This was my 40th lifetime Watch With Zack game, and for a change, my clients asked to remain anonymous. I can tell you that I was with two people — a woman named Janet and her 13-year-old daughter named Zan — but you won’t see photos of their faces. Instead I’ll start with a photo of something extremely frustrating:
That was our first look at the field.
In case you can’t tell, the cage and screens were set up for batting practice, but no one was hitting. For the last couple of months, that’s how it’s been nearly every time I’ve run inside Citi Field; the Mets have been starting BP so early that by the time the stadium opens at 5:10pm, they’re already gone. What’s the point of that? To prevent the public from seeing how pathetic they are?
Anyway, shortly before the Braves started hitting 15 minutes later, I noticed that one of the pitchers in left field was already holding a ball. I hurried down toward the front row with Zan, recognized the player as Anthony Varvaro, and got him to throw it toward us. I made the catch, and when I tried to hand it to her, she said something like, “You keep it — that’s your ball.”
Here’s what the ball looked like:
It was a perfectly nice ball, but she didn’t want it because she hadn’t snagged it herself — a very mature attitude for a young fan who had never gotten one.
A little while later, with BP finally underway, I convinced Chris Johnson to throw one to her, or at least I tried. At the time, Zan and I were standing side-by-side in the front row, and Johnson ended up throwing it to me. As the ball sailed toward us, I leaned back so that Zan could shift over, and just in case she couldn’t reach it, I had my glove waiting in the right spot. Unfortunately she came up short by several inches, and I ended up making the catch.
Here’s where we hung out for most of BP:
In the photo above, Zan is wearing the light green shirt, and Janet is standing on her right. I stood in front of them, not just to offer protection in case someone cranked a ball into our section, but also so we could talk.
At one point during the first group of hitters, Evan Gattis smoked a deep line drive 30 feet to our left. Based on the low trajectory, I knew it wasn’t going to reach the seats by much, so I bolted down to the second row and then began cutting across. The ball slammed into the seats, deflected off my left ankle, and trickled away from me toward the spot where I had just come from. I chased after it, and just before I was about to bend down and pick it up, Zan scurried toward me from the opposite direction and grabbed it. What an awesome way for her to snag the very first ball of her life!
With several minutes remaining in BP, we hurried to the seats behind the Braves’ dugout, and when all the players and coaches cleared the field, I saw an opportunity. There was a ball sitting near the 3rd base coach’s box, and as Gerald Laird approached it, I shouted his name and pointed at Zan . . . and then I moved five feet away from her. To my delight, he tossed her the ball, and she made a clean catch! Outstanding!
Moments later, I got Terry Pendleton to throw me a ball, which gave us five combined — three for me and two for her.
This was our view when several players came out to throw before the game:
I had encouraged Zan to borrow my Braves gear, but she wanted NO part of it. She and her mother are such huge Mets fans that they didn’t even want *me* to wear it, but I convinced them that it had to be done. That said, if Zan had been wearing my hat and/or shirt and standing in the front row, there’s a 99 percent chance that one of the players would’ve have thrown her a ball. Instead, when I asked for one and pointed at her, Andrelton Simmons shook his head with a taunting/sarcastic expression. Then he pointed at me and said something to his teammates, and when he jogged off the field, he shouted, “You have millions of ’em!” Zan thought it was cool that a player recognized me. I simply thought it was annoying.
This was our view for the first half-hour of the game:
A little while later, we stealthily moved down to the sixth row.
After each inning, Zan and I scurried down to the bottom of the stairs, hoping to get a 3rd-out ball. Our first few attempts were unsuccessful, and as the game wore on, more and more kids got in on the act. By the middle of the game, there was so much competition that I worried Zan might get edged out — that one of the bigger kids would push her out of the way or reach in front of her. Luckily for her, though, she had the biggest kid in the stadium on her side. When Zack Wheeler grounded out to end the 5th inning, we bolted down the stairs before Braves 1st baseman Freddie Freeman had even caught the throw, so we were in the perfect spot. He ended up jogging right toward us with the ball, and I just *knew* that he was going to toss it in our direction. I really wanted her to catch it, but we were surrounded by overzealous fans, so the slightest bobble would become a lost opportunity. As Freeman approached, he lobbed the ball right at me, but it was clearly going to fall short. I had to make a split-second decision. Rather than standing back and letting it bounce off the dugout roof (likely resulting in mayhem), I reached all the way out and made a back-handed catch. And handed the ball to Zan.
Once again, she didn’t want it because I had caught it, but I insisted, and Janet ended up accepting it. Here’s what the ball looked like:
As you can see, it’s kinda beat up, so Freeman might have pulled a switcheroo and tossed the infield warm-up ball from the previous inning. But hey . . . whatever. It was still nice to have snagged a ball during the game and, more importantly, shown Zan how to do it so she can try it on her own next time she visits Citi Field.
The Braves won the game, 3-2, which obviously wasn’t the outcome that Zan and Janet wanted, but hopefully, deep down, on some level, they were able to appreciate the defensive wizardry of Andrelton Simmons. With two outs in the bottom of the 8th and the tying run on 3rd base, Travis d’Arnaud hit a grounder deep into the 5.5 hole. It had “base hit” and “tie game” written all over it — but then THIS happened. Unreal. I kind of hate Simmons for always messing with me, but I respect him so much as a player.
After the game, Zan and I posed with the baseballs that we’d snagged. Here’s as much of that photo as I can show:
Finally, in case you’re interested, here’s a whole page of Watch With Zack stats on my website. As for my own personal ballhawking stats, I’ll post those in my next blog entry from Wrigley Field . . .