4/25/16 at Comerica Park

Do you remember hearing about a guy in Detroit who snagged FIVE foul balls during one game? It happened on April 11th — the day I was in Oakland — and as you might expect, my phone blew up. Dozens of folks sent me articles about him, and one person suggested that I travel to Comerica Park for a ballhawking showdown. So I did. That was the purpose of this trip, and it was supposed to be huge. Big Cat from Barstool Sports was planning to show up with two camera men, and my friend Muneesh Jain was going to be there to take professional photos.

double_facepalm_for_my_stupidity_and_bad_luckUnfortunately the weather forecast (combined with my stupidity) derailed everything. For days leading up to this game, the internet said it was going to rain. Muneesh, who lives in New York but grew up in Michigan, told me not to worry about it. “I’m telling you,” he texted two days in advance, “the weather in Michigan can change on a dime.” I appreciated his optimism, but didn’t believe him, so with the forecast still looking bleak, I told Big Cat that he shouldn’t bother making the four-hour drive from Chicago. If there wasn’t going to be batting practice and the only action would consist of me begging for a few toss-ups, what was the point?

My trip to Detroit was booked, so I was planning to be there regardless, and guess what? The weather turned out to be gorgeous. Never in my life have I been so disappointed to see the sun.

Muneesh had flown into Detroit two days early to catch up with friends, so he picked me up at the airport, drove us to the stadium, and treated me to lunch at a famous sports-themed restaurant called Hockeytown:

1_muneesh_in_detroit

Did you notice what he was wearing? It looks like a standard Tigers shirt, but actually says “Detroit Beisbolcats.” Pretty cool.

We arrived at the stadium early enough to do a mini-photo shoot with a different “big cat.” Here I am standing on its giant paw:

2_zack_posing_with_the_big_cat

Look what I saw as we walked around the stadium toward the left field gate:

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Not only was the batting cage set up, but the grounds crew was watering the infield! Thanks a lot, accuweather.com.

At around 4:30pm, I met up with the guy who’d snagged all those foul balls. Here we are:

4_bill_dugan_and_zack

His name is Bill Dugan, and as you can see, he’s rather large — 6-foot-4 and 270 pounds, in case you were wondering. I joked with him that if a ball ended up landing between us, I wouldn’t even bother going for it. As it turned out, though, he was super-friendly, and we got along great with each other.

Muneesh seized the moment by whipping out a fancy voice recorder and interviewing us for his podcast:

5_muneesh_interviewing_us_for_his_podcast

It’s called “The Clubhouse Podcast,” and it’s actually a pretty big deal. He co-hosts weekly episodes with Broadway star Anthony Rapp, and they’ve had some big-time guests, including Emmy-winning actor Jon Hamm, comedian Jimmy Pardo, and “Jurassic World” star Ty Simpkins. Oh, and do you remember when Muneesh interviewed me at the 2015 All-Star Game in Cincinnati? Here’s the direct link to that episode. Muneesh is going to release the Detroit interview very soon. The best way to catch it is to subscribe for free to his podcast on iTunes. And hey, since there clearly aren’t enough links in this paragraph, here’s the website for the podcast. Check it out. It’s damn good.

I should also mention that Muneesh used to run a sports magazine in Detroit and had a media credential for this game, so while Bill and I continued schmoozing outside the stadium, Muneesh headed inside and took photos like this:

6_miguel_cabrera_taking_bp_photo_by_muneesh_from_the_field

And this:

7_victor_martinez_and_justin_upton_photo_by_muneesh_from_the_field

Bill and I discussed how to handle/quantify our ballhawking competition. Big Cat, had he been there, would have served as the announcer and referee, but now that it was just us, we had to come up with our own rules. We considered a point system whereby a thrown ball would have been worth one point, a BP homer picked up off the ground would’ve been worth two points, a BP homer caught on the fly would’ve been worth three points, and so on, all the way up to catching a game home run on the fly, but we scrapped all of that. It was too complicated, and ultimately we just wanted to have fun with it and not stress ourselves out. We decided that the person with the most balls at the end of the day would “win,” but that there was something to be said for game-used balls.

I got inside early with some season ticket holders at 5pm, but unfortunately we were all confined to the left field seats. This was the view from my lousy spot:

8_view_from_left_field_during_bp_04_25_16

What made it lousy? Oh, you know, having a damn bullpen between me and the field. Basically, if guys hit home runs that barely clear an outfield wall, I want to be able to catch them. It sucks to be trapped in an area where home runs have to be hit extra far to reach me.

Here’s what the seats looked like on my left:

9_left_field_seats_during_bp_04_25_16

In the photo above, that’s Bill on the next staircase over. We agreed to try to stay out of each other’s way, but sometimes, when there was clearly a “best” spot, we ended up near each other.

