8/1/15 at Citi Field

Do you remember an event called BallhawkFest that took place for the first time on 7/23/11 at Camden Yards? Two years later, I attended BallhawkFest on 8/3/13 at Citizens Bank Park and had quite an eventful day. That’s when I had a black eye at the start, caught a John Mayberry homer in the 2nd inning, and later got hassled/ejected by stadium security.) Thankfully there was no drama at BallhawkFest in 2015. Take a look at the following photo and you’ll see what I mean:

1_ballhawks_huddling_on_the_field

See? No drama whatsoever.

All of the guys pictured above are members of a ballhawking website called MyGameBalls.com. The man in the white t-shirt is named Alan Schuster. He created that site and organized BallhawkFest. In the photo above, he was going over the procedures for our own Home Run Derby.

I spent most of my time at shortstop and in left field, but here’s a brief look I got from the area behind home plate:

2_leon_feingold_pitching_to_fukumi_kashiwagi

In the photo above, the pitcher (former minor leaguer Leon Feingold) and batter (his girlfriend Fukumi) are not members of MyGameBalls.com, but they’re two of my favorite people in New York City, so I invited them.

Here I am taking some swings:

3_zack_hitting_with_a_painful_ribcage_injury

My excuse for looking stiff at the plate and not hitting for much power is that I had a “strained intercostal muscle” on my right side. (No, really. You have to believe me.) It hurt when I laughed. It hurt when I sneezed. It even hurt when I took a deep breath or rolled over in bed. One week earlier, my ribcage was so painful that I’d gotten X-rays, and ever since then, I’d been icing it several times per day. And now here I was swinging a baseball bat because I’m an idiot. What can I say? I couldn’t resist.

The final round of the Derby featured the massive Mark McConville of Suffern, New York, versus the scrawny-by-comparison Alex Kopp of Baltimore, Maryland — and guess who won? That’s right . . . Alex. And he did it in dramatic, tie-breaking fashion. Mark had tremendous home run power, but given the fact that one point was awarded for each batted ball to reach the “outfield grass” on the fly, Alex managed to poke and slash his way to the top.

Here’s a group photo that we took after the Derby (with everyone’s names and MyGameBalls.com profiles below):

4_group_photo_at_the_field2

1) Leon Feingold (holding a big bag of popcorn; that’s how former competitive eaters roll)
2) Tim Anderson (wearing some super-stylish shades)
3) Ryan Feuerstein (wearing flip flops for some reason)
4) Alex Kopp (who deserved to be standing in front after his historic performance)
5) Rick Sporcic  (who generously provided all the baseballs)
6) Greg Barasch (who doesn’t look all that athletic but is dazzlingly smooth)
7) Emilio (the youngest participant without parental supervision)
8) Leon’s friend (whose name I forget, but I do remember that he played in the IBL)
9) Zack Hample (the first person to wear the official BallhawkFest shirt)
10) Alan Schuster (without whom none of this would’ve happened)
11) Mateo Fischer (who now ballhawks at Target Field since going to college in Minnesota)
12) Ben Weil’s friend Sonny (who displayed some good power during an early round of BP)
13) Ben Weil (aka the one and only “Benny Bang Bang”)
14) Mark McConville (whose longballs nearly smashed a few windshields on 11th Avenue)
15) Gabi Josefson (who traveled here with his father, Avi, all the way from Chicago)

Somehow Jacob Resnick (who helped Alan with some organizational stuff) wasn’t in that photo, but you’ll see him in the next group shot, which was taken at a baseball-themed bar/restaurant in Midtown called Foley’s. Here’s what the place looked like on the outside:

5_outside_foleys

We all felt very welcomed . . .

6_ballhawk_sign_at_foleys

. . . thanks to Rick Gold, who knows the owner and met us there for lunch. Here’s our group at a long table in the back:

7_people_seated_inside_foleys

Alan was in the process of organizing a drawing for some baseball-related prizes, which had been donated by a Chicago ballhawk named Rick Crowe.

In the photo above, look for the green shirt hanging at the top. See the portion of the wall directly below it? Those are all signed baseballs in that case. There are thousands more displayed elsewhere at Foley’s. It’s pretty damn cool.

