6/1/16 at Turner Field

Last game ever for me at Turner Field? I wasn’t sure, so I treated it like it was. I started by taking a good long look around the parking lot where the Braves’ former home, Fulton County Stadium, was located:

1_zack_in_the_parking_lot

I made it to Fulton County for one game when I was 15 years old (here’s my blog entry about it), so to be back in this space was extra meaningful.

Here’s the spot where Hank Aaron’s record-breaking home run landed in 1974:

2_hank_aaron_715th_home_run_landing_spot

Here’s another look at the parking lot and its tall walls:

3_fulton_county_stadium_old_location

Turner Field was way off in the distance:

4_turner_field_from_afar

I headed over to the center field gate at around 4pm, and half an hour later, I was the first one in the seats. In the screen shot below, you can see me walking up the stairs toward the batter’s eye, looking for baseballs:

5_zack_alone_in_the_left_field_seats

That screen shot was from a video that was filmed by my friend Brandon. He’s a professional photographer/videographer, and we’ve been traveling to various stadiums to do videos for my YouTube channel.

Before the Braves started hitting, Giants starter Matt Cain began playing catch in left field:

6_matt_cain_playing_catch_with_ball8919

When he finished, I got him to throw me the ball, but it fell short and ricocheted back onto the field. The red arrows below indicate where it went:

7_ball8919_falling_short_of_zack

In the following screen shot, you can see two important things. First, the Braves had started taking BP, and second, coach Eddie Perez had retrieved the ball and was in the process of hitting it back to Cain with his fungo bat. Check it out:

8_eddie_perez_hitting_it_back_to_matt_cain

Cain threw it to me again, and this time his aim was perfect:

9_zack_catching_ball8919

This was a particularly meaningful ball . . .

10_ball8919_1200th_consecutive_game_with_at_least_one_ball

. . . because it extended my consecutive games streak to 1,200. The last time I went to a game and didn’t snag at least one ball was September 2, 1993.

Here I am standing next to Chocolate Papa:

11_zack_and_chocolate_papa

That’s an awesome nickname — not sure how he got it, but hey, even if he made it up himself, he might as well wear it with pride.

I used the glove trick to snag my second ball of the day and then handed it to the nearest/littlest kid:

12_zack_giving_ball8920_to_a_kid

When the entire stadium opened at 5pm, I raced over to right field and found a ball in the front row. Then I snagged this ball . . .

13_ball8922_flying_into_the_seats

. . . which was thrown by Bud Norris. I’m not sure who he was aiming for — probably the kid in the front row, so after I picked it up, I gave it to him:

14_zack_giving_ball8922_to_a_kid

Here I am catching my fifth ball — a toss-up from coach Alan Butts:

15_zack_catching_ball8923

Here’s a screen shot that shows my sixth ball streaking into the seats in left-center field:

16_ball8924_flying_into_the_seats

I’m not sure who hit it. All I can tell you is that it was a right-handed batter on the Braves, but anyway, if you look closely at the image above, you can see me (in the light blue shirt) on the stairs, just before I darted to my left and grabbed it in an empty row.

When the Giants took the field and started playing catch, Brandon got a great shot of Johnny Cueto staring us down:

17_jonny_cueto_staring_down_brandon

Several minutes later, I got Brandon Belt’s attention and got him to chuck a ball to me from about 100 feet away. See him letting it fly?

18_brandon_belt_throwing_ball8925

His throw fell a bit short, so I had to climb down over a row to make the catch:

19_zack_catching_ball8925

When the Giants started hitting, I rushed out to deep left field and played the cross-aisle for Hunter Pence. I ended up chasing down a ball that he hooked inside the foul pole. Unfortunately Brandon didn’t get a shot of it, so all I can do is show myself holding the ball (and grinning like a doofus) after the fact:

20_zack_with_ball8926

I headed to right-center for the final group of BP. I only got one ball out there, but man, lemme tell ya, it felt goooood. It was hit by Brandon Belt, and while the ball was in mid-air, I climbed/jumped down over three rows of seats. I knew that it wasn’t going to reach the stands on the fly, so I prepared to catch it on the bounce. Here I am jumping down over the final row as the ball skipped up off the warning track:

21_zack_climbing_down_over_yet_another_row_for_ball8927

It bounced a bit higher than I expected, so I had to jump in order to catch it:

22_zack_jumping_for_ball8927

Then I climbed back up over a row and handed it to a girl:

23_zack_giving_ball8927_to_a_kid

People often assume that I steal baseballs from kids when in fact I often give baseballs away. By posting these images, I hope to encourage other fans to be generous too, and I also hope it’ll cast a positive light on ballhawking. We’re not monsters, and in fact the most experienced ballhawks are more likely to give away the most balls.

