9/3/14 at Wrigley Field

My day at Wrigley Field began in the presence of greatness. Here I am on Waveland Avenue with three of the greatest ballhawks of all time:

1_moe_dave_zack_rich

In the photo above, from left to right, you’re looking at Moe Mullins, Dave Davison, me, and Rich Buhrke. Moe and Rich were both featured in The Baseball (see pages 271-274), and Dave would’ve been in the book had he been willing to be interviewed. The four of us have combined to snag well over 20,000 baseballs.

After we finished posing, Rich pointed out a ball that was stuck in a VERY hard-to-reach spot:

2_rich_pointing_out_a_ball_skewered_on_the_pigeon_prongs_of_the_toyota_ad

More specifically, it was skewered on the pigeon prongs of the Toyota ad 20 feet above the bleachers:

3_ball_skewered_on_pigeon_prongs

Rich said it was a BP homer that landed there during the 2012 season, which means it has survived two brutal Chicago winters. How fun (and impossible) would it be to get that ball and examine its condition?

Anyway, when the Cubs started hitting, everyone dispersed to their various spots and looked skyward. Rich sat on a bucket on the sidewalk:

4_rich_buhrke_sitting_on_the_corner

Moe sat in a folding chair in the shade:

5_moe_mullins_waiting_for_baseballs

And as for me? I’m a rookie out there, so I just stood in the street:

6_zack_waiting_for_baseballs

There was NO action while I was out there — the Cubs pitchers, I learned, had hit five homers onto Waveland before I arrived — but it was still fun to hang out and give it a shot.

Inside the stadium, things went much better. I started by scrambling for a Junior Lake home run in left-center field — coulda/shoulda caught it on the fly, but whatever. I got the ball, and that’s all that really matters . . . and it was commemorative. I’d snagged six commemorative balls the day before, but I was still excited to get another.

A couple of minutes later, an unidentifiable Cubs player flipped up a ball from the warning track. Here I am snagging it, and if you look VERY closely, you can tell that the logo is commemorative:

7_zack_catching_ball7645

That photo (along with many others in this entry) was taken by my friend Brandon Sloter. He’s the professional photographer/videographer who had filmed me the day before, and that video is now done! Check it out if you have a few extra minutes to spare — here it is on YouTube.

Here I am showing the ball I’d just snagged (and getting photo-bombed by Dave):

8_zack_showing_ball7645

That was it for the Cubs’ portion of BP. One group. Two commemorative baseballs. Not bad.

When the Cubs jogged off the field, I noticed that they left a ball sitting near the right field foul line, and since it was going to take a few minutes for the Brewers to start hitting, I ran over there. Here I am asking for the ball:

9_zack_not_getting_this_ball

Despite the fact that I was now decked out in Brewers gear, coach Lee Tunnel tossed it to the guy standing above the “people who get it” sign. How fitting.

As I hurried back to the bleachers, the Brewers starting taking BP:

10_brewers_bp_underway

Brandon took the previous photo, and he took this one too:

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Beautiful.

I swung by the right-center field bleachers and ran into my friend Kelly and her four-year-old son P.J. Here they are:

12_kelly_and_pj

Kelly and I did a Watch With Zack game on 9/24/07 at Shea Stadium, and we’ve been friends ever since — such good friends, in fact, that I stayed at her place on this trip. As you can see in the photo above, Kelly and P.J. were wearing Brewers gear and had a sign asking for a ball. Guess how many they got? Go ahead. Pick a number. I’ll share their total at the end.

I got my third ball of the day tossed up in left-center by Brewers coach Mike Guerrero. Here I am reaching for it:

13_zack_catching_ball7646

Where did my hat go? Look closely and you’ll see that I was holding it in my right hand. The previous day, Guerrero had seen me snag a couple of baseballs, so before I asked him for this one, I removed my hat to change my appearance.

The Brewers, by the way, are *great* in batting practice. If you have a choice of games to attend and visiting teams to see, pick the Brewers. Rosters change from year to year, of course, but right now the Brewers are incredible. They have a bunch of right-handed sluggers (Carlos Gomez, Ryan Braun, Khris Davis, Aramis Ramirez, Rickie Weeks, Jonathan Lucroy, and Mark Reynolds) who put on a show! Not surprisingly, here at Wrigley, these guys were blasting balls to the deepest parts of the left-field bleachers and often completely out of the stadium and onto Waveland Avenue. I was tempted to play deep, but there was lots of competition, as you can see in the following photo:

14_fans_competing_for_home_run_ball

Therefore I played shallow, where I knew there’d be less action, but also far fewer bodies in my way. Here’s a three-part photo that shows my strategy paying off:

15_zack_snagging_ball7647

In case you can’t tell, that ball (circled in red in all three images) was a home run that was dropped by the fan in plaid shorts. The ball plopped down and landed on a bag and conveniently/alarmingly bounced right up at my face. In the process of flinching, I managed to cradle the ball against my neck with my bare hand.

