The Oakland Coliseum is ugly, and the surrounding area is even worse:
No disrespect intended. In fact, I like it *because* it’s ugly. In this era of new/sterile stadiums where every inch is micro-managed, I enjoy the Coliseum for being just the opposite. There’s lots of wasted space, but the design is unique. The crowds are small, but the fans who show up are REALLY into the game. The team has a minuscule payroll, but the players keep finding ways to win. And so on. There’s really nothing else like it in baseball.
Anyway, I walked along this bridge toward the stadium . . .
. . . and moments after I took this photo . . .
. . . I heard someone call my name. It was a guy named Ryan who’s been following me on Twitter and recognized me from this blog. He introduced me to his friend Michael, and a little while later, their buddy Nick Badders showed up. Here I am with them:
Twenty minutes before the gates opened, my cousin Howie (who lives in California) showed up with his ten-year-old kids Juliana and Sam and their friend Rohan. Here we are:
I wasn’t done running into people. Here I am with the legendary Lee Wilson . . .
. . . whom you might recognize as one of the top ten ballhawks of all time in The Baseball (see pages 285-286).
Then this young man approached me and asked me to sign a baseball:
Shortly before the gates opened, Nick told me that the A’s would be gone by the time we ran inside, so I changed into my Astros gear:
If you think *I* was hyper, check out Sam and Juliana:
Finally, security was ready to let us in . . .
. . . and after running like crazy through a maze of concourses, staircases, and tunnels, I emerged in the right-field bleachers. Within the first minute, I got a ball thrown to me by the player pictured below:
I had no idea who it was, so I asked around in case anyone knew. Ryan said it was Kevin Chapman, and I confirmed later that he was correct.
The first group of hitters had several lefties, but none of them hit any home runs into the bleachers. The next group was mostly right-handed, so I moved to left field:
It was dead out there — only one home run and a couple of toss-ups, all of which went to other fans.
Lee Wilson was standing one staircase to my left . . .
. . . but neither of us had any reason to run for anything. It was truly pathetic.
Back in right field, the season ticket holders were being filmed for a segment on the local news:
Howie, meanwhile, had gotten a toss-up from one of the Astros, which he gave to Rohan:
Guess what? That was it for batting practice! The Astros finished 15 minutes early — a total disaster. I was still in the bleachers when they started jogging off the field, so it took quite an effort on my part to make it to the dugout before they were all gone. (The last time I had “only” snagged one ball was at the 2007 All-Star Game, so I *really* wanted to get at least one more.) I thought I had a good chance when bullpen catcher Javier Bracamonte started walking toward me with the ball bag. He’s extremely friendly and had thrown me two baseballs in 2012, but when I put in my request this time, he responded with the following:
“You came all the way here from New York to ask me for a baseball?”
“Oh, man!” I replied, “you remember me?”
“Of course!” he said with a big smile before disappearing.
Then I changed back into my A’s gear and showed the camera how I was feeling:
Did you notice Sam in the previous photo? He seemed to be enjoying the fact that I was miserable. How sweet.
Several minutes later, I met up with a fellow ballhawk named Spencer, who had also snagged ONE ball during batting practice. This was our reaction:
It made no sense.
I realize that most people would be thrilled to snag one ball in their entire lives, but you have to understand that things are different for us. I’ve been averaging more than seven balls per game this season, and Spencer has also put up some good numbers. ONE ball?! Seriously?!
I was in a slightly better mood by the time I met these guys:
In the photo above, the man in the plain-white shirt is named Matt. He had contacted me months earlier about possibly doing a couple of Watch With Zack games — one here and another at AT&T Park — but it didn’t work out. Still, we’d kept in touch, and he was able to make it to this one with his six-year-old son, Nicholas (pictured above in the light green shirt), his friend Matt (in the darker green shirt), and Matt’s seven-year-old son, Dylan. (Yes, there are two guys named Matt in that photo. Are you with me?) The five of us hung out for a bit before the game. It would’ve been nice to chat longer, but they left to get food, and I there were some other things that needed attention.
