5/26/15 at Yankee Stadium

Forgive me for the massive wall of text. Normally I post lots of photos, but at this particular game, I snagged 18 baseballs before I pulled out my camera. Here’s how it all went down . . .

I headed to right field at the start of BP, and within the first 10 seconds, I asked a ballboy in the outfield to toss me a ball. His response was something like, “You already have a million in your collection.” That took me by surprise because I had no idea he recognized me. Thankfully it didn’t stop him from hooking me up. A minute later, I realized that several righties were going to be hitting in that group, so I ran over to left field. When I entered the section, I saw a ball sitting at the bottom of the stairs, and when I ran down and grabbed it, I spotted two more “Easter eggs” in the front row. Moments later, as several other fans made their way into the seats, I spotted yet another ball several rows back. (In case you’ve already lost count, I got a toss-up in right field and found four balls in left field.) Then, only a minute or two after that, a right-handed batter on the Yankees hit a towering fly ball in my direction. I predicted that it was going to land several rows behind me, so I raced up the steps and cut to the side, and when I looked back up, the ball was *right* there. My only miscue was catching it on the palm of my glove, but it was a good enough effort to prompt Brett Gardner, who was standing 50 feet away, to shout, “Sign him up!” Toward the end of the first group, I drifted half a section to my left and caught another home run, and after that group finished, I got my eighth ball tossed from the bullpen by a police officer. That was lucky. Yankee Stadium cops don’t usually give balls away, but for some reason, this guy did. In another stroke of luck, another group of Yankee hitters were getting ready to take their cuts. Normally, after the gates open, there’s only one group (or just a fraction thereof) before the visitors start hitting, but in this case, I saw about a group and a half. I headed back to right field, and within a minute or two of arriving, I snagged a ground-rule double by Garrett Jones. It was a tricky play because the ball didn’t clear the outfield wall; I had to rush down several steps and then lunge over the wall, trapping it between my glove and the padding. After that, I battled the sun to catch a pair of Slade Heathcott homers. I looked at the clock. It was only 5:14pm. I’d been inside the stadium for 14 minutes and already had 11 balls. That’s when it occurred to me that I had a chance of snagging 20 — something I’d never done at a Yankees home game — but everything had to go my way. I figured that any lull during the Royals’ portion of BP would be a killer. While the Yankees cleared the field and the Royals finished getting loose, I heard something hit a seat right behind me. I turned around and saw a woman scampering toward me. There wasn’t anything on the ground, so I looked in the padded/folded-up part of the seat, and whaddaya know, there was a baseball! As I picked it up, the woman told me that a groundskeeper had tossed it to her from the bullpen, so I gave it to her. It was a cheap/lucky way to pad my total, but hey, it counted as my 12th ball of the day. When the Royals started hitting soon after, I was hoping for a BIG first group, led by Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer. I camped out in the last row of the 100 Level seats, nearly 400 feet from home plate — a spot that turned out to be useless. Hosmer crushed half a dozen balls into the bleachers, including several to right-center that easily cleared the Yankees’ bullpen, while Moustakas yanked everything down the line and peppered the second deck with homers. I didn’t snag *any* batted balls during that group, though I did touch one that ricocheted near me, and I came close to another. The only ball I got during that group was tossed by rookie outfielder Paulo Orlando. Obviously I was thrilled to have snagged 13 balls, but I was bummed about my chances of reaching 20. For the next group, I ran back to left field and promptly caught a ground-rule double that skimmed several inches above the outfield wall. Then I caught two homers (not sure who hit ’em) and gave both of those baseballs to the nearest kids. That raised my total to 16. For the final group, I headed back to right field and quickly had a chance at another ball that was sitting on the warning track. Greg Holland walked over to retrieve it and looked up into the stands to find a worthy recipient. At that point, security had already done “the sweep” and kicked out everyone who didn’t have a ticket for that section, so there weren’t many fans. The seats were as empty as I’d ever seen them, perhaps because the Mets were also playing at Citi Field, and the New York Rangers had an NHL playoff game at Madison Square Garden. Anyway, Holland basically had to decide between giving the ball to me or to a pair of young women on my right. All things being equal, the women would’ve gotten the ball, but they were decked out in Yankees gear, and I was wearing a Royals cap. When Holland flipped me the ball and walked away, one of the women said to her friend, “What is he — a faggot?!” That was NOT cool, and I called them out on it, telling them that that was a disgusting thing to say and that I didn’t want to hear that kind of hateful garbage. They appeared to be somewhat embarrassed but also kinda whatever-y about the whole thing. That just gave me extra motivation to catch more baseballs — only three more to reach 20! — and make sure they didn’t get any. Therefore it gives me great pleasure to report that when a left-handed batter on the Royals smoked a line-drive homer into the seats near these homophobes, I swooped in and grabbed it before they had a chance to react. They weren’t happy about the fact that I’d just snagged two baseballs, but you know what? I wasn’t happy to have share this planet with them, so let’s call it even. That’s when I thought, “Maybe I should take a few photos in case I end up snagging 20 baseballs and feel obligated to blog about this,” so here you go. Let’s start with a peek inside my backpack:

