9/19/07 at Chase Field

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

The story of this game began 14 hours early, in the middle of the night . . .

I was in my room at the Super 8 Motel, hanging out with my friends Brad and Kevin, reading the latest box scores, watching “SportsCenter,” checking my email, eating junk food from Circle K, and showing them the photographs I’d taken on September 17th. I forget which one of us spotted it, but in one of the pics from the the upper deck, it appeared that there was a loose baseball sitting in a place that no one could see or reach — no one but us, that is.

Here’s the pic. See if you can find the ball:

1_hidden_ball

In case you’re wondering, the random white speck on the warning track is not the ball; that’s just a piece of trash that had fallen out of the bleachers. THIS, we believed, was the ball . . .

2_hidden_ball_closeup

. . . and we instantly started scheming about how to snag it.

The platform was below the air conditioning vents. The vents were below the terrace at Friday’s Front Row Sports Grill. Friday’s was open all day to the public, so at the very least, we knew we’d have time to make an attempt before the stadium officially opened. The challenge was that the platform didn’t jut out beyond the terrace. Instead, it was tucked directly underneath so we had to come up with a way to see it.

After eating a huge lunch at Bill Johnson’s Big Apple . . .

3_bill_johnsons_big_apple

. . . and taking a quick drive to the outskirts of Phoenix to check out the Oakland Athletics’ Spring Training practice fields . . .

4_spring_training_field

. . . we still didn’t have a plan. I suggested reaching over the terrace railing with my digital camera and taking some pics of the platform. Kevin told me that the platform was too far down, and that we still wouldn’t be able to see the ball.

Hmm.

I suggested lowering my camera on a string. Kevin talked me out of it. I suggested buying a small mirror and lowering THAT on a string. Kevin and Brad and I all looked at each other. We were getting somewhere, but still, even if we lowered a mirror ten feet down to the edge of the platform, then what? The mirror would be dangling straight down, and we’d be looking straight down at it. We still wouldn’t be able to see anything. We needed the mirror to be lowered so that it would be tilted on a 45-degree angle.

On the way to Chase Field . . .

5_chase_field_from_afar

. . . we went into an auto parts store and got ourselves a “blind spot mirror.” Didn’t weigh more than a few ounces. Only cost about three bucks. And best of all, it was curved.

We continued to the ballpark, headed up to the Friday’s terrace, and got to work. I had some extra string in my backpack, and Kevin conveniently found a piece of duct tape on the ground. We left the mirror in its packaging and used a pen to poke two holes on the bottom corners. Then we ran the string through all three holes — the third hole at the top was already there — and pulled it tight at just the right length so that the mirror would drop down at an angle. Then we taped all three parts of the string together and hooked the pen onto the back to give it a little extra weight. (We needed the weight because the air from the vents was causing the contraption to spin and sway. Check out the device:

6_ball_spotting_mirror_device

We were all set to make our big attempt. Brad grabbed my camera. I grabbed the string and the mirror and began to lower it:

7_zack_going_for_the_ball

Brad, not too keen on heights, wanted no part of the operation from this point on, but Kevin had no problem standing next to me and helping me look for the ball.

Long story short: We got a great view of the platform, but for some reason, we were never able to see the ball. Later in the day, we heard from Tony Dobson, a fellow ballhawk and Chase Field regular, that indeed it WAS a ball that we were going for and that it had been there for months.

Alas, our MacGyver-esque attempt fell short, but we had a helluva good time trying, and really, that’s a big part of what ballhawking is all about — having fun and being creative.

At about 3:25pm, I hurried out of Friday’s and ran to the ticket windows . . .

8_ticket_windows_outside_chase_field

. . . and once again overpaid for a seat on the first-base side of home plate (which I never ended up sitting in). By the time I made it back to the terrace, the entire Diamondbacks team had formed a loose circle in left-center field for a lame attempt at stretching:

9_diamondbacks_on_the_field

Soon after, batting practice was underway.

Two days earlier, there weren’t any other fans on the terrace. Now there were half a dozen (maybe they’d been reading this blog?) with gloves, but it didn’t stop me from getting off to my best start of the trip.