For starters, I gave my BP ball to Sam, and then I got Rohan’s ball signed by Astros bench coach (and former major leaguer) Eduardo Perez. Rohan, surprisingly, was more interested in my autograph, and he insisted that I sign the ball too. Here are two photos of it:
Howie had purchased four tickets in the 3rd row behind the Astros’ dugout. I’m not sure how much he paid for them, but in order to sit here at Yankee Stadium . . .
. . . he would’ve had to add a zero on the end. And then double it.
Shortly before game time, Bracamonte walked back out onto the field and asked what I was doing in Oakland. I took off my Astros shirt and showed him what I was wearing underneath. Then, after making sure that he had a minute to chat, I explained that I’m being sponsored this season by BIGS Sunflower Seeds and that I’m being sent to all 30 major league stadiums and that for each stadium where I snag a game-used baseball, the folks at BIGS are donating $500 to a children’s baseball charity called Pitch In For Baseball.
“You need a ball from here?” he asked.
“Well, yeah, but it has to be game-used.”
“If they hit a foul ball to the bullpen,” he said, “I’ll save it for you.”
“Are you serious? That is SO nice of you! Okay . . . I’ll be hanging out here during the game and also trying to catch a foul ball in the second deck behind home plate, so if you get one, just hang onto it for a minute or two, and I’ll run right over.”
He said he would, and then he asked if I could send him one of the BIGS t-shirts.
“No problem,” I said, and that was pretty much it.
Feeling especially optimistic, I headed to the second deck in the top of the 1st. This was my view in the bottom half of the inning:
Check out all the room I had on my left:
This is one of the two best spots to catch a foul ball in the major leagues. The other one is here at Miller Park.
With two outs in the bottom of the 1st, I headed back down to the dugout:
I was pretty sure that if the inning ended with a strikeout, Astros catcher Jason Castro would toss me the ball on his way in. Yoenis Cespedes ended up falling behind 0-2 and then grounding out to the shortstop. Boo!!
Back in the second deck, I had an *absurd* amount of room to run for foul balls on the 1st-base side of home plate. This was the view to my left . . .
. . . and to the right:
Of course, because my luck was absolute crap, there were no foul balls hit anywhere near there when I had all that space to myself. Unreal.
Therefore, the only “action” that took place in the second deck was getting to catch up with Nick . . .
. . . who was also going for foul balls. By the way, Nick was recently featured in an article on MiLB.com. Click here to check it out — you’ll see that I was mentioned in it.
Every inning, I’d been moving between the second deck and the Astros’ dugout, and every inning, the result was the same: NOTHING. There hadn’t even been a foul grounder into the Astros’ bullpen. What in the world was going on — some sort of conspiracy to keep me here in Oakland forever?
With two outs in the bottom of the 6th, I returned to the dugout once again with the hope that Josh Reddick would go down on strikes. When the count went to 3-0, a strikeout seemed unlikely, but whaddaya know? He took the next pitch for a strike and yanked the one after that foul. Of course, I was so focused on the potential strikeout that Howie had to point out the fact that the foul ball had rolled into the Astros’ bullpen and that Javier Bracamonte had gotten it from the ballboy. As Reddick was digging in for the 3-2 pitch, I quickly looked toward the bullpen, and sure enough, Bracamonte was sitting on the far end, holding up the ball and waving at me. He was about 200 feet away, so I doubt he saw my “hold on” gesture, but nevertheless, I stayed where I was, and five seconds later. Reddick took a called third strike. Then, as I’d predicted, Castro tossed me the ball on his way in! Sweeeeeet!!! I immediately turned toward the bullpen and saw that Bracamonte was giving me a series of fist-pumps. I gave a few in return, and *then* I ran over to see him. Were the ushers going to check my ticket or tell me that I couldn’t approach the bullpen during the game? No and no. Everyone at the Coliseum was chill, and before the 7th inning got underway, I was able to catch up with The Man. Here he is smiling at me:
How awesome is that?
