9/17/08 at Yankee Stadium

Several years ago, when MLBlogs switched over to WordPress, a bunch of my blog entries were lost, including this one from the final week at the Old Yankee Stadium. Thankfully I had saved all the photos, along with the text from my original entry, so this was easy to recreate. Enjoy!

On September 16th, I snagged six balls during the first 40 minutes of batting practice and caught a Jason Giambi home run in the 4th inning. At this game, I managed to snag just ONE ball during the first 40 minutes and was so frustrated that I briefly considered going home. It was THAT bad. I was the opposite of a ball magnet; I was a ball repellent.

The first ball, by the way, was commemorative and came from Phil Coke within the first 30 seconds that I was in the bleachers, so I basically got shut out for the entire portion of Yankees BP.

At 6:05pm — more than an hour after the stadium had opened — I still had just one ball. The White Sox were on the field, and it was so crowded in the stands that I didn’t bother wearing my Sox shirt. I just left it in my bag. There was no way to interact with the players or to be seen. I knew that in order to snag another ball, I was either going to have to catch a home run or use my glove trick to pull one out of the gap. Neither option was going to be easy. It was nearly impossible to run in any direction, and there was another fan named Tom who had a cup trick and was playing the gap exclusively. In fact he’d already beaten me to the first ball that landed there.

When Jim Thome and Ken Griffey Jr. started taking their cuts, I moved back about a dozen rows and positioned myself behind the tunnel in straight-away right field. This was my view:

view_for_thome_homer

A couple of minutes later, Thome crushed a deep fly ball about 30 feet to my right, and since I’d chosen to stand in one of the few places that actually had some empty space on either side, I was able to dart through a narrow row and make a running catch. It wasn’t a brilliant play by any means, but it was nice enough that the bleacher creatures applauded despite the fact that I was wearing a White Sox cap . . . and since this ball wasn’t commemorative, I later gave it away to a random kid (with a glove) who hadn’t already gotten a ball that day.

Fast-forward 15 minutes. Batting practice was about to end. I saw a player toss a ball to some fans who appeared to look down after it reached them. Had it fallen short? Had they dropped it? Had the ball landed in the gap? Was Tom going to beat me to it? The only thing I could do was run over and take a look, and to my surprise/delight, there were TWO commemorative balls. Tom was nowhere in sight, and I had both balls within a minute. I couldn’t figure out how the balls got there or how long they’d been there. When I first ran into the stadium, I had checked the entire gap and didn’t see anything. Could I have possibly missed them? I didn’t think so, but anyway, I was thrilled. Just 20 minutes earlier, I’d been in danger of ending up with one ball, but now I’d salvaged my day and brought it into the realm of respectability.

One of the two balls sitting in the gap must’ve been there for a while because it had a big wet spot. After BP ended, I held out the ball and took a pic of it with the gap in the background:

soaked_ball_gap

Then I headed to the left field bleachers and found Tom who’d brought his copy of Watching Baseball Smarter. I signed it and had his friend take a photo of us . . .

tom_zack_watching_baseball_smarter

. . . and learned that Tom had been hanging out there for the last round of BP.

The game was really slow in the early innings, at least from a home run-catching standpoint. Obviously I was hoping to catch another ball, but with every passing inning, I kept thinking about the fact that I still had the last home run ever hit at Yankee Stadium. What were the odds that there wouldn’t be any more homers in the remaining four-plus games? Awfully low. But it was still fun to dream.

At the start of the game, I stood in the tunnel in the middle of the right field bleachers, shifting my gaze back and forth between the game and the mostly-full blue benches around me. There was one empty seat that caught my eye, right on the steps at the end of the first row of benches. I didn’t want to slip into that seat in the top of the first inning because its rightful owner was still likely to show up. So I waited. Bottom of the first. Still empty. Top of the second. STILL empty. I decided to look at my own ticket (which I’d bought on StubHub weeks earlier) just to see where I was “supposed” to be sitting. It said Section 41, Row CC, Seat 26. I started looking around, trying to figure out exactly where that was . . . and then discovered that I’d been eying my own seat. Wow.

I sat there for the next five innings, thrilled by the fact that the man sitting in front of me (on a folding chair in the wheelchair aisle) wasn’t even wearing his glove for most of the game:

view_during_game_09_17_08

This guy wore his glove for Orlando Cabrera, but not for Griffey. Go figure. Anyway, he left the game in the seventh inning, and a couple of other fans sitting next to him took off in the top of the eighth. That’s when I pounced on the opportunity and upgraded my seat location. In the following photo, you can see 1) where I had been sitting and 2) my new spot:

seat_upgrade

The upgrade paid off.

