7/10/15 at Citi Field

This was a Watch With Zack game, and my “client” was a nine-year-old boy named Alexandre, who had never been to a game before. How is that possible? Because he’s from France. His mother is a longtime family friend, so when they planned their trip to New York City, she arranged for me to take her son to Citi Field.

I met up with Alexandre in midtown at around 3:30pm, and we headed out to Queens together on the No. 7 train. He and I had met several times before, and he speaks fluent English (with a charming accent), so it wasn’t awkward at all. On the contrary, it was nice to have lots of time together so that we could get to know each other better.

Soon after we exited the subway, I took a photo of him standing beside the original Home Run Apple from Shea Stadium:

1_alexandre_home_run_apple

Then we headed over to the gates and got someone to take a photo of us:

2_alexandre_and_zack_outside_the_gates

While waiting for the stadium to open, I was approached by a young fan named Alex who’d brought two of my books for me to sign — Watching Baseball Smarter and The Baseball. Here we are:

3_alex_and_zack_with_books

Alexandre chatted a bit with some of the regulars, and when the stadium opened at 5:10pm, we all hurried inside. Some people headed toward the foul lines for autographs, while others went to straight-away left or right field in the hope of catching a home run. I figured our best shot was to go for a toss-up from one of the Mets players in right-center — a long run from the Rotunda entrance, but Alexandre did a great job of keeping pace with me.
3b_jon_niese_2015
Within the first few minutes, Jon Niese walked over to retrieve a ball on the warning track. Given the fact that he recognizes me and, generally speaking, doesn’t seem to want to add to my collection, I knew I had to get a bit creative with my request.

“Jon,” I said, “is there any chance you could spare a baseball, please, for my young friend who’s here all the way from France for his first game?”

It was a mouthful, but I got it all out just before he picked up the ball. And it worked! He looked up at us and threw it to me. I gave him a huge “thank you” and then handed the souvenir to Alexandre:

4_alexandre_with_ball8207

For stat-keeping purposes, since I was the one who obtained possession of the ball first, it counted toward my grand total. Alexandre didn’t care — he was just thrilled to have a baseball at his first game — but I really wanted to help him snag one on his own.

We headed to left field for the Diamondbacks’ portion of batting practice:

5_alexandre_watching_batting_practice

I got two toss-ups there. The first came from Oliver Perez, and I gave it to a kid who had just gotten bonked on the head by a home run that took a crazy deflection. (He was fine, and his mother was grateful.) The second came from a player that I couldn’t identify — probably Rubby De La Rosa — and I gave it to Alexandre.

After BP we headed back to right-center field, where a guard tossed half a dozen balls into the crowd from the dead area behind the outfield wall. Here’s a screen shot from a video that shows him tossing one:

6_guard_tossing_balls_from_the_gap

Here are three more toss-ups, the last of which sailed right toward us:

7_guard_tossing_balls_from_the_gap

I was hoping that Alexandre would snag it, but it was just above his reach, so I caught it and handed it to him. It turned out to be an old Selig/Training ball, which was kinda cool, but my friend Chris Hernandez got one that was much more special. Check it out:

8_chris_alexandre_andrew

In the photo above, that’s Chris on the left with a “final season” ball from Shea Stadium. Those haven’t been used since 2008 (?!?!) and he’d never gotten one, so you can imagine how excited he was. In the middle, you can see Alexandre with his Training ball, and on the right is a fellow ballhawk named Andrew Korpacz who’d gotten a regular/Manfred ball. All three of those had been tossed up by the guard after BP.

To recap, I had snagged four balls and given one to a random kid, which meant that Alexandre had three:

9_zack_and_alexandre_with_three_baseballs

Aww yeah!

As you can see, he had also gotten a free shirt. It was “Emoji Night” or something ridiculous like that.

During the lull between BP and the game, I caught up with a friend named Jeff Sammut, who was visiting from Toronto. Here we are:

10_zack_and_jeff_sammut

If Jeff looks familiar, that’s because he hosts a late-night talk radio show on a station called Sportsnet 590 The FAN, and he has appeared on my blog several times. Remember this photo of us from the first time we met after the game on 5/27/11 at Rogers Centre? We ran into each other a year later on 6/28/12 at Yankee Stadium, and two years after that, when I was in Canada with my rubber band ball, Jeff had me back in the studio. He’s a great guy and knows a TON about sports. Follow him on Twitter and check out his show. Even if you live far away. You can listen live on the internet.

