Way back in 2007, I started a business called Watch With Zack, which is really quite simple: people bring me to baseball games and I guarantee that they’ll catch baseballs and have an amazing time. (“Wait, how do you guarantee that?!” Ha. Please.) I’ve done dozens of these games in various cities including New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Boston, Washington D.C., Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Kansas City, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.
This was my first Watch With Zack game in Atlanta, and it was the first time that one of these games was going to be filmed for my YouTube channel. I wanted everything to be perfect, of course, and things got off to a nice start when I met the folks that I’d be with for the next six hours. Here I am with them:
It was a family of five, but the whole day was planned around one of the kids. In the photo above, do you see the boy on the lower right wearing a dark blue Braves cap? His name is Ben, and this was his 12th birthday. (Nice way to celebrate, huh?) The girl next to him is his six-year-old sister, Eliza. The kid with the backwards cap is their nine-year-old brother, Noah, and the two people leaning in are their parents, Kristin and Jess.
Did you notice the umbrella in the background? Yeah, the universe cursed us with rain, and if you look closely at the following image, you can see the tarp on the field.
No batting practice? No problem! I knew it was still going to be a fun day.
I should mention that Jess and his family were fully on board with the whole YouTube thing, and in fact we planned it that way. Ben is a huge fan of my videos, so Jess brought my videographer along too so that the day would be fully/professionally documented. That said, most of the images in this blog entry are screen shots from the footage, and I’ll link to the video at the end. (Spoiler: it’s reeeeeally good.)
Ten minutes later, there was a sign a life:
With the Pirates warming up in shallow left field, the ideal spot to hang out would’ve been along the foul line, but SunTrust Park is once of those places that opens in segments. There’s only one early gate — the Chop House gate in right field — and for the first half-hour, everyone has to stay in the outfield.
Look what happened next:
See the guy in the bullpen wearing a light blue shirt and holding up a ball? That’s my friend Evan, a former ballhawk from Turner Field who now works as a ballboy here at the Braves’ new stadium. As Evan approached and got ready to toss up the ball, I pointed at Ben:
Here’s the ball in mid-air:
It fell a bit short, but Ben scooped it up — and check it out:
It was a Blue Jays “40th season” commemorative ball from last year; the Jays had recently played a series in Atlanta and left some old baseballs behind — and Evan had saved one for a special occasion.
Here’s a better image of Evan, standing in the bullpen beside a friendly groundskeeper named Chip:
Before the rest of the stadium opened, I thought I might have a chance to get a ball with Ben in straight-away left field. Here I am with him, talking about positioning and pointing out some stuff about the Pirates:
The players were still throwing by the time the rest of the stadium opened, so Ben and I headed into foul territory:
Moments later, a pair of players wrapped things up just in front of us. I called out for the ball and once again pointed at Ben. The player with the ball (not sure who) turned and looked right at us and tossed it our direction. It ended up sailing a bit too high for Ben to catch it, so I reached up above him and made the catch (as a woman behind me jabbed at it with her open umbrella). Check out the following screen shot — I’ve circled the ball and my glove to help you spot the action:
I gave that ball to Ben . . .
. . . and helped him get it autographed by Jhan Martinez:
Here we are inspecting the autograph:
Then we got Johnny Barbato to sign it. Here’s a closeup of the signatures:
A little while later, as the groundskeepers started doing their thing . . .
. . . Ben and I checked out the Mizuno glove stand in the left field concourse:
Fans can rent (normal-sized) gloves FOR FREE there. Basically, an employee at the stand will put a $1 hold on your credit card, and when you return the glove, the charge gets taken away. As I stated in the video, anyone who shows up at a game without a glove and then rents a new/stiff one will probably have a tough time catching baseballs, but it’s still a really cool idea.
Here I am with Ben watching the Pirates get ready for the game:
Bullpen catcher Heberto Andrade ended up throwing us a ball:
But guess what happened? Ben and I dropped it! There was miscommunication combined with some bad luck. It wasn’t anyone’s fault — just unfortunate circumstances. The ball was thrown to me, but I wanted Ben to be the one to catch it. Ben, meanwhile, didn’t want to reach in front of me, so we both hung back at first and then reached out hesitantly at the last second, and the ball bounced off the tips of both of our gloves. Andrade saw this happen, but didn’t retrieve the ball for us; a different coach ended up grabbing it and tossing it to another fan. AARRGHH!!!
Here’s a random skull tattoo that cheered us up:
Just before the game, we headed to seats above the bullpen and nearly got a toss-up from Pirates starter Gerrit Cole:
If you look closely at the previous image, you can see him near the bullpen gate, chucking one into the crowd. It went to the people on our right, so when the game began, Ben and I had each snagged one ball.
