4/10/15 at Yankee Stadium

There was nothing special about this day early on. The weather was dreary, and I headed out to right field at the start of batting practice:

1_view_from_right_field_04_10_15

I managed to catch one baseball out there — a home run that was hit by a left-handed batter on the Yankees. I’m not sure who it was, but if I had to guess, I’d say Stephen Drew. It was heading between me and another guy. We both reached for it, and I happened to reach a little farther. It felt good to catch it and get on the board, but things went downhill from there.

When the Red Sox started hitting, I headed over to left field and misplayed TWO home run balls! On the first one, I darted down the steps and reached over the outfield wall, at which point the ball hit the palm of my glove and squirted right out. I felt *so* dumb, and then five minutes later, I had one clang off my wrist. If there’s an excuse for that one, it’s that I was half-reaching for it and half-flinching because a tall guy in front of me was going for it too, and it seemed to be well within his reach. But no. He whiffed. And I tanked it. And then I started doubting myself in all sorts of ways.

Thankfully I regained my edge during the next group of hitters. First I grabbed a Hanley Ramirez homer during a mad scramble in the middle of a row. Then, moments later, I jumped and back-handed another Hanley homer, and a little while after that, I got Joe Kelly to toss me a ball.

All three of the balls I got from the Red Sox had red check marks on the sweet spot. Here’s a photo of one of them:

2_check_mark_on_the_sweet_spot

I’ve snagged lots of marked balls over the years, but this was new to me, so I have to ask: if there are any Red Sox fans reading this, do you know the story? Is this simply the team’s way of keeping track of their baseballs, or is it some kind of social media thing?

After BP, I caught up with a few friends, ate a sandwich I’d brought from home, fiddled around on my phone for a while, and eventually headed to my seat in straight-away right field.

The Red Sox jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the 1st inning and scored twice more in the top of the 6th. Then the Yankees rallied for two runs in the bottom of the 6th to trim the lead to 3-2 — pretty standard stuff, right? Not exactly. If you use the number of fights breaking out in various sections as a barometer, it was anything but “standard.” The Yankees and Red Sox, of course, are huge rivals; this was the first of 19 games that they’d play in 2015, and lots of fans were GOING AT IT. There was a major fight in the left field upper deck, and I saw other skirmishes in the bleachers. There was so much drunken hostility that it kinda felt like the old Yankee Stadium.

During the 7th-inning stretch, while standing at a urinal in the men’s room, I heard something hit the floor on my left. It had made somewhat of a clapping noise, so in the instant before I looked over, I assumed someone had dropped a book or a plastic cup, so I was surprised when I saw that a young man had fallen over backwards, not much more than five feet away from me. Did he slip on something? Was he drunk? I didn’t know what to make of it, and then BAM!!! Out of nowhere, another guy jumped on top of him and started punching him as hard as you can possibly imagine . . . on the head and in the face . . . over and over and OVER and OVER. It was relentless and absolutely terrifying! I had never seen a fight that close to me, nor had I ever witnessed anything so brutal. I truly thought the guy on the bottom was going to be killed or blinded or suffer permanent brain damage. It wasn’t at all like a movie. There were no fake sound effects for the punches. Instead there were eerie thumps each time the guy’s skull was struck by the other man’s fist. Within five or ten seconds, I head someone shout, “NYPD!! GET THE F*CK OFF OF HIM AND DON’T F*CKING MOVE!!!” The guy shouting wasn’t in uniform. I don’t know if he was working undercover or if he was off-duty, but thankfully he broke it up. The guy who’d been getting pummeled managed to stand up with a bit of help, and almost instantly, I saw a whole lot of blood starting to trickle down his face in various spots. That’s about the time that I finished my business at the urinal, and I got THE HELL out of there. I’ll admit it — normally I like to gawk, but this was way too real and horrific. I couldn’t handle it. I was practically shaking as I ran out of the bathroom and made my way back to my seat.