Diamondbacks pitching coach Bryan Price started off by tossing me a ball that fell short and hit the terrace facade and plopped into the bleachers down below. For a couple of minutes, it seemed that he wasn’t going to give me another shot, but eventually he did and I moved up a few rows before he threw it. His second throw fell short as well, but since I’d moved back, it fell short into the empty seats just below me, and I had ball #1.

10_bob_wickman_head_shotNow that I think about it, the story of this game actually began about 16 hours early. Remember when I saw Bob Wickman after the game on September 18th in the players’ parking lot and asked him if he’d throw me a ball the next day if I called out to him from the Friday’s terrace? Well, I called out, and Wickman handed ball #2 to bullpen catcher Jeff Motuzas and had HIM throw it to me.

Over the next 10 minutes, several home run balls landed in the bleachers, and at one point, some random high-school-aged kid with an iPod and a red hooded sweatshirt scurried through the rows of benches and grabbed a few.

“Hey!” I yelled down at him from the center field end of the terrace. “Can you please toss one of those balls up here?!”

“Just come on down!” he yelled nervously.

“I can’t!” I said. “I’m not an employee!”

He looked over his shoulder, then looked back up at me and shouted, “Take the elevator!”

“Can’t you just toss up ONE ball? There’s one over there that you missed.”

The kid saw where I was pointing and quickly found the ball, then walked it over to the area directly below me and made a perfect throw. That was ball #3.

Ball #4 was thrown by Livan Hernandez. (Livan gave me a ball each of the three days I was in Phoenix.) The ball fell a couple of feet short, and I leaned over the railing to save it from dropping into the bleachers.

“You’re good!” yelled a kid on my right who’d been shrieking at the players from the moment he’d barged onto the terrace — and was old enough to know better.

“Thanks,” I said, “but the only good thing about it was that I held onto the ball while you crashed into me.”

Ball #5 was a perfect throw from Eric Byrnes, pictured below on the far left:

11_eric_byrnes_red_socks

Ball #6 came from Brandon Medders. This one had been intended for the kid, but it was thrown over his head and I ended up with it. I handed it to him, hoping he’d calm down 12_brandon_medders_screen_shotand give me some space. Didn’t work. But the move still paid off. Medders saw me hand it over, and he fired up ball #7 as a reward. His throw sailed over my head, skipped off an empty table, hit the back wall of the terrace, and bounced back over my head. I had to jump and reach up and make a bare-handed grab to prevent it from flying back over the railing.

It was 4:15pm. The gates were going to open in another 15 minutes, so I left the terrace and got on line at the left field gate. I wasn’t thinking about breaking any records. I was just hoping to reach double digits, and I was glad to be just three balls away.

I ran inside and headed to the left field foul line and found ball #8 in the seats. Another fan, who must’ve entered from a different gate, made it down to the front row at around the same time and found a second ball one section over, and of course I was pissed that I hadn’t been running faster.

My next destination was the bleachers in straight-away left field, and I promptly plucked ball #9 off the warning track with my glove trick. I raced to the Diamondbacks’ dugout as their portion of BP ended but didn’t get anything. Then I hurried back out to the bleachers as the Giants took the field. Ball #10 was a home run that I caught on the fly. Ball #11 was thrown by Dan Giese. (Who?! Exactly.) Ball #12 was tossed by Daniel Ortmeier. Ball #13 was flipped up by Scott Atchison after I got scolded by an usher for trying to get it with the glove trick. Ball #14 was a homer by Omar Vizquel that I caught on the fly after reaching far down over left field wall. Here’s what it looked like out in left field:

13_left_field_during_batting_practice_09_19_07

I snagged so many balls in such a small amount of time that I lost track for a few minutes and forgot how many I had. Baseballs were bulging out of every pocket. I didn’t have time to label them. I was falling behind on my notes. I struggled to remember how I got them all, and when I realized how many I had, it occurred to me that I might have a shot at my one-day record of 19 balls.