We hung out there until about 3pm and then took another group photo:

8_group_photo_at_foleys

That’s Jacob Resnick on the left. Rick Gold is standing behind Ryan, just to the right of Emilio.

After lunch, we walked to the subway at Times Square:

9_walking_to_the_subway

Here are a bunch of us on the No. 7 train:

10_ballhawks_on_the_7_train

Then we stood around outside Citi Field and waited:

11_ballhawks_outside_citi_field

Some of us had to wait a bit longer than others. That’s because the Mets offer early entry on the weekends to season ticket holders.

Before I headed inside, I got a photo with Gabi who’d brought his copy of my latest book, The Baseball:

12_zack_and_gabi_with_the_baseball

You’d think that being inside a stadium half an hour earlier than most other fans would result in a huge day, but (a) I had to compete with Ben, Greg, Rick Gold, Ryan, and a few other folks and (b) Citi Field is a tough place. My first ball of the day was a homer by a Mets righty that I caught on the fly in left field:

13_ball8286_bp_homer_by_the_mets

Then I headed over to right field, which, at Citi Field, to put it lightly, is not a great place to snag baseballs, but hey, every batter in the Mets’ next group was left-handed, so where the hell else was I supposed to go?

Ben was positioned one section to my left . . .

14_ben_on_my_left_in_right_field

. . . and his wife, Jen, was standing one section to my right:

15_jen_on_my_right_in_right_field

See her there above the Honda logo? If you look very closely at that photo, you’ll notice a ball sitting on the grass below her in the gap behind the outfield wall.

Here’s a photo that she took as I attempted to snag it with my glove trick:

16_glove_trick_for_ball8287

That was my second ball of the day.

People often ask me if the glove trick is allowed at Citi Field. The answer is murky. It depends on who’s watching. Some guards tell me it’s not allowed while others don’t seem to notice or care — that is, if their bosses haven’t issued an order THAT DAY over their walkie-talkies telling them to stop me. I’m not joking.

My third ball was tossed up from the left field party deck by a guard, and my fourth ball was thrown by Juan Lagares in left field. Then the Nationals came out:

17_nationals_warming_up_08_01_15

The following photo doesn’t begin to show how crowded it got:

18_crowd_on_my_right_during_bp_08_01_15

I wish I had photos of the packed left field seats at the end of BP, but oops, I forgot. I did manage to snag a couple of home runs out there before it got totally insane — one on a bounce and another off the facade of the second deck. I gave two of my six baseballs to kids.

This was my view during the game:

19_view_from_left_field_during_the_game_08_01_15

Look how crowded it was:

20_left_field_crowded_during_the_game_08_01_15

This game had the second-highest attendance (42,996) in the history of Citi Field!

Good for the Mets.
Good for New York City.
Bad if you’re trying to catch a baseball.

Why was the crowd so huge? Because it was a summer Saturday with perfect weather and there was a fireworks show scheduled after the game. Also, the Mets and Nationals were battling it out for 1st place in the NL East, and Jacob deGrom was pitching.

This was the scoreboard in the 4th inning:

21_scoreboard_in_the_4th_inning_08_01_15

A pitcher’s duel? UGH!! I was antsy and had too much energy, so I headed to the upper deck. I hadn’t been there for six years, so it was all pretty much new to me. Check out the huge baseball stitches painted onto the open-air concourse behind home plate:

22_upper_deck_concourse_08_01_15

This was my view from the last row:

23_view_from_the_upper_deck_08_01_15

I wandered all over the place for the next hour. I wanted ice cream but didn’t bother because the line was too long. I didn’t know what to do with myself, and then something wonderful happened. I found a ticket for Section 126, so I watched the final inning of the game from a decent spot:

24_closer_view_in_the_8th_inning

The Mets had come back to take a one-run lead, and the crowd was *really* into it:

25_very_crowded_everyone_excited

Mets closer Jeurys Familia retired the side in order in the top of the 9th.

Final score: Mets 3, Nationals 2.

I tried to get a ball from the players walking in from the bullpen . . .

26_game_over_mets_win

. . . but it was no use. Losing teams usually aren’t generous.