(By the way, the Braves are using special balls for the final season at Turner Field, but none of the ones I got in BP were commemorative. Womp-womp.)

After BP, I posed for photos with a bunch of fans:

24_zack_posing_for_photos_with_fans

It’s been great getting to meet and talk to so many friendly people at games this year.

Brandon got a great shot of some folks doing the Tomahawk Chop:

25_fans_doing_the_tomahawk_chop

Then I wandered all over the place to show and talk about the stadium:

26_zack_wandering

I’m hoping that in 10 or 20 or 100 years, when people want to see what Turner Field was like, they’ll watch this video.

Here’s a photo that I took in the upper deck:

27_view_from_left_field_upper_deck

Here’s another:

28_view_from_left_field_upper_deck

And another:

29_turner_field_sign

And yes, another:

30_view_from_upper_deck_06_01_16

Can you believe that it was almost game time when I took that last photo? The crowd was very very very small, and if the Giants hadn’t been there, it would’ve been even smaller.

Here’s a photo of the stairs and ramps leading downstairs, just because:

31_stairs_and_ramps

Turner Field is bland and cruddy, and love it even more because of that. I don’t want to see baseball games in malls and palaces. I want to feel like I’m AT a baseball game, ya know?

Would you believe that I missed a foul ball in the top of the 1st inning because I was just a bit too slow getting to my seat. If all those people hadn’t stopped me to take photos after BP, or if I’d done my wandering in the upper deck a little quicker, or if I hadn’t stopped right before game time to give a ball to a friendly usher to give to the child of her choice, I would’ve been in position to snag that 1st-inning foul ball, guaranteed.

I wasn’t THAT upset because (a) I’d already gotten two commemorative balls the day before and (b) I figured there’d be more action. This was my view during the game:

32_zack_watching_the_game

Nothing special, right? Well, ha-HAAAA, look at all this empty space on my left:

33_empty_seats_during_game

IS THAT THE MOST DELICIOUS THING YOU’VE EVER SEEN IN YOUR ENTIRE LIFE???

In the bottom of the 3rd inning, Mallex Smith sliced a high foul pop-up in my direction. I jumped out of my seat and drifted up the stairs, trying to reach the spot where I figured it would land, but the spin on the ball combined with the wind played all sorts of tricks, and at the last second, I had to rush back down the stairs and lunge out awkwardly. In the process, I got caught up on a railing and nearly busted my ass, but somehow I stayed upright, and the ball found the pocket of my glove. I’m sure it looked impressive to everyone else in the stadium, but all I could think was, “Wow, I’m an idiot and nearly misjudged that.” Here I am holding up the ball for Brandon’s camera:

34_zack_with_ball8928_mallex_smith_foul_ball

In the screen shot above, do you see the kid in the Giants cap? I’ll tell you more about him in a bit, but for now, here’s a closer look at the ball:

35_ball8928_mallex_smith_foul_ball

I didn’t care that the logo was smudged because one of my baseballs from the previous game was nearly perfect.

A little while later, someone sent me a screen shot of myself on TV:

36_zack_on_tv_after_catching_ball8928

An inning after that, these guys named A.J. and John asked me to sign their baseballs:

37_kids_with_zack_hample_autographs

When the game became official after five innings, the number of home games remaining at Turner Field was reduced to 53:

38_53_home_games_remaining

Can you spot me in the following image?

39_zack_going_for_3rd_out_balls

I was going for a 3rd-out ball at the Giants’ dugout — no luck.