After saying goodbye to Jeff, I had a brief conversation with Diamondbacks bullpen catcher Mark Reed, who has recognized me since 2013. And then, without my asking, he tossed me a ball — my 5th of the day. Chris could’ve easily robbed me (because he was standing nearby and had a better angle), but knowing that I have a personal connection with Reed and that he ball was intended for me, he let me have it. And then I gave it to Alexandre.

At around 7pm, I took Alexandre to get some food:

11_alexandre_preparing_his_hot_dog

It’s a good thing he’s a fast eater because our seats were behind the 3rd base dugout, and at the end of the 1st inning, we had a chance to snag a ball. Kevin Plawecki grounded to 3rd baseman Jake Lamb for the final out, at which point we hurried down to the bottom of the staircase. As 1st baseman Paul Goldschmidt approached with the ball in his hand, I shouted his name and then pointed at my young companion. Goldschmidt looked up and gave a subtle nod, and just before he disappeared below the dugout roof, he rolled the ball to Alexandre.

SWEET!!

Here he is with it:

12_alexandre_with_a_ball_he_got_on_his_own_from_paul_goldschmidt

What a great feeling for both of us. He was excited to have snagged his first ball on his own, and I was glad to have helped. Alexandre, unfortunately, had never heard of Paul Goldschmidt, so I tried to explain how good he is and how special it was to have gotten a game-used ball from him.

Here’s a closer look at the ball:

13_closeup_of_the_ball_from_goldschmidt

After we got that ball, the few other kids in the section realized that they might be able to get one too, so Alexandre suddenly had a little competition. Here he is with two other kids at the bottom of the stairs:

14_alexandre_and_other_kids_going_for_baseballs

To be clear, it was a friendly competition. The other kids recognized me from TV, and I talked to them (and to other fans) throughout the game. Here’s one of the kids running up the stairs excitedly with a ball in his hand:

15_one_of_the_other_kids_with_a_ball

I’m telling you, there were plenty of baseballs to go around. In addition to all the 3rd-out balls and foul squibbers that ended up getting tossed into the seats, Diamondbacks 1st base coach Dave McKay gave away the infield warm-up ball every inning. The first two innings, he hooked up a pair of kids sitting one section over, and before the bottom of the 3rd got underway, I saw him toss a ball to a grown woman in Mets gear. I figured I’d give it a shot the following inning, and whaddaya know? I got it. No competition. He rolled it right to me on the dugout roof. That was my 6th ball of the day, and it was the only one that I kept.

In the 6th inning, with the Mets leading, 4-1, I explained infield warm-up balls to Alexandre and gave him detailed instructions about how and when to try to get one. I told him that if he felt comfortable, he could move over to the next section on his own and that I’d keep an eye on him. He wanted to go for it, and here’s what happened:

16_dave_mckay_tossing_an_infield_warmup_ball

In the photo above, I’ve circled his glove in red. He was in the perfect spot, but McKay tossed the ball to someone else.

Fast-forward an inning. I lent Alexandre my Diamondbacks cap and encouraged him to give it another try. This was the result:

17_alexandre_with_a_ball_in_the_middle_of_the_7th_inning

Did you notice the pinstripes on the inside of his glove? Twenty-four hours earlier, he didn’t even own a glove, so my mother bought one for him at the last second — at a Yankees Clubhouse Shop.

Alexandre had snagged two baseballs on his own, but he hadn’t faced any competition, nor did he actually have to catch them, as they had both been rolled to him across the dugout roof. Juan Lagares made the final out of the 8th inning with a fly ball to left fielder David Peralta, and as Alexandre scrambled down to the front with a growing cluster of kids, I had no idea what to expect. I wasn’t concerned that he’d get hurt — just that he might get boxed out of position and end up feeling a bit frustrated. I hurriedly grabbed my camera as the Diamondbacks approached the dugout. All I knew was that the ball had been thrown around, but I wasn’t sure who had it. Alexandre, still wearing my D’backs cap, instinctively shuffled over to the left side of the staircase when he realized that the player with the ball — A.J. Pollock, I think — was approaching from the left side. (My MAN!!) And then the ball was tossed his way:

18_alexandre_getting_his_3rd_ball

Here’s a closer look:

19_alexandre_getting_his_3rd_ball

Despite all the other kids who were jostling for position and reaching for the ball (and despite the fact that a baseball glove was essentially a foreign object to him), Alexandre caught it! Outstanding!!

I was so proud of him, and I’m sure he felt a tremendous sense of accomplishment. Can you imagine snagging TWO game-used baseballs at your first major league game ever? And getting a 3rd one during the game as well? And being given four extra balls by the legendary Zack Hample? Okay, sorry, I got a little carried away there for a moment, but seriously, Alexandre must’ve been feeling like a superstar.