1_baseballs_in_backpack

I had snagged 18 balls and given away three, so that’s why there are “only” 15 pictured above.

Here’s what it looked like from the back of the section:

2_view_from_right_field_05_26_15

Shortly after I took that photo, a friend of mine named Jeff made his way into my section. He and I were the only guys with gloves behind the front row, so if we were going to be competing with each other, I figured I’d let him know what was going on.

“I’ve snagged 18 balls today,” I told him, “and I’ve NEVER gotten 20 at Yankee Stadium, so consider this a friendly warning. I’m gonna go ALL OUT to snag two more.”

Jeff was fine with that. He knew I wasn’t talking about knocking him down. (Despite what the haters would like you to believe, that’s simply not my style.) I just wanted him to know that I planned to run and jump and catch everything within my reach, even if it was heading right for him.

A little while later, I scrambled for a home run that landed in the seats. That was my 19th ball of the day, and as a gesture of good will, I gave it to him.

Just when I thought BP was ending, I got a groundskeeper in the bullpen to toss me my 20th ball! Here it is in mid-air:

3_ball8070_in_mid_air

WOW!!!

I always felt that snagging 20 at a single game at Yankee Stadium was possible, but I wasn’t sure if I’d ever actually do it. On September 11, 2014, I snagged 19 thanks to the good fortune of having an ultra-fancy ticket that gave me dugout access and constant chances to pad my total throughout the night. But under the normal circumstances of being trapped in the outfield? Let’s just say that it was extremely satisfying to reach that number.

Here’s a closer look at my 20th ball:

4_ball8070_20th_of_the_day

My good luck continued when the Royals kept hitting! Four groups of visiting team BP? That happens on occasion, but usually there are only three.

At one point during the final group, Jeremy Guthrie wandered over to say hello:

5_jeremy_guthrie_saying_hello

I asked him if he’d wave for a photo for my blog.

He shook his head.

“Why not?” I asked.

“I already gave four balls to the blog,” he replied, referring to the home runs he’d surrendered the day before.

“Yeah, but I wasn’t here to catch any of them, so that didn’t do me any good.”

We chatted for a bit, and then he headed back to center field.

Now that Heath Bell has retired, Guthrie is the major leaguer who knows me best — one of the few who actually knows my name. I’ve become friendly with Vic Black and David Carpenter over the past season (and Mike Trout still follows me on Twitter), but my history with Guthrie easily puts him atop the list.

When there was a lull in the action, I took a picture of the homophobes:

6_homophobes_closeup

Ew.

Unfortunately there was only one lefty in the final group, and it was Jarrod Dyson. I didn’t expect many long balls from a slap-hitter who weighs less than I do, but guess what? The man has some pop! And I ended up catching two of his homers! The first was a towering shot that barely cleared the wall. For some reason, no one else saw it coming, so when I caught it, the man who was standing right in front of me thanked me for saving his life. The second Dyson homer was a line drive heading right toward Jeff, but true to my word, I sprinted nearly a full section to my left and reached out and caught it in the row in front of him. To make it up to him, I told him I’d buy him the concession item of his choice. Instead he asked for the ball — but of course I didn’t want to give him my 22nd and potentially final ball of the day, so I gave him a different one, and he was fine with that.

It should be noted that the second Dyson homer established a new single-game record for New York City. My record for the old Yankee Stadium was 14. My record at Shea Stadium was 19. My record at Citi Field (which was set on September 17, 2010) was 21. And now, after all these years and games and stadiums, I had snagged 22. Imagine if I’d gotten a few during that first group of Royals hitters . . . AND had a Legends ticket. I might’ve gotten 30 balls! (I’m never satisfied.)