I don’t know what happened to the guy who’d gotten beat up, but I heard that the other guy got arrested and that the bathroom was shut down for several innings because it was a crime scene.

I’m still in shock as I sit here writing this. It was one of those “Did that really happen?” moments. I don’t know what caused the fight, but I can tell you that neither of the guys was wearing Red Sox gear — not that that alone would justify violence, but it could serve as a preliminary explanation.

Wow. Okay. Let’s move on . . .

The Red Sox took a 3-2 lead into the bottom of the 9th, and when they brought Edward Mujica into the game, I thought, “Hoo-boy, here we go.” And sure enough, with two outs, Chase Headley crushed a 401-foot bomb into the 2nd deck.

Extra innings. NOT GOOD. I was sooooooo not feeling it. I just wanted to go home and cuddle with my girlfriend and go to bed, but on the other hand, I couldn’t bear the thought of a home run landing near my seat and not being there to catch it.

No one scored in the 10th inning. Or in the 11th inning. And guess what happened in the 12th? Some of the stadium lights flickered and went out. From where I was sitting, it seemed bright enough for the game to continue, but obviously it was too dark for the players, so there was a delay.

OH MY GOD. I wanted to go home. I was cold and hungry and tired, and my cell phone was nearly dead, and I was still upset about the BP balls I’d dropped, and worst of all, I was having constant flashbacks of the fight in the bathroom. If ever there were a time NOT to be at a baseball game, this was it. But I stayed.

As the delay dragged on, several fans behind me in the bleachers turned on their cell phones and held them up to (jokingly) provide extra light for the field:

3_bleacher_creatures_holding_up_cell_phones

That put a brief smile on my face.

Within a few minutes, hundreds of fans all over the stadium were holding up their phones:

4_fans_everywhere_holding_up_cell_phones

After a 16-minute delay, the game resumed.

No one scored in the 12th inning.

Or in the 13th.

Remember when I was sponsored two years ago by BIGS Sunflower Seeds? Well, I still have a bunch of seeds left over, and I still bring them to games. On this particular occasion, I decided to break out a few sample packs as the game headed to the 14th inning:

5_bigs_seeds_in_the_14th_inning

This was the point at which the length of the game suddenly switched over from annoying to cool. The longest game I’d ever been to was 17 innings back in 1993 at Shea Stadium. I remember staying until the very end and then getting a ball tossed to me at the dugout, so maybe something good would come of this long game too? Balls or no balls, I suddenly found myself rooting for the game NOT to end. If the game lasted 14 innings, why not make it 18? Or hell, how about 20?

No one scored in the 14th inning.

Or in the 15th inning.

By now most of the fans had left, so the seats (as you can see in the photo above) were quite empty. If, by some great stoke of luck, a home run happened to fly in my direction, I knew I’d have a good chance of catching it, so I was genuinely excited. That said, I was still rooting for for good pitching and defense — just one more scoreless frame and it would tie my longest game ever.

Before the 16th inning got underway, Yankees right fielder Carlos Beltran tossed his warm-up ball toward a family sitting directly in front of me in the second row. One of the kids ended up getting it, which was great except for the fact that her brother was now empty-handed . . . so I reached into my backpack and gave him my cleanest ball.

Esmil Rogers struck out Dustin Pedroia to start the top of the 16th. The next batter, David Ortiz, fell behind in the count 0-2, but then connected on a hanging slider:

6_david_ortiz_home_run_screen_shot

From the moment his bat hit the ball, I knew it was going to be a home run and that I had a good chance of catching it. I jumped out of my seat, drifted about 10 feet to my right, and climbed back over a row of seats. By that point, I knew the ball was going to land right near me. My section was fairly empty, and no one else was wearing a glove, so basically it was all mine as long as I didn’t screw it up. Therefore, I climbed back over another row of seats to be safe. It’s easier, of course, to move forward than backward, so given the fact that I had the room to maneuver, I decided to get behind the spot where I predicted it would land.

