According to the Cubs, the 100th anniversary of Wrigley Field was the “PARTY OF THE CENTURY,” but as far as I was concerned, it was an opportunity to snag commemorative baseballs. In fact, that’s the only reason that I flew to Chicago. I needed one of these balls, and it had to be a good one with perfect logo.
Here I am outside the stadium:
That photo was taken by my friend Brandon Sloter. He’s the photographer/videographer who filmed me on 8/18/14 at Citizens Bank Park — and he filmed me again here at Wrigley. He’s still editing all the footage, so stay tuned. I’ll post it as soon as it’s done. In the meantime, here are a bunch of photos, starting with a few (taken by me) on Sheffield Avenue:
That’s the street that runs behind the right-field edge of the stadium.
I enjoyed a sneak-peek inside through this gate . . .
. . . on my way toward center field and around to Waveland Avenue. Here’s what it looked like over there:
In the photo above, did you notice the guy standing in the shade on the sidewalk? That’s Rich Buhrke, one of the top ten ballhawks of all time that I featured in my latest book, The Baseball. (See pages 273-274.) It was great to see him, and while I was there, I also ran into Moe Mullins (pages 271-272) and another very accomplished ballhawk named Dave Davison, plus a newer ballhawk buddy named Kenny Kasta, whom I’d met last year in Milwaukee.
I joined them in waiting for home runs to come flying out of the stadium. This was my view:
Unfortunately I’d gotten there a bit too late and had missed the few balls that reached the street, but it was still great to catch up with these guys.
Did you notice the concrete barricades in the previous two photos? Supposedly, when the bleachers are expanded yet again this offseason, that’s how far out into the street the stands will extend, and to make matters worse, there’s going to be a HUGE video screen with a ton of advertisements erected at the top of the bleachers. What a disaster.
When the stadium opened at 5:05pm, I raced to the bleachers, hopeful of getting a head start on the competition. I’d heard that *all* of the Cubs’ BP balls were commemorative, so I really wanted to get my first one quickly.
So much for that. Not only did I fail to snag a ball within the first 10 minutes, but Brandon got one without even trying. He was filming me from the back of the bleachers when one of the Cubs crushed a deep home run that landed near him. He scurried over and picked it up, and when I asked him if the ball was commemorative, he shrugged. GAH!!
Toward the end of the first group of hitters, Junior Lake smoked a line drive to my right. It took me a moment to realize that the ball was going to clear the wall, at which point I started running full speed. When I reached the far end of my row, three things happened:
1) Two other fans were converging on the spot where the ball was going to land.
2) A woman who was sitting there ducked and leaned to the side.
3) I made a lunging back-handed catch and nearly tumbled onto her.
She was probably completely freaked out, but I didn’t make contact with her and might have actually saved her from getting drilled. I got a high-five from one of my fellow ballhawks, and when I looked at the ball itself, I wanted to give the universe a high-five. Check it out:
I’d been hoping and trying all season to snag one of these balls, and now I’d finally done it. When the Cubs had visited Yankee Stadium in April for a two-game series, the first game got rained out, and I skipped the day/night doubleheader the following day. When the Cubs went to Philadelphia in June, the weather was terrible on my one free day, so I skipped that as well. When the Cubs played a four-game series last month at Citi Field and *didn’t* bring a single commemorative ball with them, I had no choice but to book a trip to Wrigley if I wanted to catch one . . . so you can see why I was so excited.
Soon after I caught that ball, I tweeted a photo of it and declared that my mission had been accomplished, prompting my friend Todd Cook to call me out. “That’s not perfect,” he tweeted back at me. “Mission continues, Mr. Hample.”
He was partially right. Although I had snagged a commemorative ball, the logo *was* slightly messed up — and what I really wanted was a game-used/mud-rubbed ball with a pristine logo.
From a numbers standpoint, the Brewers’ portion of BP was better, but none of the balls were commemorative. Here’s what it looked like in the bleachers . . .
