5/18/10 at Turner Field

Several years ago, when MLBlogs switched over to WordPress, a bunch of my blog entries were lost, including this one from Atlanta, when I wandered all over the stadium and went nuts with my camera. Thankfully I had saved all the photos, along with the text from my original entry, so this was easy to recreate. Enjoy!

I began my three-day trip to Atlanta with a lifetime total of 4,458 baseballs — and with the lofty goal of averaging 14 balls per game. That’s what it was gonna take to reach 4,500. Things were looking good after my 19-ball performance on May 17th, but I still needed to put up big numbers on Day Two.

It started with a ground-rule double that skipped off the top of the outfield wall and landed near me in the left field seats. As two other guys closed in on it, the ball took a lucky bounce and rolled right to me.

Five minutes later, a ball landed in the gap near the foul pole:

1_ball4479_in_the_gap

Just as I was getting ready to knock it closer with my glove trick, a security guard appeared out of nowhere and tossed it to me.

My friend Matt Winters (who you might remember from 7/28/08 at Yankee Stadium) was at this game, and he snapped a few photos of me during BP. Here’s one that shows me using the glove trick to snag my third ball of the day in right-center field:

2_zack_snagging_ball4480

As usual, I ran all over the place during BP, but it didn’t pay off. I kept finding myself out of position. At one point, for example, I sprinted to left field when three of the four hitters in a certain group were batting right-handed. Then, as soon as I got there, one of the righties turned out to be a switch-hitter and mashed a home run to the exact spot where I’d been standing in right field. Crap like that. It was relentless.

At around 5:15pm, I hurried from straight-away right to right-center and reeled in a ground-rule double that had dropped into the gap.

This guy was not impressed . . .

3_indian_during_batting_practice

. . . and you know what? Neither was I. The Braves’ portion of BP ended ten minutes later, and I was still stuck at four — not a disaster, but not a blistering pace by any means.

When the Braves cleared the field, I got coach Glenn Hubbard to throw me a ball near the 1st base dugout.

Then, when the Mets took the field . . .

4_behind_the_batting_cage

. . . I changed into my Mets gear and headed around to the left field side.

I continued running all over the place:

5_zack_running_up_steps

Other than the free exercise I was getting, it didn’t really help.

Gary Matthews Jr. tossed me a ball in right-center, and at various points during the following half-hour, I got a couple more balls tossed to me (in nearly the same spot) by coach Razor Shines and reliever Hisanori Takahashi.

Somehow I was up to eight balls, which, on the grand scheme of things, is pretty good, but I wasn’t happy. It was a “soft” eight if that makes sense. Weak. Lame. Boring. Glove tricks. Toss-ups. There was no action. No excitement. No home runs on the fly. The whole day was a struggle. Every ball was spaced 10 or 20 minutes apart. I never got hot. Never hit my stride. Never went on a ball-snagging rampage.

6_left_field_from_right_fieldThere were a bunch of lefties up, so I moved to the seats in straight-away right. It was dead. None of them could even reach the warning track, so I focused on the players in the outfield. Maybe I could get someone else to throw one my way? Suddenly I heard the other fans shouting and noticed that they were all looking up and shuffling around as if they were jockeying for position. It could only mean one thing: there was a ball heading toward my section. I looked up and spotted it high in the air. It was already descending. Coming right toward me. I darted five feet to my left, then climbed back over a row and reached far out to my glove side — away from the field — and made a lunging, over-the-shoulder catch.

Jeez.

The way things had been going, it figured that at the ONE moment when I wasn’t looking at the batter, there’d be a home run hit near me. Actually, there were a few more homers hit into my section after that (all by Chris Carter), but I wasn’t able to catch any on the fly, and they all took ridiculously bad bounces toward other fans.

Some random guy on the Mets with “ARROYO 58” on his jersey tossed me my 10th ball of the day. He was young, and he was wearing a catcher’s mitt, and he wasn’t on the roster that I’d printed, and I have no idea who he is. (Can anyone help me identify him?)

Somehow I’d stumbled into double digits.

It was about 6:10pm. The Mets were beginning their final round of BP, and since most of the remaining batters were right-handed, I headed back to left field. This was when the rampage took place. Jenrry (pronounced “Henry”) Mejia tossed a ball to some fans, who dropped it into the gap. BAM! I was all over it with my glove trick. Then, over the next few minutes, two more balls were tossed and dropped into the gap. I snagged both of those and gave them to the nearest kids. Finally, on my way out of the section, a fan pointed out yet another ball that was sitting in the gap, so I reeled in in and handed it to him.

How the hell?!

I had snagged 14 balls — and check this out. Two of them looked pretty weird:

7_weird_balls_05_18_10

As you can see, the ball on the left is dirty on the top part and clean in the middle. (It almost looks like one of those gold balls from the Home Run Derby.) The ball on the right, meanwhile, looks like someone touched the Rawlings logo when the ink was still wet and then left a fingerprint one inch above it. Although I’ve snagged my share of weird baseballs over the years, I’ve never seen anything like these.

Batting practice was done. It was time to wander and explore the stadium. Matt and I started by cutting through the field level cross-aisle . . .

8_turner_cross_aisle

. . . and heading into the concourse:

9_turner_field_level_concourse

Yuck.

Turner Field was built just before open concourses became a thing, so in other words, when you’re heading for the bathroom or one of the concession stands, you can’t see the field.

