6/4/16 at Camden Yards

This was a special day for two reasons. First, my videographer Brandon was with me, and second, I was with a bunch of friends from the website MyGameBalls.com for an annual event called BallhawkFest. Here we are at a baseball field not far from Camden Yards:

1_group_intro_06_04_16

Let me identify everyone, and then I’ll explain what we were doing . . .

1) Ben Weil, aka the guy with more than 1,200 jerseys
2) Bob K, who ended up making the catch of the day
3) Isaac Liberman, showing off his Royals pride
4) Doug Hakey, who helped tremendously with all the logistics
5) me, doing an intro for the video; the image above is a screen shot
6) Tim Anderson, who was more interested in the grass than what I was saying
7) Alan Schuster, the founder of MyGameBalls.com
8) Chris Scheufele, whose long-lost twin is Madison Bumgarner
9) Alex Kopp, last year’s Home Run Derby winner
10) Grant Edrington, ready to rumble
11) Chris’s wife, the classiest of us all, who goes by the name “Jake”
12) Their son, Deven, who’s shaping up to be an excellent ballplayer

Speaking of the Home Run Derby, it’s a game we play every year at BallhawkFest. This time we came up with a new-and-improved scoring system:

* 1 point for a grounder through the infield
* 2 points for a ball that lands on the outfield grass
* 3 points for hitting the outfield fence
* 5 points for a home run

To clarify, an infielder could rob the batter of a point by catching or knocking down a grounder, and an outfielder could prevent two points by catching a fly ball. The game was more fun than ever because it rewarded good hitting *and* good fielding; it was a team effort no matter who was involved. And of course there was lots of trash-talking.

Here’s Ben camped out at shortstop while I pitched to Alan:

2_zack_pitching_alan_batting_ben_fielding

You probably noticed that yellow thing in front of the (non-existent) mound. That was our version of an L-screen — two garbage cans stacked up. Very safe. We all signed waivers. No big deal. Right? Well, here I am reacting to a line drive up the middle that nearly took my head off:

3_zack_reacting_to_comebacker

I forget how many points Alan tallied before he made ten “outs.” I think it was 40-something, and then it was my turn to do some damage. Here I am at the plate . . . or, umm, plastic bag:

4_zack_batting_06_04_16

Here I am taking one to the opposite field:

5_zack_swinging_06_04_16

For a while, everyone was camped out in left field for me, so I trolled them by poking weak grounders through the right side. This led to even more trash-talking.

Here I am running for a deep fly ball:

6_zack_running_for_a_fly_ball

If I’d made that play, it would’ve made SportsCenter’s Top Ten for sure, but alas, it tipped off the end of my glove. Instead, Bob surprised us all with the catch of the day. Check it out:

7_bob_with_the_web_gem

This was an especially difficult play because Chris, as you can see, was charging at him ferociously, and the rest of us were shouting at him to CAAAATCH IT!!!

During a break in the action, I pointed out an unusual injury on Grant’s left shin. I’m not sure if this’ll make the final cut in the video (it’s still being edited), so I’ll share it here:

8_grant_hit_by_a_ground_ball

He was bleeding after being struck by a ground ball. (Lots of bad hops at this field; good thing Alan had us sign those waivers.) That’s no knock on Grant. He literally took one for the team in order to prevent a one-point grounder from dribbling through the infield. (I kid, I kid. It was a rocket. Nice job, Grant.)

There were several rounds in our Home Run Derby. Alan and I were heading toward the final showdown when Brandon — yes, my effin’ videographer — asked if he could jump in. After struggling at first to make solid contact, he found his stroke, ended up hitting bombs, and won the whole damn thing.

A little while later, our group headed to Pickles Pub, located just across the street from Camden Yards:

9_heading_into_pickles_pub

Brandon filmed a quick shot of me inside:

10_zack_talking_ben_clowning

Thanks a lot, Benny.

Then we took a more civilized group photo, and as you can see, I had changed into my official green BallhawkFest shirt:

11_group_photo_at_lunch_06_04_16

We intentionally choose flashy colors (last year it was purple) so that we can spot each other more easily in the stands.

Here what I had for lunch — boneless chicken wings with creamy dipping sauce and cheese fries with different creamy dipping sauce:

12_my_fattening_lunch_06_04_16

If you saw what I eat on a daily basis when I’m home, you wouldn’t be entertained.

We still had some time to spare after lunch, so we headed next door to the Hilton and played cornhole. Here’s Chris in action:

13_playing_cornhole_before_orioles_game

The stadium opened at 5pm and was clearly going to fill up fast. Here I am in left field, just hoping to get one ball so I could relax:

14_zack_in_left_field_06_04_16

Not only was it a Saturday with perfect weather, but the Yankees were in town. Yikes. Normally I avoid seeing the Yankees on the road because it’s always so crowded and crazy, but there was a reason for this odd scheduling decision. Alan had picked this game weeks in advance, thinking we all might have a shot at Alex Rodriguez’s 700th career home run, but as it turned out, the best we could hope for was No. 695.

