4/12/16 at Safeco Field

On Tuesdays and Saturdays, season ticket holders at Safeco Field can enter the stadium three hours before game time. I wasn’t aware of that when I booked my trip, but lucky me — my one game in Seattle happened to fall on a Tuesday, and when I announced on Twitter that I was going to be there, I received an email from some random guy who offered to bring me in early as his guest.

Here’s what it looked like outside the early gate:

1_fans_outside_safeco_field_right_field_gate

Yeah, it was cold and rainy, but so what? That’s what heavy winter jackets and domed stadiums are for.

Here’s the “random” guy who had emailed me. His name is Rex, and he was with his 10-year-old son, Tyler:

2_rex_and_his_son_tyler

Thankfully they were willing/able to help my friend Brandon get in early too. Brandon is a professional videographer, and he was there to film me for my YouTube channel. As I mentioned in my previous entry from Oakland, my new goal is to do a video at every major league stadium; Safeco was going to be No. 10.

I had high hopes for this day. Given the fact that I’d be getting inside so early, I expected to hit double digits and was thinking about breaking the one-game Safeco Field record of 16 baseballs, set by my friend Greg Barasch on September 18, 2012.

When I first ran in, I was bummed (though not surprised) to see that the Mariners had not yet started batting practice. In fact, there were hardly any players on the field:

3_batting_practice_not_yet_underway

If you look closely at the photo above, you’ll notice two guys in fair territory. Dae-ho Lee was at 1st base, and get this — he was fielding fungos that were being hit by a coach from the left side of the infield. (Huh?! Yeah.) I have no idea why there were doing that, but it worked to my advantage. Just after I made it down to the front row, Lee missed one of the fungos. That’s exactly what I was hoping for, so I lunged over the short, padded railing and scooped up the ball. It was a beauty!

4_ball8648_fungo_past_dae_ho_lee

It happened so quickly that Brandon wasn’t there to film it, but he got footage of my next seven balls. In the following screen shot, look closely at the edge of the infield dirt behind 1st base. See the player chucking a ball in my direction?

5_ball8649_from_robinson_cano

That was Robinson Cano. His throw fell a bit short, so I had to dart down a few rows to make the catch.

When I first heard about early entry for season ticket holders, I assumed all the fans would be confined to the right field seats, or at least the right side of the lower level. But guess what? The entire stadium was open. Therefore, when the Mariners started hitting and most people posted up in the right field seats, I headed to the party deck in deep left-center. Look how empty it was:

6_empty_party_deck

Mike Montgomery threw me my 3rd ball of the day . . .

7_ball8650_from_mike_montgomery

. . . and it had a commemorative “AZ” Spring Training logo:

8_ball8650_commemorative_spring_training

I’d gotten one of those balls the day before in Oakland, but I was glad to snag another.

Here’s a screen shot that shows me catching my 4th ball of the day — a toss-up from Vidal Nuno on the warning track:

9_ball8651_from_vidal_nuno

Yes, it was ridiculously easy, and I loved it. Games at both New York Stadiums are always a grind, so it felt great to be 2,858 miles from home where things were more laid-back.

In between groups, when there was a brief lull in the action, I caught up with someone I’d been hoping to meet for years — a man named Jay Didion whom I had featured in my book, The Baseball, as one of the top ten greatest ballhawks of all time. Check out pages 275-276. That’s his spread. He’s the only one of the ten that I didn’t have a photo of, so now, for the first time ever, I can show you what he looks like:

10_jay_didion_and_zack

What an amazing man! And very friendly too. As I mentioned in the book, he has snagged 112 home runs *during* major league games, including three on the fly during Game 3 of the 1988 ALCS in Oakland. That’s just absurd. My friend Rick Gold had initially told me about Jay and put me in touch with him in 2009, and now, finally, all these years later, here we were.

I used the glove trick to snag my 5th ball of the day from the Mariners’ bullpen. Here I am lowering my contraption over the railing:

11_ball8652_glove_trick

After that, I raced out to right-center field and got Hisashi Iwakuma to throw me a ball by asking for it in Japanese. Here’s a blurry screen shot of him flinging it to me:

12_ball8653_from_hisashi_iwakuma

Here’s another low-quality (zoomed-in) screen shot of me getting my 7th ball:

13_ball8654_robinson_cano_homer

I promise this’ll all look better in the actual video, but anyway, did you see me bending down over the railing? There’s netting in the gap between the outfield wall and the stands. Robinson Cano had hit a home run that landed there, and I was barely able to reach it.