Take a look at the notes I’d scribbled during BP:

7_notes_for_22_balls

That’s how I was able to remember all the balls and write about them with much greater detail here. Also, FYI, when a ball is crossed out, it means I gave it away. By the end of the night, I gave away seven baseballs, including two to a pair of little kids in my section during the game.

Before the game started, I figured I had one more reliable shot at getting another ball. Here’s where I positioned myself:

8_jason_vargas_warming_up

Sure enough, after Royals starter Jason Vargas finished warming up, pitching coach Dave Eiland tossed me my 23rd ball of the day:

9_ball8073_23rd_of_the_day

Hot damn!!

I was tempted to linger near the bullpen during the game in the hope of getting another toss-up, or try to work my way closer to the dugouts for a 3rd-out ball. I even considered using the StubHub app to find a cheap Legends ticket at the last second, but decided it wasn’t worth the few hundred dollars — but you know what? If I had 26 or 27 balls at that point, I probably would’ve done it in a desperate attempt to reach 30. Instead I headed out to my seat in right field and hoped for a home run to fly in my direction. This was the view:

10_view_during_game_05_26_15

In the top of the 6th inning, with the Yankees leading, 5-0, Paulo Orlando hit his first major league home run to right field. The ball landed just 10 seats to my left, where it was clanked by the fan circled below in red:

11_guy_who_dropped_paulo_orlandos_first_career_home_run

As you can see, I had NO ROOM to move. That’s Yankee Stadium for you.

Two innings later, I tormented myself by photographing Orlando on the jumbotron:

12_paulo_orlando_jumbotron

Final score: Yankees 5, Royals 1.

After the game, I spotted a ball in the Yankees’ bullpen . . .

13_groundskeeper_ignoring_me

. . . and when I asked the groundskeeper for it, he simply shook his head. Then security told me I had to leave. Whatever. The day had some frustrating moments, but overall it was amazing.

Of the 23 baseballs that I snagged, here are the 16 that I kept:

14_the_16_balls_i_kept

Lots of smudged logos, huh? What’s up with that? Anyway. Yeah. Thanks for reading.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 23 baseballs at this game

• 267 balls in 32 games this season = 8.34 balls per game.

• 907 lifetime balls in 132 games at Yankee Stadium = 6.87 balls per game.

• 1,085 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 260 consecutive Yankees home games with at least one ball

• 17 lifetime games with 20 or more balls

• 8,073 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.)

• 15 donors for my fundraiser

• $118.40 pledged per game home run ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $118.40 raised this season

• $40,073.90 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

38 comments

  1. ThatBallhawk

    Wow Zack. That’s like all I could say. I saw how close you were to Mike Moustakas(?) homerun the next day. You had a great haul this game though. I really need to go to a game soon
    -Demetrius

  2. Garrett Meyer

    The Stubhub app is very nice, but did you know many ballparks have seat upgrades available via the “At the Ballpark” app? For example, when the Royals weren’t so great a couple years ago, I could upgrade to a dugout box seat for anywhere from $15 to $35 depending on the game. That could be useful if you’re ever out of town and don’t want to pay full price for an upgrade.

  3. RyanC

    23 balls at Yankee stadium? You had the shillelagh working for you last night. Kinda makes up for all those you attend there where nothing comes easy, doesn’t it?

  4. Zack Hample

    DEMETRIUS-
    Thanks, and yeah, that Moustakas homer went right over my head by about 10 or 15 feet.

    GARRETT MEYER-
    I had no idea. Thanks for letting me know. There’s a lot I need to learn about apps.

    RYAN C-
    I had the . . . what working for me? I googled it, and I still have no idea what you’re talking about. But hey, thanks. It certainly does make up for some aggravation/frustration.

  5. Zack Hample

    That fan threw a dummy ball back on the field, which caused a hassle when he tried to give the real one back. But I heard that he did give it back and got to meet Orlando, who gave him some memorabilia.

  6. Liz Merry

    23 in one game? I won’t get that many in my whole life! WTG! A shillelagh (shuh-LAY-lee) is an Irish stick or club, used as a weapon or walking stick.

  7. Richard

    nice haul, Zack! most importantly, glad you took the time to mention and address the inappropriate language used by those 2 girls. much respect and props!

  8. Zack Hample

    LIZ MERRY-
    You could snag that many eventually if you tried. An Irish stick or club, huh? I guess that’s an expression, but up until that comment, I’d never heard it.

    RICHARD-
    Thanks! I’m glad to know that someone disapproves of what they said and appreciates my response.