Bill snagged the first ball of the day — a home run that landed near him in the seats — but I kept pace by grabbing one of my own soon after, thanks to a lucky ricochet.

10_ball8742_zack_and_bill_one_ball_each

Several minutes later, another guy wandered down the stairs and stood right in front of me:

11_fan_wearing_snow_gloves_for_the_purpose_of_catching_a_ball

Did you notice his ski gloves? It wasn’t THAT cold, so I asked him if he was wearing them for the purpose of catching a ball. The answer was yes.

During the next group of BP, I moved back half a dozen rows for one batter in particular. I didn’t know who it was, but he clearly had more power than everyone else, and sure enough, he ended up blasting a home run right to me. Muneesh had just made it out to the seats at that point and got the following photo of me peeking at my roster:

12_zack_trying_to_figure_out_who_hit_ball8743

I still had no idea who had hit it, but thankfully a couple of the regulars told me it was James McCann.

As the Tigers finished BP and began jogging off the field, I got Anthony Gose’s attention and got him to throw me a ball from about 150 feet away. Here I am just after catching it — look closely and you’ll see the ball in the pocket of my glove:

13_zack_catching_ball8744_long_throw_from_anthony_gose

Did you notice Bill in the background smiling and pointing at me? I know it would make a more compelling story if we were bitter rivals, so I’m sorry to report that it really *was* a friendly competition.

At the end of Tigers BP, we posed for a photo with our baseballs:

14_zack_with_three_balls_and_bill_with_one

(Guilford College in the hooouuuuse!)

Every so often, Muneesh recorded a bit more for his podcast:

15_muneesh_recording_more_for_his_podcast

Here I am with him (after changing into my A’s gear):

16_zack_and_muneesh_in_left_field

When the rest of the stadium opened, I headed to right field:

17_view_from_right_field_during_bp_04_25_16

Look who also headed out that way:

18_bill_dugan_in_right_field

That’s right. Bill also knew that it was the place to be, and once again, we made a point of staying one section away from each other.

Here I am running for a ball:

19_zack_running_for_a_ball

I didn’t snag that one.

Check out the following photo, taken moments before I got my fourth ball of the day:

20_zack_catching_ball8745_from_sean_doolittle

The ball that I was preparing to catch was thrown by Sean Doolittle. One minute earlier, he had tossed one to that woman, and now here she was trying to reach in front of me. But hey, no big deal. I made the catch without incident, and it’s a good thing because . . . look!

21_ball8745_blue_jays_commemorative

I was stunned. And thrilled. And delighted. And excited. The Blue Jays are one of three teams using commemorative balls this season. The other two are the Braves and Cubs, and I’m hoping/planning to add all three to my collection. I was prepared to travel to Toronto, but now I don’t have to (and no, that’s not meant as a diss to Canada — it’s just that traveling takes a lot of time and money).

Here I am talking to a young fan named Billy, who recognized me:

22_zack_talking_to_a_young_fan_named_billy

Here I am snagging my fifth ball of the day — a home run that landed in the seats:

23_zack_snagging_ball8746

I’m not sure who hit it, but I can tell you that it was another Blue Jays commemorative ball. (The A’s had just been to Toronto and obviously left with extras. What a nice little coincidence.)

In the photo above, did you notice the ball that Billy was holding? It’s a cleaner version of this — a Florida Spring Training ball. For some reason, the A’s were also using those in BP. My sixth ball was a line-drive homer that I caught on the fly after drifting down the steps. Here I am admiring it, along with the other commemorative ball that I’d just snagged:

24_zack_after_snagging_ball8747

It was nice to have gotten a variety of baseballs:

25_nice_variety_of_baseballs

Bill, meanwhile, was doing pretty well. He got a couple more balls in right field to bring his total to three.

He and I headed back to left field for the final group of BP, and soon after I arrived, I botched an opportunity, albeit a difficult one, to snag No. 7. It was a home run that landed on the bullpen roof and in-between-hopped me in the front row. If I’d been standing there by myself, I would have leaned back to lengthen the bounce and probably caught it, but because there was another man on my left, I was forced to lunge for it, and it bounced off my glove and rolled back toward the field. Muneesh snapped a photo just before it dropped off the far edge of the roof:

26_ball_that_zack_missed_rolling_off_the_edge_of_the_bullpen_canopy

So sad.

Here I am climbing over a row of seats:

27_zack_climbing_over_seats

I didn’t get that ball either.

Toward the end of BP, I caught a home run while climbing down over a row. Moments later, I was camped out under another one, but got bumped at the last second and was dismayed to have the ball deflect off my glove. Wanna guess who got that one? That’s right — Bill.