Here’s a four-part photo that shows me getting my 8th ball:

14_ball8655_from_joel_peralta

In case it’s not clear what was happening:

1) I asked Joel Peralta for a ball, and he motioned for me to go deep.
2) I ran up the stairs toward the back of the section.
3) Peralta let it fly.
4) His throw was right on the money — easy catch.

Just before the Mariners finished hitting, I hurried to the seats behind their dugout and got a toss-up from a coach I didn’t recognize. Brandon didn’t make it there in time to get it on video, but whatever. I was just glad to have nine balls; my chances of breaking the single-game Safeco record were looking pretty good. I just needed to have a solid performance during the Rangers’ portion of BP.

Here’s where I started:

15_zack_party_deck_from_above

No, not in the 2nd deck 500 feet from home plate. In the photo above, do you see the fan in the red cap on the left? That’s me. Here’s a slightly closer look at that area as Delino DeShields Jr. threw me my 10th ball of the day:

16_ball8657_tossup_in_center_field

I used the glove trick again to get my 11th ball from this gap behind the outfield wall:

17_gap_in_front_of_the_party_deck

I was disappointed not to be catching any home runs on the fly, but what the hell was I supposed to do? Left field at Safeco is worthless for catching homers, right field was awfully crowded, and there wasn’t any action in deep-left center. All I could do was keep going for toss-ups. Here I am getting my 12th ball from Cole Hamels — the first of many that I ended up giving to kids:

18_ball8659_from_cole_hamels

People often assume that every time I catch a ball, I’m depriving some poor little kid of the opportunity to have caught it himself, but if you look at all these screen shots, it’s clear that there weren’t any kids near me. Think of it this way: if I hadn’t been at this game, most of the balls I got would not have even ended up in the seats. The players who retrieved them would’ve tossed them back to the bucket in shallow center field.

Here I am getting my 13th ball from a player I didn’t recognize:

19_ball8660_from_tony_barnette

Did you notice the logo on that ball? Yes, it’s blurry in that screen shot, but you can kinda tell that it’s bigger and rounder than the standard MLB logo. In other words, it was an “AZ” ball.

The player who tossed it had long hair and a beard. A few minutes later, I photographed him standing around with his teammates. He’s pictured below with his hands on his hips:

20_rangers_pitchers_in_center_field

I figured out later that it was Tony Barnette.

With only a few minutes remaining in BP, I ran back to the seats in right-center. Just before Brandon caught up with me, I got my 14th ball tossed by Keone Kela. Then I ran all the way to the 3rd base side, arriving just as the Rangers were clearing the field. Moments later, I got my 15th ball tossed by a ballboy in front of the dugout:

21_ball8662_from_a_ballboy

Phew!!

Here’s a better photo of the ballboy and what it looked like from there:

22_ballboy_pakcing_up_balls

I was soooooo sweaty and exhausted (and still feeling slightly under the weather). But I was happy. I was just one ball short of tying the Safeco Field record. I figured I’d find a way to get one more before the game and then perhaps snag another during the game — a 3rd-out ball or maybe even a foul ball?

After BP, I caught up with my old Safeco Field friends — the Van Hollebeke siblings. Here I am with them:

23_max_luke_zack_hannah

In the photo above, that’s Max on the left, Luke with the backwards baseball cap, and Hannah on the right. Remember when Luke and I were both on crutches when I first met them five years ago? Here’s a photo I took with them (and a few other folks) on June 15, 2011. Two years later, I hung out with them again on April 25, 2013, so yeah, I go way back with these guys, and it was great to see them again. I only wish we could’ve chatted longer. That’s the worst thing about visiting a stadium for just one day. Everything is so rushed. And because I was on the verge of setting a record, I was kind of on edge and eager to head to the Rangers’ bullpen. First I caught up again with Jay. Then, before taking off, I photographed a few of my “AZ” balls . . .