  9. Ahmed

    Hey zack , didn’t know any other ways to contact you, so decided to comment here. Gonna go to citi field soon for the first time in almost 3 years. I was wondering you always write on your citi field blogs that you move around to other places during the middle of games. How does that work out? I thought you had to be at your section for the game. Also how is your experience with autographs there? I heard section 110 is best which is also where I’ll be sitting. Do you have any specific areas/sections that you go to for BP? Thanks for any help, kinda a noob in terms of actually going to baseball games.

  10. Zack Hample

    Citi Field is extremely strict. I don’t move around much anymore, and I’ve pretty much stopped blogging about it because I hate it so much. There are a few guards who know me and like and let me go where I want, but mostly in the outfield. Other than that, I would suggest that you pick the section where you want to be before BP ends and then just stay there. If you’re in foul territory, you can inch closer to home plate starting at around 6:25pm, and if you’re slick about it, no one will notice. But beware of the guards standing on the field looking up into the stands as well as the supervisors and guards in the concourse looking down at the seats. During BP, I go to left/left-center field and usually stay there . . . in one lousy spot, more than 400 feet from home plate no matter how crowded it is and no matter who’s hitting because there are only a few rows to work with. Right field is useless. Very few balls reach the seats (for various reasons — bullpen placement, second deck overhang, net-covered club behind the wall), but it’s good for toss-ups. Right-center is about 430 feet from home plate, so no one hits balls there. The second deck in right field takes several minutes to reach, if you RUN. The whole stadium is such a pain in the ass, and I can’t believe I’m stuck with it for as long as I live in New York City, which is probably going to be forever. (Aren’t you glad you asked?) I have no idea about autographs.

  11. Ahmed

    Haha thanks for the info. And yeah last time I was there, I remember the numerous amounts of guards and security there..pretty annoying.

  12. Doug

    Hi Zack! First of all, let me tell you that I love your blog and what you do is awesome! Anyway, I’ll make the trip to Yankee Stadium all the way from Switzerland in the summer and I’d love to catch a baseball, the thing is, I’ve tickets in the third deck so I was wondering if security would let me go to right field during BP. Also, I’d love to know what’s the best place to get toss-ups from the away team and if guards would let me go there before the game even if I don’t have tickets in this section? I’ll be attending the Mariners-Yankees game FYI. Please, let me know.

  13. Zack Hample

    AHMED-
    You’re welcome.

    DOUG-
    Thanks! Glad you enjoy this madness from afar. You can go to RF during BP until about 5:45pm, which will give you about 45 minutes. Then security starts checking tickets. After that, you could go to the bleachers in RF, which is kinda far but not THAT far. Big strong guys do hit balls there frequently. You might also try the 2nd deck in RF. I don’t think the guards check tickets there. The point is that there are options even after the guards do their “sweep.” To get a toss-up from the Mariners, I would hang out near them along the LF foul line when they start playing catch at around 5:20 to 5:30pm. Once again, you can stay there until about 5:45pm, and then security will kick you out. I hope that helps.

  14. Zack Hample

    I got three toss-ups along the LF foul line — is that what you saw? And Jesus Aitch! How much of me did the MLB Network show? And how come you’re the ONLY one who has said anything about it to me? Finally, the cheapest ticket to . . . what?

  15. cbeltran15

    What’s the deal with batting practice at Yankee Stadium now? Do you need a ticket for field level to go there during BP or can you go there for the first hour with any ticket? I’m being offered a suite ticket (not Legends) but I want to make sure that I’ll be able to secure at least one ball during BP.

  16. Zack Hample

    You get at least 45 minutes of BP with any ticket, and then . . . usually . . . security does “the sweep.” Sometimes they don’t do it until 6pm. Occasionally, when they’re understaffed, they don’t do it at all, or they’ll only do it in right or left field. What a mess.

  17. Big Glove Bob

    I heard you are taking a gal that made her money getting pounded on film and by miscallaneous famous black men to a game. Care to explain?

    Big Glove Bob

  18. Zack Hample

    Now now, be respectful. I think it’s a pretty awesome way to make a living. Basically, four months ago, she got in touch to say that she loved my book (“Watching Baseball Smarter”), and we kept in touch — and voila! I’ll share many more details in my next entry. As for John Salley . . . interesting. I had no idea, so I Googled it. Good for him!

