8/11/15 at U.S. Cellular Field

Let’s begin with a three-part photo — that’s really the best way to explain how the day got started:

1_flying_into_chicago_meeting_brandon_at_the_airport_and_goofing_around_at_target

Part 1: I flew from New York City to Chicago.
Part 2: I met my friend Brandon Sloter at the airport.
Part 3: We had some harmless fun on the way to U.S. Cellular Field.

This was going to be my first of five games at five stadiums in five days, and it was clearly going to be the most fun. That’s because I’d made plans to meet up with a guy named Dan Katz, aka Big Cat, who runs the Chicago branch of Barstool Sports.

Here we are:

2_zack_and_dan_katz_aka_big_cat

(Best. Shirt. Ever.)

Big Cat really IS big, but not just in terms of his physical size. The dude is a celebrity. There’s no other way to describe it. Never mind his 141K Twitter followers; two nights earlier, he had sung drunken karaoke with Cubs All-Star Anthony Rizzo and General Manager Theo Epstein.

Given the fact that Barstool Sports had dissed me several times in the past, I was prepared for Big Cat to make fun of me, so I was stunned/delighted when I realized that wasn’t his goal. He admitted that at one point, he didn’t think too highly of me, but when he saw me snag A-Rod’s 3,000th hit, he was sold. He kept referring to me as “Foul Ball Guy” — a nickname I’ve heard semi-regularly over the past few years — and told me he was now “Team Foul Ball Guy for life.”

The purpose of this trip was for Brandon to film me at each stadium and make a bunch of videos for my YouTube channel. (He’s a professional videographer, and yeah, I paid him.) The purpose of meeting up with Big Cat was for him to do his own video for Barstool. And also, you know, to have fun. Here we are being filmed by his video guy, whose name was also Dan:

3_big_cat_and_zack_filming_opener_for_barstool_video

Big Cat was supposed to receive passes to get us inside the stadium early — a tremendous perk because the White Sox only open the gates 90 minutes before game time, so in order to actually see the home team take batting practice, one needs special privileges. How lame is that? Unfortunately Big Cat’s connection fell through, but we were saved at the last minute by one of my fellow ballhawks, pictured below on the right:

4_zack_with_dave_davison_and_rick_crowe

His name is Rick Crowe, and it just so happened that he was getting rewarded on this fine day with early access from his season ticket rep. This was only the second time all season that he got to do it, so the timing of my trip was incredibly lucky. It also didn’t hurt that Rick was super-friendly. He could’ve told me, “See ya when you get inside at 5:40pm,” but instead he got permission from his ticket rep to bring us all inside — me, Big Cat, Brandon, and Dan, along with two of his own friends. In the photo above, the guy on the left came in early with us. That’s the legendary and elusive Dave Davison. He would’ve been featured in my latest book, The Baseball, as one of the Top Ten ballhawks of all time had he not declined to be interviewed. Here I am with the other guy that Rick brought inside:

5_zack_and_rich_buhrke_08_11_15

That’s Rich Buhrke, and guess what? He *is* in the Top Ten section of the book (see pages 273-274).

It was great to catch up with him and the other guys, and of course I appreciated their generosity. They knew I’d be running around like a madman and competing with them for baseballs, yet they still welcomed me into their circle and brought me in early. That’s classy.

Just before we headed inside, I was recognized by a group of fans who wandered over and said hello. Here I am chatting with them:

6_zack_talking_to_fans_08_11_15

And then?
IT WAS ON.

Here’s a photo of Dave and Rich in left field during the final calm moment of the afternoon:

7_dave_davison_and_rich_buhrke_in_left_field

With the exception of racing a ballhawking legend (Dave) who screamed to distract me at the last second, my first ball of the day was fairly routine. It was a home run that landed in the left field bleachers and rattled around a bit. I don’t know who hit it. All I can tell you is that it was a right-handed batter on the White Sox.

Then something wacky happened. Thankfully both videographers got footage of it because if they hadn’t, no one would’ve believed me. Remember when I posted this tweet? Here are some screen shots to show how it went down. It began as I was using the glove trick to retrieve a ball from the gap behind the outfield wall:

8_zack_glove_trick_for_ball8337

As I was reeling it in . . .

9_ball8337_in_my_glove

. . . I heard the crack of the bat and looked up. Big Cat and Brandon were standing beside me, and they looked up too:

10_dan_zack_brandon_reacting_to_deep_fly_ball

The ball was pretty much heading right at us! There was nothing I could do because (a) my glove was still dangling on a long piece of string and (b) Brandon was blocking me from attempting to make a bare-handed catch.