Moments later, I caught a home run on the fly. Here I am reaching out and squeezing my glove around it:

16_zack_catching_ball7648

I don’t know who hit either of those homers.

After BP, I took a photo of the two commemorative balls I’d snagged from the Cubs:

17_two_commemorative_balls_after_bp

Half an hour later, as I’d done the previous day, I headed deep into the left-field bleachers for the Chris Bosio Show:

18_chris_bosio_throwing_balls_into_the_crowd

Every day at around 6:45pm, Bosio, the Cubs’ pitching coach, throws half a dozen balls into the crowd. The previous day I’d gotten lucky and snagged an errant throw that had been intended for someone else. This time I positioned myself in a better spot in the hope of getting one thrown directly to me. I stood on a bench at the very top/back of the bleachers — and it worked! Here I am reaching out for the catch:

19_zack_catching_ball7649

That was my sixth ball of the day. And it was commemorative:

20_zack_holding_ball7649

Look who else was trying to get a ball in left field:

21_kelly_and_pj_in_left_field

That’s P.J. and Kelly in the front row, now wearing Cubs gear.

Throughout the day, I’d been running into an 18-year-old fan named Yacov, who’s been reading this blog for a while. We had chatted for a bit on Waveland Avenue before the stadium opened. I had also seen him briefly along the right-field foul line when I ran over to try to get the ball that the Cubs had left behind. Shortly before game time, when I moved from the bleachers to the main part of the stadium, he caught up with me again and posed with the baseball that I’d signed for him earlier. Here he is with it:

22_yacov_with_my_autograph

Soon after, when several Cubs were finishing their pre-game throwing, I stood up and tried hard to get their attention:

23_zack_going_for_toss_ups

I would’ve preferred to be in the front row, but the strict ushers wouldn’t let me get any closer. As it turned out, it didn’t matter because Chris Valaika saw me waving and called me down toward the front. The nearest usher had no choice but to let me wander down the steps, and when I got a bit closer to the field, Valaika threw me the ball. Here it is flying into my glove:

24_zack_catching_ball7650

Yes, it was commemorative. Outstanding!

Brandon and I spend the first few innings in the second deck:

25_zack_in_the_second_deck

It was a decent place to catch a foul ball, but I wasn’t hopeful of getting anything up there. Mainly, I just wanted to relax and watch the game.

That got old fast, and I headed back down to the field level. Here’s where Brandon and I sat for the next inning . . .

26_first_base_side

. . . and eventually we moved closer. We didn’t bother trying to sneak down behind the Brewers’ dugout. Instead we stealthily grabbed a pair of empty seats in the front row behind the cross-aisle.

Brandon kept taking photos. Here’s Kyle Hendricks throwing a change-up:

27_kyle_hendricks_pitching

Here’s Jorge Soler following through after fighting off an inside pitch for a double down the left-field line:

28_jorge_soler_hitting

He’s truly amazing. I think he’s going to be a superstar for the next decade.

Here’s the scoreboard . . .

29_wrigley_field_scoreboard

. . . and here’s Jonathan Lucroy handing a 3rd-out ball to a young fan in the front row:

30_jonathan_lucroy_giving_away_a_third_out_ball

With no outs in the top of the 6th inning, Aramis Ramirez swung at a 2-0 pitch from Hendricks and hit a towering foul pop-up in my direction. At first I thought it was going to land 20 feet behind me, but I resisted the urge to bolt up the steps. I remembered that high foul pop-ups are impossible to judge and usually end up drifting back toward the field, and since I was already standing in the aisle, I figured I might as well stay there. As the ball started to descend, it seemed to be heading straight at me, and I couldn’t believe my luck. Was I seriously about to catch it? I kept watching it and standing there . . . and watching it . . . and waiting. It seemed to hang up in the air forever, and at the very last second, it began veering to my right. I don’t know if it hit a wind current or if the spin affected it, but for an instant, I thought I *wasn’t* going to catch it. All I could do was take a step or two to my right and lunge across my body for a wild attempt at a back-handed catch. Here’s a photo that Brandon took at that moment:

31_zack_catching_ball7651_aramis_ramirez_foul_ball

Did you notice the two fans on the right? Here’s a closer look:

32_the_faces_of_terror

It must have sucked for them to think that they were about to die.

I’m happy to report that I caught the ball in the tip of my glove, and no one got hurt. The women actually/sincerely thanked me for saving their lives, which amused me because I was at least five feet away from them when I caught the ball.

Here’s a photo of the ball that I took soon after . . .

33_ball7651_aramis_ramirez_foul_ball

. . . and here’s a much better photo of it on my website.

The 6th inning was good to me. It started with that foul ball and ended with a 3rd-out ball, tossed perfectly to me over everyone down in front by Brewers 1st baseman Mark Reynolds. Here’s the ball flying toward me.

34_zack_catching_ball7652

If you must know, that ball was a grounder hit by Luis Valbuena on a 2-0 pitch from Will Smith. My man Aramis Ramirez fielded it at 3rd base and fired across the diamond to complete the play.