Here we are after BP, holding up our baseballs:

28_zack_and_bill_and_muneesh_with_balls_after_bp

Poor Muneesh.

Bill and I both ended up giving away some of our baseballs to kids, but for the sake of getting a good photo, we had decided to hang onto all of them during BP.

Look what Bill gave me when we finally had a moment to relax:

29_signed_headshot_of_bill_dugan

He’s an actor. I was honored to receive an inscribed head shot.

Here I am taking a selfie with someone after BP . . .

30_zack_taking_selfie_with_fan

. . . and here I am using the glove trick for a ball in the visitors bullpen:

31_zack_glove_trick_04_25_16

In the previous photo, did you notice the person in the upper right corner? That was a guard who didn’t notice me (because of the perfect placement of the flag pole) until Bill walked over and pretended to whack me with his umbrella. He was just goofing around for the camera, but unfortunately it cost me because the guard walked over and picked up the ball and handed it to someone else. Womp-womp. Bill was very apologetic, and I forgive him. I knew he wasn’t trying to screw me over.

While watching Kendall Graveman warming up . . .

32_kendall_graveman_warming_up

. . . I signed two copies of my books for this guy named Ben:

33_zack_and_ben_with_the_baseball_and_with_watching_baseball_smarter

He ended up getting a ball tossed from the bullpen, as did another fan named Brandon. I didn’t think the A’s would give away another until I spotted one on the ground:

34_ball8749_on_the_ground

Pitching coach Curt Young ended up tossing it to me, and we all posed with our baseballs:

35_ben_brandon_zack_with_baseballs

Congrats to Brandon — that was his first ball ever!

By the time the game started, I had snagged eight balls, and Bill had gotten four. Here’s where I hung out for left-handed batters:

36_view_for_left_handed_batters

Look who was lurking near me in the cross-aisle:

37_bill_dugan_on_my_right

It was Bill. See him leaning casually against the wall? (Note how high the railing is behind his head. There’ll be a story about that later.) The guards love him. He’d told them about me and our little competition, and they fully supported it. They allowed us to hang out in the aisle as long as we promised to be careful and not run around like crazy.

Bill ended up snagging a foul ball early in the game. This was my “Can you believe this effin’ guy?” reaction:

38_bill_dugan_with_the_first_foul_ball_of_the_night

I forget who hit it, but I vividly recall seeing the ball sail back toward us. It was hit closer to Bill and landed on a folding chair toward the front of the aisle. I was hoping that it’d squirt past him, which would’ve enabled me to scoop it up from behind, but he got a lucky bounce and played it well.

There wasn’t much action for the next few innings, so I decided to be proactive and go for a third-out ball. In the bottom of the 6th, I headed to the seats behind the A’s dugout . . .

39_view_from_1st_base_dugout

. . . and ended up getting the inning-ending ball tossed to me by Coco Crisp. It was, indeed, THAT easy. I gave a ball to the nearest kid (who hadn’t even been paying attention) and hurried back to my spot in the aisle behind home plate.

With two outs in the top of the 7th, Billy Burns swung a bit too late/low on a pitch from Jordan Zimmermann and sent a foul ball flying back in my direction, roughly 20 feet to my left. I could tell that it was going to fall a bit short, so I maneuvered in front of a 60-something-year-old man, reached out over the railing (above the last row of seats down below), and caught it. That man was not the least bit upset. He was excited for me and also *very* appreciative of my effort.

“You saved my balls!!” he shouted gleefully.

“Yeah, man, he sho’ did!” said his friend, and the three of us laughed about it.

The first guy kept talking about his balls and how I saved them. I’m not kidding. He must have repeated that line half a dozen times. He didn’t want the ball. He just wanted to take a photo with it and ask me if I played ball . . . and talk about how I saved HIS balls. It was hilarious.

Here are the two gamers that I had gotten:

40_ball8750_and_ball8751

That brought my total for the day to ten, and in case you’ve lost track, Bill had five.

The highlight of the day was not catching the foul ball, nor was it meeting Bill or connecting with Muneesh. Nope. Sorry. The highlight was running into this guy:

41_guy_named_gordy_who_is_awesome

His name is Gordy, and he works at Comerica Park. This was his day off, so he spent it bringing smiles to thousands of people. The Tigers should give him a raise and ask him to dress like that full-time (including the pink glitter that was clinging to his chest hair — take my word for it).

Remember Billy with the green shirt from BP? He caught up with me late in the game (see the shirt peeking out?) and asked me to sign his copy of my latest book, The Baseball:

42_zack_and_billy_with_the_baseball

Here I am with a little kid that I gave a ball to:

43_zack_and_little_girl_with_a_giveaway_ball

(Once again, do you see the height of the railing behind me? Good.)