After the first group of batting practice, I gave up on left field and headed to right-center. Several minutes later I got Ubaldo Jimenez to throw me a ball. Here I am reaching up for the catch:

15_zack_catching_ball8945

Here’s the ball:

16_ball8945_from_ubaldo_jimenez

Nice.

That was it for the Orioles. They finished so early that there was a 20-minute gap before the Yankees started hitting. Here I am with Grant explaining to the camera why that was bad:

17_zack_and_grant_06_04_16

Basically the stadium was going to be much more crowded by the time BP resumed, but hey, that’s just how it goes sometimes.

This next screen shot will give you an idea of how packed it was:

18_zack_not_catching_this_home_run

I had no chance on that home run. I got blocked by the guy in the red jersey and was surrounded by taller fans anyway.

I headed back to left field when A-Rod stepped into the cage, and as you can see below, there was lots of people there too:

19_zack_in_deep_left_field_06_04_16

I stayed deep in the section because A-Rod, even at the age of 40, has tremendous power. My positioning nearly paid off, but I was one row to shallow. Here I am jumping and reaching back helplessly as A-Rod launched one to Alan who was camped out just behind me:

20_alan_catching_arod_homer

That was the story of my day — lots of close calls. And guess what? That was the end of BP.

Here’s a group photo back in right field:

21_group_photo_after_batting_practice

Some of us had already given baseballs to children, so these were the balls that we still had in our possession at that point. Doug had gotten six — easily more than anyone else — mostly by retrieving them from the right-center field gap with a homemade device. Oh, and by the way, there’s one new face in the photo above; Jamie, standing at the back in the Orioles jersey, hadn’t made it to the field earlier in the day.

Just before game time, I tried to get A-Rod’s attention along the left field foul line:

22_alex_rodriguez_pregame

No luck.

He had signed autographs for a bunch of kids the day before, but this time, when he finished warming up, he headed straight to the dugout.

Take another look at the screen shot above. See the girl standing just behind me on the left? Well, after a moment of silence to honor Muhammad Ali . . .

23_muhammad_ali_tribute

. . . I gave her the ball that I’d gotten from Ubaldo. She and her family then asked me to sign it:

24_summer_with_ball8945

Unfortunately it got a bit smudged when I handed it back to her, but I don’t think she noticed or cared. Her name is Summer, and I was especially glad to have given her that ball because she was very appreciative.

As for the game, let me start by saying this . . .

Lots of people ask me how I’m able to move around stadiums all the time.

“Do all the ushers know you?”
“Don’t they check tickets?”
“How do you get away with that?”

The answer is that it all depends on the stadium. When I’m in New York, I pretty much stay in my seat for the entire game, sometimes not even leaving to take a bathroom break. That’s because there are no cross-aisles through the seats or standing-room areas where I have a chance to catch baseballs. Many other stadiums, however, were built to allow more movement, and Camden Yards is the prime example. It has a walkway that wraps around the entire lower seating bowl and opens up into a magnificent standing-room section (aka “The Flag Court”) down the right field line. Anyone with any ticket is allowed to walk around and hang out there, so that’s what I did at this game. (I had to burn off all those calories from lunch.) In the top of the 1st inning, I spent a couple of minutes in a tunnel behind home plate and told the camera why it’s a great spot for foul balls:

25_zack_behind_home_plate_06_04_16

With A-Rod due to lead off the top of the 2nd, I headed out to left field and briefly stood in the walkway at the very back of the section. This was the view:

26_view_from_deep_left_field_06_04_16

There was no 695th home run on this night; A-Rod finished 3-for-5 with three singles.

Then I headed to the Flag Court and stayed there for most of the game. This was my view early on:

27_view_from_flag_court_06_04_16

Here I am an hour and a half later, standing at the back gates for Chris Davis:

28_zack_playing_deep_in_right_field

I couldn’t see the field from there. I was just waiting/hoping for a little white speck to fly up in the air, but that never happened. Well, I mean . . . there *were* three home runs, but none of them came near me.

Here I am late in the game — just a cool screen shot with a blurry background:

29_zack_looking_off_to_the_side

Here I am waving at the camera with my friends:

30_ballhawks_waving_to_the_camera

We all hung out there between innings.

All three home runs, by the way, were hit by the Orioles, but the Yankees unleashed a 16-hit barrage and won the game, 8-6.

Here I am doing a closing shot for the video, talking about the one ball that I had managed to snag:

31_zack_closing_shot_06_04_16

It had been nearly a full calendar year (more than 80 games for me) since I had “only” gotten one ball. I always want to put on a good show in my videos and snag as many balls as possible, but hopefully this one will be entertaining in a different way. Subscribe to my YouTube channel and stay tuned — it’s coming soon.

On a final note, I’d like to say thanks to Alan Schuster and everyone from MyGameBalls.com — not just those who attended this game, but the entire community. It’s been great getting to know so many people through that website who share my passion for baseball, and I’m looking forward to meeting many more of you.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

 1 baseball at this game

 312 balls in 37 games this season = 8.43 balls per game.

 547 balls in 61 lifetime games at Camden Yards = 8.97 balls per game.

1,203 consecutive games with at least one ball

8,945 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

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