6/16/16 at PETCO Park

My day started with good food and great company:

1_lunch_with_heath_bell_and_his_son_reece

That’s Heath Bell and his son Reece.

(For those who are new to this blog, I became friendly with Heath in 2005. Now he lives in San Diego, and sometimes we hang out.)

After the meal, we drove to their new house, and they showed me all the massive renovations that are being done. One thing that didn’t need any work was the trampoline in the backyard, so of course I jumped around for a bit:

2_zack_jumping_on_the_trampoline

After spending half an hour there, we headed to their current/soon-to-be-former house. Here’s Heath with his other son Rhet:

2b_heath_and_rhet

The highlight of my day was playing catch out in the street:

3_playing_catch_with_reece_and_heath

I’m always happy to play baseball, but in this case, I was downright excited to throw with a former All-Star closer (who, by the way, still HAS IT). Here he is throwing a wicked knuckleball to me:

4_heath_throwing_knuckleball

We were just getting loose at that point . . .

5_zack_throwing_the_ball_to_heath

. . . but it wasn’t long before he dialed it up.

Despite being two years removed from his MLB career, he was recently clocked at 94 miles per hour! (He coaches youth baseball and throws/pitches BP all the time, and of course the weather is always good in San Diego, so his arm has stayed strong.) Why doesn’t he attempt a comeback? Because he’d rather be with his family. It’s that simple.

Here I am catching one of Heath’s faster throws, which he estimated at 85 to 90mph:

6_zack_catching_a_very_fast_throw

This was my reaction:

7_zack_reacting_to_fast_throw

You might think you throw hard, so let me just say that if you can’t actually HEAR the ball cutting through the air, your arm is crap. (To be fair, my arm is crap.)

I don’t usually worry about my safety when playing catch, but this was indeed one of those rare times. The only other example that comes to mind is when I threw with a 6-foot-6 monster / former minor league pitcher named Leon Feingold in a small gymnasium with baseball-colored walls. There’s almost something non-human about how the ball explodes out of a professional pitcher’s hand.

I was hoping that Heath and Reece would join me at PETCO, but the young man had an All-Star Game to play in, so Heath had the audacity to choose that instead. Here were are together in the street:

8_zack_and_heath_bell

He told me we could catch up again at the MLB All-Star Game if I made it back out to San Diego, but at that point, I wasn’t sure about my plans.

As for PETCO Park, look at this nonsense:

9_beach_gone_at_petco_park

What’s wrong with that, you ask? Here’s what it used to look like. There used to be a ton of open space. Now it’s a huge two-tiered party deck, the lower portion of which is completely inaccessible to fans with normal tickets. As a result, this was as close as I could get to the field for the first half-hour:

10_zack_on_the_new_crappy_party_deck

Oh look! Someone took my picture from afar:

11_zack_photographed_from_afar

Did you notice the barricades in the previous two photos? All they seemed to do was get in people’s way and piss off the usher who had to keep fixing them. Here’s what I’m talking about:

12_baricade_knocked_down_of_course

Just so you know, I was NOT the person who kept knocking them down. The culprit was a drunk, aggressive man who charged forward whenever a player tossed a ball into the crowd, but still, what a dopey setup.

I always used to snag a few baseballs during that half-hour chunk of time in the area formerly known as “The Beach,” but not surprisingly, I got a grand total of ZERO on the party deck. Even though I live on the other side of the country, I’m extremely bummed about this change to the stadium.

Here’s how I got my first ball of the day:

13_playing_catch_with_dan_firova

That’s Nationals bullpen coach Dan Firova throwing it to me, and check it out — I threw it right back:

14_playing_catch_with_dan_firova

We played catch for a solid minute or two, and then he let me keep the ball.

After that, I got miked up for a TV interview on ABC News:

15_zack_getting_miked_by_steve_smith

The guy doing the miking/filming is named Steve Smith. Is it even worth mentioning that he’s extremely friendly and laid-back, or is everyone in San Diego born that way? Steve and I have a mutual friend, and we’ve done several segments together in the past. Here he is getting another shot of me:

16_zack_interviewed_by_steve_smith

A little while later, when the Nationals were playing catch along the left field foul line, one of their throws sailed high and landed in the seats. I retrieved that ball and handed it to a little kid.