Ten minutes later, I took a photo of — could it be?!?!

27_citi_field_getting_blown_up

Oh no, wait . . . it was just fireworks:

28_oh_it_was_only_fireworks

While that was taking place, I rounded up my fellow ballhawks for a group photo:

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Here’s the final “box score” from BallhawkFest, which shows who snagged baseballs and how/when/where they got ’em. Props to Gabi for catching the only game-used ball of the night.

On our way out of the stadium, I tried to pose for a photo that would show the four-digit number on the back of my shirt:

30_zack_four_digits_on_ballhawkfest_shirt

That number represents my lifetime total of baseballs, or at least what the total was when the t-shirt orders were placed. Do you remember this group photo of everyone’s shirts/numbers from 2011? Or this one from 2013? I wish we’d gotten a similar photo this time, but we just didn’t get around to it.

This next photo should be called “Straight Outta Flushing”:

31_walking_to_ben_weils_car

That was taken just a half-mile from Citi Field on a cruddy back road near the chop shops. Stupid Alex had left something in Ben’s car (which was parked near that gloomy spot), but rather than meeting him at the subway after he’d retrieved it, the rest of us decided to walk with him. So there we were, hoping not to get lost or die.

On the way, Greg made a snide remark (containing an expletive, of course) about all the stray cats running around, and just then, out of nowhere, a crazy cat lady appeared and defended her furry friends, screaming at us about how they’re homeless and hungry and how we should be helpful and more sensitive. (Greg’s comment, by the way, wasn’t particularly insensitive. He merely asked, “What’s with all these [bleeping] cats?” I thought it was a good, reasonable question, and in fact I had been wondering the same thing.) Her outrage didn’t frighten us or motivate us to join the ASPCA. Instead it made us hysterical — but the funniest moment of the night was yet to come. That took place when all seven of us crammed into Ben’s small-ish car for a ride to the subway. Check it out:

32_seven_people_in_the_car

Here are some of the highlights from the short ride:

TIM: “For the record, this is a hundred percent Alex’s fault.”

GREG: “You and your [bleeping] Bobblehead.”

ZACK: “Mateo, your hair is very soft on my thighs.”

MATEO: “I’m glad.”

ZACK: “This is gonna be funny when we all get out. It’s gonna look like a [clown] car.”

GREG: “How many points [on your license] do you have, Benny? Are you up over a hundred yet?”

TIM: “So basically, he’s gonna go to prison if we get caught.”

ZACK: “Benny, are you the one that told me that you once ate pancakes while you were driving?”

BEN: “I ate soup while I was driving.”

TIM: “Can we not coast next to the cop car?”

ZACK: “We’re about to get rear-ended.”

ALEX: “Mateo’s about to get rear-ended, lemme tell you!”

And so on. I have a four-minute audio recording, and it’s basically the funniest thing ever.

The Citi Field portion of the day was difficult for a number of reasons, but I’m glad we finally did BallhawkFest in New York City. The rest of the day sure was fun.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

33_the_four_balls_i_kept_08_01_15• 6 baseball at this game (four pictured here because I gave two away)

• 485 balls in 68 games this season = 7.13 balls per game.

 1,231 lifetime balls in 166 games at Citi Field = 7.42 balls per game.

• 1,121 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 503 consecutive Mets home games with at least one ball

8,291 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)

• $150,626.16 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)

• $190,479.66 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

6 comments

  1. Mike

    If your buddy Rick reads these comments, he needs to explain how to get a football at a game. I saw he mentioned this on Twitter. It seems nearly impossible at MetLife Stadium with all the security and usher spots. I’d love to hear what his secrets are.

  2. Zack Hample

    DEMETRIUS-
    I wish you could’ve been there too, but yeah, the ballhawking was tough for most people.

    MIKE-
    I’m curious too, but I guess he hasn’t seen this. Or maybe he was only willing to share the secrets with me, if I wanted to know them.

    REBECCA GARNETT-
    Two days ago, one of the guards told me that his bosses think I “take balls from kids.” I happened to give four of my six balls that day to kids, so it’s especially frustrating to be treated badly there when the reasoning behind it is totally wrong.

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