Now, about that kid in the Giants cap . . . his name is Cooper, and we hung out for a bit during the middle innings:

40_zack_and_cooper_with_baseballs

In the photo above, I was holding three different balls — one with “practice” stamped on the sweet spot, another with “SF” written there, and the third with a commemorative logo. Oh, and get this . . . after I had caught the foul ball, some bozo in the seats above shouted, “Give it to the kid!” Well, guess what? Cooper had snagged three balls during BP and got a commemorative gamer at the dugout, so he certainly didn’t need one from me. A few innings later, I talked about it in a local TV interview . . . with Cooper sitting beside me. Fun stuff.

Here I am with a local ballhawk named David Welch (aka DeeDubs24 on mygameballs.com):

41_zack_and_the_number_one_ballhawk_at_turner_field

Very nice guy. Very good at putting up huge numbers. It’ll be interesting to see how he adapts to the new stadium next year. There’s no way it’ll be as good/fun/easy for ballhawking as Turner Field.

Late in the game, I gave a ball to a man in wheelchair who was sitting just behind me in the cross-aisle:

42_zack_giving_a_ball_to_a_fan

Brandon rarely films these moments, but he happened to capture a bunch of my giveaways at this game, so I figure I might as well show them.

I moved closer to the action in the bottom of the 9th inning:

43_view_from_3b_dugout_06_01_16

Twenty minutes later, when Julio Teheran, a starting pitcher on the Braves, was called up to the plate to pinch hit, I knew what I had to do. There were two outs in the bottom of the 10th, so I moved toward the home-plate end of the dugout. Sure enough, he ended up striking out, and Giants catcher Buster Posey walked back to the dugout with the ball. When he approached the warning track, he flung it high into the air. I backed up a step, jumped, and made the catch. That was my 11th and final ball of the day; I was back in my original seat when Freddie Freeman launched a walk-off homer in the 11th.

Final score: Braves 5, Giants 4.

Here are the two commemorative balls that I got:

44_ball8928_and_ball8929_turner_field_commemorative

On my way out, I spotted an image of what the Braves’ new stadium (SunTrust Park) is going to look like:

45_sun_trust_field_artists_rendition

I’ll probably hit it up within the first month or two of the 2017 season.

Here are the five balls that I kept:

46_the_five_balls_i_kept_06_01_16

And there you have it — my last game ever at Turner Field . . . maybe. I don’t know. It’ll be tempting to head back in September and see it one last time. In the meantime, stay tuned for my YouTube video from this game.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

 11 baseballs at this game

296 balls in 34 games this season = 8.71 balls per game.

 239 balls in 18 lifetime games at Turner Field = 13.28 balls per game.

1,200 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 306 lifetime games with 10 or more balls

• 169 lifetime foul balls during games (not counting balls that were thrown to me)

8,929 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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.

• 11 donors for my fundraiser

• $102.77 pledged per game home run ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $411.08 raised this season

• $190,914.74 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

7 comments

  1. Tyler

    Have you seen sun trust pics of the entire park. It looks like a great cross aisle behind home plate look awesome!

  2. Matt

    Hey zack I was ball hawking at Fenway yesterday and got 6 baseballs 4 of the 6 I got in Bp 3 of the 4 had copy stamped onto it do you know what this means. And when do u think u will be in Fenway next.

    Matt

  3. Big Glove Bob

    Z-Man- Nice entry. I just got back from our annual father-son-son baseball trip. We went from Minnesota to KC and then to Arlington and then on down to Houston and then back to KC. We ended up putting 3,084 miles on the car. Obviously, I love the K even though on both the games we saw it was a bit hot and humid for my taste. I really liked Globe Life Park and it is a kind of a shame it is being replaced by 2021. I understand that they want a retractable roof since it was plenty hot in there and a lot of folks down there won’t think of going to a game in July and August. Minute Maid was interesting. It looks pretty much just like any other building downtown. I really am torn by retractable roof stadiums. I love that you don’t bake in the sun and cook in the heat, but it is a bit of a “sterile” feeling being inside. That being said, I do miss the trashy old Metrodome. I know you are a fan of food and the food on this trip was fantastic. Those southerners know how to cook!
    Big Glove Bob

  4. Zack Hample

    Thanks, BGB! Sounds like you guys had a great time. Wish I’d gotten to see more games with my dad. I hear ya about the sterile feeling and miss all the old stadiums. Wish I could go back in time to the 1980s.

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