Tagged: action shots

10/2/10 at Camden Yards

For the final weekend of the regular season, I drove down to Baltimore with Jona and two other friends. Here we are outside the stadium:

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In the photo above, the gentleman on the left is a teacher named Roger. He and I have known each other for more than a decade, and this wasn’t our first baseball road trip together. He was with me in 2003 when I snagged my 2,000th ball at Olympic Stadium. The guy in the yellow shirt is a writer named Bassey. I met him last year at my writing group. He played high school baseball in Milwaukee and now works for the New York Times.

Anyway, let’s get on with the action…

My first ball of the day was a batting practice homer hit by Adam Jones that landed in the empty seats in straight-away left field. Nothing fancy about it. My second ball, however, was a bit more exciting. Someone on the Orioles (not sure who) launched a homer 30 feet to my right. I bolted through my row and made a leaping back-handed catch at the last second. I didn’t know it at the time, but Jona had reached the left field seats by that point, and she took a beautiful action shot of the ball flying toward my open glove. The ball is hard to see because it’s overlapping the white uniform pants of some players in the background, so I drew a red circle around it. Check it out:

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Do you see the fan positioned two rows behind me? His name is Ben. He’s a new-but-very-talented ballhawk who recently snagged A-Rod’s 607th career home run. Do you see the fan running over from the next section? His name is Tim, and he, too, is fairly new and highly skilled as a ballhawk.

Ready for a funny photo of all three of us? Look at our ridiculous facial expressions as another home run ball sailed over our heads:

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I forget who ended up snagging that ball, but I can tell you that it wasn’t me.

Tim and Ben write a blog together called Baltimore’s Finest, and of course they both have profiles on mygameballs.com. Here’s Tim’s profile, and here’s Ben’s. (And hey, here’s mine. Awesome website. Totally free. Go there immediately and create a profile if you haven’t done so already.)

As for Roger and Bassey…

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…they weren’t interested in snagging baseballs. They just stayed in one spot and watched the action unfold all around them.

My third ball of the day was a Nolan Reimold homer that landed in the seats and rolled down to the front row. My fourth ball was a ground-rule double, and I have no idea who hit it. I’ve had a tough time this season with ground-rule doubles in Baltimore. The warning track is made of rubber, and the outfield wall is low, so lots of balls have bounced over me. On this one, however, I played it perfectly. Once I determined that the ball was going to land on the track, I backed up a few rows and ended up in the perfect spot to reach up for the easy catch.

When the Tigers took the field, I got Phil Coke to throw me a ball as he walked toward the bullpen. Here I am (wearing dark Tigers gear) about to catch it:

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My sixth ball was another homer. I ranged a full section to my right for it and made a back-handed catch in traffic:

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That one felt pretty good — and then I caught another homer on the fly in left-center. Here’s a photo of that ball on its way down:

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As soon as I caught the ball, I noticed that there was a young boy standing right in front of me. Even though I hadn’t robbed him, I decided to hook him up with the ball, and yes, Jona got a photo of that, too:

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Halfway through the Tigers’ portion of BP, Eddie Bonine tossed me a ball in straight-away left field, and then I caught another homer on the fly in left-center. This was probably my best play of the day. There were people all around, so I climbed up on a seat while the ball was in mid-air and reached far to my left over everyone. In the following photo, the diagonal arrow in the upper right is pointing to the ball, and the vertical arrow down below is pointing at me:

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Every time I snagged a ball, I tossed it to Jona so she could put it in my backpack. Here I am preparing to toss her another:

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Remember when I saw the Tigers at Target Field earlier this season on May 4th and May 5th? The Tigers were using balls during BP that had been marked like this with a thick black magic marker. Well, the Tigers were still using marked balls this past weekend in Baltimore. Some were marked on both the logo and sweet spot, while others were marked only on the sweet spot…like this:

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(That’s Jona’s hand, by the way. Don’t get the wrong idea.)

Later in the day, I noticed that one of my baseballs had a faint black streak on it:

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It occurred to me that the streak was probably the residue (or imprint) from one of those black marks on another ball. Cool, huh? It probably happened while the balls were being pressed together in the BP bucket or an equipment bag. I love stuff like that.

Every batter in the final group of BP was left-handed, so I headed over to the standing-room-only section (aka “The Flag Court”) in right field:

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The sun out there was brutal. Even though I was wearing a cap, I had to use my right hand to shade my eyes:

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Let me show you what I mean. Here’s a photo that Jona took while standing right behind me:

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Not only was it tough to see, but every time a ball sailed into the Flag Court, there was an all-out stampede for it:

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At one point, I completely whiffed on a line-drive homer that pretty much came right to me because I simply couldn’t see the ball. I found myself backing away from it and stabbing awkwardly at a random spot in the air where I thought it was going to end up. I suppose it was worth missing out on it to avoid getting hit in the face, but I still felt like a failure.

Here’s another action shot of a home-run-induced stampede:

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This ball ended up sailing completely over the Flag Court and clanging off the grill in Boog’s Barbecue.

I did manage to snag one ball in right field, and I owe it all to Jona and Bassey. The ball bounced into the cross-aisle just next to the Flag Court and came to rest at Jona’s feet. I was about 20 feet away at that point, and because there were other fans nearby, I figured Jona or Bassey would grab the ball. But instead Jona yelled, “Don’t touch it!!” and Bassey used his body to form a mini-barricade (or, as he desribed it, a “containment zone”) around it so that no one else could grab it. I was able to race over and scoop up the ball, and because it hadn’t entered the possession of any other fan, I was able to count it. If Jona or Bassey (or Roger, who was also standing nearby) had picked it up and handed it to me, that would have nullified it. So…big thanks to my friends for bailing me out and helping me reach double digits — that was my 10th ball of the day — when luck/skill seemed to turn against me.

Here are the four of us being silly after BP…

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…and here’s a HUGE moth-like creature that was chillin’ nearby on a brick wall:

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If that thing had flown into my face, I’m quite certain that Roger, Bassey, and Jona would now be deaf because I would have shrieked THAT loud. We all have our weaknesses, and bugs are one of mine. Nature is pretty and all, but I don’t like to get too close to it, if you know what I mean. I live a quarter of a mile from Central Park. That’s good enough.

Shortly before game time, I got Will Rhymes to sign my ticket…

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…and then I snagged two more baseballs within a 10-second span. The first was thrown by Brandon Inge. Here’s a photo of him just before he let it fly:

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In the photo above, do you see the guy on the field wearing the navy blue athletic gear? Well, I assumed that he was the Tigers’ strength/conditioning coach, so I pulled out my cheat sheet…

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…and felt pretty certain that his name was Chris. When all the players headed back to the dugout, there was one ball that was still sitting on the grass near the foul line. This guy happened to pick it up, so I shouted, “CHRIS!!!” as loud as I could, and what do you know? He turned and flung it to me as he jogged off the field.

That was my 12th — and unfortunately last — ball of the day. During the game, I had two really close calls on foul balls behind the plate, and I missed Nick Markakis’s fourth-inning homer by two feet. It was so depressing. I was standing at the back of the Flag Court. The ball was hit exactly in my direction, meaning I was perfectly lined up with it from the moment that it left the bat. I quickly determined that it wasn’t going to reach the back of the section, so I darted forward, hoping to make the catch just behind the wall at the front. Well, the ball landed ON TOP of the wall (where there’s a three-foot-wide metal platform) and skipped back over my head and rolled to the EXACT SPOT where I’d been standing in the first place. I still would’ve had the ball if some bozo eating a pulled pork sandwich hadn’t been standing there. It was terrible. Meanwhile, it seemed as if everyone else I knew was snagging game-used baseballs. Tim somehow got his hands on the only other homer of the night, a blast to straight-away left by Brandon Inge, and Bassey managed to grab a foul ball despite sitting in the middle of a row on the first base side.

