Several years ago, when MLBlogs switched over to WordPress, a bunch of my blog entries were lost, including this one — a 2,600-word account of my first time snagging two home runs during one game. Thankfully I had saved all the photos, along with the text from my original entry, so this was fairly easy to recreate. Enjoy!
This was my third and final game in Baltimore. The rain had finally stopped. There was finally going to be batting practice . . . right?
Yeah, how about no. This is what I saw when I first ran inside the stadium:
It was “Weather Education Day” at Camden Yards. There were thousands of schoolchildren in the stands — and no players in sight.
Unbelievable. Three days in Baltimore. No batting practice.
Several minutes later, two Mariners started playing catch in left field . . .
. . . so I headed over and waited impatiently:
In the photo above (which was taken by my friend Brandon), you can see a weather balloon in the background. Thrillsville.
One of the two players was Ian Snell. When he finished warming up, he threw (and I mean THREW) the ball into the seats in left-center. He probably fired it 250 feet, and when I realized that there weren’t any fans out there — that he had randomly chucked the ball into an empty section — I ran over to look for it. A fellow ballhawk named Matt also ran out. It was an all-out race, and we pretty much arrived at the spot simultaneously. For a split-second, we were both looking around frantically for the ball, and I happened to see it first.
That was a huge relief.
Matt and I shook hands, and then I ran back and got Snell to sign my ticket:
A few more Mariners came out to play catch:
Ichiro Suzuki threw me my second ball of the day, and Sean White hooked me up with another. Here’s a photo of ball No. 3 flying toward me in the seventh row:
Bullpen coach (and former World Series MVP) John Wetteland started signing autographs. Here I am getting him on Brandon’s ticket . . .
. . . and here’s the ticket itself:
As I mentioned in my previous entry, Wetteland enjoys talking to fans (at great length) about various scientific theories. This day was no exception. Here he is giving a speech about subatomic particles colliding:
It was really strange. Or maybe “unexpected” is a better way to describe it. At one point, I filmed him for 60 seconds. This is what he said during that time: “If you look at geology or archaeology or paleontology–astronomy, astrophysics, even theoretical astrophysics, cosmology–and you try and marry a lot of these things, a lot of them don’t make sense, in terms of time. Okay? So when a geologist tells you that the Pacific plate is moving northwest toward Japan–I can look at a singular event, like in Iceland, where it actually splits apart six feet in the matter of a day. Or the Deccan Traps or the Siberian Traps, where it laid down enormous land masses–millions and millions and millions of square miles within months, not billions of years.”
The fan he was talking to was like, “Right . . . yup . . . mm-hmm . . . right.”
I don’t know what else to say about this. I just felt the need to report it, so let’s move on.
I headed to the right field foul line when the Orioles came out to play catch. Jeremy Guthrie spotted me and lobbed a ball in my direction. He intentionally tossed it short so that it would land on the rubberized warning track and bounce up — but it didn’t bounce high enough and ended up settling against the base of the wall eight feet below me. As I started setting up my glove trick, Guthrie ran over and grabbed the ball and shouted, “C’MON, ZACK!! LET THE KIDS HAVE ONE BALL!! ONE BALL, ZACK!! COME ON!!”
I was stunned for a couple seconds until I realized that he was just messing with me. There were, in fact, lots of kids, so he handed the ball to one of them, and before he ran off, he flashed a big smile and gave me a fist bump.
Brandon took a photo of me and Matt . . .
. . . and then I got Brad Bergesen’s autograph on the back of a ticket:
Shortly before game time, I failed in my quest to get a warm-up ball. Brandon, meanwhile, succeeded in his attempt to get a really cool photo of Felix Hernandez:
The starting lineups were announced. Ken Griffey Jr. wasn’t playing. Again.
Great. Just great.
Why did I even take this stupid trip in the first place? I just wanted to go home and get back to work on my book. I actually considered leaving. That’s how frustrated I was. But no, on second thought, that seemed silly so I stuck around, almost more as a formality than anything else.
This was Brandon’s view during the game . . .
. . . and this was my view for right-handed batters:
It was a great foul ball spot, but nothing came my way.