I thanked him for having saved me the ball, but told him that since I got one on my own, I didn’t need it. He was super-cool about the whole thing and said he was glad to help.
From my temporary spot down the right field foul line, I photographed the ball:
Then I headed back to the dugout and showed it to a friendly usher who’d been rooting for me to get one:
During the next inning break, Howie took a few photos of me with the ball. Here’s the one that I posted on Twitter, and here’s another . . . just because:
Several fans sitting behind me had overheard bits and pieces of my conversation. One guy Googled my name (which he saw on the back of my shirt) and pulled up this photo and was like, “Hey, that’s really you!” Here I am talking to him:
(Don’t worry, I made sure to look at the field whenever a pitch was about to be thrown. Getting hit in the eye once per season is enough.)
An inning later, I was back in the second deck with Nick. Check out my wonderful view:
I should admit that I’d made a conscious effort to take that photo so that the railing was in the worst possible spot. I actually like those railings; they make the view so lousy that no one ever wants to sit in the front row, which of course makes it much easier for me to catch foul balls. When I visited the Coliseum two years ago, I snagged four foul balls in 22 innings, but this time? Meh. There just weren’t any foul balls to be snagged.
In the 9th inning, I got some chicken and fries . . .
As you might expect, this guy got heckled pretty badly:
As the game went into extra innings, I was torn between staying with my family near the dugout or going for foul balls in the second deck. I picked the dugout because it seemed like the right thing to do, and MAN-OH-MAN did I regret it! In the top of the 11th, just after I once again forced myself not to go upstairs, Jake Elmore led off against Sean Doolittle and hit FOUR foul balls into the mostly-empty section where I would’ve been sitting. I have no doubt that had I been there, I would’ve snagged at least two of them. Howie saw how upset I was and told me to go up there, by which point it was too late. Not only was Pablo Sandoval blocking the cross-aisle on the 3rd base side . . .
. . . but there weren’t any more foul balls up there. It was terrible — and that was the final inning. Final score: Astros 2, Athletics 1.
After the final out, I hurried back down to the dugout and got a glimpse of Bracamonte heading in:
I’m glad to report that Juliana had gotten a toss-up between innings late in the game, so each of the kids ended up with a ball. As for me . . . even though my numbers were down and I’d lost an ideal opportunity in the 11th inning, the day still turned out reasonably well. I’d gotten to meet some people, catch up with friends, and hang out with my family, and of course, thanks to BIGS Sunflower Seeds, I’d raised another sizable chunk of change for Pitch In For Baseball — can’t argue with that.
Nick and his father headed out with us . . .
. . . and Howie gave me a ride back to my cruddy hotel. Here I am in his SUV with the kids:
For some reason, Sam was calling me “shorty-pants” even though I’m more than a foot taller than him. Somehow, that turned into “poopy-pants,” which I then combined to “shorty-poopy-pants.” They were all cracking up, and that made ME crack up. Kids have a way of making everything feel right. Good times in Oakland!
• 2 baseballs at this game
• 486 balls in 65 games this season = 7.48 balls per game.
• 51 balls at 7 lifetime games at the Oakland Coliseum = 7.29 balls per game.
• 937 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 462 consecutive games with at least two balls
• 29 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, Nationals Park, Marlins Park, Tropicana Field, Turner Field, Citizens Bank Park, Dodger Stadium, Chase Field, and the Oakland Coliseum
• 6,945 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, and if you donate money, you’ll be eligible to win one of these prizes.)
• 38 donors for my fundraiser
• $3.43 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $6.86 raised at this game
• $1,666.98 raised this season through my fundraiser
• $14,500 from BIGS Sunflower Seeds for my game-used baseballs
• $37,572.98 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009