Over the years, I had averaged more than 10 balls per game at PETCO, but I didn’t come close to that number on this particular day. The seats were crowded, and there just wasn’t much action. Here’s what it looked like from left field:

17_view_from_left_center_06_16_16

This was the view to my right:

18_two_new_rows_on_the_right_06_16_16

The last time I visited PETCO, those first two rows weren’t there. See that red thing draped over the dark blue concrete ledge? THAT is where the outfield wall used to be. The extra seats, however, didn’t help me one bit, though I’m sure I’d get some extra baseballs if I spent several days here.

During the middle group of Nationals BP, I headed out to right field and didn’t get anything there. Once again, it was crowded, and there wasn’t much action, so I gave up on that area and hurried to the 2nd deck in left field. I managed to get one ball there during the final group, thrown by coach Nilson Robledo.

Let’s talk about the 2nd deck for a moment, shall we? Click here to see what it USED TO look like. (Did you click that link? I’m not messing around here. You need to do that.) See all that lovely space? Yeah. Here’s what it looks like now:

19_no_more_cross_aisle

Here’s another photo, taken down in front:

20_no_more_cross_aisle

Yikes.

There are so many seats crammed into that spot that it’s impossible to move, not just for baseballs, but like . . . at all. Is it against the rules now to get up and use the bathroom?

After wandering all around the 2nd deck and imagining where balls would land during the Home Run Derby, I said goodbye to Steve and caught up with these guys:

21_leigh_zack_rick

That’s Leigh Barratt (aka “Padre Leigh”) on the left and Rick Gold on the right — two good friends and talented ballhawks.

Ready to see my dinner?

22_pork_sandwich_and_macaroni_salad

YEEEEOW!!! I was good for the rest of the night after eating that.

This was my view from right field during the game:

23_view_from_right_field_06_16_16

There’s standing room built right into the cross-aisle. I love that spot.

Do you remember this guy from my previous visits to San Diego?

24_ismael_still_doing_his_thing

His name is Ismael, and he’s *always* there. He has only missed a handful of games since the stadium opened in 2004.

Here’s an equally diehard fan, who really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really REALLY likes Wil Myers:

25_wil_myers_fan

She shrieks (like, for real) whenever Myers steps to the plate, and yes, you can pretty much hear it no matter where you are in the stadium.

As the innings rolled by, I didn’t expect to snag any more baseballs, and you know what? That was fine. I was enjoying hanging out in right field with the PETCO Park regulars — almost taking a “night off” from the normal grind, if you will.

My attitude changed with two outs in the top of the 6th. That’s when Anthony Rendon hit a home run to left-center field, which appeared to ricochet out of the seats and drop down into the gap beside the bullpen. I waited for a moment to figure out what had happened. Several fans were peering down over the wall, so the ball had to be there.

And . . . ?

No one had a ball retriever, and I didn’t see the ball get tossed up. That’s when I decided to run over.

If an usher had asked to see my ticket in left-center field, that would’ve been the end of it for me. There wouldn’t have been any way around that, but this wasn’t New York. The Padres were in last place, and the stadium was half-empty, and no one noticed or cared when I headed down into that section. Here’s what I saw:

26_anthony_rendon_home_run_ball_in_the_gap

Wow.

I asked a father and son sitting near me if that was the Rendon home run ball, and they said yeah. (For my own peace of mind, I just had to make sure.)

My goal was simple: use the glove trick to reel it in.

