5/6/09 at Camden Yards

Several years ago, when MLBlogs switched over to WordPress, a bunch of my blog entries were lost, including this one from a magnificently rainy night in Baltimore. Thankfully I had saved all the photos, along with the text from my original entry, so this was easy to recreate. Enjoy!

QUESTION: What do you get when you start with a “crowd” of 10,566 fans and then throw in 3 hours and 47 minutes’ worth of rain delays?

ANSWER: Ballhawking bliss.

One great thing about this day was that I was with my friend Sean:

1_sean_zack_outside_camden

We hadn’t seen each other since 2007, so it was kind of a big deal, but an even better thing about this day was that there was batting practice. Even though the forecast was crappy, and even though the clouds threatened more and more as five o’clock approached, we could see that the cage was set up through a gate in deep center field:

2_there_is_batting_practice

As soon as the stadium opened, I ran around to the left field seats and was spotted by Jeremy Guthrie. (If you’ve been reading this blog since last season, you might recall that Guthrie recognized me on 9/19/08 at Yankee Stadium.)

“What are you doing here?!” he shouted.

“I drove down from New York City with a friend,” I yelled back, “because this stadium is so awesome!”

jeremy_guthrie_2008aI jogged down the steps to the front row and shook his hand.

“What do you do for a job?” he asked.

“I’m a baseball writer,” I said, “and I do a couple other things as well.” While I was in the middle of telling him about these things (including a detailed explanation of how I’m now snagging baseballs for charity), an Orioles righty launched a deep drive to my left, so I took off running through an empty row and grabbed the ball off the steps just before another fan got there.

“What do you DO with all the balls?” asked Guthrie.

“I give some away to kids, and I keep the rest,” I said. Then I asked him who hit the ball that I’d just gotten.

“Jones,” he said.

Guthrie turned back toward the field to do some shagging . . .

3_jeremy_guthrie

. . . and after a couple minutes, I asked him if he wanted to play catch. He responded by motioning toward himself with his glove.

“Oh, with MY ball?” I asked.

He nodded.

I unzipped my backpack, took out the ball, and fired a chest-high strike to him from about 70 feet away. We tossed it back and forth for two or three minutes, pausing intermittently to make sure the batter wasn’t hitting another ball our way. Guthrie threw me a few curveballs, and I threw him several knuckleballs, two of which were perfect and had no spin at all. He gave me a nod of approval after each one.

Sean, who successfully documented my throwing session with Heath Bell on 9/29/05 at Shea Stadium, was back at it again, this time with a fancy Flip camera. Below are a few screen shots from the short HD video he filmed. Here’s Guthrie making one of many throws to me . . .

4_playing_catch_with_jeremy_guthrie

. . . and here I am firing it back:

5_playing_catch_with_jeremy_guthrie

In the following photo, note the large gentleman standing in the front row. I’m pointing him out because . . .

6_playing_catch_with_jeremy_guthrie

. . . five seconds later, a home run was hit directly to him. He ducked out of the way, let the ball hit the seats, and when it skipped up in the air, I swooped in and nabbed it:

7_my_glove_is_better_than_your_hat

Glove 1, Hat 0.

Guthrie seemed to be enjoying the brief role reversal: watching the action in the stands from the field. Of course, I was concerned that since he’d just seen me snag my second home run of the day, he might not return the ball that we’d been using to play catch. The following screen shot shows me hiding the ball (as if that were going to help) and asking if he’d still give me back the original ball.

8_zack_hiding_ball_from_jeremy_guthrie

He said yes, and we continued playing catch a bit longer.

I had already marked the ball we were using with a “3949” (because it was the 3,949th ball I’d ever snagged) and get this…he ended up throwing that one back to the bucket and giving me a different ball when we were done. I wasn’t quite sure how to document it, so I just wrote a new “3949” on it. (What would happen if I snag the original “3949” later today?)

At one point, a home run landed half a dozen rows behind me, and as I raced up the steps for it, a woman was standing right near it reached down and grabbed it.

Guthrie started getting on me about it.

“She’s got more heart,” he said.

I just shrugged.

I ended up snagging two more balls during the Orioles’ portion of BP. The first was a ground-rule double that landed on the rubberized warning track and bounced over my head into the mostly empty seats. The other was tossed up by a ballboy at the very end.