With the Tigers leading, 7-3, I headed down to their dugout with two outs in the 9th inning:

44_view_behind_3rd_base_dugout_in_the_9th_inning

“What’re the odds,” I thought, “that the last batter of the game is gonna hit a foul ball right to the spot where I’d been standing all night?”

Those odds, it turned out, were painfully good. The final batter was Mark Canha, and wouldn’t you know it — the son-of-a-gun sent one shooting back over the protective screen *right* in Bill’s direction. It sailed too high above the aisle for him to reach it, but the seats behind the aisle were so empty that he hoisted himself up on the concrete ledge and jumped over the railing and scampered up a few rows and grabbed the ball before anyone else could get there. (Some stadiums are great for foul balls; Comerica Park is one of them.) And then Canha grounded out to 2nd base.

After the game, while he and I took a photo with our baseballs . . .

45_zack_and_bill_with_baseballs

. . . Muneesh was in the clubhouse taking photos of Tigers manager Brad Ausmus:

46_brad_ausmus_photographed_by_muneesh_in_the_clubhouse

Yeah.

But back to the baseballs . . .

I had snagged ten but was only holding eight because I’d given two away. An hour later, I gave away two more to Muneesh’s friends, who let us crash at their place and who have two young children. As for Bill, he had snagged six balls and still had them all for the final photo, but brought a few back the next day to give away.

Who won the competition? I suppose I did because I ended up with more baseballs. I also caught three BP homers on the fly, and Bill didn’t catch any, but hang on a second. He snagged *two* foul balls during the game, and I only got one. But I caught my foul ball on the fly. It should also be noted that he didn’t have A’s gear and therefore didn’t go for any toss-ups from them. Is that his fault? Or should it be taken into account when determining the winner? It’s hard to say, but the fact is that he *was* competition, and it was great to meet him and step inside his world for a few hours. He’s a talented ballhawk, very generous with his baseballs, and everyone at the stadium loves him. He’s like the BFG, and I’m glad to now be able to call him a friend.

When Muneesh finally made it outside, he interviewed us one final time for his podcast:

47_muneesh_final_recording_for_podcast

Once again, here’s the link where you can subscribe for free.

Muneesh is one of those people who, at the tender age of 30-something, has lived multiple lives with countless highs and lows (including six near-death experiences). Several years ago, he drove 17,000 miles in 95 days to catch a game at all 30 MLB stadiums. He has a website dedicated to that trip called Rounding Third with photos and write-ups from each place. Truly amazing. I only met him last year, but it feels like I’ve known him forever. <3

Here’s one final photo outside the stadium of me and Bill:

48_bill_and_zack_outside_stadium

He was pointing at me as if to say, “He’s the man,” and I returned the gesture because HE’S the man.

This wasn’t a tearful goodbye. We were both going to be at the game the next day . . .

BALLHAWKING STATS:

49_the_six_balls_i_kept_04_25_16• 10 baseballs at this game (six pictured here because I gave four away)

• 118 balls in 13 games this season = 9.08 balls per game.

 50 balls in 8 lifetime games at Comerica Park = 6.25 balls per game.

• 1,179 consecutive games with at least one ball

8,751 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.

8 comments

  1. Big Glove Bob

    Great post. I was at Comerica last year, I liked the park, but didn’t love the park. Thought it was a bit spendy for being in Detroit. My biggest memory of Comerica was the assault on my senses that they passed off as a fireworks “show”.
    I am used to Kauffman Stadium. There they have a lot of land so they set up outside the stadium. They set the fireworks to music and the show has some artistic merit. In Detroit, they set up the fireworks right on the centerfield grass and it was about 10-12 minutes of what usually passes for a grand finale. The fireworks were powerful and loud and instead of being a thing of peaceful beauty like at the K, it was like being in the most pit at a death metal show. On a side note, with all the people you know around the country, you sure save on having to take taxi’s from the various airports.

    Big Glove Bob

  2. Will McElhattan

    Hi Zack I was wondering if you are going to PNC Park this season?

    Thanks,
    Will

  3. Zack Hample

    BIG GLOVE BOB-
    Wow, yeah, the difference in those two shows are like night and day. I’m not much a fireworks connoisseur, so I never really thought about it, but now I totally see what you mean. You’re right about saving money. It’s so nice to have offers for rides and places to stay in so many cities.

    WILL-
    I hope so, possibly even this month, but I’m still not sure of the date(s).

  4. Dennis B.

    That’s a nice variety of balls this game! What is your record for different balls in one game? Too bad a Selig didn’t sneak in.

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