8/13/15 at Busch Stadium

This was my third stadium in three days, and once again, things got off to a lousy start. That’s because I found out at the very last minute that Busch Stadium now opens half an hour later on weekdays. Fans used to be able to enter two hours early every day, but since this was a Thursday, the gates opened just 90 minutes before game time. For a team with such a huge and passionate fan base, that’s awful.

This was the scene outside the left-center field gates:

1_crowd_outside_busch_stadium_08_13_15

In the previous photo, the building on the right wasn’t there the last time I visited Busch Stadium. It’s part of the new St. Louis Ballpark Village. I would’ve liked to go inside and explore, but there wasn’t time.

Just before heading inside, I switched into my Pirates gear:

2_zack_ready_to_enter_08_13_15

I usually dress for the home team when entering a stadium, but because the gates opened so late, the Cardinals had finished taking batting practice, and the Pirates were already on the field.

The previous image is a screen shot from a video that was filmed by my friend Brandon Sloter. I’ll share that video at the end of this entry, but for now, here’s the only “action” shot from BP:

3_ball8344_in_midair

Getting a ball thrown to me in a mostly-empty stadium wouldn’t normally be much of a highlight, but this one was kinda cool. As soon as I caught the ball, Tony Watson, the player who tossed it, pointed at me and shouted my nickname: “Foul Ball Guy!”

“That’s me!” I shouted back, surprised that he recognized me.

“You caught A-Rod’s homer, right?”

Rather than answering him, I asked a question of my own: “Don’t you think I’ve graduated to ‘Home Run Guy’ as a nickname?”

“You caught A-Rod’s homer, right?” he asked again.

“Yeah, man, that’s cool that you saw that,” I said, resisting the urge to explain that I hadn’t actually caught the ball, but rather picked it up off the ground. Then I added, “Thanks for helping me get on the board today.”

“Pirates fan for life now?” asked Watson (who, by the way, was standing next to Gerrit Cole).

4_zack_talking_to_pirates

I didn’t hear him at first, so he repeated himself.

“I’m more of a baseball fan,” I said. “I don’t want to say it too loud, but between you guys and the Cardinals, it’s you all the way.”

That was the truth. I usually root for the underdog and/or the visiting team, and in addition to that, the Cardinals had just screwed me out of 30 minutes of BP, so I really did want the Pirates to win.

Just as I was settling into a decent spot for BP . . .

5_view_from_the_bleachers_during_the_only_group_of_bp

. . . it ended! Look at this crap:

6_groundkeepers_removing_screen_and_batting_cage

I’d been inside the stadium for 10 whole minutes, and BP was done. It’s bad enough when that happens in New York when I’m by myself; the fact that it happened here at my only game at Busch Stadium with a professional videographer that I was paying to get good footage of me . . . GAH!!!

After BP, I got some random guy in the bullpen to toss me a ball:

7_ball8345_in_midair

That was a nice little bonus. Now I had two baseballs . . .

8_balls8344_and8345

. . . which I realize is two more than most people will ever snag in their entire lives, but I was still tremendously disappointed.

A few minutes later, I caught up with a guy named Steve who’d been following me on Twitter:

9_zack_and_steve_08_13_15

Nice guy. We chatted for a while, and I signed a ball for him:

10_steve_with_a_perfect_zack_hample_autograph

(FYI, when I sign baseballs for people, I sign *their* baseballs. Some folks occasionally ask me to sign and expect ME to provide the ball. That’s not how it works.)

Before the game, I got my third ball of the day in left field. Pirates bullpen catcher Heberto Andrade tossed it to me as he walked into the bullpen:

11_ball8346_in_midair

Here’s where I sat for the entire game:

12_view_during_1st_inning_08_13_15

I usually stay in the outfield, but Busch Stadium is always so crowded, and it’s a bad place to catch home runs, and I was still in a pissy mood from the lack of BP, and I just wanted to sit close to the action and enjoy the game (and maybe get another ball or two).

If the rules at Busch were anything like those at the Texas Rangers’ stadium, I would’ve been sitting beside the grassy berm in center field, and I almost certainly would’ve snagged Pedro Alvarez’s 1st-inning home run that landed there. In Arlington, fans are allowed to run out there for baseballs, even during BP, but here in St. Louis, it’s forbidden (unless, you know, David Freese hits a walk-off shot to end a World Series game, in which case all hell breaks loose, and there’s nothing that stadium security can do about it), so an usher went and retrieved the ball:

13_usher_retrieving_home_run_ball

BORING!!

As it turned out, that was the only homer of the game, so it’s just as well that I wasn’t sitting in the outfield.