The Twins came out and started throwing:

9_twins_playing_catch

Were they using Metrodome commemorative balls? Obviously I was hoping so, but I wasn’t sure, so I moved into foul territory and got a look at two balls that were sitting on the field:

10_balls_on_field

Ooh yeah! Just what I expected: a mixture of regular and commemorative balls. My strategy? Snag as many balls as possible and hope that at least a few would turn out to be commemorative. I’d actually snagged a couple of these balls on 4/24/09 at U.S. Cellular Field, but the logos were a bit worn, so now instead of simply trying to snag one, I was hoping to snag a GOOD one.

A ball rolled onto the warning track. It had a commemorative logo! I used my glove trick to reel it in . . .

11_camden_glove_trick_05_06_09

. . . and it turned out that the logo was semi-worn.

Then things slowed way down for me. The left field seats never got too crowded . . .

12_LF_seats_during_BP

. . . but there just wasn’t much action. I only snagged one more ball during BP. It was thrown by Matt Guerrier, and it was commemorative, but again, it was kinda worn:

13_two_commemorative_balls

Then it started drizzling, and the grounds crew rushed to cover the field:

14_tarp_before_game

The start of the game was delayed about 40 minutes. When the Twins came out and began getting loose . . .

15_players_warming_up

. . . I got my seventh ball of the day from Matt Tolbert. Not commemorative.

The O’s and Twins played a couple of innings before the rain picked up and caused another delay. Initially, the Mets-Phillies game was broadcast on the Jumbotron, but after a while, the fans were given the choice of watching that or some hockey playoff game. An announcement was made, and basically there was going to be a vote determined by noise/applause.

“Let’s hear it if you want to watch the [whatever two NHL teams were playing] game!” said the P.A. announcer, and the crowd went wild.

“Now let’s hear it if you want to watch the Mets and Phillies!”

I was the only person who cheered for that, so naturally I began screaming at the few fans sitting around me: “What’s the MATTER with you people! This is a baseball game! Why don’t you want to watch BASEBALL?!” I wasn’t joking, and sure enough, within five seconds, the Jumbotron switched over to hockey:

16_hockey_and_puddle

So lame. (Does anyone else feel my pain or are you all gonna start bashing me?)

The rain eventually stopped, and when the players came back out to warm up, Camden Yards was officially a ghost town:

17_players_warming_up_again

Michael Cuddyer tossed me my eighth ball of the day in shallow left field, and three minutes later, I got another ball from Tolbert at the dugout. Both balls were commemorative, and both were beautiful:

18_two_more_commemoratives

Yay! No offense to Minnesota, but I’m so glad I now don’t have to go there this season. (I’ll probably be there early next season to see the new ballpark.)

How great is Camden Yards? How awesome is Orioles management? Look at the announcement on the Jumbotron:

19_orioles_invitation

In case you can’t read it in the photo, it says: “We invite all fans to have a seat in the lower level.” Is that great or what? (Can you imagine that happening in New York? Ha!!) At that point, any fan could sit anywhere. First row behind the dugout? Go for it. All by yourself out in left field? Have fun. That’s what Sean did. Can you see him in the following photo?

20_stadium_nice_and_empty

Here, let me zoom in a bit for you and point him out:

21_sean_king_of_left_field

It was SO MUCH FUN. I didn’t even know where to go. Left field for righty homers? Right field for lefty homers? Foul balls? Third-out balls? Foul lines? Behind the plate? AAAHHH!!! I needed some Zack Hample clones. There was too much ground to cover. My brain couldn’t handle it. When the game had originally started, I’d been playing for homers, but once the attendance shrunk to about 150, I decided I had to go for foul balls. It was just too amazing to be able to run around and stand anywhere and not get hassled — and it paid off.

Top of the fourth. Third-base side of home plate. Brian Bass on the hill, throwing 93mph. Foul ball hit by Justin Morneau. Twenty feet to my right. I ran through the aisle. Back-handed catch on the fly. BOO-yah!!! Huge cheer from the crowd. Double digits. Tenth ball overall on the day.