If you zoom way in on the following screenshot, you can see me lifting my leg to climb back over that second row of seats:

7_david_ortiz_home_run_screen_shot

The ball had been hit VERY high, so I had plenty of time to judge it and get into position, and as it descended, I simply *knew* I was going to catch it. I just had to make one final quick-ish movement to my right to get in line with it, and then I reached up and out for a fairly easy back-handed catch.

Here’s another screenshot for you to zoom in on; take a close look and you’ll see me reaching up for the ball:

8_david_ortiz_home_run_screen_shot

My momentum took me farther down the row . . .

9_david_ortiz_home_run_screen_shot

. . . and then it was time to celebrate:

10_david_ortiz_home_run_screen_shot

Everyone in right field, especially in the bleachers, was yelling at me to “THROW IT BACK!!!” which was fine. They had every right to yell, and I had every right to keep the ball, but they persisted, so I decided to mess with everyone a little bit. I faced the field and cocked my arm back as if I were going to chuck it . . .

11_david_ortiz_home_run_screen_shot

. . . but then I stopped mid-motion and held onto the ball:

12_david_ortiz_home_run_screen_shot

Then I turned around and faced the fine folks in the bleachers and shook my index finger at them as if to say, “No no no.” Check it out:

13_david_ortiz_home_run_screen_shot

Despite the negative things being said about me on the internet, I wasn’t trying to antagonize anyone. I wasn’t doing it for attention. I had no idea that my fake throw-back would be shown on TV. I didn’t intend for it to be cocky. The stadium was so empty at that point, and everyone remaining was so stunned by the circumstances, that it really didn’t cause much of a fuss. A few people questioned what team I was rooting for, and one guy (wearing a Red Sox jersey) offered me $50 for the ball, but that was it. In the immediate aftermath, the best thing that happened was being recognized by a guy sitting 20 feet to my right, who turned out to be a teammate from my summer baseball team in 1994. WOW!! We hadn’t seen each other since then, so it was quite a nice surprise. Here I am with him and a few of his friends; he’s the guy holding the ball:

14_zack_with_fans_and_ball7822

As amazing as it would’ve been to leave the stadium after 16 innings with a game-winning home run ball in my possession, I didn’t want the night to end — and lucky me! In the bottom of the 16th, Mark Teixeira hit a leadoff homer (on his birthday, no less) to tie the game! Here’s a photo of the small celebration in the seats as he rounded the bases:

15_mark_teixeira_homering_in_the_bottom_of_the_16th_inning

In the photo above, the girl wearing pink is the one who had gotten the warm-up ball from Beltran. Here’s a better shot of her with her brother (holding the ball I gave him) and their father:

16_little_kids_with_baseballs

Very nice people.

Here’s a photo of the scoreboard in the 17th inning:

17_tie_game_in_the_17th_inning

It might look like it was only the 7th inning, but that’s because the scoreboard operators took everything down after the 10th and started from scratch. On the jumbotron, however, the inning numbers were accurate. I didn’t have a clear view of it from my seat (because of that awful Mohegan Sun Sports Bar), but you can still kinda see it here:

18_innings_10_through_18

Normally I don’t root for the Yankees, but this insanely long game was messing with my head. When the Red Sox scored in the top of the 18th inning, I was disappointed, and when the Yankees tied it up in the bottom of the 18th, I was ecstatic. And by the way, the mere fact that it even reached the 18th inning meant it was THE longest game I had EVER attended. Hot damn!

The inning numbers were refreshed AGAIN at the start of the 19th:

19_innings_19_through_27

Innings 19 through 27 . . . can you even imagine a game lasting THAT long?!

Here’s a photo I took in the top of the 19th inning when the clock struck 2:00am:

20_two_oclock_in_the_morning

Look how empty the seats were:

21_empty_seats_in_right_field_04_10_15

I was fantasizing about catching another home run, but of course I was rooting for more scoreless baseball. I wanted the game to last 20 innings, but UGH, the damn Red Sox scored in the top of the 19th.

During the inning break, I took a photo of my home run ball . . .

