9/16/15 at Citizens Bank Park

The Phillies entered the day with MLB’s worst record: 56 wins and 90 losses — not the most exciting time for fans of the team . . .

1_man_lying_in_the_shade

. . . but personally I loved the laid-back atmosphere at the stadium. Two days earlier, I’d driven down to Philly for my birthday and snagged a total of 14 baseballs, including a home run that Anthony Rendon hit on the first pitch of the game. I was hoping for another big day, and with school back in session (and the heavy-hitting Nationals in town), I liked my chances.

This was my view during the Phillies’ portion of batting practice:

2_view_from_left_field_during_batting_practice_09_16_15

Nothing special, right? Well, check out all these empty seats on my left:

3_empty_seats_on_my_left_09_16_15

To be clear, it wasn’t THAT empty for all of BP, but you get the idea. There wasn’t a whole lot of competition, and I did well from the start. I snagged four home runs from the Phillies, and though I’m not sure who hit any of them, I can tell you the basic details. The first homer deflected off the tip of my glove as a ran and lunged back, but I was able to recover it in the seats. The second ball landed three sections to my right, and I raced across and grabbed it. I caught the third one on the fly after climbing down over a row, and I caught the fourth after running a full section to my right.

There weren’t many kids, and over the course of the day, I gave away nearly half my baseballs, so no one was pissed. On the contrary, folks seemed to get a kick out of seeing me in action.

This was the scene when the Nationals took the field:

4_nationals_playing_with_toy_football_thingies

Basically the pitchers were goofing off in the outfield under the pretense of warming up, and the batters were launching baseballs all over the place.

My fifth ball was a home run to left-center that I scrambled for in the seats — same deal for my sixth except I managed to identify Ian Desmond as the guy who hit it. Ball No. 7 was a homer that I caught on the fly after climbing onto a seat in the front row. That one had some cool markings on it:

5_ball_with_cool_marking

Then I caught a pair of Wilson Ramos homers on the fly thanks to some precision maneuvering, but I don’t mean to be cocky; I’ll admit that misjudged a couple and cost myself some opportunities. It happens. Life goes on. My 10th ball was a Dan Uggla homer that I caught after drifting down the steps, and No. 11 was a homer by Wilmer Difo that I caught while jumping as high as possible.

Normally, at Citizens Bank Park, I spend some time in right field, but the Nationals had so many great righties that I stayed in left.

At the very end of BP, I raced over to the 3rd base dugout . . .

6_view_from_dugout_after_batting_practice

. . . but didn’t get anything there. I did, however, get my 12th ball of the day after watching Gio Gonzalez warm up from the right-center field concourse:

7_gio_gonzalez_warming_up

That one was tossed by Nationals bullpen coach Matthew LeCroy.

My ticket for the game was in the 4th row in straight-away left field:

8_ticket_09_16_15

This was my view in the top of the 1st inning:

9_view_during_game_09_16_15

Perhaps you noticed that I wasn’t sitting in the 4th row. It was more crowded down in front, so I stayed back where there was much more room — and would you believe that a crabby usher gave me a hard time about not sitting in my ticketed seat? Her argument went something along the lines of, “If I let you sit anywhere you want, everyone else will want to do it too.” When I explained that I just wanted to have a little extra space because I was hoping to catch a home run, she snapped, “You think it’s all about YOU!”

I admit it. I’m a terrible person. But hey, I convinced her to let me stay, and I took a photo of the space on my right:

10_empty_seats_on_my_right_09_16_15

I’m not sure if “juicy” is the right word to describe that, but it was the first one that popped in my head.

Fast-forward to the top of the 4th inning. With one out and the Nats leading, 1-0, Jayson Werth unloaded on a pitch from Alec Asher and sent the ball flying in my direction:

11_jayson_werth_homer

Maybe I should’ve listened to the usher. If I’d been sitting in my ticketed seat, I would’ve caught the ball on the fly — not probably but definitely. Instead I had to run down the stairs and hope for a bobble. Here I am after jumping out of “my” seat . . .

12_jayson_werth_homer

. . . and here I am several rows lower, watching helplessly as the ball descended:

13_jayson_werth_homer

Whaddaya know?! I got the necessary bobble, saw the ball rolling on the ground, and bent down to pick it up:

14_jayson_werth_homer

Click here to see the actual video highlight on MLB.com. They never showed me after that, but here’s a screen shot from another camera angle that someone sent:

15_screen_shot_of_jayson_werth_homer

I’m not sure where that clip aired, and it doesn’t really matter. It’s just nice to have some visual evidence.

After the 3rd out, a friendly beer/water vendor struck up a conversation with me and offered a free beverage. I picked water. That’s how I roll:

16_formerly_mean_vendor_now_being_nice_and_giving_me_free_water

In the bottom of the 4th, I was thinking about snagging another home run, and with two outs, BAM!! Darin Ruf delivered:

17_darin_ruf_homer

I knew right away that I had a great chance of catching it. It was just a matter of moving one section toward left-center and getting into position. Here I am starting to take off:

18_darin_ruf_homer

Here I am in the middle of the section:

19_darin_ruf_homer

As the ball was approaching, I climbed back over a row and then reached up for it:

20_darin_ruf_homer

Lots of folks were impressed at the “amazing” catch I had made. I accepted their kind words and thanked them, but it really wasn’t that tough. Experienced ballhawks make plays like that ALL the time during batting practice. I was just lucky to have gotten this opportunity during the game.