Here’s Bassey with his ball — the first one he’d ever snagged in his life, including batting practice:

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Great for Bassey. Great for Tim. But it just added to my frustration. I busted my butt and ran all over the stadium for two hours and didn’t have anything to show for it. That’s right. Two hours. That’s how long the game lasted. The Orioles won, 2-1, behind a strong six-inning performance from Brian Matusz. Mike Gonzalez, Jim Johnson, and Koji Uehara each worked a quick scoreless inning in relief. For the Tigers, Armando Galarraga went the distance and notched a rare complete-game loss. He threw just 91 pitches in eight innings. That’s how to play a game in two hours. (Yankees and Red Sox, are you listening?)

After the final out, I met up with a friend from Baltimore named Adam. You might recognize him from previous blog entries. Here we all are:

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The five of us went out to dinner at a nearby Chinese restaurant, and then Jona and Roger and Bassey and I went back to our hotel. We were gonna have to be up early-ish the next day for the final game of the regular season.

SNAGGING STATS:

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• 12 balls at this game (11 pictured on the right because I gave one away)

• 297 balls in 30 games this season = 9.9 balls per game.

• 659 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 185 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 202 consecutive games outside New York with at least one ball

• 132 lifetimes games with at least ten balls

• 4,655 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 48 donors (click here to learn more)

• $7.53 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $90.36 raised at this game

• $2,236.41 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

Hey, wait, here’s one more photo. I was playing around with Photoshop and…well, here, just have a look:

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9/15/10 at Camden Yards

The good thing about going to an all-you-can-eat Indian buffet in Baltimore…

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…is that there’s plenty of room to run around at Camden Yards and burn off the calories:

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Within the first few minutes of BP, a right-handed batter on the Orioles smoked a line-drive homer that landed in the empty front row. I ran down and grabbed the ball:

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“Who hit that?!” I shouted at my friend Rick Gold, who was camped out ten rows back.

“Fox,” said a voice that came from the warning track.

As it turned out, Kevin Millwood was standing just short of the wall and answered the question for me. How about that? Jake Fox. Yes, of course.

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One minute later, I caught a home run on the fly, and once again I was unable to identify the batter.

“Who was THAT?” I asked Millwood.

“Tatum,” he said.

Ha! Awesome. Craig Tatum. I never would’ve known. And then I caught another Jake Fox homer on the fly.

At around 5:10pm, I snagged my fourth home run ball of the day. It wasn’t Fox. It wasn’t Tatum. Damn. I had no idea who hit it, and Millwood was gone. But whatever. I got the ball — that’s what matters — and (my girlfriend) Jona took a series of photos of me chasing it down. Here’s the first one. It shows me tracking the ball as I drifted to my left:

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As soon as I determined that the ball was going to fall a bit short, I took my eyes off it and focused on climbing over a few rows of seats:

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Then I looked back up as the ball was descending; note the red arrow pointing to it:

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The ball landed, prompting a scramble with the fan in the gray jersey:

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Finally, I beat him to it and grabbed the ball just as he was lunging for it:

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Don’t feel bad for the other guy. He’s there every day and always snags at least a few balls.

Before the Orioles finished their portion of BP, I played catch for a minute with Jeremy Guthrie. Here’s a screen shot from a video that shows me catching one of his throws…

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…and here’s another screen shot that shows me tossing it back:

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(Whenever I try to embed a YouTube video on my blog, the format gets messed up, so I’m afraid you’ll just have to click here to watch it.)

In case you’re wondering how I got to play catch with Guthrie, it’s pretty simple: I asked. It also helped that I’ve gotten to know him over the years, but I’ve played catch with lots of players that I’d never met before…like Kyle Farnsworth. Now THAT was fun.

When the Orioles finished hitting, Rick and I each had four baseballs. I asked if we could get a photo together, and as we walked over to a sunny spot, he found a fifth ball hiding in the folded-up portion of a seat. Unbelievable. Here we are moments later:

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The Blue Jays started warming up on the 3rd base side, so I changed into my Jays gear and headed to their dugout. Aaron Hill threw me my fifth ball of the day, and less than a minute later, I got another from Vernon Wells. In the following photo, the horizontal arrow is pointing to Wells, and the vertical arrow is pointing to the ball in mid-air:

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Once the Jays started hitting, I raced back out to the left field seats. Look how empty it was; the arrow is pointing to me:

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Then an amazing thing happened: I got three more balls in a 20-second span. The first two were home runs that I caught on the fly on back-to-back pitches. The third was another homer that landed in the seats…two pitches later, I think. I wasn’t sure who had hit them. Rick (who works for MLB.com) was almost certain that it was Edwin Encarnacion, so I’m gonna assume that that’s who it was.

A few minutes later, Jona called out to me from her spot 15 rows back.

“Can you come here for a minute?” she asked.

I couldn’t imagine what was so important that she’d be pulling me away from my normal spot.

“What is it?” I called back.

She didn’t say anything. She just gave me a look as if to say, “I can’t explain it, so you need to come over here,” and as soon as I started running up the steps, she very subtly pointed at the ground in the middle of a row.

I should know by now not to question her. This is why she called me over:

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Jona knows that I will NOT count a baseball in my collection if another fan gains possession of it first, so instead of picking it up and handing it to me, she called me over so I could grab it myself. If that’s not love, then I don’t know what is.

That was my 10th ball of the day and No. 4,599 overall. The next ball was going to be a milestone, and in case it ended up being a home run, I wanted to know who was batting.

Well, it WAS a home run. Here I am catching it:

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Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to identify the batter, and when I asked the players who was hitting, they all ignored me except for Fred Lewis, who saw my Jays gear and said, “You’re a fan. You should know.”

All I know is that it was a right-handed batter with a very open stance. His left side was practically facing third base before he squared up and stepped straight into the pitch. Any ideas?

Here I am posing with No. 4,600 soon after:

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Toward the end of BP, I got Blue Jays bullpen catcher Alex Andreopoulos to toss me a ball near the foul pole, and then I headed to the 3rd base dugout. Brian Butterfield, the team’s 3rd base coach, ended up walking in with a spare ball in his hand:

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He tossed it to me. Here’s a photo of the ball in mid-air:

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That was my 13th ball of the day, and I got another from Yunel Escobar just before the game (no arrow necessary):

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You may have noticed that in the photo above, I wasn’t wearing my Blue Jays shirt. That was intentional. I figured that everyone on the team recognized me by that point, so I changed my appearance and just went with the hat.

The game itself was incredible — not because I caught anything, but because it only lasted an hour and 55 minutes! I don’t think I’d ever attended a game that finished so fast. The Orioles won, 3-1, behind a 95-pitch, complete-game effort from Brad Bergesen. For the Jays, Kyle Drabek made his major league debut and did pretty well. He allowed three runs in six innings…gave up nine hits, walked three, and struck out five, but the most impressive thing is that he hit 99mph on the radar gun, and I wasn’t even paying attention to the velocity for most of the night, so who knows? He might have even touched triple digits when I wasn’t looking. By the way, Drabek threw 88 pitches, and then two relievers — Shawn Camp and Scott Downs — combined to work the last two innings with thirteen pitches. The Jays and O’s threw a total of 196 pitches. THAT is how to play a game in under two hours. Normally, I love it when games last long, but not when I have a 200-mile drive waiting for me after the final out. Of course, Jona and I didn’t rush toward the garage right away. First I headed to the 3rd base line as the Jays relievers walked in from the bullpen. This was my view as they headed toward me:

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Jesse Carlson tossed me a ball — my 15th of the day — and then Kevin Gregg threw me another 30 seconds later.