Several lefties were now taking turns in the cage, so I sprinted through the concourse behind the batter’s eye and ran down the steps behind the pool in right-center. After about five minutes, someone on the Giants — possibly Ryan Klesko — launched a deep fly ball in my direction, which hit the stone deck surrounding the pool, bounced five feet over my head, ricocheted off the dark green wall behind me, flew back over my outstretched glove, and landed on the small gravel-filled ledge in the front row. I felt like I was trapped in a pinball game and got completely twisted around, but I managed to grab ball #15 with my glove as the nearest fan’s bare hand was inches away. Here’s a photo that shows where the ball landed and bounced:

14_ball3237_location

I was hoping to snag more than one ball in right field, but it wasn’t meant to be. The competition was pretty tough, and the batters weren’t hitting much.

There was one more round of BP. Three of the four hitters were right-handed, so I hurried back to left field. No luck whatsoever, but during the last few minutes, I saw a line drive skip over the outfield wall and disappear into the bullpen. Naturally I ran over, and when I got there, I saw THREE balls sitting on the grass. Ball #16 was two inches out from the back wall, and I snagged it easily with the glove trick. The other two balls? Not an easy task. They were both about 10 feet away from the wall, so I was going to have to fling my glove out and knock the balls closer. I knew I could do it, but I was concerned about pissing off stadium security. If I hadn’t been going for a record, there’s no way I would’ve tried to get those balls, but GAH! I just couldn’t resist. The way I saw it, my glove was old, so if security confiscated it, they would’ve been doing me a favor. And if they ejected me, I would’ve bought another ticket and gone right back in (and stayed on the right field side). I had to go for it. I didn’t want to have to snag four balls during the game to break the record. That would’ve been nearly impossible here at Chase Field where it’s tough as hell to sneak down to the dugouts.

I managed to knock the first ball a few feet closer, and that’s as far as I got. The on-field security guard (wearing the tan shirt in the photo below) immediately started walking toward me, and another guard began marching down the steps behind me. The guard down below tossed the first ball to some fans near the foul pole and then, surprisingly, he flipped up the second one — ball #17 — to me. I couldn’t believe it. I thought I was about to be arrested and instead I took another step toward the record.

15_guard_who_gave_me_ball3239

When the other guard made it all the way down the steps, he told me that my “gadget” was “very innovative” but that he was “going to have to take the string.” (Oh noooo!! Not the string!! I only have two other extremely long pieces of it in my backpack!!)

I gave him the most sincere insincere apology I could muster and assured him it wouldn’t happen again. Then he asked for my glove and began trying to untie the string. (Yeah, good luck with that, pal.) He had no chance. I’d made about a dozen tight knots to make sure the string would withstand all kinds of tugs and jerks.

“Here,” I said, pulling out a nail clipper, “let me help you with that.”

“Thanks,” he said.

“You’re not gonna confiscate this too,” I said, “are you?” and we both forced a laugh. To break the awkward silence that followed, I told him that security in some ballparks has no problem with fans bringing in all sorts of ball-retrieving devices.

“Really?” he asked.

“Really. But again, I apologize. I’m from out of town, and I didn’t know that the rules here were so strict.”

“No problem,” he said. “Enjoy the game.”

I had half an hour to kill . . .

16_zack_standing_around

. . . so I knocked the last two items off my “to-do” list. First I bought a couple of Chase Field postcards at the team store, and then I took some pics of the rotunda on the left field side:

17_chase_field_rotunda

It was beautiful — unlike anything I’d ever seen at Shea and Yankee Stadium, my two home ballparks.

By the time I finished wandering around, two pairs of Diamondbacks were playing catch in the left field corner, and I needed another ball. The difference between starting the game with 18 instead of 17 would be huge. Motuzas, the bullpen catcher, finished throwing first, and when I asked him for the ball, he said, “I already gave you one today. In fact, I saw you get two!” I had no comeback. I was busted. I just hoped that the other two guys hadn’t heard him. Those other two guys were starting catcher Chris Snyder and bullpen coach Glenn Sherlock.

18_ball3240_being_used

I waited until the instant that they finished throwing — I could tell by their body language when that was about to take place — and then I asked Sherlock for the ball. He turned right around and made eye contact with me and lobbed it gently to me. There were a few other fans with gloves in the front row. Being in laid-back Phoenix, I didn’t expect any of them to reach in front of me and snatch the ball, but just to be sure, I jumped up and reached up for ball #18 at the last second in case anyone tried to interfere.

Just two more balls to go, and I’d have a new one-game record. Being so close brought an extra layer of excitement and urgency to the game that I’d never felt.