22_ball7822

. . . which, by the way, raised more than $100 for the charity Pitch In For Baseball. For the last six years, I’ve been encouraging people to pledge money for every ball I snag, but now as a new experiment this season, I’m asking for bigger pledges and only counting game home runs. In previous years, people sometimes pledged as little as one penny per ball, but that was fine because I’d snag about 500 or 600 balls (including BP) and they’d end up donating $5 or $6. This year I’m telling people to multiply their pledges by 100, so in other words, if you used to donate 10 cents per ball and you want to contribute again in 2015, you should consider donating $10 per home run. If the David Ortiz homer is the only one I snag this season, that would be incredibly lame, and if I somehow get really lucky and catch 10, that would be insane. Mostly likely I’ll end up somewhere in the middle, so the multiply-by-100 math should work pretty well.

Here’s what the scoreboard looked like in the middle of the 19th inning:

23_scoreboard_in_the_top_of_the_19th_inning

As you can see, the Red Sox had a 6-5 lead.

Unfortunately that’s the last scoreboard photo I got because the Yankees never posted the final score anywhere. Therefore I can only share an image of the Red Sox spilling out onto the field after the final out:

24_red_sox_celebrating_04_10_15

Did you notice Xander Bogaerts and Dustin Pedroia near 2nd base walking away from their teammates? They’d just turned a double play to end THE longest game in Red Sox history (6 hours and 49 minutes) and must’ve needed a moment to clear their heads.

As for me . . . I was bummed that the game didn’t last 20 innings, but overall I was thrilled with how it went down. One of the highlights of the night was the overwhelmingly positive reaction on Twitter from so many people. Here’s a gigantic screenshot to show you what I mean; many thanks to everyone who gave me a shout-out, especially my friend Chris Hernandez for being first on the list . . .

27_twitter_action_04_11_15

Phew!

Please accept my apology if you Tweeted at me and I didn’t respond. As you can see, it got kinda crazy there for a while, and of course I was still trying to watch a baseball game, and my phone was on the verge of dying. But I promise I read everything, and as I mentioned up above, it really meant a lot to me.

Naturally I was curious to know exactly what Bob Costas had said about me. He was announcing the game with John Smoltz on the MLB Network, and as several people mentioned on Twitter, he called me a “disgrace.” What’s up with that?!

The next day, with some help from a friend who wishes to remain anonymous, I managed to get my hands on the footage. Here’s how Costas called it: “A high drive, deep right field, Beltran retreats to the track, and Ortiz has given the Red Sox the lead in the sixteenth . . . a Yankee fan retrieved it and then hurled it back in disgust, but it’s Ortiz rounding the bases and touching the dish to make it four to three.” Nearly a minute later, Costas said, “And you know, I may have been wrong. I think the guy may have pantomimed throwing it back and then held onto it. Either he’s a Red Sox fan traveling incognito without any identifying garments or else he’s just a civic disgrace from the standpoint of Yankee fans who remain. Either way he’s got the ball and the Red Sox have the lead.” Moments later, there was a replay showing what I did with the ball, prompting Costas to cut himself off mid-sentence and say, “Here’s the guy — here look, he fakes the throw. There it is. That’s why I thought he’d thrown it back. He fakes it to taunt the fans surrounding him, and then he keeps it.”

Damn right I kept it. I’ve always had mixed emotions about the practice of throwing visiting teams’ home run balls back onto the field. Personally, that’s not my style, but it can be entertaining when other people do it. If you have an opinion one way or the other, you need to see this Reddit comment. Seriously, click that link. It will make you think and put a smile on your face.

The end.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

26_the_four_balls_i_kept_04_10_15• 5 baseballs at this game (four pictured here because I gave one away)

• 16 balls in 3 games this season = 5.33 balls per game.

• 807 lifetime balls in 121 games at the new Yankee Stadium = 6.67 balls per game.