Some ballhawks count home run balls that are tossed to them, but I don’t. I only count mine if I get them unassisted. That means I either have to catch them on the fly or grab them in the seats or . . . that’s right, use the glove trick. In all my years of doing this, I had successfully used the trick twice for game balls — once for a David Justice ground-rule double at SkyDome in 2000 and another time for a Justin Upton homer at Citi Field in 2014. I also used the trick unsuccessfully on 9/10/11 at Comerica Park. That’s when I accidentally knocked a Joe Mauer homer off a platform into the bullpen; I ended up getting the ball tossed to me by a security guard, which effectively nullified it. Yes, I’m still pissed about it. Yes, this self-imposed rule is completely arbitrary. Yes, I’m going to get on with the story of the Rendon homer.

I set up my device and waited until the moment felt right. That turned out to be when someone started heading over from the Padres’ bullpen. I think it was Griffin Benedict, the bullpen catcher, but anyway, I basically had to get my glove down over the ball before he got there and picked it up, but unfortunately the ball was a bit too far out. Still, he was intrigued enough by the device that he stood there and watched me swing it out in an attempt to move the ball closer. It seemed like he was going to let me get it . . . until he started kicking dirt on it in order to bury it! Thankfully he was only joking, and he did ultimately let me get it. Here I am with the ball in my glove:

27_zack_with_anthony_rendon_homer_ball9020

Here’s the ball itself — my 43rd lifetime game home run:

28_ball9020_anthony_rendon_homer

Stadium security had a brief word with me after that, but it was nothing serious. They didn’t confiscate the ball. They didn’t eject me. They just asked me not to do it again, which was surprising given how many times I had used the trick at this stadium in the past, including this ball in the very same spot while a security guard spectated.

Here’s the father and son who had confirmed that the ball was THE ball:

29_zack_with_tom_and_braden

Their names are Tom (on the left) and Braden (on the right). Nice guys. And hello, photo-bombers in the back. I see you. You want to be in the photo? How about some closeups so everyone can see just how beautiful you are:

30_photobombers

I should mention that by snagging the Rendon home run ball, I helped raise an additional $123.77 for the charity Pitch In For Baseball. This season, all of my game home run balls are supporting the cause and helping kids play ball. Here’s more info about my fundraiser in case you’d like to get involved.

Back in right field, I caught up with my buddy Franklin:

31_franklin_the_usher

He’s one of the friendliest stadium employees I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting (and he knows a TON about baseball).

Did you notice the All-Star logo on his shirt? Hmm . . .

With one out remaining in the game, I photographed the new party deck in right-center:

32_new_party_deck_replacing_the_beach

It looks snazzy, but I can’t help feeling sad about what used to be there.

Here’s what the right field cross-aisle looks like:

33_cross_aisle_in_right_field

Let’s hope that never gets filled in with additional seating.

Final score: Nationals 8, Padres 5.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

34_the_three_baseballs_i_kept_06_16_16 4 baseballs at this game (three pictured here because I gave one away)

 387 balls in 47 games this season = 8.23 balls per game.

• 146 balls in 14 lifetime games at PETCO Park = 10.43 balls per game.

1,213 consecutive games with at least one ball

 43 lifetime game home run balls (not counting balls that were thrown to me); click here for the complete list

 9,020 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.

• 14 donors for my fundraiser

• $123.77 pledged per game home run ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $618.85 raised this season

• $191,122.51 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

4 comments

  1. Justin Hill

    Dear Zack Hample

    My name is Justin hill I am From Riverdale in the Bronx . I will be at A Rods Finally game tommrow night I was wondering if you will be attending the game . I am a huge fan of your YouTube videos catching baseballs and attending every single ball park . My question is will you be attending today’s game since you caught A rods 3,000 hit ball . I hope I will see you at the game tommrow I be there For Batting practice

    Sincerely Justin Hill

  2. Zack Hample

    Hey! I’m sorry I didn’t see your comment until now, but yeah, I was there last night. I hope you had a good time. What a crazy night with the crowds and the weather and all the drama.

  3. James Beck

    Dear Zack Hample,
    I just want to say that I love your Youtube videos and your blogs. Thank you so much for teaching me how to ballhawk! My life time count is 7 baseballs, it is not as good as yours, but it is a start. I also have over 70 autographs from any famous people. You are the man!
    From,
    James Beck

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