. . . and here’s what all the Brewers’ baseballs looked like:
The ball pictured above — my 2nd of the day — was tossed by a player that I didn’t recognize. My next three baseballs were home runs to left field, starting with a line-drive shot that I caught on the fly in the 2nd row. I had to drift down a couple of steps for that one, and it didn’t get any easier from there. My next ball was a deeper line drive by Mark Reynolds that tipped off the end of my glove as I lunged all the way down for a back-handed catch. Thankfully it stayed at my feet and I was able to grab it. My final home run landed several rows deep in left-center and resulted in an all-out scramble.
That was it for BP. Here I am with my baseballs:
By the way, Brandon filmed all of my catches, so there should be some good, action-packed footage in the video.
Do you remember the guy named Kenny who’d been out on Waveland Avenue? Well, he was inside the stadium for BP and gave me a valuable piece of info. He told me that everyday at around 6:45pm, Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio throws half a dozen baseballs into the left-field bleachers. Kenny added that several of the balls usually get thrown to the regulars, but the rest are up for grabs. I promised that I’d keep my distance from him, and when the time came, I picked a random spot in straight-away left, roughly two-thirds of the way toward the top. Sure enough, Bosio strolled out with three balls in each pocket and soon began chucking them all over the place. After the first few balls went to fans who were nowhere near me, Bosio threw one 30 feet to my right. Naturally I started running in that direction in case there was a bobble, and here’s what happened: the ball sailed *way* over the head of the intended recipient, nearly hit an oblivious fan who was sitting in the last row, and smacked off the back fence. As it started bouncing down the steps, I cut across and swiped at it with my glove, scooping it up like a 1st baseman handling a short hop. It was beautiful . . . and the ball was commemorative! But the logo wasn’t perfect, so my mission continued.
At that point, the Cubs’ position players were already playing catch in shallow left field, so I ran over to the seats in foul territory. (If you have a bleacher ticket, you can go into the main part of the stadium, but if you have a ticket for the main part of the stadium, you can’t enter the bleachers.) Unfortunately, because of the strict ushers, I wasn’t allowed to go down into the first 10 rows, so I stayed in the cross-aisle and tried my best to get the players’ attention. Somehow, less than a minute later, Matt Szczur (pronounced “see-zer”) spotted me and lobbed his warm-up ball right to me, over everyone down in front. When I made the catch, I looked back at Brandon, who was still in the bleachers, and noticed that his camera was pointing at me. I thought he was filming, but it turned out that he was taking photos. Here I am holding up the ball:
Here I am pointing to the logo:
I didn’t expect the camera to pick it up. I just wanted him to know that it was commemorative, but look! The camera DID pick it up. Here’s a much closer look at the photo above:
Pretty cool, huh?
Here’s the baseball itself:
The logo was perfect, so I tweeted a photo of it to Todd Cook and said, “Is my mission accomplished NOW?”
“Yeah, I think that’ll do,” he replied and then added, “Save some for us! PS- You know you weren’t happy with that first one! #DontTryToFoolUs!”
Despite Todd’s blessing, my mission still wasn’t fully accomplished. Yeah, the ball from Szczur was flawless, but it wasn’t mud-rubbed. (Poor me, right?)
Several minutes later, I shifted over to the cross-aisle behind the dugout and got Starlin Castro to throw me a ball, and moments after that, in nearly the same spot, I got the attention of Javier Baez and got him to lob one to me. Both of these balls were commemorative, and my total for the day had reached nine.
Brandon stayed in the bleachers for the start of the game and took a bunch of photos, including this . . .
. . . and this . . .
. . . and this:
Meanwhile, this was my view when Scooter Gennett led off the game:
I didn’t know it at the time, but Brandon wandered from the bleachers into the main part of the stadium. Here’s a photo he took of the Chicago skyline . . .