  19. Big Glove Bob

    Hey, OL BGB loves adult films. I just finished a Cincy to Cleveland to Detroit to Milwaukee baseball trip and loved the Great American Ballpark. A very nice park in a very nice setting. Ranks right below PNC for me. Comerica was okay and Progressive Field again left me wanting. If you think NY stadiums have stupid rules (and it sounds like they do), try Progressive Stadium’s no straw policy on for size. Miller Park has never done anything for me either.
    And you can tell Lisa Ann that if she asks BGB nicely I might show her what packing heavy lumber is all about in comparison to that fungo bat that Salley has. The ladies did not nickname me “Dinner Portion” because they got slighted on their helping.

    BGB

  20. Zack Hample

    What do you mean “no straw” policy? Like . . . the concession stands don’t have any straws? Because they’re afraid fans will throw/shoot/blow them on the field? If I run out of things to talk about with Lisa Ann by the fifth hour that we’re spending together, I’ll be sure to mention ol’ Dinner Portion and his redwood.

  21. Josh Liss (@jdawg_27)

    Hey Zack! Long-time reader, first-time commenter. I tend to focus more on autographs when I go to games, but I’ve snagged a few baseballs too. Anyway, do you happen to know when you’ll be in Philly this summer? With the cheapness of tickets on second-hand sites like craigslist/increased availability at the box office, I’ll be going to quite a few games this year & I’d like to meet you. Also, on a side note, do you count balls snagged at minor/independent league games (I know I’ve seen this before, but I forgot what you said)? Because if you do, you HAVE to go to the ballhawking heaven that is Campbell’s Field in Camden, NJ. The Atlantic League’s Camden Riversharks play there & it is right at the foot of the Ben Franklin Bridge. No seats in the outfield, but the combined forces of a cross-aisle around the field/amazing ushers/small attendance/Independent League hitters make for a ton of easy foul ball snags.

  22. Big Glove Bob

    Yep, no drinking straws or lids for that matter. No idea what their thought process is on that one. How did the game with the pin cushion go?

  23. Garrett Meyer

    Hey Z –

    I was watching this video and it made me think of you (and all ballhawks to a certain extent). http://m.mlb.com/video/v172798283/sfsea-fan-makes-grab-announcers-poke-fun-at-him/?query=oddities

    How annoying is it to have someone peer pressure you into going out of your way to find SOMEONE to give the ball to? It’s one thing if you’re right next to a kid… but that section is full of adults! The woman next to him is probably with him anyway. ugh…

  24. Dave Mitchell

    Kudos in advance on snagging #13’s 3000th hit! First time I ever saw ya snag one live on TV! AMAZING! (Takes the edge off stupid Marlins Guy in every shot …)

  25. cbeltran15

    I just got home and I was checking my Facebook feed. I see an article by ESPN titled “New York Yankees star Alex Rodriguez notched his 3,000th career hit on Friday night – Derek Jeter-style:”. I realize, “Hey, that means he hit a home run.” My next thought was, “What are the odds that he hit it opposite field, and what are the odds that Zack is there tonight?” I figured it would be “low and high”, respectively. I click the video and I literally gasped when the ball was hit straight towards your staircase. My next thought went something like this… “Zack, you better catch that dang ball!” Today, you can replace Lou Gehrig as the luckiest man on the face of this earth. Congratulations.

  26. cbeltran15

    As a supplement to my previous comment, after reading people’s responses to your twitter post, I can only see the obvious – all the haters are jealous. It is your ball to do what you want with, since you were the one who caught it. After trying for many years to catch a home run by Alex Rodriguez, the fact that the first one you catch is his 3,000th hit is simply a coincidence. Looking forward to an extensive blog post about your night, including the number of people who tried to take the ball out of your glove (which I presume was greater than zero).

  27. Zack Hample

    JOSH LISS-
    I know I’ll be in Philly on August 4th. Not sure if I’ll make it there before that. And no, I only collect/count MLB balls.

    BIG GLOVE BOB-
    That rule is dumber than dumb. As for my game with Lisa Ann, as you know my now, I finally got around to blogging about it.

    GARRETT MEYER-
    That’s awful. People should be left the hell alone in situations like that.

    DAVE MITCHELL-
    Ha, thanks.

    CBELTRAN15-
    Thank you so much!!I loved reading all the details of your thought process. Good stuff. I didn’t realize that you’re such a talented writer. I agree about all the negativity, but I’m sure there are reasons that people hate me that I can’t even imagine.

    DENNIS B-
    I love you too.

    IMAX-
    I’m working on it.

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