That was my ninth ball of the day. When BP had ended, I only had five and wasn’t even considering double digits, but now it was within reach.

Here’s a photo that Brandon took of . . . someone mildly important singing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game”:

35_take_me_out_to_the_ballgame

Here’s another Brandon photo of the Cubs infielders warming up between innings:

36_cubs_warming_up_between_innings

The Cubs won the game, 6-2, sending the Brewers to their eighth straight loss. After the final out, I scurried down to the 1st base dugout . . .

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. . . and got a ball from home plate umpire Mark Carlson — the only ball he gave away.

Here I am with the seven commemorative balls I snagged:

38_zack_with_seven_commemorative_balls

Here’s a closer look at those balls:

39_seven_commemorative_balls

Back at Kelly’s place, I photographed P.J. with the balls he’d gotten with her:

40_pj_and_his_baseballs

WOW!!

I had no idea how many balls they were getting at the time. I only saw them get a few, but when Kelly told me how they’d done it, it made perfect sense. You know how players stand in clusters during BP? Well, she and P.J. would hang out behind one cluster and inevitably get a ball from them within a few minutes . . . then move one or two sections over and get a ball from the next group of guys. And so on. At least one fan handed P.J. a ball, and I think there were one or two other cases when players or coaches went out of their way to get P.J.’s attention and hook him up.

Four-year-olds have it rough in a lot of ways, but to be that age at a Major League Baseball game has got to be one of the greatest things in the world.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 10 baseballs at this game

• 477 balls in 69 games this season = 6.91 balls per game.

• 68 lifetime balls in 9 games at Wrigley Field = 7.56 balls per game.

• 1,035 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 369 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball

• 254 lifetime games with 10 or more balls

• 7,653 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

(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.)

• 21 donors for my fundraiser

• $1.71 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $17.10 raised at this game

• $815.67 raised this season

• $39,479.67 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

21 comments

  1. Zack Hample

    Thanks! And yeah . . . pigeon prongs. That’s exactly what they’re meant for. I don’t know what they’re officially called. The prongs are *everywhere* at Yankee Stadium. It’s actually quite impressive.

  2. jvfuentes

    They have “people prongs” now, giant spikes that come out of park benches and building doorways at night. I guess the idea caught on.

  3. Zack Hample

    JVFUENTES-
    Never thought of the connection, although the pigeon prongs are meant to prevent pooping, while people prongs are meant to prevent sleeping.

    BOSTON BALLHAWK-
    Thanks! (But the Fenway 100th anniversary balls are better.)

  4. Zack Hample

    DEMETRIUS-
    Sorry, forgot to answer your other question about my blog being glitchy. I have no idea, but you’re the only person who’s said anything about it.

  5. Ryan

    Hey Zack went to a game at Busch Stadium my very first game I ended up with 10 balls including a foul ball gamer thanks for your help and tips. And I am only 14 not bad

  6. cbeltran15

    About your performance at Yankee Stadium on 9/11… I’m going to guess that the anonymous source got you a Legends ticket in exchange for a potential 9/11 commemorative ball…? This is based on the obscene amount of balls you got during the game. Went to Citi last night and got 12. It was nearly empty during batting practice for the first 40 minutes.

  7. Ray Burton

    Another good post Zack. Wrigley looks like a beautiful stadium. Is it ballhawk- friendly too ? I love those photos taken from the stands just as the sun is setting. Classic Balmy late summer evenings are made for baseball. I guess the moral of this story is – if you want to snag more balls than the famous Zack Hample , bring your wide-eyed , blonde headed four year old son to the game. Good luck to them. At that rate , your record is in danger. Just booked flights for our latest USA trip. Its going to be a west coast drive with my daughter`s 21st in Vegas in February to finish. Hope we can catch up. No baseball at that time but we are going to try and catch a couple of NHL games instead.

  8. Zack Hample

    KELLY-
    Thanks! Your “hi” has been passed along.

    CBELTRAN15-
    You are correct. I’ll be blogging about it later this week, if I ever catch up. Congrats on the 12. Very impressive.

    RAY BURTON-
    Wrigley is amazing. You *need* to visit. It’s quite ballhawk friendly, but the best thing about it is that it’s cute and cozy and makes you feel good and happy.

    YACOV-
    You’re just saying that because you’re in it. :-)

  9. Ben

    I noticed the vendor just to your left in the foul ball picture which made me wonder: Have you ever seen a vendor get drilled by a foul ball? I’ve never seen it happen but it seems like a few vendors will peek at the game in between beer pours or before climbing a staircase, but most are just nonstop selling machines who have their backs to the field quite a bit.

  10. Winston Holyfield

    I heard that the bleachers at wrigley are separate from the rest of the stadium, are you allowed to go in the bleachers during BP, or do you have to get another ticket?

  11. Zack Hample

    You heard right. If you have a ticket anywhere else in the rest of the stadium, you can’t go there, but if you have a ticket in the bleachers, you can go everywhere. It’s really weird.

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