Top of the fifth. Same spot. Bass still throwing smoke. Foul ball hit by Denard Span, shooting straight back at me, a few feet over my head. I jumped and reached up for the back-handed catch. The ball tipped off my glove (shoulda caught it, even though it probably wouldn’t have been ruled an error by the official scorekeeper) and plopped down into the empty aisle. Another foul ball. This one had a gorgeous smudge:

22_ball3959_smudge

The game was only halfway through, and I was already thinking about snagging two MORE foul balls. I’d gotten three in a game on three different occasions, but never four. The seats were crazy-empty. There were a few other guys with gloves, smelling opportunity, but they were a couple sections over down the foul lines. They just didn’t get it. There was no competition. I was the king of Camden. And Sean? He still had left field to himself. I was hoping there’d be a home run hit out his way, but no, nothing. It was the most fun I’d *ever* had running around for foul balls, and then of course the rain picked up in the sixth and delayed the game once again. As soon as the crew chief waved out the grounds crew, I bolted down the steps to the tunnel right behind the plate and got a ball from home plate ump Brian Knight as he walked off the field. I was proud of myself for that one. I hadn’t planned it. It just occurred to me, as it was happening, that I had a chance.

The game never did resume. There was lightning and thunder, and it poured nonstop for the next hour or so. Such a shame. I really think I would’ve set a personal record.

I did manage to snag one more ball, and I wish I’d taken a photo of it before I got it. For some reason, the ball was just sitting on the field throughout the final rain delay, on the grass behind home plate. (I think a player from one of the dugouts must’ve tossed it out.) Sean and I had our eyes on it, but we weren’t allowed down into the seats during the storm, and then when the game was finally called (Final score: Orioles 4, Twins 1), we were immediately told to leave by the few remaining ushers. Did we leave? Hell no. We hid in a tunnel for a few minutes until some random guy in a suit and tie walked briskly out onto the field to retrieve the ball. We both ran down into the seats and yelled for it, at which point he turned and threw it awkwardly/left-handed in our direction. It landed near Sean but took an unlucky (for him) bounce and rolled through a row right to me. The ball was totally soaked and waterlogged. (It was still wet and heavy when I woke up the next day.)

Don’t feel bad for Sean. During one of the delays, he got Denard Span to toss him a perfect commemorative ball, which he plans to give to his 15-month-old son (named Owen, the “O” being for the Orioles) when he gets back home to Connecticut.

Oh, and by the way, I’ve mentioned this before and I’ll mention it again: Sean is also a writer and has a new-ish novel out called Seams. It’s baseball-related. Very intriguing and compelling and funny and mysterious. Kinda R-rated at times. Definitely worth a read. Here’s the link, in case anyone wants to check it out.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

23_lucky_thirteen• 13 balls at this game (pictured here on the right, top to bottom, from left to right, in the order that I snagged them)

• 141 balls in 18 games this season = 7.8 balls per game.

• 587 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 157 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball

• 1,201 lifetime balls outside of New York (the ball from the ump was No. 1,200)

• 14 lifetime games with at least two game balls (not counting game-used balls that get tossed into the crowd)

• 101 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

• 43 lifetime games outside of New York with at least 10 balls

• 3,961 total balls

4 comments

  1. Big Glove Bob

    Z-Man, this entry brings me back! The one season that I really put my all into ballhawking was 2009. So, I have fond memories of chasing those last dome season commemoratives around. Ya know, I have mixed emotions on Good Ol J-Guts. As a person he seems like a great guy. He was an awesome clubhouse guy for KC and was really complimentary to the town that I also love. But, I will tell a story that taints him a bit in my eyes.

    This past fall, Taylor Swift was in KC for a concert. I found out from a couple of stadium employees that Guthrie had several members of her band out to the park and was just having a grand old time with on the field. He was tossing BP to them and all sorts of things that I am sure the band members loved. I guess he was entertaining them for quite some time and was very spirited.

    The problem in my eyes? J-Guts was that evenings starter for the Royals! Apparently he left it all on the field with the band boys because the Mariners beat the heck out of him. He gave up 3 homers and 8 earned runs before being sent to the showers after just 2 and a third innings of work. Can I say for sure that his pre-game shenanigans caused the awful outing? Nope. But I can say for sure that it didn’t help matters. I have heard other stories about him that are similar, so I question his priorities and focus.

    Big Glove Bob

  2. Zack Hample

    Glad to have provided a trip down memory lane. That’s interesting about Guthrie — not really sure what to make of it. Like you said, it might not have made a difference (he hasn’t been pitching great lately regardless), but who really knows? Personally, I wanna be careful not to bash him because he’s always been super-cool with me, so from my own biased perspective, I wanna give him the benefit of the doubt, but I hear ya. That’s a bummer. Hope to run into you sometime this year!

  3. Jason Greenberg

    The only thing I’ll rip on you for the hockey issue was the fact that that game was part of one of the best NHL playoff series of all time.

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