This was my third and final game in San Diego, and it started with batting practice in deep right-center field:
Once again, my friend Brandon Sloter was with me, but this time, instead of taking photos, he shot video. He’s still working on editing the footage, so for now I’ll share a bunch of screen shots. The image below shows my first ball of the day getting flipped over the outfield fence by Odrisamer Despaigne. It’s kind of blurry, so I’ve circled the streaking ball in red:
That’s me in the tan shorts, and as you can see in the following screen shot, I had to outjump another fan to snag it:
Here I am admiring the ball:
It was commemorative. I was quite happy.
After taking a quick break to get the sand out of my shoes . . .
. . . I caught up with my friend Devin Trone:
He and I had been competing for baseballs and getting in each other’s way for the past two days, and this game was no different. Here I am robbing him on a ground-rule double . . .
. . . and here he is getting revenge on another double moments later:
That was a phenomenal catch. While keeping his eyes mostly on the ball, he climbed up from the sand onto the first step and then jumped and flailed and somehow snatched the ball just in front of my glove as I was reaching out for it.
We shared a high-five after that:
Because of the limited space on the Beach, we knew we’d end up scampering after the same baseballs, but we made it work.
Here’s something that didn’t turn out well:
The photo above shows Brandon outside the stadium, being denied for early access at the season ticket holder entrance. I had gotten in by borrowing someone’s season ticket holder ID card. I was hoping that the guards would let me bring him in as my guest, but nope. On the Padres’ final home game of the season, which was supposedly a time of “fan appreciation,” security wouldn’t allow it. Two days earlier, a different guard had let both me and Brandon enter as someone else’s guest, but this time, we encountered a real stiff-ass who gave us the whole, “I’m just doing my job” speech.
It really sucked that Brandon couldn’t get in with me because he missed everything that happened along the left field foul line:
First I got a ball thrown to me by Tommy Kahnle. Then I got another tossed near the foul pole by some trainer-type guy. And finally, I ended up playing catch with Charlie Culberson for two or
three minutes (which is a very long time to engage like that with a player on the field). At one point, some random 20-something-year-old guy approached me in the stands and asked if he could throw one. Reluctantly, I handed him the ball, and he chucked it at Culberson. Before it was thrown back, the guy asked to borrow my glove. I was feeling charitable, and we were the only two people in the section, so I let him use it. They ended up throwing the ball back and forth for about 30 seconds before I reclaimed my glove. Culberson and I threw a bit more after that, including a brief knuckleball session, and then he let me keep the ball, which was my fifth of the day. It was so much fun, but UGH!!! I can’t believe that on this rare day that Brandon was filming me, he wasn’t able to be there to capture any of this.
When the whole stadium opened at 5:30pm, I ran to the seats in left-center field, and Brandon met me there. That’s where I caught my sixth ball of the day — a home run that I caught in the front row. I don’t know who hit that one (or any of the others that I’m going to tell you about), but here’s a screen shot of it streaking into my glove:
I forgot to mention that I had changed into my Rockies jersey.
A few minutes later, I felt a tap on my shoulder, and when I turned around, I was surprised to see that it was a Padres employee, dressed in a button-down shirt with an official lanyard around his neck. My first thought was, “Oh god, what am I in trouble for NOW?” but as it turned out, this guy knew who I was and wanted to introduce himself. His name is Russell Wuerffel, and he explained how he played a role in getting the commemorative logo (for the 10th anniversary of PETCO Park) approved by Major League Baseball and *on* the actual baseballs. Here we are:
I told him what I mentioned in my entry from 9/22/14 at PETCO Park — that it might be my favorite commemorative logo ever. He was glad that I liked it so much, and of course I was glad to have met the guy who helped make it happen.
My best catch of the day (if not the entire month) came on my next ball — a home hun hit one section to my right. Here I am running through the empty second row:
Here I am jumping as high as possible:
Here I am looking at the ball snow-coning out of my glove and thinking, “Whoa, I actually caught that?”
And here I am getting a random-high five from a kid on the way back to my spot:
I gave away three balls to kids in left field (and offered several others to kids who politely declined because they’d already gotten one), so no one was pissed that I snagged so many.