The 9th inning had a little excitement when Yasmany Tomas led off with an extra-base hit and got hosed at 3rd — or did he? The Diamondbacks challenged the call, and after a lengthy review, he was ruled safe. This was our view one minute later:

20_view_late_in_the_game copy

Tomas scored on a one-out single by Welington Castillo, and that was it. Final score: Mets 4, Diamondbacks 2. (Tip of the cap to Noah Syndergaard who struck out 13 batters in eight innings.)

After the game, Alexandre and I posed for a photo with some of our baseballs:

21_zack_and_alexandre_postgame

Then he picked out a brand-new, stars-n-stripes Mets cap at the team store:

22_alexandre_new_hat

On our way out, I explained who Jackie Robinson was and took Alexandre’s photo with the huge “42”:

23_alexandre_with_the_number_42

Then we ran into a well-known fan named “COWBELL MAN” . . .

24_alexandre_and_cowbell_man

. . . and headed back to Manhattan on the subway:

25_alexandre_and_zack_on_the_train

What an awesome day.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 6 baseball at this game

• 403 balls in 54 games this season = 7.46 balls per game.

1,193 lifetime balls in 159 games at Citi Field = 7.50 balls per game.

• 1,107 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

495 consecutive Mets home games with at least one ball

41 consecutive Watch With Zack games with at least one ball; click here for a whole lot of Watch With Zack stats and records

8,209 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

pitch_in_for_baseball(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.)

• 22 donors for my fundraiser

• $156.54 pledged per game home run ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $150,313.08 raised this season (including a $150,000 donation from the Yankees in exchange for my giving Alex Rodriguez the ball from his 3,000th career hit)

• $190,268.58 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

15 comments

  1. Brian

    Looks like you guys had a lot of fun!! Oh, and that is pretty cool that not only did he go to the game, but he also got a few baseballs from the legendary Zack Hample. I literally laughed out loud when I read that. :-)

  2. tcpetcoparktopballhawkpadreleigh2

    good luck getting another arod hr 40th bday today btw in Chicago next weekend ….. david murphy is one hr away from 100 home runs hope he waits til next Monday cle at angels heard u r goin to mil? padres at brewers nice

  3. Zack Hample

    BRIAN-
    We sure did. Glad I brought a smile/LOL to your face.

    T.C.-
    Thanks. I hope the next homer that A-Rod hits to me is not a milestone because I already know that I’m gonna want to keep it. My money is on you to beat Leigh to 20 homers. (No offense, Leigh, but T.C. roams more, so I think his odds are better.)

  4. ThatBallhawk

    So the usher on the bottom of the 14th photo (the lady) has yelled at me a couple times for asking for a ball and I made peace with her but she asked Ben (benny_bang_bang) “what does he do with all of the balls he catches?!?!?!” lol just felt like sharing that.
    -Demetrius

  5. Tracy Collins

    French fries ?parlez vousFrancais? How do you say can I have a baseball in French ?? see MLB opening series in Europe soon? Murphy now an angel. Playing against his old team Monday 99 red balloons

  6. Zack Hample

    “Lancez moi la balle s’il vous plait,” or something like that. Seeing MLB in Europe would be amazing, especially in London where I have family and a free place to stay. Good luck with Murph.

  7. jvfuentes

    I was noting that stylish glove! Gotta say though, I like the silver side more than the pinstripes.

  8. raytheaustralian

    Way to put a smile on a kid`s face and spread the word for baseball. You`re a great ambassador for the game. I can`t help but smile at the contrast though. Entertaining former adult star one day , bright-eyed child the next. For the record , they both look like nice people. It`s certainly never boring. Encore encore.

  9. Zack Hample

    JVFUENTES-
    Haha, I hear ya about the glove.

    RAY THE AUSTRALIAN-
    Thanks! And yeah, quite a contrast indeed. They’re both extremely nice, and if I had to predict, I’d say I’ll end up at baseball games with both of them again — probably Lisa first.

  10. CF

    Hey Zack. I love what you do and think it’s so cool and I’m a big fan! I’ve also seen all of your videos! I was just wondering how you can afford all of these baseball games? Do you have a side job?
    – your fan,
    CF

  11. Zack Hample

    Thanks. I work at my family’s book store. I’ve also written three books. I also get paid, on occasion, to give speeches, be on TV, and take people to baseball games. And people sometimes pay for me to go to games.

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