After that, I gave away two of my baseballs to kids and headed toward the Eutaw Street exit. Here are the 14 balls I kept:

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The End.

SNAGGING STATS:

• 16 balls at this game

• 247 balls in 26 games this season = 9.5 balls per game.

• 655 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 201 consecutive games outside New York with at least one ball

• 129 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

• 4,605 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 45 donors (click here to learn more)

• $6.49 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $103.84 raised at this game

• $1,603.03 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

9/14/10 at Camden Yards

This was my first game in more than a month, and let me tell you, it felt great to be back…

The story of the day was running. It seemed as if that’s all I did. Here’s a photo (that my girlfriend took) of me bolting toward a section in left-center for a home run that landed in the seats:

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I grabbed that ball and caught a line-drive homer on the fly soon after. (I have no idea who hit either one.)

Things were off to a good start — but then it all fell apart.

The whole running thing? Not too successful. Despite the many rows of seats that I sprinted through and climbed over, I kept finding myself out of position. Here are two screen shots from a video that will illustrate my point. First I climbed over a row while the ball was in mid-air…

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…and then I watched helplessly as it fell short:

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And then the Orioles stopped hitting at 5:17pm — more than 15 minutes early. It was such a waste. All I could do was wander into foul territory and watch the Blue Jays get loose:

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By that time, of course, I had changed into my Blue Jays gear, and it paid off. Lyle Overbay spotted me and threw a ball my way. Here I am behind the dugout, reaching out for the catch:

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If you look closely at the photo above, you can see the ball in the pocket of my glove.

Once the Jays started hitting, I ran back out to left field and got some love from from Adam Lind. Here’s a photo that shows the ball sailing toward me:

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Here I am running around some more and climbing over another row of seats:

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Don’t forget, I had switched into Jays gear, so that’s me on the left with my back facing the camera. And in case you were wondering…no, I didn’t get that ball. I didn’t get this one either…

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…but two minutes later, I did manage to catch a homer on the fly in the front row. Again, I have idea who hit it. I wish I did, but the batters were wearing shirts over their jerseys, so I couldn’t see their uniform numbers, and I didn’t recognize their stances from 375 feet away. Anyway, here I am reaching up for that ball…

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…and if you look closely, you can see a little kid ducking out of the way on my left. I gave that ball to a different kid later on.

I had five baseballs at that point — a respectable total that could’ve been much higher if I’d been a little quicker and/or luckier. Here I am losing out in a scramble…

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…and here I am losing out on a bobble:

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In the photo above, you can’t see me, but trust me, I was there. Do you see the random glove in front of the left edge of the warehouse? That’s my glove.

Toward the end of BP, I got Blue Jays first base coach Omar Malave to throw me a ball in left-center, and I also snagged a ground-rule double in that same area. I think it was hit by DeWayne Wise, but I’m not sure.

Then I met a father-and-son duo named Gregg and Kyle. Gregg is the sports director for a TV station in Harrisburg, PA, and Kyle follows me on Twitter. (Here’s a link to my Twitter page. I haven’t been blogging much lately, but I’ve been tweeting just about every day.) They were both very nice, and I posed for a picture with Kyle before running off to the 3rd base dugout. Here were are together:

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I won’t bore you with a photo of my dash to the dugout. Instead, I’ll skip to the good part:

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In the photo above, do you see the player who’s about to throw a ball? That’s Shawn Marcum. He threw it to me. It was my eighth ball of the day.

Soon after BP ended, I got Marc Rzepczynski to sign my ticket. Here I am in the process of getting the autograph…

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…and here’s the ticket itself:

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Right before the game started, I got my ninth ball from John McDonald. He and Yunel Escobar had played catch in front of the dugout. Easy snag. No competition. Happy birthday to me. (Actually, it WAS my birthday.)

I spent the top of the first inning in left field. This was the view:

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After that, I pretty much stayed in the standing room only section in right field. This was the view late in the game.

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(It was Buck Showalter T-shirt Night.)

I also spent some time chasing (nonexistent) foul balls behind the plate. Here’s the view from that spot:

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As for my girlfriend…

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She picked a comfy spot and stayed put while I ran around and did my thing.

The game itself was whatever. I didn’t come within 100 feet of any of the three homers, and I never got closer than 50 feet to a foul ball. For the record, the Orioles pounded out 16 hits and won, 11-3.

Just after the final out, I got a ball from home plate umpire Bruce Dreckman. (GOSH, I love his name.) Then I got another ball from Jason Frasor near the 3rd base dugout when he walked in from the bullpen with his fellow relievers.

It didn’t feel like I had a great day — I wasted lots of opportunities during BP — but somehow still ended up with double digits.

SNAGGING STATS:

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• 11 balls at this game (10 pictured on the right because I gave one away)

• 231 balls in 25 games this season = 9.24 balls per game.

• 654 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 200 consecutive games outside New York with at least one ball

• 128 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

• 4,589 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 45 donors (click here to learn more)

• $6.49 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $71.39 raised at this game

• $1,499.19 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

8/2/10 at Yankee Stadium

It was another day of A-Rod hysteria:

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Perhaps “hysteria” is an exaggeration. “Anticipation” and “excitement” and “teenage girls hoping to get on TV” would be a better way to describe the atmosphere.

When the stadium opened at 5pm, I raced out to the right field seats. My girlfriend Jona followed close behind with my camera. Here’s a shot of the section from afar. I’m standing in the last row (see the red arrow) wearing a black T-shirt and khaki green cargo shorts:

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When A-Rod stepped into the cage, I moved up a few rows and quickly got my first chance of the day when he launched a deep fly ball in my direction. I could tell right away that it was going to fall a bit short, so I climbed over a row of seats…

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…and when the ball predictably tailed to my left, I began to drift with it. If you look really closely at the following photo, you can see the ball in mid-air:

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One second later, I reached to my left and made an uncontested, one-handed catch:

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For the first 10 minutes, the seats remained fairly empty. I took advantage by running all over the place…

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…but it didn’t always pay off. Here’s a photo that shows me tracking a home run ball…

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…and here’s another that shows me NOT catching it:

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I always seem to make great facial expressions when I narrowly miss baseballs. In my own defense, I missed this one because it sailed five feet over my head. Anyway, I got a chance to redeem myself moments later. A-Rod was back in the cage, and I was in position:

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He launched another home run ball, this time to my right, and I took off after it:

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Once I got close to the spot where I knew it was going to land, I slowed down a bit and started drifting:

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I reached the spot:

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The ball was heading right for me, but I could tell that it was going to sail a few feet over my head. There was no time to climb up on a seat. Did I have enough vertical leap in me to make the catch?

Here’s your answer:

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Here I am just after landing with the ball…

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…and here I am holding it up for Jona (who deserves received many hugs and kisses for taking these outstanding photos):

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Five minutes later, Curtis Granderson really got a hold of one and sent the ball flying deep to my left. The sun was in my eyes, so as I started moving through my row, I held up my right hand to reduce the glare:

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As soon as I passed the Modell’s sign, I climbed over a row of seats:

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The ball landed, and I climbed over another row:

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And then I climbed over another:

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That’s when I grabbed it. (Did you notice that the guy in the red shirt never even moved? All he did was turn around to see where the ball landed.)

Moments later, I caught another A-Rod homer on the fly. It’s too bad that Jona didn’t get a photo of this one because I got clobbered while making the catch. I was in the middle of a cluster of people, and when I jumped for the ball, another guy crashed into me, elbowed me in the back of the head, caused my hat to go flying, and nearly made me tumble forward over a row of seats. I don’t think he meant to hurt me. I just think that some people are out of control and have no sense of their surroundings.