• 1,055 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 721 consecutive games in New York with at least one ball

• 249 consecutive Yankee home games with at least one ball

• 31 lifetime game home run balls (including 23 that I caught on the fly); click here for the complete list.

• 7,822 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.)

• 11 donors for my fundraiser

• $107.17 pledged per game home run ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $107.17 raised this season

• $40,062.67 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

25 comments

  1. raytheaustralian

    Great job Zack. I watched the whole game and I instantly recognised you catching the Ortiz homer. Your body language and celebration are characteristic. Good start to the year. And the Yankees lost too. Double celebration. Must have been a marathon game to attend in person. Late night if you had to work next day.

  2. Ben

    Random question – How are those Bigs seeds tasting? Stale? Do the flavors taste off? They’ve got to be past the “best by” date by now.

  3. Zack Hample

    RAY THE AUSTRALIAN-
    Thanks! What a cool feeling to know that someone was watching halfway around the world and recognized me. Thankfully this game began on Friday evening, so I didn’t have anything to do the next day, except wake up by 12pm to go run my writing group (at someone’s home in the Bronx, of all places).

    LIZ MERRY-
    What a night indeed . . . and morning!

    BEN-
    They’re not stale at all. I think they *are* past the expiration, but they were in sealed packages and still taste great. They’re actually so flavorful that it’s a bit too strong for me, so usually, when I put a handful in my mouth, I spit out my saliva several times in the first minute before I start eating the seeds. This also helps to soften them up a bit. Last year the folks at BIGS offered to give me more seeds whenever I want them, but I’m still fine with the ones from 2013. Maybe next year I’ll hit ’em up for a new batch.

  4. Zack Hample

    COLE ADKINS 34-
    Thanks! It was crazy-long (I arrived at the stadium at 3:45pm and left at 2:15am), but it was sooooo worth it.

    WAYNE-
    I wouldn’t say it’s “likely.” I’d say it’s possible. He’s a one-dimensional player who has been linked to steroids — and he doesn’t even have 500 career homers. Yeah, he’s the most accomplished designated hitter of all time, but if I had a Hall of Fame vote, I wouldn’t give it to him. But whatever, that doesn’t diminish the joy I felt (and still feel) after catching the home run.

  5. ThatBallhawk

    You still have to look at my emails. It has a cool video of you catching the homerun. Also just making sure you are going the mets game on Thursday right? I can’t wait.
    -Demetrius

  6. Zack Hample

    DEMETRIUS-
    Will do. Soon. Because of the home run and all the ensuing madness, I’m waaay behind on everything right now. I’m trying to catch up, but there’s so much. I’ll be at Citi on Thursday if the weather’s good enough for BP.

  7. sanjaysridhar

    Nice Job Zack! I’m glad the charity gets an early flood of donations thanks to David Ortiz. Out of curiosity, are you coming to Turner Field this season?

    -Sanjay

  8. Mike

    You…..caught….an Ortiz …..home….run….ball. I am sooooooo jealous. He is my all time favorite player

  9. Zack Hample

    SANJAY-
    Thanks. I’m glad too. Not sure about Turner, but I doubt it. I might wait for the final season of the stadium and then come down for some commemorative balls.

    MIKE-
    Ha. I’ll, umm . . . let you touch it if you ever come visit me in NYC.

  10. txrangersfan

    Congrats on the Ortiz homer Zack! The 19 inning game must have been insane to be at! I was at the Rangers/Astros 14 inning game yesterday and it didn’t even last five hours officially so I can only imagine how the 19 inning game went!

    I’m sure I’ve overlooked it but have you stated if you are going to be blogging more this season or not? I really missed out on your blogs in 2014 but completely understand where you are coming from with it being a very time consuming effort. Either way looking forward to your next game.

