, Target Field, and Nationals Park

• 6,780 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.)

• 30 donors for my fundraiser

• $1.88 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $15.04 raised at this game

• $603.48 raised this season through my fundraiser

• $11,000 from BIGS Sunflower Seeds for my game-used baseballs

• $33,009.48 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009


  1. David

    First off, I hope we can keep these comments positive. Haters are going to hate, but ballhawking is all about fun.

    Zach, happy birthday to your mom. She is a mench. Thank you for all that you share, and taking us on your wild rides. Yesterday my daughter and I hawked 8 balls at Petco, including two game-used balls. (http://www.flickr.com/photos/61744318@N03/9153887576/).

    For those of you who have never done it, ballhawing like Zach is not easy. It takes a lot physically and you have to be patient and outgoing. But it’s a blast. Thanks for all your help. BTW, on your behalf tried Bigs Bacon seeds (which sounds weird in my book) but they are actually amazing.

  2. Aaron

    Nice Move by heath. Congrats on the payback. I was wondering if you have any tips for KC.

  3. Tommy M.

    Thee old “Switch-a-roo” trick! Haha!! Nice!! …. Happy Birthday to moms too!!

  4. Mark McConville

    Haha Heath is the man, and that guard probably just told him that cause he wanted to keep the ball. I was in Baltimore monday and it was terrible. It got cloudy and started drizzling ten minutes before the gates opened, then when i ran inside chris davis was still in the cage, he hit three balls and then they put the tarp on the field. Tried getting a ball from the indians pitchers but no luck there. Then tried the bullpen before the game but Ubaldo Jimenez threw his ball to an asian guy who was older then me who literally walked up 2 seconds before he finished throwing and yelled his name. During the game there was no action in left field and then after the game had no luck with the lineup card and then got denied by the indians bullpen coach and catcher. Just a miserable day of ballhawking for this guy.

  5. Navi

    Tell ur mom i said Happy birthday! Heath Bell is a genius… I love that dude, 8 baseballs not bad, Great job Zack . Stupid Nationals park, always gotta ruin ur visit to their damn stadium

  6. Brendan Weingarten

    Moms willing to go to the park are the best. My mom and I went to Citi Field together on Mother’s Day. Looks like a fun time.

    I’m planning on going to a Mets-Nationals game in D.C. next month. I’ve never been to Nationals Park but I’m looking forward to checking it off the list. I might meet Mateo Fischer there.
    -Brendan (TakeThe7ToCiti.MLBlogs.com)

  7. Liz Merry

    Your Mom rocks it hard. And you have single handedly made me like Heath Bell, no small accomplishemnt. The most incredible part of this blog entry? Jason Werth hit a HR in BP. Sorry, couldn’t resist.

  8. tc219hr

    VotePuig mvpuig. HGH? Go pods I’m in Miami ballhawkswanna grab a cold one u get hi?,,iwill not be having. /IN INDIAN ACCENT/ see the google movie. Tc

  9. James Lee

    Sorry your day was so miserable, but getting the warmup ball at the bullpen is random. I got the ball from Ubaldo, but I can assure you I didn’t just walk up 2 seconds before he finished. I was there when he was still on the field going thru the progression of increasingly long throws until he was done inside the bullpen. I have set my camera to date and time stamp my pictures, and the first one from the bullpen was taken at 6:38pm, at least 20 minutes before he was done. So I got lucky with the warm up ball, but I was unlucky with a third out ball. I got Nick Swisher’s attention on B8 and he tossed the 3rd out ball towards me, but the ball went about 4-5 feet to my right where my friend gloved it.

    Your mom thinks of you even on her birthday. And Heath Bell continues to take your friendship to higher and higher levels. To get you a HR ball is one thing, but to switch the ball, that’s awesome and hilarious. I don’t think the ball was going back to Adam, because it was not a milestone (career HR 208), but rather to the game used kiosk. I would love to find the current series of MLB authentication numbers the Nationals are using, to see if they authenticated the other ball as “the” HR ball…

  10. Zack Hample

    Thanks for the great comment (well, except for the fact that you misspelled my name), and wow, congrats on the eight. That’s impressive. Glad to hear you enjoyed the seeds.

    Tips for Kansas City? Yes! Read my blog entries about Kauffman Stadium and check out pages 297-298 of “The Baseball.”

    TOMMY M.-

    Ouch. That sounds like a total disaster.

    Ha, thanks.

    The significance is that it’s my 30th lifetime game home run ball.

    Good luck. I hope you don’t have any issues with stadium security.

    He’s taking a little break, so I’m gonna hit up the next few stadiums on my own.

    I was watching live when it happened. It’s almost like the Nats are suffering from the Hample Jinx.


    COOK & SON-
    It worked!

    Excellent. And by the way, Werth hit me a few balls yesterday during BP at Citi.

    Uh, what?

    Yes, of course! Why didn’t I think of that? The ball probably *was* going to the kiosk. It’d be cool if you could track down the numbers.

    Thanks again. See you on Monday morning . . .

  11. Rocco Sinisi

    Happy Birthday to you Mom! If you ever go to a Cubs game, and Anthony Rizzo has the 3rd out ball, be prepared for him to throw the ball way up into the stands!!!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s