I sensed that Dave was circling behind me and assumed that he was going to catch the ball, so as Brandon flinched and ducked out of the way, I had already turned my attention back to the glove trick.

THUMP!!!

I heard the ball hit something soft and figured it was Dave’s glove. The guy is as good at judging, tracking, and catching home runs as anyone I’ve ever seen, so he had to have caught it, right? That’s when Big Cat shouted, “Ohhh! It’s in the bag!”

Dave reached for the ball . . .

11_dave_davison_reacing_into_my_backpack

. . . and asked, “Whose bag is this?”

Big Cat said, “Zack’s — it counts as his.”

I was confused.

Dave told me it “went right in the bag,” and I was like, “No way.” By that point he had placed the ball back in the bag, so I reached in to try to figure out what was going on:

12_zack_reaching_into_backpack

I still thought he was kidding, so I tried to give the ball to him . . .

13_zack_offering_ball_to_dave

. . . but he wouldn’t take it. He said, “It went right in the bag! That’s your property. I’m not taking it.”

Big Cat was amazed. “Even your bag is catching balls!” he said. Then he walked over and looked at the camera . . .

14_big_cat_assessing_the_situation

. . . and added, “That’s just the Foul Ball Guy magic right there. Zack puts his bag down and the bag catches balls for him. Some guys have all the breaks.”

Dave later joked that he was going to Walmart to buy 100 cheap backpacks and place them all over the bleachers.

My fourth ball was another homer that landed in the mostly-empty stands. This time, instead of screaming, Dave threw his glove at me from about 50 feet away as I bent down to pick up the ball. He’s silly.

Then Big Cat got ejected from the stadium . . . temporarily. The White Sox were pissed at him for entering with Rick’s ticket rep after his own request for early access hadn’t been granted, so yeah, toward the end of White Sox BP, security walked over and lectured him and escorted him out. I think I was allowed to stay because I’d talked to Rick about this several days ahead of time, and he’d added my name to the list. I don’t know. Thankfully Big Cat made it back inside with a bit of BP remaining.

Here he is battling the sun:

15_big_cat_in_left_field

During the Angels’ portion of BP, I only managed to snag one ball, but it was a good one — a deep home run by Albert Pujols that I caught on the fly. That was my fifth ball of the day. Big Cat still had none, and since he’d never gotten one in his entire life, I wanted to make sure he didn’t go home empty-handed.

We headed over to right-center field for the last group of BP:

16_yacov_and_zack_in_right_field

Sometimes I feel like I have a great chance of catching a ball, but this was the opposite. It was dead out there. I just knew it wasn’t gonna happen, so we headed into foul territory, and I lent him my Angels shirt:

17_big_cat_borrowing_angels_gear

It looks good on him, right? That’s because it was an XL. Why did I have a shirt that big? Because I used to weigh a lot more, and I used to think it was cool to wear floppy clothes.

Here we are at the dugout just before BP ended:

18_zack_and_big_cat_wearing_angels_gear

I was hoping to get someone on the Angels to toss him a ball when everyone cleared the field.

In the following screen shot, you can see my hand pointing at him from the left side:

19_zack_trying_to_get_steve_soliz_to_throw_big_cat_a_ball

I had gotten the attention of bullpen coach Steve Soliz, and look! He threw a ball to Big Cat:

20_steve_soliz_throwing_the_ball

Here’s my man reaching out for the easy catch:

21_big_cat_reaching_out_for_the_catch

Even though it was a warm-up ball, he was pretty excited:

22_big_cat_happy

Then Soliz tossed a ball to me too. That was my sixth of the day, two of which I’d given to kids.

After all the players and coaches were gone, Big Cat and I removed our Angels gear and posed for a photo with a fellow ballhawk named Yacov Steinberg:

23_zack_with_big_cat_and_yacov

Then I spent some time with a few other folks:

24_zack_with_larry_nick_gabi_john

In the four-part photo above, starting on the top left and then going clockwise, I’m with:

1) a young man named Larry Larson, who had brought copies of all three of my books
2) Larry’s brother, Nick, who had me sign a baseball
3) a Top Ten ballhawk named John Witt; see pages 279-280 of The Baseball
4) 2015 BallhawkFest attendee Gabi Josefson

Big Cat, meanwhile, had been tweeting about our time together, which, not surprisingly, had gotten the haters all worked up. His replies to their negative comments were priceless. Check out this one:

25_big_cat_defending_me_on_twitter

Here’s another:

26_big_cat_defending_me_on_twitter

It was great to have Big Cat on my side.