After the TV cameras captured me holding up both home run balls . . .

21_darin_ruf_homer

. . . one of the announcers acknowledged me: “Same guy that got the home run off the bat of Jayson Werth just got the home run off the bat of Darin Ruf.”

Then, as the footage of my previous snag was shown . . .

22_darin_ruf_homer

. . . the announcer said, “Here’s Werth’s. That one bounced, and he grabbed it from the floor.”

23_darin_ruf_homer

Then the Ruf homer was shown again, and the announcer said, “This one he actually caught. What a great catch.”

Finally I was shown running and celebrating:

24_darin_ruf_homer

This was the first time I’d ever snagged two home runs in one inning, so I was pretty excited. It was not, however, the first time I’d gotten two in one game. I had done that two other times, first on 5/13/10 at Camden Yards and again on 4/18/13 at Yankee Stadium. Oh, and here’s the video highlight of the Ruf homer on MLB.com.

Here I am with the two home run balls from this game in Philly:

25_zack_with_two_home_run_balls

Here’s a closer look at them:

26_balls8539_and_8540_two_home_runs

Until the 6th inning, I had snagged the only two homers of the game. That’s when Jayson Werth crushed a 439-foot blast to left-center. There was absolutely no chance for me to get that ball, and as it turned out, a fellow ballhawk named Dominic was the one who came up with it. Here we are with the only three home runs of the game:

27_zack_and_dominic_with_his_home_run_ball_from_earlier_in_the_game

In order to get a group photo of the only four home runs balls of the night, we would’ve had to track down Bryce Harper himself. In the top of the 7th, Harper hit a towering fly ball (with an apex of 133 feet, according to ESPN Home Run Tracker) that barely cleared the wall in right-center. That happened to be his 40th homer of the season, and when he took the field in the bottom of the 7th, he negotiated directly with the fan and got the ball back. That ended up being the subject of a Washington Post article about me titled “Bryce Harper is lucky he hit his 40th home run where he did.” HA HA HA, get it?! Because I was such a jerk about the A-Rod thing, right? And man, the way I dicked over Mike Trout after catching his first career home run — I should really be ashamed of myself. And jeez, no wonder Didi Gregorius hates me!

Anyway, look how empty it was in the later innings:

28_empty_seats_on_my_left_09_16_15

Despite having snagged two homers earlier in the game, I was cursing my luck for not having a chance to catch another. Is that obnoxious? Yeah/oh well.

Take a look at the scoreboard in the bottom of the 9th inning:

29_scoreboard_in_9th_inning

As you can see, the Nationals were winning, 12-2. That’s why the seats were so empty, and as a result, I was able to wait for the final out before heading over to the dugout. After the Nationals relievers walked in from the bullpen . . .

30_nationals_postgame_09_16_15

. . . I got a couple of balls tossed to me. The first came from a ballboy, and the second (which happened to be my 400th lifetime ball at Citizens Bank Park) was tossed from under the dugout roof. That raised my total for the day to 16 balls, seven of which I’d given away to little kids.

Here I am with a friendly usher who recognized me and wanted to see the home run balls:

31_zack_and_usher_with_home_run_balls

I took one final photo of the balls before heading out and driving back home to New York City:

32_two_home_run_balls_09_16_15

Here are the nine balls I kept:

33_the_nine_balls_i_kept

What an amazing day. Time to start thinking about moving to Philadelphia — at least for the warmer months.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 16 baseballs at this game (nine pictured above because I gave seven away)

• 736 balls in 97 games this season = 7.59 balls per game.

 400 balls in 41 lifetime games at Citizens Bank Park = 9.76 balls per game.

 288 lifetime games with ten or more balls

• 1,150 consecutive games with at least one ball

 38 lifetime game home runs (not counting toss-ups; click here for the complete list)

8,542 total balls

8 comments

  1. Cam

    It’s definitely strange hearing about a laid back atmosphere in Philadelphia. I went to a game there back in 2010 when they were in first place. The fans were arguing balls and strikes from the fifth deck, basically being anything but laid back. It’s crazy how apathetic losing can make a fan base

  2. Dave Mitchell

    Off topic, but have you seen the special FL and AZ balls MLB will be using in Spring Training? I recall you don’t normally hit spring games, but might this changes things for you?

  3. Zack Hample

    CAM-
    Yup, totally. I remember when every game there was drawing 45,000 fans. It was exciting baseball, but not the easiest atmosphere for ballhawking.

    sD##1balldudeLeigh#3-
    Haha! He does look like Werth. Good call!

    DAVE MITCHELL-
    I’ve heard about them. Haven’t seen them. Still not planning to attend Spring Training. My hope is that a few will make their way back to NYC and end up in the regular season ball bags.

  4. CsOhio

    Zack-

    Would you ever consider going to one of the exhibition games in Montreal at Olympic Stadium? Seems like it’s going to be an annual tradition.

  5. Luke DiPalma

    Zack you inspired me to go ballhawking and now I try to make every philllies game I can. That would be so cool to meet you at a phillies game thank you for posting you blogs and videos. The books are awesome too Zack, your the best ballhawker ever.

  6. Zack Hample

    Thanks so much, Luke! It’s great to hear that I’ve inspired you. I hope you’ve made it to lots of games this season and snagged a bunch of balls. I appreciate that you’ve read my books and seen my videos — hopefully our paths will cross someday.

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