  11. The Teenage Sports Guy

    Hey Zack,

    Congrats on catching the home run. I last saw you on 7-22-11 at Camden Yards the day before BallHawk Fest I’m playing College Football now at a small Division 3 school in Birmingham, AL called Birmingham-Southern College. If you’re ever near Birmingham, you need to come to a Birmingham Barons game. They have built a new ballpark in Downtown Birmingham that’s a BallHawk’s paradise. I think you would absolutely enjoy it. Anyway, I have a new social network that you need to check out. It’s called Fancred. I know that you always said Twitter and Myspace were the first and last social networks that you would join. However, I think you would really enjoy this one. I think that Fancred is better than Twitter and MySpace because it’s all sports, all the time. The people on their are really knowledgeable and passionate about their teams. The link to the website is http://www.Fancred.com and the link to my profile is: http://fancred.com/#users/35296 Feel free to check it out and let me know what you think. They also have an app for both iPhone and Android so you don’t have to only access it from the computer

  12. Mark Newman

    Hey Zack, hope all is well. We’re about to relaunch things at http://MLB.com/blogs, to coincide with Tommy’s first post ever in the MLB community on the morning of April 18, 2005, so officially Saturday morning is our blogaversary. (No change to any blogging functionality, though). Your first post was just 3 days later. In case you wanted to do any kind of a birthday shoutout post or anything. Just a headsup! Thanks,

    Mark/MLB.com
    http://mlblogs.mlblogs.com

  13. Steve Naismith

    “I wasn’t doing it for attention” – but here’s countless pictures and tweets of me getting attention. So if you weren’t doing it for attention, that means you would have done the same thing if a ball fell from the sky into your lap and not a single fan or player were in the stadium? I find that hard to believe.

    Of course you gestured for the attention. I don’t have a problem with it, but don’t pretend like you WEREN’T doing it for the attention. Give me a break.

  14. Zack Hample

    TX RANGERS FAN-
    Thanks very much, and yes, the game seemed to last forEVER, but I was in it for the long haul, and it was so much fun. I don’t plan to blog much this season. There are exceptions, of course, but games in New York are dreadfully boring because of the stadiums. There’s just not much I can do when I’m there, so to crank out a blog entry each time is awful. They all start to feel the same. And even if more interesting stuff happened, I just don’t want to spend THAT much time blogging. As it is, I’m at a computer *all* day every day at work, and when I’m home, I have a zillion emails and other computer-y things to do, so blogging three or four times a week would actually make me lose my mind.

    THE TEENAGE SPORTS GUY-
    Sorry for the slow reply. I see you re-posted this comment on a newer entry, so I answered you there.

    MARK NEWMAN-
    Thanks for the heads-up. Not sure if I’ll do anything special for the anniversary, but this is still great to know.

    STEVE NAISMITH-
    Sure, all the attention was fun, and once it started coming my way, I ran with it, but my initial antics were simply intended for the fans around me.

  15. jvfuentes

    My nephew was at this game!, but his grand-uncle yanked him after the eighth. He was bummed.
    More importantly, my boy cranked his first no-doubter into a stiff wind over the center field fence in Madras this weekend! Pretty sweet!

  16. Dave Mitchell

    That Reddit link re: throwing home run balls back was pretty spot-on. Thanks for sharing it!

  17. Zack Hample

    JVFUENTES-
    That’s awful! I would be pissed for life if I were forced to leave such a game. But hey, nice job by the young man on cranking a homer.

    DAVE MITCHELL-
    You’re welcome. Glad you agree.

  18. Gocubsgo1908

    Zack,
    When I went to a Red Sox spring training game I got about 10 that were all marked with that check.

  19. jvfuentes

    Thanks! #2 came last weekend in The Dalles! He had 12 ground rule doubles last season. Now they’re traveling that bit further. Fun stuff!
    To be fair, the gent is in his 70s, so there was little chance they would have stayed that late.

  20. Zack Hample

    GO CUBS GO 1908-
    I guess that’s just their thing this season.

    JVFUENTES-
    Ahh, well, in that case, the early departure is excusable.

  21. jvfuentes

    btw, I suggested to some friends of mine from Bend that they stop by the Argosy while they are in NYC to look at some of your baseball memorabilia. I hope they make it!

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