6/23/15 at Yankee Stadium

This was my 2nd game back at Yankee Stadium after snagging Alex Rodriguez’s 3,000th career hit, and things were still crazy. Moments after I took this photo during batting practice in right field . . .

1_view_from_right_field_in_bp_06_23_15

. . . a high-school kid started screaming and cursing at me from the bleachers. Despite the fact that I was trying to work out a deal to get the ball back to A-Rod in exchange for the Yankees making a huge donation to a children’s baseball charity, this kid was pissed that I hadn’t given it back right away.

When the Phillies began playing catch, I ran over to the seats along the left field foul line. That’s when I got an unexpected phone call from a number I didn’t recognize. Normally I wouldn’t have answered it, but in case this was something important, I decided to make an exception. It turned out to be Andrew Marchand from ESPN. He asked a bunch of questions, which was nice, I guess, but I’m pretty sure it cost me a ball. Thankfully, when I got off the phone, I got one thrown to me from about 150 feet away by Ben Revere.

I headed back to right field and ended up snagging five balls during BP. The first was a homer by a right-handed batter (Darin Ruf, perhaps?) that I caught on the fly after drifting down the stairs to the front row. I handed that ball to the nearest kid, and I gave away the next one too — a Domonic Brown homer that pretty much came right to me. The next ball (my fourth overall) was a no-look glove flip from Elvis Araujo, and then I got a toss-up from Jeanmar Gomez. My final ball was a homer by a left-handed batter that I jumped for and caught after moving back several rows and shifting into the middle of the section.

At around 6:30pm, it started raining, and the tarp came out:

2_tarp_on_field_pregame_06_23_15

That didn’t bother me. Both teams had taken BP, and I’d snagged a bunch of baseballs, so whatever.

Eventually, after a lengthy delay, the grounds crew prepped the field, and Phillies starter Sean O’Sullivan began warming up:

3_sean_osullivan_warming_up

As you can see in the photo above, I was in the bleachers — and it was crowded. For the most part, I made a point of facing the field so that my back was turned to everyone behind me. I didn’t want to be recognized. I didn’t want to cause a scene. I just wanted to try to get a pre-game toss-up and then be on my way.

So much for that.

Within about 30 seconds, I heard someone behind me shout, “Hey!! It’s Foul Ball Guy!!” which prompted someone else to yell, “Yeah!! It’s the guy who got A-Rod’s 3,000th hit!!” A man on my left then asked to take a photo with me, while a guy on my right started hollering, “Boo!! Boo!! Give it back to A-Rod!!” He wasn’t actually upset. He kind of had a smile on his face and just seemed to be busting my chops a bit, but still . . . jeez. I gave up on getting a ball from O’Sullivan and instead tried to leave the section, but now all eyes (and dozens of cameras) were on me, and I got stopped multiple times. I’m glad to say that everyone was really nice. Lots of folks told me “congrats” and simply wanted to shake my hand. Others asked to take photos and offered advice on what I should do with the ball. It was nuts, but I don’t mean to complain. I appreciated all the positive comments, and while the whole thing was fun on some level, it was also unnerving. I can see how real celebrities could lose their minds. I can’t imagine dealing with that level of attention on a full-time basis.

Anyway, look how beautiful the sky was in the bottom of the 1st inning:

4_view_during_game_06_23_15

Because of the rain delay (which officially lasted an hour and 21 minutes) and the slow pace of the game (three hours and 45 minutes) and the Phillies’ tie-breaking five-run rally in the top of the 9th inning, the stadium was rather empty toward the end of the game. Check it out:

5_empty_seats_on_my_left_06_23_15

In the photo above, do you see the guy standing one section away? I didn’t notice him at the time and didn’t think anything of it, but that all changed one minute later. That’s when I saw him walking right toward me with a small blonde child in his arms, and when he got closer, I recognized him. It was former major league outfielder Eric Byrnes.

“Byrnesie!” I shouted. “What’s up?”