Not the end of the world, right?

Well, on top of that, this particular concourse was narrow and gloomy. Turner Field was built in the mid-90s, but parts of it look much older than that. Although there’s nothing technically wrong with it, I can actually see the stadium being demolished and replaced within the next 30 or 40 years — that is, if the economy ever recovers. I’m not saying that it needs to be replaced. I just think that Braves ownership will ultimately decide that they need a glitzier stadium with more clubs and suites.

Matt and I headed to the upper deck . . .

10_turner_steps_and_skyline

. . . where there IS an open concourse:

11_turner_upper_deck_concourse

Much better.

Or . . . perhaps not.

There’s a picnic-type area up there, where the ground was covered with patches of peeling paint:

12_turner_peeling_paint

On one hand, I felt like I should’ve been bothered by the neglect and decay, but on the other hand, I kinda liked it; in this new era of way-too-fancy stadiums, I enjoy being in a ballpark with flaws. Turner Field, as cavernous and nondescript as it is, still felt somewhat cozy and welcoming.

Here’s a look at the picnic-type area from above:

13_peeling_paint_from_above

Here’s what the field looked like from the top left corner of the upper deck:

14_turner_view_from_upper_left_corner

See what I mean? The stadium is big and plain. Nothing about it stands out — nothing memorable or unique. Fenway has the Green Monster. Rogers Centre has the hotel. Kauffman Stadium has the fountains. Even Citi Field has the Home Run Apple. But what does Turner Field have?

At the very top of the upper deck, I discovered a cross-aisle with sporadic rows of elevated seats:

15_turner_last_row_of_upper_deck

(Perhaps that’s Turner Field’s contribution to the baseball world?)

Check out my cheap panorama from the last row behind the plate:

16_turner_field_panorama

Matt and I headed toward the foul pole . . .

17_turner_right_field_from_above

. . . and trekked to to the top right corner of the stadium:

18_always_bring_your_glove

(Always bring your glove because hey, you never know.)

This was the view to my right:

19_turner_view_from_upper_right_corner

Turner Field wins the Plain Award.

We went back down to the field level . . .

20_turner_right_field_cross_aisle

. . . and Matt took my picture with a gigantic baseball:

21_turner_zack_big_ball

Several Braves infielders were wrapping up their pre-game throwing, so I raced down to the front row along the foul line and got Yunel Escobar to hook me up with my 15th ball of the day. He flung it behind his back as he jogged off the field. Fortunately, his aim was perfect, although I had to reach up to make the catch. Here’s a photo that Matt took as the ball hit the pocket my glove:

22_zack_catching_ball4492

This was our view during the game . . .

23_view_during_game_05_18_10

. . . and this is the ball that Johan Santana used to record his 1,774th career strikeout:

24_ball4493_johan_strikeout

It was pretty simple:

1) Brian McCann struck out to end the first inning.

2) Mets catcher Henry Blanco brought the ball back toward the dugout.

3) I scooted through an empty row and got him to toss it to me.

With two outs in the top of the 5th, Santana was at bat and fell behind in the count 0-2 against Kris Medlen. Santana fouled off the next pitch — a little squibber off the end of the bat that trickled along the fence in front of the dugout. Fernando Tatis, sitting on the steps at the outfield end of the dugout, scooped up the ball. I moved down to the front row and asked him for it, and he threw it to me. Too easy. Almost embarrassingly easy.

I knew I wasn’t going to get another ball at the dugout, so I wandered around during the second half of the game. First I checked out the Mets bullpen:

25_mets_bullpen_05_18_10

(Who is Arroyo?!?!)

Then I played for foul balls behind the plate (no luck there) and ended up behind the Braves dugout in the bottom of the 9th:

26_last_pitch_of_the_game

With the score tied, 2-2, Brian McCann led off with a line-drive single to right. Brent Clevlen (whose name always makes me think of Bert Blyleven) came in to pinch run and moved to second on a walk to Yunel Escobar. Melky Cabrera followed with a short chopper to third baseman David Wright. Wright charged in and caught the ball on the run and fired across his body toward first base. Unfortunately for the Mets, the throw sailed wide of first base, and the ball rolled into foul territory down the right field line. Clevlen raced around third and scored the winning run. Final score: Braves 3, Mets 2.

(My Ballhawk Winning Percentage is now .808 — 10.5 wins and 2.5 losses — and by the way, the photo above was taken as the final pitch of the game was being delivered.)

I didn’t snag any more baseballs at the dugout. The only thing I got was a photo with Matt:

27_matt_and_zack_postgame

Matt is not actually a Mets fan, and I have no idea why he looks so mad. (If he were a Mets fan, that would explain it.) He snagged eight balls, so he should’ve been smiling.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

28_the_14_i_kept copy• 17 balls at this game (14 pictured on the right because I gave three away)

• 136 balls in 13 games this season = 10.46 balls per game.

• 642 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 125 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

• 4,494 total balls

6 comments

  1. Big Glove Bob

    Another post that brings me back. Matt and I corresponded and then ended up meeting up at the Metrodome to ballhawk in its final season. A real nice guy from Irvine, CA if I recall correctly. Don’t know if he still ballhawks or not.

    BGB

  2. Zack Hample

    You are correct! He is indeed from Irvine — not sure how many games he’s been to recently, but we’re still in touch sporadically.

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