. . . and here’s another one of his pics from the second deck:
Gorgeous. That’s really all there is to say.
After a couple of innings, I made my way to the 1st base side . . .
. . . and ended up moving a bit closer. The ushers were super-protective of the seats between the dugout and cross-aisle, but they didn’t seem to care about anything past that, so I sat directly behind the aisle.
In the bottom of the 4th inning, Chris Valaika hit a sinking line drive at Brewers shortstop Elian Herrera, who caught it . . . or did he trap it? Even he didn’t know, so he fired the ball to 1st baseman Lyle Overbay, who scooped the short hop. It was a bang-bang play. The runner looked out, but the ump called him safe, and the Cubs challenged. At that point, Overbay looked toward the stands, and I knew right away that he was looking for someone to throw the ball to, so I jumped up and waved my arms and shouted his name, and he threw it right to me! His aim was perfect! It barely cleared the outstretched arms of the folks in front of the aisle. The ball had a huge, infield-dirt scuff, but it was nowhere near the logo, so now my mission had truly been accomplished.
Fast-forward four innings. A rookie named Matt Clark had replaced Overbay, and when the 8th inning ended with a routine groundout, I drifted down several steps from the cross-aisle and got that ball too . . . except not really. As some 1st basemen do, Clark switched balls on his way to the dugout and tossed me a non-commemorative infield warm-up ball instead. BAH!! But hey, it was better than nothing.
In the 9th inning, I met up with Brandon and headed over to the cross-aisle behind the home-plate end of the 3rd-base dugout. On a previous visit to Wrigley, that’s where the umps had exited, so it was the obvious place to try to snag one more ball.
Before I tell you what happened next, here’s a photo that Brandon took of pitcher Kyuji Fujikawa:
Okay, so . . . when Rickie Weeks went down swinging to end the game, I hurried down to the dugout, only to see the umps walking the wrong way! WTF?! They were all heading to the 1st base dugout! Obviously there was no chance to run over there and catch them on the way in, so I held my ground and ended up with something even better. Behold!
That’s right. One of the Cubs’ coaches gave me the lineup card. Initially, on his way in, when I asked him for it, he said no and disappeared from sight, but 10 seconds later, perhaps after asking the manager and/or winning pitcher if they wanted to keep it, he poked his head back out and slid it to me across the dugout roof.
Here’s a closer look at the front of the lineup card:
In my opinion, the stuff on the back was even better:
I’ve gotten dozens of lineup cards over the years, some of which have included various bits of info on the back — stuff like the ground rules and pitcher usage charts and biblical references — but this was a first. And I don’t fully get it. Take the “PITCHOUTS” section, for example. Are those the pitchouts that the Brewers have thrown against the Cubs this season? It’s fascinating to get a glimpse of the inner/strategic workings of a Major League Baseball team.
I gave away two (non-commemorative) baseballs on my way out of the stadium, so here are the nine that I kept:
You know what? It’s just as well that the Cubs didn’t bring their precious balls to Citi Field last month because if they had, I wouldn’t have gone to Chicago, and I would’ve missed out on this incredibly fun day at Wrigley Field.
After nine days, the video is finally done! Check it out:
• 11 baseballs at this game
• 467 balls in 68 games this season = 6.87 balls per game.
• 58 lifetime balls in 8 games at Wrigley Field = 7.25 balls per game.
• 1,034 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 368 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 253 lifetime games with 10 or more balls
• 64 different commemorative balls; click here to see my entire collection.
• 37 lifetime lineup cards (or pairs of lineup cards); click here to see them all.
• 7,643 total balls
(I’m raising money again this season for Pitch In For Baseball, a non-profit charity that provides baseball equipment to underprivileged kids all over the world. Click here to learn about my fundraiser, and if you donate money, you’ll be eligible to win one of these prizes.)
• 20 donors for my fundraiser
• $1.62 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $17.82 raised at this game
• $756.54 raised this season
• $39,420.54 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009