I’d snagged four baseballs in the first 15 minutes. Things were looking good. I thought I was on my way to double digits for the first time ever at the new Yankee Stadium — but then things slowed way down.

I still kept running all over the place…

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…and climbing over seats…

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…but I couldn’t get close to any other balls. I was still stuck at four when the Yankees’ portion of BP ended.

I threw on my Blue Jays cap and headed over to the left field side:

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Dead.

I don’t know what caused it, but the Blue Jays (who lead the majors in home runs) experienced a severe power outage. There was hardly any action in the stands, and as a result, I only snagged two more baseballs. The first was tossed by Jesse Litsch (who recognized me from Toronto). It was my 200th ball of the season. Here it is:

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The second ball was a John McDonald homer. I grabbed it when it landed in the seats and handed it to the nearest kid.

Simple stuff. Six balls. Not terrible. Not great. But that’s to be expected at Yankee Stadium.

Did you know that there’s a butcher inside the stadium? And did you know that Jona is generally repulsed by meat? This photo pretty much tells the story…

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…although I should point out that the three balls I’m holding were my A-Rod homers.

Could A-Rod break out of his slump and hit one to me during the game?! Jona asked me what I thought my chances were of catching No. 600. This was my reaction:

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All I can say is that Yankee Stadium stresses me out. One thing, however, that did temporarily improve my mood was the free chocolate samples that we got from a Dylan’s candy stand inside Gate Two:

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In the photo above, it looks so empty and peaceful, doesn’t it?

One word: HA!!

This was my view during the bottom of the first inning with A-Rod on deck:

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(Historical tidbit No. 1: This was the 31st anniversary of Thurmon Munson’s death.)

Jona and I had seats in the middle of a row. Early in the game, we were able to grab a couple open seats next to the stairs, but in the middle innings, every single end-seat was taken. I had to make a choice. The options were:

1) Move into the middle of the row and basically have no chance to move if A-Rod happened to go yard.

…OR…

2) Leave the section and try my luck somewhere else.

We left the section. I couldn’t even bear the thought of sitting in the middle of a row. I knew I would’ve felt like a caged animal, so we wandered for a few innings and ended up in the bleachers.

Why does Yankee Stadium stress me out? Why haven’t I bothered to make a serious attempt at catching No. 600 in New York?

This is why:

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The strategy for catching a milestone home run ball at Yankee Stadium is simple: be exactly where the ball is going to be hit. There is NO room to move. Security checks tickets at every section. And even if you can somehow sneak into a section, there aren’t any empty seats. It’s a ballhawking nightmare.

When A-Rod grounded out to end the 7th inning, some people foolishly assumed that he wouldn’t come up again — and they left. Jona and I took advantage and moved back to our original section. Look at all this room I had:

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(At Yankee Stadium, that’s a lot of room.)

The Yankees got two guys on base in the eighth, which meant that A-Rod would be due to bat fourth in the bottom of the ninth…and…thanks to a one-out homer by Nick Swisher in the final frame, A-Rod did indeed get one last turn to hit.

It would have been nice if Mister Rodriguez hit a line drive right to me because I almost definitely would’ve caught it. Obviously, there’s no way to guard against someone in the front row throwing their glove up at the ball and deflecting it, but putting freak plays aside, I really do believe that if A-Rod had hit the ball anywhere within, let’s say…five feet of me, I would have caught it. But instead, he grounded out to shortstop to end the game.

Final score: Blue Jays 8, Yankees 6.

(Historical tidbit No. 2: During this game, the Blue Jays tied an American League record by hitting six doubles in one inning.)

I raced over to the Jays’ bullpen and got one final ball from bullpen coach Rick Langford. I didn’t take my camera or backpack with me — Jona was hanging onto all my stuff — so when she finally made her way over, this was the only photo that she got:

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It shows Langford and Janssen and the bullpen catcher walking across the field toward the dugout.

(Jona would like you to know that she took that last photo with her brand new iPhone 4, which she loves.)

SNAGGING STATS:

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• 7 balls at this game (6 pictured on the right because I gave one away)

• 202 balls in 22 games this season = 9.2 balls per game.

• 651 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 493 consecutive games in New York with at least one ball

• 139 consecutive Yankee home games with at least one ball

• 10 consecutive games at the new Yankee Stadium with at least two balls

• 7 consecutive seasons with at least 200 balls

• 4,560 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 45 donors (click here to learn more)

• $6.49 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $45.43 raised at this game

• $1,310.98 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

6/8/10 at Citi Field

I attended this game for one reason only: to see my buddy Heath Bell. (If you’re new to this blog, click here, here, here and here to read old entries about Heath’s awesomeness.) But before he and his Padres teammates took the field, there were Mets BP balls to be snagged…

My first ball was tossed by a player who was jogging on the warning track. I think it was Fernando Nieve, but I’m not sure because I never got a good look at him. In any case, the ball sailed right over a little kid in the front row, so as soon as I caught it, I gave it to him. My friend Brandon was at this game and took the following photo as I handed the ball over:

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In the photo above, the fan wearing the white shorts is a friend of mine named Brian (aka “puck collector” in the comments). The other fan wearing the red cap is his dad, Wayne (aka “father puck”). I didn’t know they’d be there, so it was a nice surprise to see them. Brian got off to a slow start during BP, but recovered nicely and finished with a total of four balls. As for me, my day got off to a blistering pace.

John Maine tossed me a ball in left-center…

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…but his throw fell short and bounced off the plexiglass at the bottom of the steps. Guess what happened next? He went and got another ball, and he threw that one too short as well. I’m not sure if he was messing around with me or what, but he was acting like his arm hurt too much to reach me. (For the record, he is on the 15-day DL with “right shoulder weakness,” but come on, he couldn’t have been much more than 50 feet away.) Francisco Rodriguez, who was shagging in right field, saw what was happening and took over for Maine. He got a ball and FIRED it at me from about — oh, I don’t know — 150 to 200 feet away, and his aim was perfect. (Too bad he can’t pitch like that when it counts.) It felt great to catch it. I’d been trying for years to get one from him, especially in recent years after he set the single-season saves record, but he was always…how should I say this? Umm…rude.

Chris Carter tossed me my third ball less than a minute later, and then I lunged awkwardly over the railing and grabbed a ground-rule double that unexpectedly bounced all the way up off the warning track.

Ready to see a VERY cool photo? Look what a fancy camera can do:

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Here, let me give you a closer look:

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It was a home run that was hit by a right-handed batter on the Mets. I wish I knew who, but whatever, the most important thing is that I caught it, and as you can see, I was straddling a row of seats at the time. Basically, what happened is that I ran to my right when the ball was hit, and then once I got in line with it and determined that it was going to fall a bit short, I started climbing forward over the seats. What I love about the photo is that you can see the seams on the ball. There’s no way that I could ever capture that kind of movement/detail with my little rinky-dink camera, but hey, that’s why Brandon is a professional videographer and I’m not. (That’s part of the reason, at least. It also helps to have mad camera/editing skills.)

Speaking of video, Brandon was filming when Jason Bay belted a home run right to me. Here are a few screen shots that show how it played out. You can see the ball in the first one:

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See the guy wearing the white shirt on my left? He was cutting through the row just in front of me, and if you look closely, you can see that he was reaching up with his bare hand even though he had a glove. What you can’t see is that this guy was out of control. I didn’t mind that he tried to rob me — a home run is anyone’s ball, and he had every right to go for it — but I didn’t appreciate the fact that he smacked into me. That said, check out what happened next:

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That’s right. The guy lost his balance and went flying. (He wasn’t hurt, and he ended up snagging two baseballs later on, so don’t feel too bad for him.) In the photo above on the right, you can see me holding up my arms as if to say, “I have nothing to do with this.”