My eighth ball was a homer that smacked off the facade of the second deck and conveniently landed on the staircase behind me. Here I am grabbing it:
My ninth ball was a homer that I caught on the fly, half a section to my right. That might sound simple, but there was a bit of a fancy maneuver required. Look closely at the following screen shot, and you’ll see me climbing forward over a row of seats:
I was actually stepping onto a seat in order to get higher than the people around me. Here I am reaching up for the ball:
After that catch, I noticed Eddie Butler watching me from about 30 feet away, so I called him over and said, “Have you ever seen one fan catch as many baseballs as I’ve caught?”
I forget exactly what he said, but it was something like, “You mean, have I ever seen anyone knock that many kids over?” He made an exaggerated elbowing gesture and had a big grin on his face . . .
. . . so I played along and shouted at the camera, “Did you hear that?! A major league baseball player just falsely accused me of pushing kids out of the way! Take it back! TAKE IT BACK!!”
“You’re saving their lives, right?” he said.
“Saving lives,” I joked. “That’s what I’m doing out here.”
My 10th ball was a homer that I caught on the fly, several feet to my left. It was heading *right* toward a man who was wearing a glove and had been standing next to me for half an hour. Somehow this happened to be the only moment that he wasn’t paying attention, so I calmly shifted over and reached right above his head for an easy catch.
Brandon followed me to right field for the final group of hitters. I didn’t catch any batted balls out there (because I’m an idiot and misjudged one), but I did get a couple of toss-ups. Here’s the first one being thrown to me from the warning track by a coach I didn’t recognize:
Here’s the second one sailing toward me:
That was thrown by Tyler Matzek, and did you notice that I was straddling a row of seats? I thought it was going to fall short, so I half-climbed over, but that turned out to be unnecessary.
After BP, I met a young fan named Brent who asked me to autograph a ball that he’d snagged. Here he is with it:
Before the game, I hung out on the landing of a staircase overlooking the bullpens:
Here’s some advice for anyone seeing the Rockies on the road: don’t expect to get anything from bullpen catcher Pat Burgess. He’s one of the least generous players/coaches I’ve encountered in a while, and I’m making this claim based on one specific interaction. In the photo above, do you see the big/tan/round flowerpot that has some green crap growing out of it? More specifically, I’m talking about the one at the very bottom of the image. Brandon pointed out to me that there was a baseball tucked behind it — obviously a ball that had gotten loose and was otherwise forgotten. In situations like this, when I point out a hidden ball to someone on the field (or in this case, the bullpen), it gets tossed to me 49 out of 50 times. See where I’m going with this? I pointed it out to Burgess, and the son-of-a-gun completely ignored me. First he walked past it and didn’t touch it. Then, two minutes later, he retrieved it and placed it in the ball bag. That’s lame.
This was my view in the top of the 1st inning:
I thought I’d hang out there for an inning or two and get an easy 3rd-out ball, but there were a zillion kids, so I quickly gave up and wandered to right field:
Look what kind of trouble I got into out there:
Do you remember Brent, who’d gotten me to sign his baseball? That’s him in the photo above.
A little while later, I noticed a woman with a FOX microphone nearby. She didn’t seem to be rushing anywhere (as sideline reporters tend to do), so I struck up a conversation, and whaddaya know? Half an inning later, she interviewed me live on the Padres’ telecast:
Her name is Kris Budden, and the interview, not surprisingly, was brief. Here’s what was said:
KRIS: Welcome back. Well, you never know who you’re gonna run into at a baseball game, and I found superfan over here, Zack, who’s really just a fan of every baseball team and a fan of snagging foul balls, batting practice balls, home run balls. How many in your career have you collected?
ZACK: Seven thousand seven hundred and ninety-two.
KRIS: Can you even fit those in your house? What do you do with that many balls?
ZACK: I’ve given away a ton of baseballs to kids at games, I donated some to a charity called Pitch In For Baseball last year, and I just keep the rest. It was a dorky childhood hobby that’s turned into a dorky adult hobby, and I just have fun with it.
KRIS: He has a whole backpack that he’s been carrying with him. Favorite home run ball that you’ve ever caught?
ZACK: Well, I caught Mike Trout’s first, which was pretty sweet. I got Barry Bonds’ 724th in right field here at PETCO in ’06. I also caught the last home run that the Mets ever hit at Shea Stadium, so those are probably the top three.
KRIS: I like it! Well, that is a pretty great hobby, Zack. Thanks so much for joining us. I know you got work to do — you gotta catch a few more.
ZACK: Yeah, I gotta get back into action here.