Whenever lefties were at bat, I hung out in the standing-room area in right field:
As you can imagine, I did lots of running back and forth all day. (The ushers were cool with it, and the fans didn’t mind either. A few of them told me that I was more entertaining than the game. I was very careful not to get in anyone’s way or block anyone’s view.)
At the start of the seventh inning, I was behind home plate when Josh Wilson, a right-handed batter, lined out to the shortstop. Rob Johnson, another righty, followed with a groundout to 3rd base, and as soon as he hit the ball, I took off for the standing-room area. Michael Saunders, a power-hitting lefty, was due to bat next, and I needed as much time as possible to get out there. As I headed through the cross-aisle toward the foul pole, Saunders took ball one. I thought about running up into the seats to leave my backpack with Brandon (I had to carry it briefly when he left to get food), but decided to hang onto it. I remember thinking that with my recent bad luck, a brief detour would probably cost me a home run ball, so I kept jogging through the aisle and heading straight to where I needed to be. The count was now 2-0 — Kevin Millwood was working fast — and by the time I settled into my normal spot, Saunders had fouled off a pitch.
I couldn’t see the field from where I was standing, and then all of a sudden, a ball appeared out of nowhere and started flying to my left. It was a line drive. A home run? What?! It happened so fast that the crowd didn’t react, and it didn’t even occur to me at first what was going on, but I chased after it nonetheless. The ball skipped off the pavement and took a huge bounce toward the back of the section. All I could think was, “Please don’t bounce over the back gate,” and thankfully it didn’t. The ball hit some netting in between the bars about a foot from the top of the gate. Then it dropped at my feet and bounced back up to me — and just like that, I had snagged the 11th game home run of my life. Like I said, it happened so fast — and it was so lucky and anticlimactic — that I didn’t really know what to think. I didn’t celebrate. I just turned to my left and held up the ball so Brandon could see it. As it turned out, one of the cameras saw me holding it as well:
As I ran over to show the ball to Brandon, everyone around me started chanting, “Throw it back!! Throw it back!!” and then another chant of “Give it to the kid!!” broke out.
Kid? What kid? There weren’t any kids, and even if there were, too bad. This was a game home run ball, and I was keeping it. Period.
“Throw it back or give it to a kid!!!” shouted a nearby fan.
“I have an idea for you!” I yelled back. “How about YOU catch a home run and then YOU can decide what to do with the ball?!”
The guy shut up after that, but the rest of the section kept chanting at me to “give it to the kid.”
Oh…you mean THAT kid? The little kid with a glove who was sitting in foul territory 100 feet away from me when I grabbed the ball?
The whole section kept chanting. It was absurd and unsettling. Most of the sheeple probably had no clue what was happening or why they were even chanting in the first place, so I shouted the following as loud as I possibly could: “THIS IS A GAME HOME RUN BALL!!! IT’S VALUABLE TO ME!!! I’M NOT GIVING IT AWAY!!! I WILL GIVE THE KID A DIFFERENT BALL INSTEAD!!!”
I doubt anyone had any idea what I was talking about, but at least they all got quiet after that. Then they watched closely as I reached into my backpack and pulled out another ball, and when I handed it to the kid, everyone started cheering wildly. What a bunch of fools.
Brandon followed me back to my spot in the standing-room area and took a photo of me holding up the ball. As you can see, the reality/awesomeness of the situation had finally sunk in:
Then, a few seconds later, he took another photo of me when I wasn’t expecting it:
Seriously, though, the ball was worth admiring. There was a huge scuff mark where it had hit the pavement. Check it out:
On the other side of the ball, there were some black streaks:
My guess is that the streaks were caused by the netting.
Brandon left the stadium soon after that. He had to get to the airport to catch a flight back home to San Diego, so we said a quick goodbye, and then I got back to business.
Snagging another home run, of course. On three separate occasions, I’d snagged three foul balls in one game, but I’d never gotten multiple homers.