Scott Linebrink came it to pitch the bottom of the eighth, and Melky Cabrera greeted him by working the count and lining a solid single to center. Johnny Damon, the next batter, took a called first strike, then watched the next pitch miss the zone to even the count at 1-1. The third pitch? CRACK!!! Deep line drive in my direction, practically coming right at me, and I was thinking it was going to fall short because . . . well, it’s Johnny Damon. Then the ball kept carrying, and my thoughts turned to something along the lines of: “No way, is this really about to happen?!

It was happening. The ball kept coming. I could tell I had a chance to catch it, but that it wasn’t going to reach the seats, so I jumped up on the chest-high railing (just as I’d done the day before to catch that BP ball tossed by Phil Hughes) and balanced on my stomach (cracked rib and all) and reached waaaaaaay out over the wall as the ball came shooting ball3763_johnny_damon_homertoward me, and BAM, just like that, I made the back-handed catch right in the pocket of my Mizuno glove. There was a guy on my left who made more of an effort to grab my legs to prevent me from flipping over the wall than he’d made to grab the ball himself.

It was one of the best catches I’d ever made, but unfortunately, because of the black T-shirt I was wearing, my effort wasn’t all that visible on TV, speaking of which . . . I knew I was going to take some serious heat for doing my stupid/celebratory “Cabbage Patch” dance again, but I figured that a repeat performance was the best way to be spotted and recognized. So yeah, I caught the ball, held it up triumphantly, did the embarrassing dance, and then held up two fingers and shouted “THAT’S TWO!!!” in case any of the cameras were still zoomed in on me.

Let me share a few screen shots of the TV coverage, and then I’ll link to the actual video footage. Here’s Damon making contact:

damon_screen_shot1

Here I am reaching out over the “R” in the “Budweiser” ad to make the catch:

damon_screen_shot2

Yeah, baby:

damon_screen_shot3

Horrendous (but effective) dancing:

damon_screen_shot4

Two!

damon_screen_shot5

Talking once again on the cell phone:

damon_screen_shot6

I want to give another big “thank you” to my friend Michael Fierman for taping the game and then putting together a great clip of the footage.

Click here to watch a quick highlight with horrendous quality on MLB.com.

Before the eighth inning ended, a security guard walked over and told me that someone from the Japanese media wanted to interview me after the game. Here were are:

zack_postgame_interview

Fans were coming up to me and shaking my hand and asking if they could take photographs with me and the ball. It was insane. My life has been insane since last night. I’ve already gotten calls and emails from several TV shows. I’m scheduled to be on the CBS Early Show tomorrow at 7:30am. (I’ve already asked for makeup to hide the bags that’re already forming under my eyes.) A friend in London got in touch to tell me she saw me on CNN International. It’s just nuts. ESPN did a whole 30-second “flashback” to my Giambi catch the night before on both “Baseball Tonight” and “SportsCenter.” And now someone on Yahoo! Sports has written about it:

yahoo_two_homer_story

Click here to see the article. (Eat my heart out? Ha ha ha.)

There’s so much more I could say, but I have to leave soon to go back to Yankee Stadium. I’m meeting someone else from the Japanese media at 4pm — a guy who’s working on a documentary about the final days of Yankee Stadium and got in touch before all this Home Run Hysteria took place. There are some other things in the works as well, but I don’t have time to talk about them. But yeah, look for me on “The Early Show” tomorrow. Oh . . . I just learned that Deadspin wrote about this. Cool. I’ve heard that my friends in the Scrabble world are buzzing about it too because of the shirt I was wearing. This is crazy. And obviously fun. Look for me at tonight’s game. I’ll be wearing my yellow “Homer” shirt (Homer Simpson, that is), at least until security yells at me for running around. Then I’ll wear something else. I’m bringing an extra shirt just for that reason. If only I could find that Groucho mask . . .

STATS:

• 5 balls at this game

• 486 balls in 63 games this season = 7.7 balls per game.

• 559 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 125 consecutive games at Yankee Stadium with at least one ball

• 12 game balls this season (not counting game-used balls that get tossed into the crowd)

• 4 game home run balls this season (all of which were caught on the fly at Yankee Stadium)

• 123 lifetime game balls (115 foul balls, 7 home runs, 1 ground-rule double)

• 21 lifetime game balls at Yankee Stadium

• 3,763 total balls

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