Ben’s father had gotten great seats for all of us, several rows behind the outfield end of the visitors dugout. Look how close we were to the field:
In the image above, that’s Braves 3rd base coach Ron Washington waving at us. We had hoped for a ball, but it was still nice to be acknowledged.
In the middle of the 2nd inning, Ben got the Pirates’ infield warm-up ball. Check out this action shot:
The ball was tossed by Gift Ngoepe, the first African-born player in to play in the major leagues in more than 100 years, so that was extra special. Here we are breaking it down for the camera after the fact:
Five minutes later, when Rio Ruiz grounded into a 6-4-3 double play to end the 2nd inning, we sprung into action once again. Here we are in the front row, hoping to get Josh Bell’s attention as he jogged off the field with the ball:
Sure enough, when he got a little closer, he flipped the ball toward Ben. See it at the top of the following image?
I wasn’t sure if Ben would be able to reach it, so I put my glove up just in case, but Ben was all over it. He jumped up and made the catch:
This wasn’t just a so-called 3rd-out ball. It was a 2nd- *and* 3rd-out ball . . . right? That’s pretty cool to snag a game-used baseball that produced two outs, and better yet, it had a commemorative SunTrust Park logo:
Ben hadn’t gotten one of those before — this was his first visit to the new stadium — so were both psyched about that.
We decided to wander around a bit after that, and our first stop was the section along the left field foul line, just behind Evan. Here he is waving to us . . .
. . . and here he is saying a quick hello to Ben:
Here’s a selfie I grabbed with Ben in the middle innings:
Here I am with Evan:
Yes, lots of photos because WHY NOT? The way I see it, if you don’t document something, it might as well have never happened. Along those lines, behold the “Home Depot Clubhouse” in very deep left-center field:
As you can see, it was raining. Ben’s parents and siblings were chilling under the overhang of the 2nd deck; Ben and I were happy to sit out in the rain because WHY NOT?
Anyway, I had barely even noticed the Clubhouse until a friendly usher (who knows me from my videos) had told me earlier in the game that it was open to the public. Normally it’s sold out to large groups, but for whatever reason, there was no one in it tonight, so he suggested that I drop by later.
I’m always glad to check out an unusual spot inside a stadium, and Ben was cool with heading up there too as long as we didn’t stay too long. There were, after all, more baseballs to be snagged. Here’s the view . . .
. . . and here we are back in position near the dugout:
When Nick Markakis struck out to end the 8th inning, I scooted over to the home-plate end of the dugout in the hopes of getting that ball. Here’s Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli giving his pitcher a fist-bump . . .
. . . just before he showed me some love too. Here I am reaching up for the easy catch:
After the game, which the Braves won, 5-2, I asked Heberto Andrade for a ball as he walked in from the bullpen. He had a ball in his left hand, and I was expecting him to give us another chance. Instead he pointed at me . . .
. . . and said, “I already gave you one, bro!” And then he tossed it to someone else.
Oh well. He’s been very nice to me over the years. Perhaps his team’s loss put him in a less-than-jovial mood.
You know who always has a smile on his face? Evan the ballboy! And he hooked it up for us AGAIN. Here he is flipping a ball to me on his way to the bullpen:
It was a solid night. Ben and I had each snagged three baseballs (and I gave all of mine to him). But hang on. There was still a little more “work” to do. First I filmed a closing scene for the video:
Then Ben and I posed for a mini-photoshoot with all the baseballs:
And finally, upon request, I signed a few of them:
We lingered in the seats until an usher practically begged us to leave. (In other stadiums, you can hang out for like five minutes after the game, and then you get yelled at, but here in Atlanta, the post-game routine was surprisingly chill. You’d think that new stadiums would have extra-strict rules, but I’ve found that things tend to become more strict as the years go by, so if you’re debating when to visit SunTrust Park or any other new stadium, I’d suggest going sooner than later. But then again, the crowds always dwindle as time goes by, so if you like having room to run around, you need to take that into consideration. I could talk about stadiums forever plus two, but ANYway . . . )
Although I didn’t spend much time with Jess, I appreciated his attitude and hands-off approach. Every so often, I’d text him with an update and/or photo and also ask Ben if he wanted to check in with his family. The answer was no. He was glad to keep hanging with me, and really, can you blame him? But seriously, we all had a great time, and in a way we felt like we got lucky with the weather. In the early afternoon, the forecast was so bleak that we feared the game might get postponed. As it turned out, there wasn’t even a delay, though my feet were soggy by the end of the night.
If you’re interested in learning more about how the whole Watch With Zack thing works, click here, and if you like numbers, take a look at this page to see a statistical breakdown of all the balls that have been snagged at Watch With Zack games — more than 10 balls per game combined between myself and the people I’m with!
And finally, as promised, here’s the video from this game at SunTrust Park:
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