“Hey, how’s it going?” he replied, and then after a brief pause, he said, “Hey, aren’t you guy who got the A-Rod ball?”

That took me by surprise. When I first saw him heading my way, I figured he was coming over to talk to me because of it.

We ended up chatting for the rest of the game, exchanging contact info, and making a tentative plan to film a ballhawking segment for the MLB Network. I suggested having a competition to see who could catch more home run balls, and he loved the idea. (I would totally win, right?)

Here’s a cruddy cell phone selfie that we took in the bottom of the 9th inning:

6_zack_and_eric_byrnes

That photo turned out to be the basis of some trash-talking on Twitter. Here’s what I posted:

6b_byrnes1

This was Eric’s reply:

6c_byrnes2

Ho-HO!! It’s on, Son!!

Seriously, though, how much fun would it be to see me going at it in the stands with a former major leaguer? Follow him on Twitter — @byrnes22 — and let him know if you want to see this ballhawking competition take place. And hey, it’s not like he’s some old fat dude who let himself go after retiring. He’s still in his 30s, and the dude is JACKED. Check out this higher-quality photo of us that was taken after the game:

7_zack_and_eric_byrnes

Those were all the baseballs I had left at that point. Here’s what I did with three of them:

8_zack_and_eric_byrnes_kids

Those are Eric’s kids. The youngest had really wanted a ball, so I handed one over, and then of course the other two felt left out, so . . . yeah. Eric felt bad and promised to hook me up with some baseballs down the road, but I told him not to worry about it. (During his career, he threw me two balls and hit me a pair of BP homers, so I was still coming out ahead.) Here’s the tweet he posted about it:

8b_byrnes3

His wife was there too and we all walked out of the stadium together. I kept trying to say goodbye and telling him that I didn’t want to intrude upon his time with his family, but he wanted to keep talking. Very cool guy. Amazing that we ran into each other like that.

Finally, of the six balls that I snagged, this was the only one that I kept:

9_the_one_ball_i_kept_06_23_15

I love the smudgy ones.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 6 baseball at this game

• 366 balls in 48 games this season = 7.63 balls per game.

• 966 lifetime balls in 142 games at Yankee Stadium = 6.80 balls per game.

• 1,101 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 270 consecutive Yankees home games with at least one ball

• 8,172 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.)

• 18 donors for my fundraiser

• $132.40 pledged per game home run ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $264.80 raised this season

• $40,220.30 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

9 comments

  1. Big Glove Bob

    Nice interaction with a former Major Leaguer. Have fun in Cincy. i was there last month and loved the city and the park.

    Long Relief

  2. Carl LaFong

    The smudged balls back at Joe Robbie Stadium were called Blue Seaters when they hit those blue seats in the LF club Section. Byrnes was one of our favorite players.

  3. Dave Mitchell

    Byrnes always seems to be a cool dude on the Network – glad to see it confirmed!

  4. TCtake the hample jinx offme pls

    hey zack, did Benny make it to cin? he was taking u for free i remember at the wedding… maybe .he can take u to SD all star game in 16…Eric Byrnes is a big softball player still ,he should of bunted on that squeeze play when he got released in 2010 u wearing wheres waldo today?

  5. Zack Hample

    CARL LAFONG-
    “Blue seaters” — I love it.

    DAVE MITCHELL-
    He didn’t seem like Major League Baseball player who happened to be cool. He was more like a super-cool dude who happened to be in the Major Leagues, ya know?

    LIZ MERRY-
    I think MLB hates me, so I’m really not sure if it’ll happen.

    TC-
    No Benny. We’ll make it to a big game again soon, I’m sure. Maybe the World Series? Or maybe we’ll both see you next year. And wait a second, do you really feel jinxed?

  6. Zack Hample

    Devo was sitting in the front row in left-center field. I was about 20 rows back on the 3rd base side. Only one homer for you?! How is that possible in that glorious stadium you call home? You must be having some *awful* luck.

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