I got Chris Snyder’s autograph on my ticket . . .

19_chris_snyder_autograph

. . . and then established my plan for the game. If I hadn’t been going for the record, I would’ve actually sat near my assigned seat and gone for foul balls, but foul balls are much harder to predict than third-out balls that get tossed over the dugouts every half-inning. Security at Chase Field was too tight for me to run back and forth from one side of the ballpark to the other and play both dugouts, so I had to pick one. Clearly, it had to be the visiting team’s side — the 1st base side, which was near my ticketed seat — so I embarked on a 20-minute maneuver that I hoped would get me down to the Giants’ dugout.

Two entries ago, I tried explaining how the seats and ushers are set up, but I realize that it’ll make no sense here, so I drew a cheap diagram to show you what I did:

20_crappy_seating_diagram

Just after the national anthem, I used my overpriced ticket to get past the first set of ushers in the concourse. (The first set of ushers are represented by the red exes at the bottom of the diagram, and as you can see, there was an usher at every staircase.) Then I cut to the right and headed through the empty seats past the end of the dugout, just beyond the spot where the aisle ends. It was essential to go past the aisle because there was a second set of ushers there as well. Once I got past it, I turned left and headed down the steps and tiptoed into one of the first few rows. There were also a few guards standing on the warning track in front of the dugout, looking up into the seats to catch people like me, so I had to move really slowly and calmly. I often moved one seat or one row at a time, waiting for the right moment when all three of the nearest ushers and guards were simultaneously looking the other way. But I couldn’t let them see that I was looking at them. Other times, I’d wait for a group of fans to walk down my staircase, and when they squeezed into a row behind me and were all briefly standing up, I used them as a shield and inched a little closer to where I wanted to be. One false move and I was done. I was totally stressed, but in a good way, if that’s possible, and my systematic movements continued through the first inning.

Eventually, after climbing over a few more seats and creeping though partially empty rows, I reached the staircase behind the outfield end of the dugout — the perfect place to be for third-out balls at Chase Field. Nice view, eh?

21_view_behind_1b_dugout_09_19_07

The first two-thirds of the game didn’t help my cause. Mark Reynolds struck out to end the first inning, and catcher Bengie Molina tossed the ball over the home-plate end of the dugout. Doug Davis grounded out to end the second, and first baseman Scott McClain kept the ball. Augie Ojeda grounded into a fielder’s choice to end the third, and second baseman Kevin Frandsen rolled the ball back to the mound. Justin Upton flied out to end the fourth, and center fielder Rajai Davis tossed the ball to the kid on my left. Miguel Montero grounded out to end the fifth, and McClain gave the ball to the kid on my right. AAHH!! I was so close to tying my record, but it just wasn’t happening. I figured I’d at least have a shot at tying it by getting a ball from the ump after the game, but I didn’t want a tie. What good would THAT do other than add one more ball to my lifetime total? I needed ONE third-out ball, and then ONE ball from the ump, and that was it. Why was it so difficult?! Chris Young grounded out to end the sixth, and McClain tossed the ball to another kid. Good for the kids. That’s how it should be. But it was still frustrating.

Then I found a ticket stub on the ground. This wasn’t just good — it was great. It was incredible. It meant I could leave that section and try to play the other dugout and then come back. It meant that my chances of getting a third-out ball had just doubled.

22_game_ticket_09_19_07I raced over to the third base side and waltzed past the usher in the concourse while he was looking the other way. Then I moved down a few rows, waited for the first out, and walked confidently toward the usher in the aisle. When she looked at me suspiciously, I looked her right in the eye and gave a slight smile and a nod as if I owned the place, and she didn’t say a word as I kept walking down the steps behind the middle of the dugout. WOW! Molina grounded into a fielder’s choice to end the top of the seventh, and shortstop Stephen Drew tossed the ball one section to my left, gosh-durnit. But guess what happened right after that? I found a ticket stub in that section as well! I now had complete access to both dugouts.