Cardinals starter Lance Lynn didn’t make it out of the 1st inning, though it wasn’t entirely his fault. Thanks in part to a throwing error by 3rd baseman Matt Carpenter, he gave up seven runs (three earned) in two-thirds of an inning. Here he is making an early exit:

14_lance_lynn_early_exit

Take a look at the scoreboard:

15_pirates_with_seven_runs_in_the_top_of_the_1st_inning

Ouch!

Before the bottom of the 1st got underway, Pirates 3rd base coach Rick Sofield tossed me the infield warm-up ball. Look closely and you’ll see my glove poking out behind Big Red:

16_ball8347_in_midair

I gave that ball to the nearest/smallest kid:

17_zack_giving_the_ball_to_a_kid_08_13_15

Halfway through the game, Brandon headed to the upper deck and took the following photo:

18_photo_from_the_upper_deck_taken_by_brandon_sloter

That doesn’t even begin to show his skills with a camera, but trust me, he’s REALLY good. You should check him out on Instagram, especially in you’re into photos of live music, nature/weather, baseball stadiums, and Crystal Hefner.

Here’s what things looked like from my perspective in the 6th inning:

19_stadium_skyline_arch_at_dusk

With one out in the bottom of the 7th, I got my fifth ball in a very unusual way. Here’s how it all went down:

1) Pirates manager Clint Hurdle made a double-switch.
2) Michael Morse entered the game to play 1st base.
3) Home plate umpire Larry Vanover threw him a ball with which to warm up.
4) Morse eventually threw the ball back to the Pirates’ dugout.
5) Someone in the dugout tossed it into the crowd.
6) The ball landed on the dugout roof and was picked up by an usher.
7) I was the first one to ask him for it, so he handed it to me.

Ta-DAAA!!

I can’t officially call it an “umpire ball” since it didn’t come directly from Vanover, but it came from his pouch, and it’s mud-rubbed, and I still think it’s cool. Here it is:

20_ball8348

By the end of the 8th inning, the Cardinals had closed the deficit to 7-5, but the Pirates scored three runs in the top of the 9th — and that was it.

I tried to get a ball at the dugout after the game . . .

21_zack_at_the_dugout_after_the_game_08_13_15

. . . but came up empty.

A few minutes later, I took off my Pirates gear and caught up with an old friend named Darron who now works for the Cardinals:

22_zack_and_darron_the_usher

Ready to see something funny/cute? Here we are on 5/22/07 at Busch Stadium (which was my first time there) and here we are again on 9/21/11 at Busch Stadium (when I visited all 30 stadiums in one season). At this rate, we’re due to cross paths again in 2019. Darron will probably be the head of security by then, so we can all look forward to Busch Stadium opening two and a half hours early every day.

On my way out, I took one final photo of the stadium:

23_empty_seats_after_the_game_08_13_15

And now, as promised, here’s the video that Brandon filmed and edited. I wish there were more action, but I still think it’s interesting. Enjoy!

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 5 baseballs at this game

• 542 balls in 76 games this season = 7.13 balls per game.

 48 lifetime balls in 7 games at Busch Stadium = 6.86 balls per game.

• 1,129 consecutive games with at least one ball

8,348 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

13 comments

  1. Nick

    Aww zack! I wish I would’ve known you were gonna be in St Louis! I would’ve gotten a ticket for the game so we could’ve met. Oh well that sucks. Maybe next time

  2. jeff sellars

    Email me if you are ever close to Huntsville, AL and I will take you on a tour of Marshall Space Flight Center.

  3. Ian

    Hey Zack! When do you think you will put up the rest of the blogs? I know you’ve been busy but I love reading the blogs!

  4. Zack Hample

    IAN-
    I’m waiting for my friend Brandon to edit the videos. I don’t understand why he has needed two months. As soon as he sends me the KC video, I’ll blog about that game, and if he ever does the Milwaukee video, that entry will also get written and posted. So annoying.

    T.C.-
    I would love to see skinny Heath. Send me a link if you find a good photo.

  5. Russell

    Zack, I like your blog. If you had to rank all 30 ballpark from 1 being your favorite place for catch balls (batting practice, during games) to 30 being your least favorite what would it be? Maybe you could write a blog about it and tells us why you put each ballpark at that particular rank. If you have already done something like this could you post a link for me?
    Thanks

  6. Zack Hample

    Thanks very much! That’s a good question about ballparks, but I don’t have time right now to put that much thought into it. Also, the answer changes every season based on the different rules that teams put in place as well as the size of the crowds. Camden Yards used to me by favorite. Then it was lousy for a few years. Now it might be getting good again, so it’s hard to say.

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