My seventh ball of the day was tossed by Hisanori Takahashi (yes, I asked him in Japanese), and my eighth was totally unexpected. Jose Reyes was in the cage, taking cuts from the right side and peppering line drives all over the field. At one point, I turned to watch one, and before I knew it, I heard everyone around me yelling, “HEADS UP!!!” I looked up just in time to see another ball flying 10 feet to my left and five feet over my head. And then — CRACK!!! — Reyes promptly hit another line drive somewhere. Could Reyes have hit a home run in such a quick time frame when I wasn’t looking? It seemed unlikely, and after I chased down the ball, I looked up and noticed that a coach was hitting fungos from shallow center field. I would bet that the ball was a fungo that sailed too far. The guys in front of me insisted it was a Reyes homer, but I didn’t trust their baseball knowledge.

Here’s another series of three photographs, but I’m going to show them one at a time. First, Brandon took a shot of me standing around (which he later converted to sepia):

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Then Jose Reyes scorched a deep line drive in my direction. Brandon told me later that he thought the ball was going to sail over my head. This was never even an option in my mind. I had it all the way and knew that it was going to fall short, so I drifted down to the front row…

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…and then lunged as far over the railing as possible:

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I caught the ball in the tip of my glove and got a thumbs-up from Takahashi.

I had nine balls. It was 5:02pm. The stadium had only been open for 22 minutes. (If the wind hadn’t been blowing in, I’m sure I would’ve had at least a dozen by that point — maybe even 14 or 15.) That’s when my friend (and former Watch With Zack client) Ross showed up. (You might remember him from 9/6/09 at Citi Field and 9/23/09 at Citi Field.) Here we are talking to each other:

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“Want to guess how many balls I’ve snagged?” I asked.

“One?” he said. “Two?”

He was rather surprised to hear the actual number, and he took it well. (He was supposed to have arrived at the start of BP, but got held up because of an unfavorable train schedule.) He ended up snagging two baseballs — a respectable total under any circumstances, and especially good for having missed such a big chunk of time at the start.

Okay, get ready for another three-part photo, and let me first explain what you’re about to see…

The batter hit a home run to my right — a full section to my right — so I started running through a half-empty row. There was a man standing in the middle of the row, so I knocked him down and kept running. Just kidding. (No really, I’m kidding.) Without slowing down, I leapt over the seats into the next row and kept running. I didn’t end up getting the ball, so you know it has to be cool if I’m still showing it. Here, check it out:

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See what I’m talking about? In the first photo, I’m jumping off my left foot and lifting my right leg over the seats. (You may recall that I sprained my left ankle on 5/19/10 at Turner Field. Needless to say, it’s all better.) In the middle photo, I’m flying above the seats with my legs pulled up. And in the photo on the right, I’m about to land on my right foot while looking up at the ball. I didn’t even realize that I’d hurdled a row of seats until Brandon showed me the footage later on. (Don’t you just love the fact that Wayne is not even looking up? He was filling out his scorecard.)

This is when things slowed waaaaay down for me. You see, Heath Bell wandered out in front of the Padres’ dugout while Mets were still hitting, and I had to head over and talk to him:

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“First things first,” I told him, “congrats on an outstanding season in every possible sense.”

“Thanks,” he said, “but we still have a few more months to go.”

We chatted about random stuff for a minute, and then he asked, “How’s the book coming along?”

“Oh my GOD,” I said, “It’s killing me. It’s taken over my life, and I’m completely stressed.”

He asked me why, so I told him about my deadlines and all the remaining chapters that I still need to write and then edit.

I thought we were going to keep talking for a while, but all his teammates started pouring onto the field, so he had to go stretch with them. It was kind of frustrating because I knew he would’ve talked longer, but at least I got to see him.

I headed back to left field while the Mets finished hitting. When the Padres came out to throw, Brandon took a bunch of photos of Heath, including this one:

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The Padres eventually began their portion of BP, and it was dead. The players shagging in left field were ignoring everyone (ahem…cough-cough…Mat Latos), so I headed over to right field. I thought I might have better luck there, and also, Heath was in right-center. I wasn’t planning to ask him for a ball. I just…I don’t know…wanted to stand closer to him because…why not?

Brandon followed me out to right field, and soon after we arrived, he began shouting like a madman. Let me paraphrase:

“ZACK!!! HERE IT COMES!!!”

When I looked up, the only thing I saw was the overhang of the Pepsi Porch. (That’s the second deck.) Where was the ball? Was it a home run? Or was a player throwing one into the seats?

THWACK!!!

A ball came out of nowhere and landed in my row about 15 feet to my right. Luckily, it didn’t take a crazy bounce, and I chased after it:

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I was able to grab the ball just before the other guy (wearing the orange shirt in the photo above) got there. It was my 10th ball of the day, and it was a beauty. Check out the double-scuff:

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Heath saw the whole thing play out and came over to talk to me. In the following photo, you can see me leaning out of the stands just to the left of the “M” in “The Mo’s Zone.” Heath had to keep one eye on the batter, so that’s why he’s not looking at me in this particular shot:

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The music was blasting, so we had a tough time hearing each other. In addition, Heath had to keep craning his neck to look up at me, so he told me to head over to the seats along the right field foul line.

Much better:

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See the cap I’m wearing? Here’s a closer look at it. Heath gave it to me on 8/31/08 at PETCO Park.

Heath and I talked for the rest of BP, and eventually, other fans got in on the conversation, too. One topic that came up was his recent bashing of the Mets organization. I hadn’t even heard about this. Another fan brought it up and was NOT happy about it. Heath was cool about it and defended himself well. He said that the newspaper pulled random quotes out of context and completely got the facts wrong, and that he’s so mad about it that he’ll never talk to any reporter from that paper again. He did, however, give a specific example of how badly the Mets treated him, and it was shocking. He said that when the Mets clinched the NL East in 2006, he was reprimanded and fined for “celebrating excessively” after the game. I asked him what exactly he had done that was deemed excessive. He said he was just spraying champagne in the clubhouse with David Wright and Jose Reyes and jumping around with everyone else and screaming and going nuts, but because he hadn’t been on the team all year — because he had spent more time in the minors than the majors — some people in the front office basically said he shouldn’t have been THAT excited…and that he was out of line…and that he didn’t really deserve to be such a big part of the celebration. These are not exact quotes. I’m just summing it up, but you get the idea. I was amazed and disgusted to hear that the Mets treated him like that. As Heath pointed out, he’d already been with the organization for many years at that point. He said he absolutely loved the Mets and rooted for them as much as anyone, even when he was in the minor leagues, so when he finally made it to the majors and the team clinched, he was as excited as anyone and just let loose. Can you blame him? All I can say is: shame on the Mets. Of course, there may be another side to the story, and if there’s anyone from the team’s 2006 front office who’s reading this, please get in touch and tell me the story from your point of view, and I’ll be happy to blog about it. (Maybe the Mets executives from 2006 are now running Best Buy. That would explain a lot.) Heath did say that he’d be happy to return to the Mets someday. He said he’s only upset about how he was treated by a small group of executives, most of whom are now gone.

Everyone appreciated hearing Heath speak from the heart, and let me make one thing clear: the time he spent chatting it up along the foul line wasn’t all negative. On the contrary, there were lots of funny moments. For example, there was an annoying kid who kept begging for a ball and eventually told Heath that it was his first game.

“It’s my first game, too,” said Heath. Then he paused and said, “Today.”

Everyone laughed, and then Heath turned to one of the security guards and said, “What about you?”

“It’s also my first game,” said the guy with a rough New York accent.