And that was it. Sixty-two seconds and out. My last name wasn’t mentioned. No website. No Twitter handle. No book titles. No sponsors. The only thing I made sure to mention was the charity. Once again, it’s called Pitch In For Baseball, and it provides equipment to underprivileged kids all over the world. I’ve been raising money for them every season since 2009, and I’m doing it again this year. If you donate before the conclusion of the World Series, you’ll be eligible to win one of these prizes.
After the interview, I caught up with a legendary ballhawk named T.C., who was sitting nearby:
The first thing I asked him about was the home run he’d caught in the top of the 1st inning. I was sitting behind the dugout at the time and could not be-LIEVE my eyes when Charlie Blackmon launched one right in T.C.’s direction. He appeared to lean over a railing, make the catch, and hold up the ball. Pretty simple (and lucky and awesome), right? Well, T.C. nonchalantly admitted that he hadn’t caught it — that it had fallen several feet short and that he’d faked the whole thing by holding up a different ball.
Take a look for yourself at the highlight:
Mind = blown.
Part of me is like, “That’s a clown ballhawking move, bro,” but the other part is like, “The legend of T.C. grows!” This is a man who caught Chad Curtis’s 1st career home run, Terry Pendleton’s 100th, and Adam Dunn’s 250th. He has caught a walk-off grand slam (Bip Roberts on May 20, 1995), and he once caught two Ken Caminiti homers in one game, each hit from a different side of the plate, so why the hell was he fake-catching a Charlie Blackmon homer? Some questions are better left unanswered.
As I’ve mentioned before, I featured T.C. as one of the top ten ballhawks of all time in my latest book, The Baseball. Check it out. You’ll find the section about him on pages 281-282.
I didn’t really know where to go after that. The stadium was surprisingly crowded (attendance: 38,589), and I’d already reached double digits, and I’d snagged plenty of commemorative balls, so whatever. It would’ve been nice to catch a home run, but I just wasn’t feeling it. I was restless and kinda wanted to keep wandering.
I walked along this open-air concourse in deep center field . . .
. . . and made my way to left field:
I was hoping to catch up with my friend Leigh Barratt, who has season tickets out there, but he wasn’t in his seat, and the section was packed, so I kept moving.
I caught up with Brandon, and we headed to the Beach:
I’d never been out there during a game, and that’s probably a good thing. Look at the madness that was taking place in the sand:
After five minutes, I needed to get out of there. All those kids were driving me crazy, and there were a bunch of right-handed hitters due to bat, who clearly weren’t going to hit the ball 410 feet to right-center, so why stick around. Right?
Two minutes after we left, Padres center fielder Cameron Maybin caught a deep fly ball for the third out and tossed it to no one in particular, right where we’d been. Oh, the agony.
Here’s something that cheered me up:
The photo above is fairly self-explanatory. It’s a friar photo-bombing my pulled pork sandwich from Phil’s BBQ. I got some vanilla ice cream after that and headed into foul territory on the right field side. This was my view:
I sat there for an inning with Brandon because one of his friends (whom I’ve gotten to know during various road trips to the west coast) was there.
Here’s what was happening in the game:
I was hoping for the Padres to win because I was planning to go to their dugout after the final out, and I figured there’d be a better chance of getting something if they came out on top.
Well, the Padres *did* win, and it was quite a scene in the stands:
Here’s the crowd from behind:
In the photo above, that’s me in the Padres/Jones jersey. It belongs to Brandon, or maybe “belonged” is better word. He gave it to me because he knows I’ll get more use out of it than he will, but he might ask for it back someday. I guess that’s fair.
After five minutes or so, Tyson Ross poked his head out of the dugout and threw a few pairs of Padres gym shorts into the crowd. I caught one in the tip of my glove, only to have someone yank it out and claim it as his own. Whatever. Who the hell wants Padres gym shorts anyway? Then Ross threw handfuls of bubble gum into the crowd, and look! I got some!
Before heading out, I caught up with a guy named Andy who had recognized me and said hello during BP:
Leigh had made his way to the seats behind the Padres’ dugout, so on my way out, I got to see him and say a proper goodbye. Here we are outside the stadium:
Good times in San Diego. PETCO Park is one of my favorites, so hopefully I’ll make it back there soon.
• 616 balls in 84 games this season = 7.33 balls per game.
• 142 lifetime balls in 13 games at PETCO Park = 10.92 balls per game.
• 1,050 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 374 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 261 lifetime games with 10 or more balls
• 7,792 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.)
• 24 donors for my fundraiser
• $2.05 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $24.60 raised at this game
• $1,262.80 raised this season
• $39,926.80 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009