Fast-forward seven outs to the bottom of the eighth inning. Corey Patterson, recently recalled from Triple-A Norfolk, led off and fell behind in the count 1-2 off reliever Brandon League. Normally I stand at the back of the section, but in this case, since I didn’t think Patterson was likely to hit a monstrous home run, I stood just a few feet back from the wall at the front. In the following photo, the ‘X’ represents my location:
Patterson got under one and lifted a deep fly ball in my direction. The ball was heading about 10 feet to my right, and I could tell right away that it was going to sail about 10 feet behind me. Oh yes, it was going to be a home run, and I was going to catch it. I drifted back, and while I tracked the flight of the ball, I could sense that there wasn’t anyone else around me who was going to make a serious attempt at catching it. I positioned myself about five feet behind the spot where I knew it was going to land, and then I moved forward at the last second and reached all the way up for it. Here’s a screen shot taken at that exact moment:
(That’s right, Ichiro, you turn and watch it.)
The ball hit the pocket of my glove. Clean catch. I had it. And then I went nuts:
Oh, man, I was so happy after that:
There was no “give it to the kid” chant. Instead everyone kept coming up and congratulating me and asking if they could touch the baseballs and take pics with me. It’s too bad that Brandon had left because it would’ve been nice to have him there documenting it.
Five batters later, with the Orioles trailing, 5-2, Luke Scott came up to bat with the bases loaded. I was in the zone. I was focused and ready for another ball to fly my way when two attractive 30-something-year-old women walked over to me.
“Hi,” said one of them, “we’re coming over over here to flirt with you.”
“That’s great,” I said, “but I need to stay focused.”
“What’s your name?” asked the other.
“Zack, but I really can’t talk now.”
“We’re trying to distract you so our friend can catch a ball.”
“That’s not gonna happen,” I said, keeping my eyes fixed straight ahead on where I needed to be looking.
“Can we see your glove?” asked one of the women who reached out and grabbed it. “What’s with this string?”
“Stop bothering me!” I said firmly, jerking my glove away from her. “I’m not playing around! I’m here on a mission! Please . . . just leave me alone!”
That did the trick. And then Luke Scott hit a grand slam — to left-center field, unfortunately. (I hate being rude to people, but in this case, I really had no choice.) Other fans were still coming up and talking to me, and in a word, it was chaotic. I’m not even sure if I would’ve been able to catch another ball if one came out, but I never got that chance.
The game ended on a play at the plate. Ichiro singled, Josh Wilson was on second, and Corey Patterson (who else?) gunned him down with a beautiful throw from left field.
Final score: Orioles 6, Mariners 5.
Here’s a photo of the two home run balls that I took before leaving the stadium:
It’s hard to tell based on what you can see above, but the Patterson ball was rubbed pretty dark with mud. Here’s a closer look:
Man, what a day. The trip turned out to be pretty good after all.
• 100 balls in 11 games this season = 9.1 balls per game. (The Patterson homer was my 100th ball.)
• 13 consecutive seasons with at least 100 balls
• 640 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 191 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 137 lifetime game balls (NOT counting game-used balls that get tossed into the crowd)
• 12 lifetime game home runs (again, not counting toss-ups)
• 16th time snagging two or more game balls in one game
• 1st time snagging two game home runs in one game
• 4,458 total balls
• 31 donors
• $4.95 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $24.75 raised at this game
• $495.00 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
Speaking of Pitch In For Baseball, you’re aware of the recent flooding in Tennessee and other areas in the south, right? Well, among countless other things, the water destroyed a large supply of baseball equipment that was being used by Major League Baseball’s RBI Program. (RBI stands for “Reviving Baseball in the Inner cities.”) Because of all the donations that Pitch In For Baseball has been receiving, it was able to replace all the equipment and get the kids back out onto the fields. This is the charity that I’ve been supporting for the last two years. It does amazing things for kids and for the game of baseball. I want to thank everyone who has donated money, and for those of you who haven’t, I hope you’ll consider giving something, or at least spread the word. Even if you simply tell a few friends about it, that would help. Click here to learn more about what I’m doing for this charity and about how you can get involved.
Next game for me?
Braves vs. Mets.
Stay tuned . . .