“Hey, me too!” I shouted. “This is my first game ever!”

It was hilarious. Everyone was cracking up and declaring that it was their first game, and as for the kid, Heath ended up signing an autograph for him, so all was right with the world. Heath signed for everyone. He was accommodating and funny and insightful and friendly. If you don’t root for him (at least when he’s not facing your favorite team of your fantasy players), then there has to be something wrong with you.

Shortly before the game started, I snagged my 11th ball of the day behind the Padres’ dugout. Jerry Hairston tossed it to me after playing catch, and then I grabbed a seat in the eighth row. It was a good spot to snag a 3rd-out ball, but I had some competition. Brian and Ross were there, and they were both wearing Padres gear. We decided to take turns each inning rather than simultaneously charging down to the front row and creating a mini-stampede. Brian, we all agreed, would get the 1st, 4th, and 7th innings, I would get the 2nd, 5th, and 8th, and Ross would get the 3rd, 6th, and (if necessary) 9th. We were all sitting behind the outfield end of the dugout — the perfect spot to get a ball from the first baseman, but a terrible spot to get one from the catcher. I would’ve gone to the home plate end, but I’d just gotten the ball from Hairston over there, and I didn’t want to intrude on the people in that section. I told Ross that he should go there, but he didn’t, and whaddaya know? Ike Davis struck out to end the first inning, and Nick Hundley, the Padres catcher, tossed the ball into the crowd right where he would’ve been. One inning later, when Mike Pelfrey tapped softly back to the pitcher for the final out, I headed down to the front row and knew that I was going to get the ball. There was absolutely no doubt about it. The only question was whether Adrian Gonzalez would toss me the actual game-used ball or if he’d pull a switcheroo and give me the infield warm-up ball instead.

Here’s a photo of the ball in mid-air, heading toward me…

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…and here’s the ball itself:

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Clearly, it was the infield warm-up ball; a gamer would never be that dirty and messy. Did I care? Not at all. I was just glad to have another ball.

That was the last time I went down to the dugout for the rest of the game. Instead, I sat with Brandon (and his family) near the back of the section. This was our view:

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His mother had purchased tickets there, and while it pained me to sit in the middle of a row, I knew that there really wasn’t any other place I could’ve gone that would’ve been much better. Citi Field is a decent stadium for batting practice, but once the game starts, it’s terrible for ballhawking. I won’t get into all the reasons why. Just take my word for it.

Late in the game, I headed out to the seats in deep right-center. This was my fabulous view:

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I wasn’t out there to look at the field. I just wanted to get close to the bullpen so I could see Heath again. This was the view to my left and behind me (after I reached over the railing with my camera):

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In case you can’t tell, that’s Heath on the left. Soon after I took that photo, he saw me and gave a subtle nod.

The game was awesome. The Padres were winning, 1-0, with two outs in the bottom of the 7th inning. I was counting down the outs — four to go at that point — until Heath would get a save opportunity, but Jose Reyes spoiled it with a deep drive to left. The ball hit the very top of the wall and bounced back onto the field. At first, it was ruled “in play,” but then the umps reviewed it and overturned the call and awarded Reyes with a game-tying homer.

Before I headed back to the dugout, I met a young man named Brian (not to be confused with the Brian that I mentioned earlier) who told me he’d been reading this blog for a couple years. He also told me that he had a photo of me, and he asked if I would sign it. My answer, of course, was yes, and he let me take a photo of him holding it up:

Anyone want to guess what baseball I’m holding in the signed photo? Here’s a hint: you can find it in the photo section of my website. Also, FYI, the number under my name says “4520.” That was my current ball total at the time that I signed it. I’ve been signing all snag-related autographs like that since my first book came out in 1999. I never signed Watching Baseball Smarter with my ball total under my name, but I plan on going back to that signature when The Baseball comes out next year.

I made it back to the dugout during the top of the 10th inning, and Ike Davis won it in the bottom of the 11th with an absolute BOMB to right field. According to Hit Tracker, the ball traveled 444 feet (and jumped off the bat at a speed of 113.7 miles per hour). Look where it went. Cool, no?

Davis’s home run was a solo shot.

Final score: Zack 12, Mets 2, Padres 1.

My Ballhawk Winning Percentage is now .833 (12.5 wins, 2.5 losses). That’s good for first place in all six major league divisions.

Next game for me? Who knows. I seriously have to get back to work on my book.

SNAGGING STATS:

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• 12 balls at this game (11 pictured on the right because I gave one away)

• 162 balls in 15 games this season = 10.8 balls per game.

• 644 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 490 consecutive games in New York with at least one ball

• 353 consecutive Mets home games with at least one ball (338 at Shea Stadium; 15 at Citi Field)

• 127 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

• 4,520 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 37 donors (click here to learn more)

• $5.41 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $64.92 raised at this game

• $876.42 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

5/19/10 at Turner Field

The day got off to a great start, and it had nothing to do with baseball: I saw my very first girlfriend for the first time in 14 years, and it wasn’t awkward at all. We met in the lobby of my hotel, went out for a three-hour lunch, and pretty much just caught up and laughed about the past. I was in such a good mood after seeing her that nothing else mattered. Batting practice at Turner Field? Whatever. Baseball was the last thing on my mind — that is, until I walked over to the stadium and met up with my friend Matt Winters:

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(In case you’re new to this blog, I’m the guy on the left.)

That helped get me back into snagging mode. My goal for the day was to get at least six baseballs. That’s what I needed to reach 4,500, and thanks to the dreamlike configuration of the left field stands…

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…I knew it wouldn’t be hard. It was more a question of how than if.

My first two balls of the day were home runs hit by right-handed batters on the Braves. I’m not sure who. All I can tell you is that the first one landed near me in the seats, and I caught the second one on the fly.

That’s when I encountered my first challenge of the day. Another batter hit a homer that happened to land in the gap behind the outfield wall. I figured I’d be able to snag it with my glove trick, but before I could get there, some old guy snagged it with his own funky-looking device. Here he is holding it up:

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It’s a gigantic roll of duct tape — with additional tape inside the center hole to make the ball stick. On the other side (where the guy is holding it), there was a big/clunky object attached to it, presumably to help weigh the whole thing down.

As it turned out, this guy was one of a dozen fans who’d brought devices into the stadium. There were devices everywhere. It was nuts. Some people even dangled them over the wall in anticipation.

Somehow, I managed to beat the competition and use my glove trick to snag my third ball of the day. I handed that one to the nearest kid, and two minutes later, I sprung into glove-trick action once again.

That’s when I encountered (or rather created) another challenge. In my haste to get down to the front row, I rolled my left ankle on the edge of a step, and let me tell you, it hurt like HELL. I felt a sharp twinge on the outside of my foot, and for a moment, I thought I wasn’t gonna be able to walk for the next two weeks. It was one of those “what did I just do to myself” injuries; I knew it was bad, but I wasn’t sure just how bad, so I decided that as long as I could still stand, I might as well proceed down to the front row and try to snag the ball — and yes, I did end up getting it.

My ankle really hurt after that…

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…but the pain was bearable as long as I ran in straight lines and changed direction slowly.

My fifth ball of the day was another home run (not sure who hit it), and the catch itself was anything but routine. I was cutting through the second row to my right. The ball was heading toward a teenaged kid in the front row. It was going to be an easy chest-high catch for him, so I didn’t expect to have a chance. That said, I still stuck my glove out for a potential catch in case he missed it, and at the last second, I jerked my head to the side so that I wouldn’t get drilled in the face by a potential deflection. Well, wouldn’t you know it? The kid somehow managed to miss the ball. I mean, he completely whiffed — didn’t even get any leather on it — and I ended up making a no-look, thigh-high catch while running through the seats on a sprained ankle.