After the national anthem . . .

27_aybar_trout_pujols_during_national_anthem

. . . I waved and shouted at Mike Trout, who spotted me in the crowd and waved back — pretty cool that he still recognizes me as the guy who caught his first MLB home run.

Here’s where we sat during the game:

28_view_from_left_field_during_the_game_08_11_15

As you can see, the first 10 rows were kind of crowded, but the back of the section was nearly empty:

29_big_cat_and_brandon_sitting_behind_me

Here I am schmoozing it up with Big Cat:

30_zack_and_big_cat_during_the_game

If someone had launched a ball in our direction, we would’ve had some room to maneuver, but unfortunately there were no home runs in the first half of the game. Perhaps out of boredom and/or self-loathing, Big Cat went and got a full-sized ice cream helmet sundae for $17. Look at this damn thing:

31_lots_and_lots_and_lots_of_ice_cream

I’m all about dessert and ice cream, and admittedly I suck at moderation, but dude. Seriously? Here he is eating it:

32_big_cat_full_size_ice_cream_helmet

Did you notice the whipped cream that he’d gotten on his glove? I scolded him for that in his video, which you’ll see in just a bit. Also, FYI, I’m glad to report that he was wearing that hat ironically.

After an inning of solid ice cream eating, Big Cat returned to the concession stand and got another spoon for me. I’m not sure if he was being generous or if he was just trying to distract me for the lulz, but he seemed to take pleasure in throwing me off my game. The only home run of the night happened to be the first of Trayce Thompson’s career, and yes, I *was* preoccupied with the ice cream, okay? But the ball landed two sections to our left in the middle of the second row, where it was bobbled back onto the field by a bunch of fans. In other words, there was no chance for me to catch it. Take a look for yourself.

In the 9th inning, we headed to the seats behind home plate:

33_view_behind_home_plate_in_the_9th_inning_08_11_15

I was hoping to get a ball from umpire Marcus Pattillo, but he didn’t give any away. (Hmph!) Even if he had, Larry and Nick Larson had already claimed the best spot, so I probably wouldn’t have gotten one.

I was disappointed that Mike Trout went hitless, but that was the case for most of his teammates. The White Sox won the game, 3-0, and limited the Angels to five hits. That said, it was a great day overall. It was nice to reconnect with Brandon (whom I hadn’t seen for months), and of course it was fun hanging out with Big Cat, who was both kind and hilarious.

Now it’s time for a couple of videos. First here’s the one that Brandon made:

Now here’s the video that Big Cat put together for Barstool Sports:

Good times! Thanks for watching and an even bigger thanks to Big Cat for being a part of it all.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

34_the_four_balls_i_kept• 6 baseball at this game (four pictured here because I gave two away)

• 534 balls in 74 games this season = 7.22 balls per game.

 75 lifetime balls in 11 games at U.S. Cellular Field = 6.82 balls per game.

• 1,127 consecutive games with at least one ball

8,340 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.)

• 24 donors for my fundraiser

• $162.54 pledged per game home run ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $150,650.16 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)

• $190,503.66 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

16 comments

  1. yacov

    It was nice to meet you again.
    ps i now have 298 baseballs. hopefully that will change Monday at Wrigley.

  2. Zack Hample

    LARRY-
    Thanks! Me too. It had been quite a while.

    YACOV-
    That’s a lot of baseballs. Have you reached 300 yet?

    EVERYTHING TWINS-
    Nope, haven’t been there since 2013.

    BALDBALL-
    Thanks!

    PADRE LEIGH-
    Better than Stubby Clapp?!

    RAY THE AUSTRALIAN-
    There are certain people I just can’t compete with. Sorry. I have let you down.

    JOHN-
    I miss it like crazy and would take it back in a heartbeat.

    TC-
    Glad you saw that. Eventually I’ll blog about it, but I have so many other games to write about first.

  3. tc

    spoil alert Anthony Rendon hr too. i always try to flip the robbed people a dummy ball . good ballhawk move..go METS

  4. Rebecca Garnett

    Man, Big Cat is a big dude. Funny seeing that first tweet, I was thinking to myself he looks like a bodyguard. Just looking at that sundae he bought made me gain 5 pounds.

  5. Zack Hample

    I would love to attempt to eat a whole one someday — and I want Big Cat there to protect me from all the people who’ll inevitably try to steal bites.

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