I ran back to the Giants’ side and strutted back down to my original spot. Snyder and Drew led off with back-to-back singles. Ojeda bunted into a force out. Pinch hitter Jeff Cirillo grounded into a fielder’s choice. Byrnes lifted a routine fly ball to center field, and I took off down the steps with the crack of the bat. I was crouching in the front row by the time Davis caught it, then kept my eye on him as he threw the ball toward the infield. Omar Vizquel caught it on a bounce, and kept it in his glove as he jogged in. Everyone else in the section thought Davis had the ball and waited in anticipation for him to approach. I yelled “Omar!” and flapped my glove a couple times, and the future Hall of Famer flipped ball #19 directly from his glove to mine.

My heart was racing. I’d tied my record — a record that had taken 15 years to establish, and which had stood since 2004.

I only had nine more outs to work with, and I realized that my next trip to the Diamondbacks’ dugout would be my last. One more inning, and there wouldn’t be a third-out ball. There’d only be a game-ending ball, and I’d already made up my mind to stay on the Giants’ side and go for an umpire ball.

McClain singled to start the eighth, and Klesko followed by flying out to Byrnes. Pedro Feliz then flied out to Justin Upton, and Ray Durham stepped up the plate. I needed him to make contact. If he struck out, Snyder was going to end up with the ball and toss it over the wrong end of the dugout. And I needed Durham to make an out in the middle of the field. I couldn’t have him fly out near the foul lines because the outfielder who made the catch would toss the ball to the nearest section. What I needed was a . . . GROUND BALL!!! Ojeda fielded it at second base and fired it to Tony Clark who’d just replaced Conor Jackson at first base. Clark started jogging in with the ball, and I thought back to his days with the 23_tony_clark_head_shotTigers in the 90s. Somehow, somewhere, I’d once heard that he liked being called by his initials, so I started shouting “Tee-Cee!!!” before he even crossed the foul line. I kept shouting and started waving. I’m sure everyone in the section thought I was a complete nutjob, and I didn’t care. Clark approached the dugout and flipped the ball . . . to me . . . and I reached out and caught it!

BALL #20!!!
A new record!!!
Holy Mother of God!!!

I don’t even remember running back to the Giants’ side, and for all I know, I might have actually been flying. All I can say is that Reynolds struck out to end the eighth inning, and Molina took the ball back to the other end of the dugout.

The Diamondbacks were winning, 6-4. I was hoping the Giants would tie it up and send the game into extra innings, but Jose Valverde nailed down his 46th save of the season. By the time Molina flied out to end the game, I hadn’t yet made it to the home plate end of the dugout. That’s where the umps enter and exit the field in Phoenix. I didn’t think this would be a problem because the home plate ump — on this night it was Ted Barrett — usually waits at the plate for the other umps to walk over, and then they all exit the field 24_ted_barrett_head_shottogether. But for whatever reason, Barrett immediately rushed toward the dugout. I started hurdling seats — no, I didn’t bump into anyone — and barely reached the end of the dugout as he stepped onto the warning track.

“Mister Barrett!! Mister Barrett!! By any chance could you please spare an extra baseball? Please?!”

He didn’t even look up at me. He just kept walking, and at the last second, he reached into the pouch on his hip and rolled ball #21 to me across the dugout roof.

25_zack_21st_ball_of_day

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 282 balls in 35 games this season = 8.06 balls per game.

• 490 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 733 lifetime balls outside of New York

• 56 balls in 5 lifetimes games at Chase Field = 11.2 balls per game.

• 72 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

• 8th time snagging 10 or more balls in three consecutive games

Competition Factor of 899,955 = new record.

• 21 balls at one game = new record.

• 35 balls in two consecutive games = new record.

• 47 balls in three consecutive games = new record.

• 4,502 words in this blog entry = new record.

• 3,243 total balls

5 comments

  1. Long Relief

    Z-Man, I drove by Chase when down there for Spring Training. Wouldn’t mind catching a game there some time. I thought the Phoenix area was beautiful. Any plans to get to the Midwest the rest of the season?

    BGB

  2. Zack Hample

    TC229HRS-
    Perhaps as soon as 17 hours from now at Citi Field, weather/BP permitting.

    LONG RELIEF-
    You should really try to make it to this stadium. It has the friendliest staff/customer service in the majors. Not sure about the midwest. I’m thinking either west coast or east coast for a mid-June trip, and after that I have no idea.

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