That was the 4,499th ball of my life. The next one was going to be a fairly significant milestone, so I wanted it to be special.

Another home run was hit toward the same kid. I was standing right behind him at the time, and while the ball was in mid-air, I could have easily climbed down into the front row and reached in front of him — but I didn’t want to interfere with his chance at redemption, so I hung back in the second row. This is how it played out:

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The ball smacked the pocket of his glove and jerked his wrist back, but he hung onto it, and everyone cheered and congratulated him.

Toward the end of the Braves’ portion of BP, a ball cleared the wall and landed in front of the visitors’ bullpen down the left field line. It sat there for a minute, so I ran over to the seats in foul territory, thinking that I might be able to snag it with my glove trick. Once I got there, I realized that the ball was trapped underneath a bench. There was no way for me to reach it, and even if it had been sitting right below me, there wouldn’t have been time. A security guard was about to retrieve it. Here he is with the ball in his hand:

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There were several other fans asking for it, so he decided to give it away in the fairest way possible: he asked when everyone’s birthday was. As soon as I said “September fourteenth,” he tossed me the ball.

“When’s your birthday?” I asked.

“September twelfth,” he replied.

“Cool, thanks so much,” I said, and then I asked, “Can I take a picture of the ball with you in the background?”

Either he didn’t hear me or he simply ignored me because he promptly exited the bullpen and began walking toward the infield. Meanwhile, I wanted to fully document my 4,500th ball, so I “chased” after him:


(It wasn’t exactly a high-speed chase.)

In the photo above, he had stopped walking for a moment to shout something to another guard in the bullpen, and then moments later, he continued marching ahead. I pulled out my camera, and this was the only photo I got:

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Meh. A little blurry. But at least it captured the “excitement” of the moment. (It’s fun to put “random” words in quotes. I should “do” this more often.)

Here’s a better photo of the ball itself:

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Now that my milestone was out of the way, my goal was to snag four more balls and reach double digits.

When the Braves cleared the field, I headed over toward their dugout on the first base side, and I wasn’t allowed past this point:

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If you look closely at the photo above, you can kinda see that the arrow is pointing to an extra chair in the front row — a little folding chair with slats on the back. That’s how stadium security marks its arbitrary cut-off line; if you don’t have a ticket for the seats beyond that point, you can’t go there, even during batting practice. Matt and I had tickets in the 3rd row behind the 3rd base dugout, and yet we weren’t allowed anywhere near the 1st base dugout. It’s such a bad policy — so thoroughly asinine and misguided and anti-fan — but what could I do? I had to stay there and SHOUT REALLY LOUD to get Terry Pendleton’s attention. He was standing all the way over near the home-plate end of the dugout. I didn’t think he’d even look up, but to my surprise, he finally turned and threw a ball all the way to me. (Take THAT, stadium security!!)

I headed over to the left field foul line when the Reds started throwing…

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…and didn’t get a single ball there. What’s up with that? I was decked out in Reds gear and still got ignored by all the players. Good thing there were a few batters hitting bombs to left-center field — and get this, they were left-handed. Although I’m not sure who was in the cage, I’m pretty certain it was Joey Votto and Jay Bruce. (Maybe Laynce Nix, too?) My eighth and ninth balls of the day were homers that landed in the seats. Here I am scrambling for one of them:

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This was my view straight ahead:

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See that kid in the front row with the arrow pointing to him? He was standing there because I told him to. Two minutes earlier, he had asked me a for a ball, and I said, “Don’t ask ME. Ask the players. Stand in the front row, and when a ball rolls near you, ask them politely for it.”

This was the view to my right:

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See the man with the arrow pointing to him? He overheard my exchange with the kid and asked me, “How many balls do you have?”

He seemed friendly — I’m usually pretty good at determining when someone is asking me just for the purpose of starting an argument — so I told him.

“Nine?!” he asked. “Do you think that’s fair?!”

“Well,” I said calmly, “considering that I give away a lot of balls to kids and also do this to raise money for charity, yeah, actually I do think it’s fair.”

The guy was speechless. He just nodded and walked back over to his spot…however…when I caught my 10th ball of the day less than a minute later — another homer by one of the Reds’ lefties — he was not too happy about it.

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The kid in the front row turned around and started begging me all over again for a ball. I pointed at the field and told him, “You should be focusing on the players, not on me.” And guess what happened soon after? Arthur Rhodes tossed a ball to the kid, who was so excited that he ran back and showed me.

“Now see?” I asked. “Wasn’t that better than getting a ball from me?”

“YES!!!” he shouted with a huge smile on his face.

I looked over at the man who’d been giving me a hard time, and I shrugged. He was still stewing. And then, five minutes later, I used my glove trick to snag a ball from the gap and gave that one away to another kid. I don’t even think the man saw that, and I don’t care.

That was my 11th ball of the day, and batting practice was almost done, so I ran (gingerly) to the 3rd base dugout. None of the players or coaches gave me a ball, but some random equipment-manager-type-guy was dumping all the balls from the bucket into a zippered bag. I got his attention and convinced him to toss one to me, and man, it was a beauty. Here are two different photos of it:

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Not only was there a big/diagonal/striped/green mark on it, and not only was the word “practice” stamped in a bizarre spot, but the logo was stamped too low. See how the word “commissioner” overlaps the stitch holes? I once snagged a ball with the logo stamped too high, and I also once snagged one with the logo stamped crookedly, but these are just a few examples out of thousands of balls, so you can see how rare it is.

I wandered for a bit after BP…

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…and made it back to the dugout just in time for the national anthem:

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Is that an amazing sight or what? I’ve never seen groundskeepers keep the hose on their shoulders during the playing of the song.

Reds third base coach Mark Berry tossed me a ball after the second inning, and in the bottom of the third, I headed up the steps to meet a 13-year-old kid from Atlanta named Evan. He’d been reading this blog for years, but we’d never met in person, and now finally, for the first time, we were at the same game together. I was planning to head over to the tunnels behind the plate and play for foul balls, but because he and his dad met me in the cross-aisle behind the dugout, I lingered there for a couple minutes to chat. Well, as luck would have it, while were were all standing around, Brian McCann fouled off a pitch from Aaron Harang and sent the ball flying 20 feet to my left. I took off after it (what sprained ankle?) and watched helplessly as it landed in a staircase just behind me. Thankfully, there was no one there, and the ball didn’t take a crazy bounce. Instead, it trickled down into the aisle, where I was able to grab it. Ha-HAAAA!!! The whole thing never would’ve happened if not for Evan, so he gets the unofficial assist. Here we are together:


Evan has snagged approximately 300 balls. (He doesn’t have an exact count, but he owns 295 and has given a few away.) That’s an impressive number at any age, let alone 13. When I turned 13, I had a lifetime total of four baseballs. He and I hung out after that, first behind the plate, then with Matt behind the dugout, but there were no more balls to be snagged.

The game itself was very entertaining. Braves starter Kenshin Kawakami, who began the night with an 0-6 record and a 5.79 ERA, pitched six scoreless innings and left with a 4-0 lead. Unfortunately for him, his countryman, Takashi Saito, gave up three runs in the top of the eighth, and then Billy Wagner surrendered a solo shot in the ninth to pinch hitter Chris Heisey. With the score tied, 4-4, in the the bottom of the ninth, Martin Prado hit a two-out single, and Jason Heyward plated him with a line-drive double into the right-field corner.

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Game over. Final score: Braves 5, Reds 4.