24_three_commemorative_spring_training_balls

. . . and after that I caught up with a young lady named Maxine:

24b_zack_and_maxine

Does she look familiar? Check out this photo of us from 8/22/11 at Progressive Field. That was actually a Watch With Zack game that I did with her brother Maple and their father, David. The following day, the four of us went to games at both Progressive Field *and* PNC Park, and the day after that, we stayed for another game in Pittsburgh. Anyway, I was hoping to get a group shot with the whole family here at Safeco, but there just wasn’t time, and we weren’t able to connect after the game.

Okay, so, let’s talk about Derek Holland, shall we? Check out this photo of him warming up in the bullpen:

25_derek_holland_warming_up

Brandon took that photo, and then I zoomed way in to give you a better look at the ball. It had a commemorative Spring Training logo, and bullpen coach Brad Holman ended up tossing it to me:

26_ball8663_derek_holland_warmup_ball_tossed_by_brad_holman

That was my 16th ball of the day. I was now tied with Greg and needed just one more to break his record.

Having seen the Rangers play on the Road multiple times over the past few seasons, I was aware that most of the 3rd-out balls get tossed to shortstop Elvis Andrus and that he likes to chuck ’em deep into the crowd. Therefore, when Robinson Cano flied out to center fielder Delino DeShields Jr., I hung back and waited. This was the result:

27_ball8664_in_mid_air_thrown_by_elvis_andrus

Andrus threw me the ball — my 17th of the day. (Suck it, Gregory.) Here I am with it:

28_zack_with_ball8664

While posing for that photo, I spotted a little kid with a glove half a dozen rows behind me. I pulled the cleanest/non-commemorative ball out of my backpack and went over and handed it to him.

Of the 17 balls that I’d snagged at that point, I still had 15 in my possession:

29_fifteen_baseballs

I thought about what it would take to snag three more and reach 20. Another 3rd-out ball? Then an umpire ball and a bullpen ball? Or maybe an infield warm-up ball and then . . . hmm. The section behind the Rangers’ dugout turned out to be tougher than I expected, so Brandon and I both wandered elsewhere. He went to the upper deck . . .

30_upper_deck_photo_taken_by_brandon_sloter

. . . and I sat here after counting the number of righties and lefties in the starting lineups:

31_view_during_game_04_12_16

With two outs in the bottom of the 4th inning, Franklin Gutierrez fouled an 0-1 pitch from Derek Holland 30 feet to my left. I took off running through an empty row and figured I was out of luck as the ball sailed toward a guy with a glove — but he dropped it! And the ball bounced down a couple of steps right to me.

Just like that, I had my 18th ball of the day. A friendly usher (who didn’t seem to notice or care that I didn’t belong in his section) walked over and handed me a “Mariners Foul Ball Club” card:

32_ball8665_franklin_gutierrez_foul_ball

Lots of people tweeted at me throughout the day, and when I mentioned the foul ball, things got pretty crazy. Most of the comments were positive, but as they say, haters gonna hate. If you can handle crude/adult language, click here to see what I’m talking about.

Look who caught a foul ball the following inning:

33_rex_and_a_foul_ball_he_caught

That’s Rex! And it was his first foul ball ever. Very nicely done.

Roughly half an hour later, I botched my chance to get another foul ball. I don’t even want to talk about it — I really felt like a dumb-ass — so let me say this instead: in the top of the 8th inning, I made up for it by snagging a Ryan Rua foul ball. It was a towering pop-up behind the plate, hit off the hard-throwing Tony Zych. I sprinted two full sections to my left and reached forward at the last second, but the ball barely fell short of my glove. Thankfully, when it hit the pavement, it bounced up against my chest and was deadened by my puffy jacket, enabling me to smother/scoop it up. That felt so good! And I got another card from the same friendly usher:

34_ball8666_another_foul_ball

Brandon was there for that one, and he took a photo of me with the two foul balls:

35_zack_with_two_foul_balls

Fun fact: this was the 23rd time I had ever snagged two game-used balls during one game, not counting toss-ups — 19 games with two or more foul balls, three games with two home runs (most recently on 9/16/15 at Citizens Bank Park), and one game with a home run *and* a foul ball (on 4/6/11 at Camden Yards).

As for this game at Safeco, I now had 19 balls and really wanted one more. The Rangers ended up winning, 8-0, so I figured my best chance would be at their dugout. Sure enough, as the cluster of guys walked off the field, I got a toss-up from pitching coach Doug Brocail. Here I am reaching out for it with my glove:

36_ball8667_in_mid_air_thrown_by_doug_brocail

I celebrated by giving away eight balls to various kids scattered across the 3rd base side. I’m not sure if Brandon got any of that on video, and it doesn’t really matter. I would’ve given away those balls even if he weren’t there. He’s still working on the video, BTW, and I haven’t seen all the footage. I just grabbed the clips that showed me getting baseballs so that I could take screen shots for this entry. When the video IS ready, I’ll post it on YouTube (so you oughta subscribe to my channel) and perhaps also embed it here.

Here’s my 20th ball of the day:

37_ball8667_20th_of_the_day

As if Rex hadn’t already done enough for me, he offered to give me and Brandon a ride to our hotel near the airport. He said it was on his way home, but still, that was a huge favor, and we greatly appreciated it.

On our way out, he showed me his very cool baseball stitches tattoo:

38_rex_flexing_baseball_tattoo

Rex looks like Matt Holliday, right? With a touch of Roy Halladay mixed in?

Tyler had snagged a 3rd-out ball during the game, so we all had a special ball to pose with:

39_zack_tyler_rex_with_baseballs

I was holding my 20th ball in that photo, and Rex was holding his very first foul ball. (It should be noted that he made a helluva play on it, jumping and reaching high over his head and back-handing it on the fly. I’m proud to be associated with people who are friendly and have good hand-eye coordination. That’s a winning combo.)

Here are the 10 balls that I ended up keeping:

40_the_ten_balls_i_kept_04_12_16

What a night! For a change, I won’t dwell on the coulda/shoulda. Instead I’ll think happy thoughts and focus on everything that worked out right. Huge thanks to Rex and Tyler for helping me and Brandon get inside early. Without them, this whole day would’ve been less fun, less convenient, and not nearly as epic.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 20 baseballs at this game (10 pictured above because I gave 10 away)

• 34 balls in 4 games this season = 8.5 balls per game.

 76 balls in 7 lifetime games at Safeco Field = 10.86 balls per game.

• 1,170 consecutive games with at least one ball

 165 lifetime foul balls during games (not counting toss-ups)

 290 lifetime games with 10 or more balls

 18 lifetime games with 20 or more balls

 23 lifetime games with two or more game-used balls (not counting toss-ups)

8,667 total balls

On a final note, my fundraiser for Pitch In For Baseball is now in its eighth season. Once again, people are pledging money for every home run ball that I snag during games. Here’s some info about the fundraiser, and if you donate, you’ll be eligible to win one of these prizes.

Thanks for reading! More soon . . .

6 comments

  1. raytheaustralian

    Good job Zack. Looks like a full day of work. How does Safeco field rate as a ballpark ? I love the stadium shots at night from up high. Are there any other spring training balls with logos like AZ being used ? Good to see you enjoy snagging baseballs again.

  2. Zack Hample

    I think it’s gorgeous — lots of interesting angles, decks, nooks, crannies, etc. And the access to the bullpens is the best in baseball. You can get VERY close to the pitchers and coaches there with a perfect view. There are also “FL” balls from Spring Training. The design is otherwise identical, though.

  3. Spencer G

    Hi Zack, congrats on your incredible success at this ballgame! Just a quick question which I hope doesn’t sound too stupid. If there is an opportunity for you to receive a toss-up by a player (whose name you don’t know) or by a ballboy/coach, what exactly do you say to gain their attention? I lack this kinda knowledge, so any tips would be helpful! Thanks

  4. Nick G

    Congrats on the 3 gamers! I’m up to 2 lifetime (got my second last week) game balls. I’d probably get 2 every game if I had access to both dugouts at Busch (which is really hard, and I bet you know from experience although I do have tricks to get there every game). Also, what a glo up for Hannah! It’s amazing how much of a difference 5 years has haha

  5. Mike

    Nice! I got two Florida balls at my first day at Fenway. Lot of fun. I’m hoping the Arizona balls will be around when the west coast visits

  6. Zack Hample

    SPENCER G-
    I would just say, “Hey, any chance for a ball over here?” or “Excuse me, coach, could you please spare a baseball?”

    NICK G-
    Yeah, dugout access helps a whole lot. Busch is extremely tough and annoying.

    MIKE-
    Very nice. Good luck with the “AZ” balls.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s