Heyward finished 3-for-5 with two doubles, a triple, and two runs scored. This guy is the real deal. He has unbelievably quick bat speed and a beautiful swing. He’s 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds, and he’s 20 years old! He has blazing speed, too, and he seems pretty solid in the field. I won’t pronounce him a future Hall of Famer just yet, but I’d be shocked if he doesn’t end up having a very good/long major league career. Wagner, by the way, two months shy of his 39th birthday, was consistently hitting 98mph on the gun. (I’ve never felt so athletically inadequate, but damn, these guys were fun to watch.)

After the game, I said goodbye to Evan (who got the lineup cards), then met a guy named Glenn Dunlap (who runs a company called Big League Tours), and caught up with another friend named Matt (who you might remember from 5/17/10 at Turner Field).

On my way out of the stadium, I took a photo of the empty seats…

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…and walked past the Braves Museum and Hall of Fame…

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…which was now closed.

Oh well.

I’m not a museum person anyway. (I’m more of a doer than a looker.)

Five minutes later, this is what I was doing just outside Turner Field:

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No, I wasn’t bowing down to my baseballs as part of a religious ritual; I had my camera in my hands, and I was trying to angle it just right in order to take one last photo. Keep reading past the stats to see how it turned out…

SNAGGING STATS:

• 14 balls at this game (12 pictured below because I gave two away)

• 150 balls in 14 games this season = 10.7 balls per game.

• 643 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 194 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball

• 138 lifetime game balls (125 foul balls, 12 home runs, and one ground-rule double; this does NOT include game-used balls that get tossed into the crowd)

• 126 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

• 60 lifetime games outside of New York with at least 10 balls

• 4,508 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 34 donors (click here and scroll down to see the complete list)

• $5.20 pledged per ball (if you add up all 34 pledges)

• $72.80 raised at this game

• $780.00 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

Bye, Turner Field. Thanks for being so awesome. I’m gonna miss you…

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5/12/10 at Camden Yards

Most.

Frustrating.

Game.

Ever.

It started at 5pm when I ran inside the stadium and saw this:

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It was just starting to drizzle. The groundskeepers were just starting to roll out the tarp. The Orioles, who HAD been taking batting practice, were walking off the field. Why was this a big deal? Because the last two times I was at Camden Yards for batting practice, I snagged 22 balls the first day and 25 the second.

Normally, I would’ve raced out to left field to look for balls in the empty seats, but instead I stopped by the dugout to talk to Jeremy Guthrie (whom I’ve gotten to know quite well over the past two seasons). Why was this a big deal? Because a fellow ballhawk named Matt, who had entered the stadium 10 seconds after me, ended up running out there and finding ELEVEN balls!!!!!!!!!!! (That’s one exclamation point per ball.)

My friend Brandon showed up soon after with his fancy camera. Here’s a photo he took of the batting cage being rolled away:

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Five minutes later, Ichiro started playing in shallow left field. This is how I wore my Mariners shirt to get his attention:

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As he finished throwing, I waved to get his attention…

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…and he threw the ball to me. Here I am reaching out for it:

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I adore Ichiro. Getting a ball from him was the highlight of my day. It would’ve been the highlight of my month if he hadn’t thrown one to me on 5/10/05 at Yankee Stadium.

Brandon takes amazing photos…like this one…of my reaction to the weather:

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(Note the raindrop on the upper right.)

In the photo above, you can see someone on the Mariners playing catch in the background. It was Jack Wilson. He was throwing with the team’s strength and conditioning coordinator. At least that’s who I think it was — and that’s who tossed me the ball when they finished. Here’s the ball in mid-air, heading to me:

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See the guy to my right in the tan cargo shorts? That’s another fellow ballhawk named Avi. He’s the one who visited the Camden Club with me the day before.

A few more Mariners came out to play catch. Here’s a photo (taken by Brandon) of Sean White:

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In the photo above, the orange seat indicates where Eddie Murray’s 500th career home run landed.

My third ball of the day was thrown by Brandon League, and my fourth ball, pictured below in mid-air, was tossed by Mariners bullpen catcher Jason Phillips:

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Even though it was raining, a bunch of Mariners signed autographs. Here I am getting David Aardsma on my ticket…

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…and here’s the ticket itself:

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As you can see, I got four guys to sign it, and they all (sloppily) wrote their uniform numbers. Aardsma (53) is on the upper right, Jesus Colome (37) is in the middle, Ian Snell (35) is on the left, and Sean White (46) is on the lower right.

Brandon gave me his ticket, and I got John Wetteland to sign it:

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Wetteland was talking (to all the fans who were willing to listen) about electro-magnetism and atomic radiation and the big bang theory. And that was just the beginning. It was weird and funny — although he wasn’t trying to be funny. He was being totally serious, which made it funny…to me.

Eventually, when it really started raining hard, I took cover under the overhang of the second deck and pulled out my tickets to have a look. The nearest usher thought I needed help finding my seat, so I explained that I was merely checking out the autographs that I’d gotten. He and a couple other guys gathered around to have a look at them, too:

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Brandon photographed everything, including this:

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It’s a shot of me giving away one of my baseballs to a little kid — something I try to do at least once or twice at every game.

I headed down to the front row for pre-game throwing…

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…and got a ball from Josh Wilson. The following eight-part photo shows the ball from the time it was in his hand until I caught it. You might want to click it for a closer look:

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The game was delayed 24 minutes at the start.

And then…look how small the crowd was:

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You’d think I would’ve caught 17 foul balls and five home runs, right?

Yeah, not exactly.

And guess what? Ken Griffey Jr. wasn’t in the starting lineup. He was THE reason why I took this little roadtrip in the first place. Things just kept getting worse and worse.

This is where I positioned myself for most right-handed batters:

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Over the course of the game, two foul balls landed less than five feet from me. In both cases, I was the closest fan to them — and in both cases, the balls ricocheted wildly off the seats and ended up getting grabbed by other people. If the balls had simply stayed where they landed, these would’ve been easy snags.

NOW do you see why this game was so frustrating?

Well, there’s more…

In the bottom of the fourth inning, Luke Scott connected on the game’s lone home run. I was at the back of the standing-room-only section. The ball was heading right toward me, but falling short, so I raced up toward the wall and reached out at the last second to make the catch. It was THAT close to me. I actually squeezed my glove in anticipation. The ball never touched my glove, however, because the guy standing directly in front of me stuck his bare hands up and deflected it. The ball didn’t hit me in the face — I do have THAT to be thankful for — but instead it bounced directly over my head and rolled back to the exact spot where I’d been standing.

I was doing everything right, but couldn’t catch a break. Not to sound overly dramatic, but in all seriousness, my horrendous luck really made me question things. I can think of several instances where I’ve been angry inside major league stadiums, but this game, by far, left me feeling more frustrated than ever.

After the top of the 6th inning, I got a third-out ball from future Hall of Famer Nick Markakis. He had caught a fly ball hit by Jose Lopez to end the frame, and when he tossed it into the crowd, it got bobbled and then started trickling down the steps. During the mad scramble that ensued, I grabbed the ball out of puddle underneath a seat in the front row. I scraped my knuckles in the process. The whole night sucked.

Griffey pinch hit in the top of the ninth…

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…and hit a sacrifice fly to right field — right in my direction, but about 75 feet too short.

Bah.

After the game, I got my seventh ball of the day from home plate umpire Joe West, but I still felt like crap.

Final score: Orioles 5, Mariners 2. At least I notched another win for my Ballhawk Winning Percentage, which now stands at .850 (8.5 wins and 1.5 losses).

SNAGGING STATS:

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• 7 balls at this game (6 pictured on the right because I gave one away)

• 95 balls in 10 games this season = 9.5 balls per game.

• 639 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 190 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball

• 4,453 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 31 donors (click here and scroll down to see who has pledged)

• $4.95 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $34.65 raised at this game

• $470.25 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball