Tagged: atlanta braves

9/17/10 at Citi Field

I wasn’t too happy about paying $23 apiece for the cheapest seats in the stadium…

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…but money was the last thing on my mind when I ran inside at 4:40pm. Here I am with left field all to myself during the first minute of batting practice:

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By the way, the reason why I bought two tickets is that Jona was with me — and for the record, she took every photo in this entry with her iPhone 4. She’s very proud of her phone. She’ll be happy when she reads this entry and sees that I mentioned it. But anyway, my first ball of the day was a rather unusual snag. While standing in straight away left field, I saw a left-handed batter slice a soft line drive into the seats in foul territory. There was another fan at the back of the section where the ball landed, but he didn’t see it until a security guard waved him down toward the front. Guess what happened? He couldn’t find it, so after 10 or 20 seconds, I decided to run over there and have a look for myself. I found the ball right away, sitting in the middle of the 3rd row behind the rolled up tarp.

My second ball was thrown by a ballboy named “Jimmy” deeper down the left field foul line. Here’s a photo of the ball in mid-air sailing toward me:

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All the batters in the first two groups were left-handed, so I ran over to the right field side. As soon as I got there, Mike Pelfrey tossed me a ball that fell short and bounced back onto the field. One of the Mets’ Japanese/translator-guys (who was shagging balls in the outfield) retrieved it and chucked it to me. That was my third ball of the day. Soon after, Jona made her way out to right field and took the following photo that shows me roaming through the seats above The Mo’s Zone:

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As you can see, the stadium was almost completely empty, and I ended up taking full advantage.

When several righties started hitting, I ran across the Shea Bridge…

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…and rushed back to the left field seats. Jona wasn’t far behind, but things tend to happen quickly, and once again, she missed out. As soon as I reached the front row, Mets rookie pitcher Dillon Gee picked up two baseballs that were sitting on the warning track. He tossed the first one to a little kid, so I shouted, “How about a ball for a big kid?” That worked. He tossed the second one to me, and then moments later, I lunged over the railing and grabbed a David Wright ground-rule double that conveniently bounced right to me.

That’s when Jona arrived.

Jesus Feliciano then threw me a ball in straight-away left field, and 30 seconds later, I raced out to the seats in left-center and got Manny Acosta to throw me another. In case you’ve lost track, I now had seven balls, and things kept going from there. David Wright launched two home runs in my direction. I grabbed the first one after it landed in the seats (here I am chasing after it)…

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…and caught the second one on the fly. Then Mike Hessman blasted a home run that landed a full section to my left — landed in my glove, that is, after I ran over and caught it on the fly.

It was 5:09pm. The stadium hadn’t even been open for half an hour, and I already had double digits. Unfortunately, the Mets cleared the field soon after, so it was going to take a solid performance during the Braves’ portion of BP in order for me to break my single-game Citi Field record of 15 balls.

When the Braves started throwing, I changed into my Braves gear and moved over to the left field foul line…

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…but I didn’t get anything there.

Ball No. 11 was thrown by Billy Wagner in left-center. Ball No. 12 was a home run that I caught on the fly in straight-away left. (Don’t know who hit it.) Ball No. 13 was another homer, and I ranged three full sections for it. I was in left field when the batter connected (once again, I have no idea who), and I immediately took off running to my left:

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Here’s a four-part photo that shows what happened next:

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It’s pretty simple. In the first two photos above, I was running like a madman. (Note the ball in photo No. 2 streaking in front of the Home Run Apple.) In the third photo, I was racing up the steps, and in the fourth photo, you can see me holding the ball right after I snagged it.

My 14th ball was another home run. I have no idea who hit it, and I caught it on the fly.

The record-tying ball was thrown by Melky Cabrera in left-center. I was several rows back. His throw sailed a bit too high, so I jumped and made a back-handed grab. Here’s a photo of both me and the ball in mid-air:

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Now, it might seem like I was catching everything in sight, but that wasn’t the case. There WAS some competition, and at one point, I got flat-out robbed on a home run. Check it out:

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The ball was coming right toward me. I could sense that there was another guy standing on my right, so I tried to box him out of my row. Well, unfortunately for me, he snuck past me on the steps and moved into the row directly in front of me and jumped at the last second and caught the ball right in front of my glove. What can I say? I misplayed it, and he did everything right. I should have climbed up on a seat. Then he wouldn’t have been able to reach above me. But hey, it’s hard to think/move that fast, so I can only tip my cap and admit defeat. As it turned out, the other guy reads this blog regularly and leaves comments as “li7039.” I’ve crossed paths with him a couple times in the past, and for some reason, I always forget who he is. (I just suck with faces and names sometimes. Forgive me.)

What happened next? I’ll tell you what happened next. I caught two more homers on the fly. They were both hit by righties, and I still had no idea who was batting. The first one was routine. The second one required a basket catch. The following two-part photo shows how it played out:

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In the photo on the left, I was drifting through the seats while another fan down in front was moving to his right. The photo on the right shows me making the catch while the other fan was leaping and lunging for the ball.

That gave me 17 balls, and I wasn’t done. Craig Kimbrel tossed me No. 18 with a nice, easy, under-handed toss, and then I caught another home run on the fly in left-center. This homer was hit by a lefty. I think it was Rick Ankiel, but I’m not sure. It’s very rare for anyone to go oppo at Citi Field, so I consider myself lucky.

That was it for BP.

I had 19 balls!

That tied my single-game record for New York City; on April 19, 2004, I somehow managed to snag 19 balls at Shea Stadium.

I decided to go for No. 20 behind the Braves’ dugout. Snagging a third-out ball seemed like the most reliable option, and I didn’t have to wait long for my chance. When Tommy Hanson struck out Carlos Beltran to end the first inning, I bolted down to the front row and got Brian McCann to toss me the ball as he jogged off the field.

SCORE!!!

It was the eighth time in my life that I’d reached the 20-ball plateau and, of course, it was the first time I’d ever done it in New York.

Let’s cut to the chase…

After the game (which the Braves won, 6-4), I got a ball from home plate umpire Bill Hohn as he walked off the field. It was my 21st and final ball of the day. Here’s a screen shot from a video that shows the ball sailing toward me…

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…and because there’s been some speculation, let me just say that the ball was NOT heading toward the kid on my left. I was the one who called out to the umpire. The umpire tossed the ball directly to me. What’s the problem? See the huge security guy in the purple-ish outfit? He was watching the whole thing. If I had indeed reached out in front of the kid, do you think the guard would’ve let me get away with it? Do you think the ump or any of the other fans would’ve been okay with it? No one said a word to me because it was a clean play. But the more important fact here is that I simply don’t reach in front of kids for baseballs. I used to reach in front of people when I was a kid myself, and I regret it. Now I give baseballs to kids. I also raise money for a children’s charity by snagging baseballs. But the “media” doesn’t like to report that. Nope. The media prefers to write negative crap because it’s more entertaining. And whenever there’s negative crap written, there’s never a quote from me. Have you noticed that? I never get a chance to explain my side of the story. That’s kind of strange, don’t you think?

Anyway, here I am with my 20th and 21st balls of the day…

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…and here I am outside the stadium with my total haul:

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If you look closely at the photo above, you’ll notice that there are only 18 balls. That’s because I gave three of them away over the course of the night. The first one went to the nearest kid after I snagged the ball from McCann. (I kept the gamer and handed him a much cleaner practice ball instead.) After the game, I gave a ball to a kid at the dugout, and when I was walking out of the stadium, I gave away another to a boy who was so excited that his parents had to remind him to thank me. It was pretty sweet.

SNAGGING STATS:

• 21 balls at this game

• 268 balls in 27 games this season = 9.93 balls per game.

• 656 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 356 consecutive Mets home games with at least one ball

• 18 consecutive games at Citi Field with at least two balls

• 130 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

• 8 lifetime games with at least 20 balls

• 4,626 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 45 donors (click here to learn more)

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

• $136.29 raised at this game

• $1,739.32 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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5/17/10 at Turner Field

This was my first game at Turner Field in ten years, and I was pretty excited:

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The crowd was going to be fairly small. The gates were going to open two and a half hours early. The configuration of the left field seats was going to be ideal. And in my previous four games at this stadium (two in 1999 and two in 2000), I’d averaged 9.5 balls per game.

I wasn’t merely hoping to have a big day. I was expecting it. But first, I had some exploring to do outside the stadium.

This is what I saw when I walked to the top of the steps:

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That big area is called Monument Grove.

I walked over to the gate in deep left-center field and took a peek through the metal bars:

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Nice.

Two photos above, you can see a blueish wall in the distance. Here’s a closer look at it:

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In case you can’t read it, the words on top say, “THE LONGEST CONTINUOUSLY OPERATING FRANCHISE IN MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL.” (I was not aware of that fact.) Underneath it, there were years and logos and names of all the Braves’ former cities and teams: Boston Red Stockings (starting in 1871), Boston Red Caps, Boston Beaneaters, Boston Doves, Boston Rustlers, Boston Braves, Boston Bees, Boston Braves (again), Milwaukee Braves, and finally the current Atlanta Braves. It wasn’t nearly as snazzy as any of the Twins shrines that I saw on May 4th at Target Field, but it was still cool to see the Braves honoring their past.

Here’s the center field gate…

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…and this is what it looked like when I rounded the corner of the stadium:

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Meh. Nothing wrong with it, but not particularly memorable.

Here’s another look from further down the street…

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…and this is what it looked like after I rounded another corner:

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Pretty standard stuff, I guess. The street on that side of the stadium was so green and hilly that it didn’t even feel like a stadium. Check it out:

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I resisted the urge to try to talk my way in as I passed the media entrance…

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…and rounded yet another corner:

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That’s more like it.

Two-thirds of the way down the street, a bunch of autograph collectors were waiting for the Mets players to arrive:

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See the guy standing on the right with the red ESPN shirt? His name is Pete Gasperlin (aka “pgasperlin” in the comments). I had met him on 5/6/10 at Target Field. He’s a huge Twins fan. He’s the founder of the Denard Span fan club on Facebook. And he’s the guy who took my girlfriend Jona into the Metropolitan Club when she needed a break from the 40-degree drizzle. Yesterday, while I was talking to him, Jose Reyes, Johan Santana, and Oliver Perez were dropped off right in front of us. There were a dozen people begging for their autographs, including one guy (as you can see above) who was wearing a REYES jersey. It would have taken the players a minute or two to sign for everyone, but instead, they headed inside without even looking up or waving. It was pathetic. (David Wright, by the way, had stopped to sign on his way in shortly before I got there. Pete showed me a card that he’d gotten autographed.)

Here’s what the stadium looked like just beyond the autograph collectors…

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…and this is what it looked like when I rounded the final corner:

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I was back to where I’d started, and I still had some time to spare, so I headed into the parking lot in order to get a look at Turner Field from afar:

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Then I walked even further (about a quarter of a mile) and checked out the remnants of Fulton County Stadium:

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Fulton County was the home of the Braves from 1966-1996. I was there for one game in 1992 and snagged one ball. It was thrown by a (now totally obscure) player on the Padres named Guillermo Velasquez. I remember it well. It was rainy. There wasn’t BP. I was in the left field corner with my family. I didn’t have a Padres cap. I was 15 years old at the time. And…what else can I say? The whole thing was lucky and feels like it happened in a previous life.

In the photo above, do you see the little random piece of wall on the little random patch of grass? Let me take you closer and show you what that is:

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It’s the spot where Hank Aaron’s 715th career home run landed. (At the time, Babe Ruth held the record with 714, so this was a big big big big BIG big big deal. And of course it was more than just the numbers. There was the whole issue of race, too. Big deal. Very big.) Very cool to be standing so close to where such a major piece of history went down.

After that, I headed back to Turner Field and claimed at a spot just outside the gates:

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The photo above was taken by Pete. The guy sitting on the right was the first person I had seen while wandering around the stadium earlier. He had stopped me and asked, “Are you Zack Hample?” Most people who recognize me are like, “Hey, aren’t you that guy from YouTube,” but this dude actually knew my name. (If I’m remembering correctly, his name is Matt.)

Five minutes before the gates opened, this was the line behind me:

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When I ran inside and headed down to the front row in left-center, I was rather excited to see this:

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Glove trick heaven!

Even more important, perhaps, was the fact that the seats extended all the way from the foul pole to the batter’s eye. In other words, I was going to be able to position myself in all sorts of different spots based on who was batting and where the crowd was clustered.

My friend Pete unintentionally got the assist on my first ball of the day. It was a ground-rule double that kinda handcuffed him in the front row, and when it dropped down into the gap, I was all over it. Then I caught a home run on the fly, hit by a right-handed batter on the Braves that I couldn’t identify. Nothing fancy about it. It was pretty much hit right to me. All I had to do was drift a few feet to my right and reach up for the easy, one-handed grab. Two minutes later, I saw a ball drop into the gap in right-center, so I ran over there. I reeled that one in and then discovered another ball in the gap, just a few feet to my left:

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Cha-ching!

The problem with the section in right-center is that it’s really far from home plate. Check out the view:

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The batters basically have to hit the ball 400 feet just to reach the seats, and because the front row is always crowded, you’re talking 410 to 420 in order for them to reach a spot where you’ll have some room to run.

I ran back to left field and snagged a ground-rule double that bounced into the seats near the foul pole. I was proud of myself for this one because the ball had been hit really high, and I was all the way over in straight-away left field. I knew that it wasn’t going to clear the wall on the fly, but instead of giving up on it, I kept running in case it bounced over. Two years ago, I wouldn’t have made that play. I wasn’t as good at judging fly balls, and didn’t have The Vision. I don’t know what’s happening, but my instincts are suddenly improving. I can feel it. It’s awesome.

I ran all the way to the seats in straight-away right field (it takes an effort to get there; the path is anything but direct) and caught a home run hit by Melky Cabrera. I had to move a full section to my right for it, and when I looked back up for the ball, I found myself staring right into the sun — so I felt good about that snag as well.

The gap in right field is partially blocked by the backside of the LED board:

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It’s still possible to use the glove trick there, but balls don’t drop down too often.

When the Braves finished their portion of BP, I raced over to the seats behind their dugout — and was told by various ushers that I wasn’t allowed down there.

WHAT?!?!

Seriously, what kind of Citi-esque nonsense was that? Braves hitting coach Terry Pendleton was throwing ball after ball into the crowd, and since I was already halfway down into the seats, I started yelling to get his attention. He threw a ball to a nearby female usher, presumably for me, and when she dropped it and it started rolling toward me, she yelled at me to get away from her ball. Then, after she “ran” over and grabbed it, Pendleton threw her another, which she kept.

“Are you kidding me?!” I yelled.

“Theesa fo’ my keeeids!” she insisted.

“Are you really competing with me for baseballs,” I asked, “and kicking me out of your section an hour and a half before game time?”

That IS, in fact, what was happening. As this usher was guiding me up the steps, however, I managed to get Pendleton’s attention, and he threw me my seventh ball of the day (which I caught right in front of her face).

Unbelievable. Does anyone have Ted Turner’s phone number? I need to have a word with him.

When the Mets took the field, I was once again prohibited from entering the seats behind their dugout — or even next to their dugout. The closest I could get was shallow left field!

I got a ball tossed to me in the left field corner by one of the trainer-type-strength-and-conditioning-coach dudes. Then I moved to straight-away left and fished a home run ball out of the gap. (That was my ninth ball of the day, and there was some competition from other fans with devices.) Less than a minute later, I caught a homer on the fly. I’m not sure who hit it. All I can tell you is that I was in the third row, and there was a guy around my age in the second row. When the ball went up, he misjudged it and moved back. This enabled me to carefully slip past him and drift down to the front row, where I leaned over the railing and made the catch.

Check out the ball:

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It was a Citi Field commemorative ball. I’d snagged a bunch of these last year, but it was still great to get another. Commemorative balls are sacred to me — even the ones like this with poorly designed logos.

The Braves had been using standard balls with the word “practice” printed under the MLB logo; the Mets were using balls that had “practice” stamped sloppily on the sweet spot. Check it out:

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(“We talkin’ about PRAC-tice!“)

The left field seats got pretty crowded…

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…but that didn’t stop me. I snagged a David Wright homer that landed near me in the seats and then ran over to right field for the next group of hitters. It was either Jose Reyes or Luis Castillo — I just wasn’t paying close enough attention — but whoever it was hit a home run right to me. I mean right to me. I could sense that someone was running toward me in the row below me, so I reached up with two hands to brace for a potential collision. The ball cleared this other guy’s glove by three inches, and then he tripped and fell headfirst over his row. (Yes, I caught the ball.) Don’t feel bad for him. He was in his 20s and looked/acted like he belonged in the mosh pit at a punk rock show. Thirty seconds later, I saw him scramble for another ball and grab it right in front of a little kid, who looked pretty devastated. The kid’s father tried to plead with the guy to turn the ball over, and when he refused, I tapped the kid on the shoulder and handed him the one I’d just caught. The kid (as you might imagine) was thrilled, his father thanked me for a solid minute, and I got a bunch of high-fives from other fans.

Back in left field, I went on a mini-snagging rampage during the closing minutes of BP. Pedro Feliciano threw me my 13th ball of the day. Then I used my glove trick (No. 14). Then I grabbed a home run in the seats that some grown-ups bobbled (No. 15). And then used my trick again for a home run ball that landed in the gap (No. 16). I managed to get down to the Mets’ dugout at the end of BP, and as all the players and coaches were clearing the field, I got Howard Johnson to toss me No. 17.

Dayum!

I’d been planning to go for homers during the game, but now that I was so close to 20, I decided to stay behind the dugout and pad my numbers. For some reason, the Mets never came out for pre-game throwing, so that cost me an important opportunity, but there was still the chance to get a third-out ball. This was my view early in the game:

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Yunel Escobar grounded out to Mets first baseman Ike Davis to end the second inning. Davis jogged in and tossed me the ball. Pretty simple. The ball, it should be noted, had the Citi Field commemorative logo on it, which means it wasn’t the actual ball that had been used during the game; Davis had obviously kept the gamer and tossed me his infield warm-up ball instead.

As I jogged up the steps, I happened to see Kevin Burkhardt, the Mets’ sideline reporter, sitting at the back of the section with his SNY microphone. I had gotten to know him a bit over the past few seasons, and once I started snagging baseballs for charity last year, I’d been asking him if he’d interview me about it someday. Long story short: the interview finally took place last night during the bottom of the 4th inning.

The whole thing only lasted a couple minutes, but I think it went pretty well. Here’s a screen shot (courtesy of SNY) before the interview started. It shows Kevin pointing out the camera that was going to be filming us:

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Here’s another screen shot (courtesy of my friend Howie) during the interview itself.

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Yes, Howie actually photographed his TV.

Kevin asked me two main questions:

1) How do you catch so many baseballs?

2) Can you tell me what you’re doing for charity?

It was great to get to give a plug on-air for Pitch In For Baseball. Big thanks to the Mets for letting me do it. (The Braves, as I mentioned three days ago on Twitter, denied my media/charity request.)

Here I am with Kevin after the interview:

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I still have yet to see a tape of it, but according to Howie, when Eric Hinske homered the following inning (to a spot where I wouldn’t have been anyway), the Mets announcers mentioned me.

Gary Cohen said, “Zack did not get the ball,” to which Ron Darling replied, “He’s probably negotiating for it.”

I spent the rest of the game chasing nonexistent foul balls behind the plate. This was my view for right-handed batters:

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There’s a cross-aisle that runs through the entire field level, so it’s easy to run left and right. The only problem is that the protective screen is rather tall, so balls have to loop back over it — something that doesn’t happen too often.

Now…

If you’ve been reading the comments on this blog, you may have noticed a bunch over the years from someone known as “lsthrasher04” and later “braves04.” The person who’s been leaving those comments lives in Atlanta. His name is Matt. We’d been in touch for a long time, but we’d never met in person until yesterday. I saw him briefly during BP, but I was so busy running all over the place that we barely had a chance to catch up. Late in the game, he came and found me, and we finally had a photo taken together. Here we are:


Matt had kindly given me some pointers about Turner Field in recent weeks. I returned the favor last night by signing his copy of Watching Baseball Smarter.

By the time the 9th inning rolled around, I still needed two more balls to reach 20. My plan, since the Mets were winning, 3-2, was as follows:

1) Go to the Mets’ dugout.

2) Get a ball from home plate umpire Ed Rapuano.

3) Get another ball from the Mets as they walk off the field.

4) If that fails, get a ball from the relievers when they walk in from the bullpen.

Good plan, right? It gave me three chances to snag two balls. Well, Rapuano took care of the first one, but then the Mets let me down. None of them tossed a ball into the crowd as they headed back in — and get this: the relievers never walked across the field. They must’ve headed from the bullpen to the clubhouse through the underground concourse.

So that was it.

My day ended with 19 balls.

(Yeah, I know, poor me.)

The Mets held on for a 3-2 win, so my Ballhawk Winning Percentage improved to what would be a major league best: .792 (9.5 wins and 2.5 losses).

Before heading out, I caught up with Pete…

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…who generously gave me a new Braves cap. (My old one, circa 1992, was crinkly and fugly and being held together at the back with duct tape.)

Good times. Good people. Good baseball. Can’t wait for the next two games here. I’m hoping to snag 23 more and hit 4,500…

SNAGGING STATS:

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• 19 balls at this game (18 pictured on the right because I gave one away)

• 119 balls in 12 games this season = 9.9 balls per game.

• 641 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 124 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

• 4,477 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)

• $94.05 raised at this game

• $589.05 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

9/23/09 at Citi Field

On September 6th, I had a Watch With Zack game with a 13-year-old Mets fan named Ross. Remember? He broke his one-game record that day by snagging five balls, and he promptly booked another game with me for September 23rd. You might also recall that on September 18th, I posted a blog entry called “Watch With Zack — stats & records.” What I didn’t mention in that entry was that Ross was the one who inadvertently inspired it. He had simply told me, in the guinness_world_records.jpgdays preceding our second game together, that he wanted to break two more records…

1) most balls snagged by a Watch With Zack client in one game

2) most balls combined (my balls plus the client’s balls) in a Watch With Zack game

…so I decided to create a page on my site with all the Watch With Zack numbers. I told Ross that it would be tough, but that we’d definitely try. Both records belonged to a 14-year-old named Joe Faraguna, who brought me to a game on 5/8/09 at Citi Field. Joe had snagged 10 balls that day, and I’d added 12 more of my own. I also told Ross that in order to pile up the numbers, we’d have to split up during batting practice, at least a little bit, so that we could cover more ground and double our opportunities. He was okay with that, and in fact he insisted on it. I started the day with a lifetime total of 4,292 balls; Ross really wanted me to snag at least eight so that he could be there for No. 4,300.

Finally, September 23rd arrived. I left my place in Manhattan at 3:10pm, took the No. 7 train to Citi Field, and met Ross and his parents less than an hour later outside the Jackie Robinson Rotunda. Ross and I reviewed some last-minute strategies and put on our game faces:

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Once the gates opened at 4:40pm, it was showtime.

By the time I got to the top of the escalator, Ross was only halfway up. (That’s no diss on him; I just happen to be pretty quick.) If he were younger or if he’d never been to Citi Field before, I would’ve slowed down and led him out toward the left field seats, but since I knew he could find his way out there and since I knew that he wanted me to snag as many balls as possible, I ran ahead and reached the seats 30 seconds before him. I had the whole stadium to myself, and this is what I saw:

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Someone on the Mets was about to pick up the first of FIVE baseballs lying in the outfield. I ran through the front row toward left-center and identified the player as Brian Schneider.

“Brian,” I called out politely as I tried to catch my breath, “is there any chance that you could toss a ball up to me, please?”

Schneider immediately obliged and then threw the remaining four balls back toward the 2a_ball4294_on_field.jpgbucket. That’s when Ross arrived. There were still a few more balls sitting on the field near the foul pole, one of which was within reach thanks to my glove trick. Ross was prepared with a glove trick of his own, but he’d never actually used it at a game, and since this ball was several feet out from the wall and needed to be knocked closer, he let me go for it.

It was too easy. The day was barely two minutes old, and I already had two baseballs.

A few minutes later, several lefties started hitting, so I told Ross that we should head over to the right field side. He followed me out to the deep section in right-center, and when we got there, I noticed that two balls had rolled onto the warning track in the right field corner.

“Those balls are definitely gonna get tossed up,” I told him. “You wanna head over there on your own and see if you can get one?”

“Sure,” he said.

Ross had his cell phone, and I had mine. If we got separated, we’d just call each other, but it was pretty clear where we were each going to be.

Less than a minute later, Ross was down in the seats near the foul pole, lowering his glove on a string:

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Seconds later, I saw Ross pull up his glove before it got anywhere near the ball. I found out later that he had suffered a rubber band mishap, but it didn’t end up making a difference. Josh Thole walked over and retrieved the ball and tossed it up to him. Here’s a photo of the ball in mid-air:

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I wasn’t paying attention to the batter at that point. I had my eyes (and camera) on Ross, and since I was standing approximately 420 feet from home plate, I didn’t expect anyone to hit a ball that would reach the seats.

I expected wrong.

All of a sudden, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed that a Mets player was running back toward my section. I looked over and saw that it was Sean Green. He was looking up as if he were tracking a deep fly ball, and then…DOINK!!! The ball fell out of the sky, landed on the warning track, and bounced over a gloveless woman in the front row. I darted through the third row and scooped it up before she even moved.

Then I looked back over at Ross and saw that he was getting another ball tossed to him by Thole. What the hell?! Once he caught it, Ross looked over at me and waved his arms frantically. I figured he was either excited or having a seizure — hopefully the former — and he then ran over to tell me what had happened.

You ready for it?

THIS is what happened:

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Ross had snagged a commemorative ball from the 2008 All-Star Game! (Here’s a closer look at this type of ball.) What had happened was…Thole originally tossed him a commemorative Citi Field ball, but Ross already had a few of those at home. Soon after, another ball rolled out near the foul pole, and Ross noticed that it was an All-Star ball, so he asked Thole if he could trade the Citi Field ball and have that one instead. Very clever.

As soon as Ross finished telling the story, he leaned over the bullpen railing and asked Mets pitching coach Dan Warthen for a ball. Warthen denied the request, but Sandy Alomar Jr. walked over and tossed up two balls — one for Ross and another for a younger kid who’d been standing nearby. Here’s Ross with his second ball of the day…

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…which had the Citi Field commemorative logo.

Green jogged over to retrieve a ball off the warning track. Ross hurried down to the front row and asked him for it. I moved into the second row behind Ross with my glove on my left hand and my camera in my right. My only intention was to get a photo of Ross catching the ball if Green tossed it up. Well, Green DID toss it, but it sailed a bit too high. Ross still probably would’ve caught it if not for the grown man who scooted over and tried to reach up in front of him. As it turned out, the ball sailed over both of them and came right to me, so I stuck out my glove and made the catch. It was another All-Star ball. I offered it to Ross, but he didn’t want it. He didn’t want any of my baseballs. The only balls he wanted were the ones he snagged on his own.

Back in left field, I got Ken Takahashi to toss me my fifth ball of the day and then scrambled for a Nick Evans homer that landed in the mostly empty seats. Ross, meanwhile, was doing pretty well for himself. He got Nelson Figueroa to throw him a ball and then got his fourth of the day from (we think) Takahashi. Here’s a double-photo of Ross with each of those balls. As you can see, he was rather excited after the first one…

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…because it had the old Yankee Stadium commemorative logo. Ross had never snagged one of those, and he didn’t think he ever would, so yeah, he was pumped.

By the time the Braves took the field for BP, we felt like we were in pretty good shape to challenge Joe’s Watch With Zack records, but then things slowed way down, and to make matters worse, there was a scary accident in the process. Someone on the Braves got hit by a ball near second base, prompting the trainer to rush over toward the growing huddle of players:

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I hadn’t seen it (there’s a lot to look at during BP), so I had no idea who it was or where the player had gotten hit. I learned later that it was Martin Prado who got nailed, and thankfully (painful as it obviously was) the ball had hit him just below the left knee. It was serious enough that Prado had to miss the game and for an article to be written about it on MLB.com.

Batting practice resumed five minutes later, and since the Braves pitchers were about to wrap up their throwing, I moved over to the left field foul line. Ross was still in fair territory, and he had changed into his Braves gear:

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I shouted his name and got his attention and tried to wave him over, but he wanted to stay where he was. Two minutes later, I convinced Manny Acosta to throw me a ball (by asking for it in Spanish), and saw several other fans near me get balls thrown to them as well.

That gave me seven balls on the day. My next ball was going to be No. 4,300, and it took about ten minutes before I had another chance. Yunel Escobar was in the cage and ripped a deep line drive to my left. I bolted through an empty row and then determined that the ball was going to fall a bit short so I climbed over the row in front of me. The ball was approaching. I was now in the third row. Two fans in the front row reached up for it. I flinched (not wanting to take a deflection to the face) while keeping my glove in the spot where I thought the ball was going to end up, and I heard the ball tip off their hands, and then a split second later, I felt the ball smack into the pocket of my glove. HA! It was just like catching a foul tip, and just like that, I had reached the milestone. Here’s a photo of ball No. 4,300:

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You know what Ross said after I caught it? Nothing. He was in right field, getting his fifth ball of the day from David Ross. (D’oh!) But when he returned to the left field seats, he was glad to learn that I’d caught it.

Then we both experienced some bad luck. Omar Infante threw me a ball which fell short, and he didn’t bother to retrieve it and give me another chance. Moments later, Buddy Carlyle did the same thing to Ross, who at least got another shot when the ball was thrown back up, but he got robbed by another fan who reached out and caught it right in front of him. Ross should’ve had seven balls at that point. In addition to the five he’d snagged, there was the Carlyle fiasco as well as the overthrow in right-center field by Sean Green — and then things got worse. Ross and I raced to the Braves’ dugout at the end of BP. A few other fans got balls tossed to them, but as for us? Nothing. It looked like we were done snagging for the time being, so we stood around and contemplated our next move. Ross was in the front row, staring off aimlessly into space, and I was right behind him in the second row. We had a few feet of space on either side of us, but there were other fans nearby…and then, without warning, a ball came flying up toward us from down below. WHAT?! I glanced at Ross while the ball was still high above us and noticed that he didn’t see it, so I shouted his name, but instead of looking up, he turned around and looked at me. NO!!! I wanted him to catch it, but he still didn’t see it, and I knew that if I let the ball drop into the seats, the other fans would’ve been all over it, so at the very last second, I stuck out my glove and made a waist-high catch. Ross was totally bummed out when he realized what had happened. He wasn’t mad at me. He knew I’d done the right thing by catching it. He was upset at himself for not paying attention, and while he was beating himself up mentally, another ball came flying up out of nowhere. The two balls were thrown five seconds apart, and the same thing happened with the second one. He never even saw it, so I made a very reluctant and last-second catch before it had a chance to hit the plastic seats and ricochet to another fan. There was nothing either of us could do. I had to catch the balls, and since they had entered my possession first, he couldn’t count them and didn’t want them. He was still stuck at five balls, while I had stumbled into double digits. It was just one of those things. Sometimes you get all the breaks, and other times it seems like the snagging gods hate you. This was Ross’s reaction:

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The photo above was not staged. Ross was truly distraught. He could have — and really should have — snagged nine balls by that point and been on the verge of breaking Joe’s record, but instead, he still had a long way to go. Another thing about the photo above: the man with the beard is Ross’s father Steve, and the woman in the green sweater is his mother Cindy. They tried to console him, but it was no use. He felt bad, and that was that.

One thing that cheered up Ross a little was that my friend Leon Feingold (a former minor league pitcher) showed up at game time and sat with us behind the Braves’ dugout and gave a brief pitching lesson. Here’s a photo of Leon, making the ball look tiny in his hand:

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Even as the innings ticked by, Ross was determined to find SOME way to snag five more balls, but the opportunities were dwindling, and he had some competition. Here’s a photo of Ross from behind. See the fan sitting across the staircase in the red shirt?

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That was Clif (aka “goislanders4” in the comments), a former Watch With Zack client who had become quite an experienced baseball-snagger. (You might remember Clif from 9/25/07 at Shea Stadium and 7/28/08 at Yankee Stadium and 8/19/08 at Citizens Bank Park.)

Both Ross and Clif were in the perfect spot to get a 3rd-out ball tossed up by the Braves, and after every inning, both of them rushed down the steps to the front row:

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(Check out that guy in the gray shirt on the right. Dear Lord. He has a lot to learn about snagging.)

In the bottom of the fourth inning, with one out and the bases loaded, Luis Castillo grounded into a 4-6-3 double play. Ross was standing at the edge of the dugout before first baseman Adam LaRoche even caught the throw. Clif, for some reason (perhaps it was professional courtesy or maybe he was just trying a different strategy) stayed a few rows back, and as a result, Ross received an uncontested toss from LaRoche. Cha-ching! It was his sixth ball of the day, and he was still determined to snag four more. We considered all the possibilities and came up with the following:

1) another 3rd-out ball from a different player
2) an infield warm-up ball
3) a foul ball
4) a toss-up from the 3rd base coach
5) a game-ending ball (if the Braves hung on for the win)
6) an umpire ball
7) a bullpen ball

There were still some hypothetical opportunities, but it wasn’t meant to be. Glenn Hubbard was stingy with the warm-up balls. The remaining 3rd-out balls got tossed all over the place. No foul balls came anywhere near us. The ump gave all his balls away to little kids. The relievers tossed their balls into the crowd near the bullpen. The endgame was a complete disaster, and neither of us snagged another ball.

Still, Ross had managed to break his one-game record by snagging six balls, and he DID actually break a Watch With Zack record: most different types of balls snagged by a client in one day — four, to be exact. He’d snagged two Citi Field balls, two old Yankee Stadium balls, a 2008 All-Star Game ball, and a standard Selig ball. Here I am with Ross after the game (which the Braves won, 5-2):

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Here’s a close-up shot of Ross that shows the various baseballs that he’d snagged:

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Ross was still bummed about not reaching double digits, and I knew there was no point in trying to cheer him up. I’d been in his shoes many times, so I just told him that it was a good sign that he could have a “bad” day and still end up with half a dozen balls — that it showed he was ready to break out and hit double digits very soon.

One last thing…

While Ross managed to snag four different types of balls, I got lucky and managed to one-up him by snagging five. My first three were Citi Field balls. My fourth ball (the Sean Green overthrow) was an All-Star ball. My fifth (from Ken Takahashi) for some reason was a training ball. My sixth (the Nick Evens homer) was an old Yankee Stadium ball, and my final four were standard Selig balls. I gave away one of those four to a little girl sitting behind the dugout late in the game. Brian McCann had tossed a 3rd-out ball half a dozen rows deep, and some absolute JERK — a grown man no less — ran through an empty row and dove/stumbled for the ball and caught it right in front of this girl’s mother and then crashed down in the seats and nearly landed on top of the girl. The whole section booed him, and I thought there was going to be some kind of riot because he absolutely refused to give up the ball. I was in the middle of the section at that point, having inched toward the area where I figured McCann was going to throw it, so as soon as I saw what happened, I raced back to my seat (where Leon was guarding my backpack) and pulled out a ball and ran back over to the little girl and handed it to her.

SNAGGING STATS:

17_the_nine_i_kept_09_23_09.jpg• 10 balls at this game (nine pictured here because of the give-away)

• 482 balls in 54 games this season = 8.93 balls per game.

• 623 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 350 consecutive Mets games with at least one ball

• 118 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

• 21 consecutive Watch With Zack games with at least two balls

• 4,302 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 126 donors (click here and scroll down for the complete list)

• $25.26 pledged per ball

• $252.60 raised at this game

• $12,175.32 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

5/12/09 at Citi Field

As a native New Yorker, I’ve been conditioned not to talk to strangers or even make eye contact with them, so when I got on the subway yesterday to go to Citi Field and heard some guy ask a question about Johan Santana, I ignored it. It was a silly question anyway: “What happened with Johan last night? He just didn’t have it?”

Of course Johan HAD it. Sure, he suffered the loss, but–

Suddenly it occurred to me that since I was wearing a Mets cap and a Shea Stadium shirt, the Johan chatter might have been directed my way, so I looked up and sure enough the guy was staring right at me.

johan_santana_headshot.jpg
“Actually, he pitched great,” I said. “He only allowed two runs, and they were both unearned.”

“Really,” said the guy with enthusiastic surprise. “I didn’t get to watch the game. I only heard a little bit on the radio.”

We ended up talking for the next five minutes. He asked me if I’d been to Citi Field, and what I think of the new Yankee Stadium, and how I get to go to so many games. Each question led to another and another, so finally I just came right out and explained my whole deal with snagging baseballs.

“How ’bout you?” I asked. “What do YOU do?”

“I’m an actor,” he said.

“Oh…cool,” I replied, not knowing how to follow that up with anything insightful or intelligent. All I could think of was that he was young-ish, outgoing, good looking, and well dressed, so his answer made sense.

“I was on the Sopranos for four years,” he said.

“Seriously?! Wow, forgive me, I’m clueless when it comes to pop culture and the media and celebrities.”

“No problem,” he said.

sopranos.jpg
“So wait, if I watched that show, I’d totally recognize you right now?”

“Yup.”

“So…people come up to you all the time and know who you are?”

“Yeah,” he said, “especially at Mets games for some reason.”

“What’s your name?”

“Will Jano…”

What did he say? Jano…what? There was another syllable at the end, but I didn’t quite catch it, and I didn’t want to make an even bigger fool of myself by asking him to spell it, so I just said I’d look him up later. I asked if he had any projects currently in the works, and he named a couple movies including “Taking Woodstock.”

will_janowitz.jpg

I gave him my card, and we shook hands and parted ways when the train pulled into Times Square.

ANYWAY…
I have since looked him up, and his name is Will Janowitz. Has anyone heard of him? Here’s his page on IMDb.

My trek to Queens on the #7 train was less eventful. I sat in the last car, ate two slices of pizza, and wrote a page in my neglected journal. Then, after getting out at the Mets/Willets Point stop, I headed downstairs and walked over to the Jackie Robinson Rotunda.

Who was there? Three important people:

1) My friend Greg (aka “gregb123”) in the comments section.

2) My friend Donnie (aka “donnieanks”).

3)
A 60-ish-year-old man named David Ross (not to be confused with the 31-year-old David Ross who plays for the Braves) who’s an editor for an “online rich media magazine” called FLYP.

David was there to interview me (with a very small HD video camera), and he got started right away. I handed my camera to Greg and asked him to take a few photos of me. He took four, and I look ridiculous in all of them, only because I was either blinking or in mid-syllable. (At least that’s what I’m going to tell myself). Here’s the least bad of the four photos:

1_zack_getting_interviewed.jpg

See what I mean? Ridiculous. But at least it gives you an idea of what was going on.

I raced out to the left field seats when the gates opened at 4:40pm, and Gary Sheffield greeted me by scorching a line-drive homer to left-center. I was the only one out there (Greg and Donnie had positioned themselves closer to the foul pole), and I knew I wasn’t going to be able to catch it on the fly, so I just prayed that it wouldn’t ricochet back onto the field. Thankfully, the ball stayed in the seats and rolled down into the front row. I pulled out my camera, looked over my shoulder, and saw Donnie give me a nod as if to say, “Go ahead and take your damn photo. I’m not gonna run over there and steal the ball from you.”

Here’s the photo:

2_ball3990_sheffield_homer.jpg

Is that a nice sight or what?

By the way, that ball had last year’s Yankee Stadium commemorative logo on it. Pretty nifty. And random. Obviously there are a bunch of extras floating around.

A minute later, with David’s camera pointed at me, I caught a homer on the fly and robbed the 6-foot-5 Donnie in the process. Donnie was cool with it. I hadn’t boxed him out or slammed into him. It was a clean play all the way. As soon as the ball was hit, I stepped down into the row in front of him, then drifted laterally as the ball approached, and made a leap at the last second. If it had been a couple feet higher, or if he’d run down into the row in front of me, he would’ve had it. That’s how we do it in New York City. If you can catch a batted ball, you go for it. Period. You don’t back off (as the uber-polite guys at Coors Field do) just because someone else is camped under it. In New York, there’s ALWAYS someone else camped under it. It’s a real competition, not a family softball game. That’s what makes it fun, and of course Donnie was a true gentleman about it.

You know who wasn’t a gentleman? A security guard out in center field who stopped me from using the glove trick to reel in the following ball:

3_ball_i_was_stopped_from_getting.jpg

I flung the glove out and knocked it closer, and after I’d moved the ball to a spot right below me, he started shouting and then walked out onto the batter’s eye and snatched it. Not cool. I could understand if security wanted to stop me from pulling up a ball off the warning track, but in the dead area behind the outfield wall? Really?! Good job, Mets. Way to train your employees. Tell them to focus on stealing balls from fans (and money from charity) instead of making sure that there aren’t razor blades out in the open in the seating areas. Yeah, that’s right, I found one sitting on the steps in left-center. Unbelievable. Welcome to Citi Field, everybody. Come see the Mets and die.

My third ball was thrown by Livan Hernandez, and it tailed a foot or two to my left. After I reached out and caught it, I realized that it had been intended for the woman standing next to me, so I handed it to her…and yes, it counts as part of my collection. Both Greg and Donnie said it was fair to count it, as did my friend Brad who’s the ultimate voice of reason when it comes to ballhawk-related issues. If Livan had pointed to the woman before throwing the ball, I would’ve stepped aside and let her catch it, but since it wasn’t obvious when he first let it fly (from a distance of about 75 feet), I decided to go for it.

That was it for the Mets’ portion of BP, and I didn’t get anything during the first 20 minutes that the Braves were on the field. Slow day. I was nervous. I’d started the day with a lifetime total of 3,989 balls, and I was planning to snag No. 4,000 in Los Angeles six days later. In fact, by this point, it wasn’t merely a plan–it was a promise. I’d already spoken to someone with the Dodgers and guaranteed that I would snag No. 4,000 at Dodger Stadium on May 18th. This game at Citi Field was going to be my last before flying to the west coast, so I *needed* to snag at least a few more balls. Ideally, I wanted to snag about seven or eight. That would’ve left me three or four balls short of the milestone–just the right amount to create a little suspense but not so short that I’d be nervous about failing to reach it. Even if I only snagged six balls at this game, I felt like I could still probably find a way to snag five at Dodger Stadium, but I didn’t want to take that chance…so yeah, I needed four or five MORE balls in addition to the three I’d already snagged from the Mets.

Tim Hudson flipped one up without looking. I was in the crowded front row, and as soon as the ball left his hand, I knew it was going to sail over my head, so I started climbing over the seats, and when the it plunked down (thankfully there was no one behind me), I was right in position to grab it. Phew! That was ball No. 4.

This is how crowded the seats were at that point:

4_left_field_during_BP.jpg

As you can see, it was packed near the foul pole, but there was some room to run in left-center. Of course, there’s a reason for all that room, namely the distance (well over 400 feet) that a batter would have had to hit the ball to clear the 16-foot wall to the right of the “384”
sign.

Toward the end of BP, Jeff Francoeur launched a deep drive to my left. I darted across an entire section before anyone else even budged, and I was able to grab that ball off the ground. Hell yes. I was approaching my recommended daily allowance of balls…and then I reached it. Martin Prado tossed me ball No. 6 (I later gave that one away to a kid) and I felt relieved. I was almost certain that I’d find a way to snag at least one more ball, but even if I didn’t, at least I was only five away from the Promised Land.

That was it for BP.

David interviewed me for a bit before the game, and then we moved to our very good seats (courtesy of FLYP) behind the Braves’ dugout.

First inning? Nothing.
Second inning? Dead.
Third inning? Nada.
But in the middle of the fourth inning, I got Braves first base coach Glenn Hubbard to toss me the infield warm-up ball.

Sweeeeeet! That was my seventh ball of the day. I was SET. As far as No. 4,000 was concerned, I didn’t need to snag anything else, but of course I kept at it because a) I can’t be at a baseball game and NOT try to use my glove, and b) I still wanted to raise money for Pitch In For Baseball.

The fifth inning came to an end when Mike Pelfrey hit a weak grounder up the middle. Yunel Escobar fielded it, stepped on second base to force out Omir Santos, and threw me the ball as he approached the dugout. It was a thing of beauty (and not just because it was commemorative). Escobar was a full section to my left, but he spotted my Braves gear and tossed the ball JUST high enough to clear the reaching hands of the fans next to me. If they had even a three-inch vertical leap, I would’ve been out of luck. (Not that I’m an Olympian or anything, but I’m always amazed at how unathletic people are.) Anyway, in case you’ve lost count, that was my 8th ball of the day. Now, just three balls away from 4,000, I was really *really* set.

Although this might be hard to believe, the highlight of the game was NOT Carlos Beltran’s extra-inning walk-off walk. No sir. The highlight (and I forget the exact moment at which it occurred) was when a fan ran out onto the field wearing nothing more than a Mets rally monkey. Seriously…he was naked except for…the monkey. The guy ran out into the infield, made a rather graceful foot-first slide into second base (ouch), and was apprehended by security soon after:

5_streaker.jpg

The photo above was taken by Donnie (my camera…don’t ask) and it’s not even the best photo he got. If you want to see the real zinger, you’ll have to check out his blog entry about this game. So funny! On Donnie’s blog, you can actually read what’s written on the guys’ stomach.

The game itself was truly exciting. For most of the last two innings, everyone in the stadium was standing, and in the following photo, you can see Fernando Tatis getting plunked by Mike Gonzalez:

6_tatis_gets_plunked.jpg

After the game (which the Mets won, 4-3), I couldn’t resist trying to get a ball from home plate umpire Andy Fletcher…and I succeeded.

Jeez.

I almost felt bad about ruining the suspense of ball No. 4,000. Now there’s really no question about whether or not I’ll get it on May 18th at Dodger Stadium. The only question is…how will I get it? (And also how far past 4,000 will I go?)

As for the FLYP interview, I’m not sure when it’ll be ready, but hopefully I’ll have an update within the next week or two.

SNAGGING STATS:

8_the_seven_balls_i_kept_05_12_09.jpg• 9 balls at this game (7 pictured here because I gave two away)

• 178 balls in 22 games this season = 8.09 balls per game.

• 591 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 343 consecutive Mets games with at least one ball

• 3,998 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 104 donors (click here and scroll down for the complete list)

• $20.70 pledged per ball

• $186.30 raised at this game

• $3,684.60 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

5/11/09 at Citi Field

The worst thing about my dad is that he’s not *really* a baseball fan. He follows the sport by reading about it sporadically in The New York Times sports section, and he’ll watch a few games on TV here and there, but that’s about it. Still, he goes with me to the occasional game, and this was one of them.

braves_roster_2009.jpg

As we rode out to Citi Field on the No. 7 train, I showed him the Braves roster that I had printed. The roster didn’t say “Braves” on it, and I hadn’t told him who the Mets were playing.

“Which team is this?” he asked in all seriousness as he began looking at it. Then he spotted Derek Lowe’s name and said, “Is he with Boston? Are we seeing Boston?”

Oh dear.

But hey, at least my dad knew that Lowe WAS with Boston at one point…right?

My dad looked at the rest of the roster and pointed out all the other players he had heard of. There were three: Chipper Jones, Jeff Francoeur, and Casey Kotchman (because Casey’s father Tom managed the Boise Hawks when I worked for them in 1995).

Garret Anderson and his 2,377 career hits? Nah.

Then my dad and I made a list of all the major league ballparks he’d been to, and we came up with ten: Shea, Yankee, Fenway, Veterans, Fulton County, Candlestick, Bank One, the new Comiskey, Citizens Bank…and Sportsman’s Park…he thinks. That’s where the St. Louis Browns played in the first half of the 20th century, and he remembers seeing the one-armed Pete Gray.

As our train approached Citi Field, my dad said, “It’s weird for me to be out here and see this. It doesn’t feel like New York.”

(Amen to that.)

One thing that was really cool to see, however, was that the Mets had finally marked the spots in the parking lot where the bases at Shea Stadium used to be. (Big thanks to my friend Gary for giving me a heads-up about this.) Here I am with my dad near home plate…

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…and here’s a closer look it:

2_shea_home_plate_closeup.jpg

Here’s first base…

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…and here’s where the mound used to be:

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It gave me chills to toe the “rubber” and think about the fact that I was standing in the very same place as Dwight Gooden and Tom Seaver and Heath Bell and so many other legendary Mets pitchers.

Then, of course, I had to go through the motions of making a full windup and delivery:

5_zack_pitching.jpg

We headed back to Citi and my dad noticed the “Fan Walk” bricks:

6_stu_bricks.jpg

If he had a brick, he said it would read as follows:

I CAN’T BELIEVE I PAID FOR THIS
-STU HAMPLE

His reaction to the stadium itself was simple: “That’s a big mother.”

We took a peek inside the Jackie Robinson Rotunda, and he gave a mixed review.

On Robinson: “Too bad he wasn’t a Met. They borrowed history ’cause they got nothing else.”

On the rotunda itself: “It has a 19th century look and modern look. I like it.”

So there you have it, and if anyone knows about the 19th century…well, my dad isn’t THAT old, but he was born in 1926.

As for batting practice, there was a little more competition than usual because three guys from my blog–Greg, Gary, and Donnie–were all there. Between the four of us, we basically had left field covered, and yet we still managed to stay out of each other’s way for the most part.

My first ball was thrown by Livan Hernandez in left-center field, and my second ball was a Gary Sheffield homer that rattled around in the seats and caused an all-out scramble. I happened to beat out a guy named Tony for that one. Tony recognized me from this blog, and soon after he asked if we could take a picture together:

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My dad and I both had cameras, and he followed me around during BP and snapped a bunch of pics.

My third ball was tossed by pitcher Sean Green in right-center, and then my dad got a photo of me shortly before I snagged ball No. 4. Jose Reyes hit a home run that landed in the Mets’ bullpen, and after waiting patiently at the side railing for about five minutes…

8_zack_waiting_by_bullpen.jpg

…I got Mike Pelfrey to toss it up.

The Braves took the field (so I changed into my Braves gear) and used my glove trick to pluck two balls off the warning track in left field. Here I am going for the second one:

9_zack_glove_trick.jpg

Omar Infante threw me my 7th ball of the day. I had to lean WAY over the railing for that one, which was a bit scary considering the wall in left field is like half a mile high.

My eighth and final ball of BP was a home run hit by a righty on the Braves. It bounced off some fans’ hands, plopped down into the front row, and I snatched it as other people were about to reach for it. As soon as I looked up, I noticed that there was a little girl standing right in front of me–with a glove!!–so I asked her if she’d gotten a ball yet, and when she said no, I handed it over. Even though I was decked out in Braves gear, everyone in the section cheered like hell, which was nice, and then I explained that I’m not even a Braves fan.

It might sound like BP was hoppin’ but it actually wasn’t that great. I was out of position a few times and missed one or two homers. There were a couple balls sitting against the outfield wall at one point that I somehow didn’t see, so I lost some glove trick opportunities. There was a homer that I jumped as high as I possibly could for, only to have it tip off the VERY end of my glove. I even ran out to right field for about 20 minutes and got nothing there. So…there were dead periods and frustrating moments and stupid mistakes, and yet I *still* came away with eight balls. That just goes to show that any ballpark that opens two and a half hours early is gonna be pretty good.

Greg and Donnie and Gary each got a bunch of balls. Donnie has his own blog, so you can read about his snagging there, and as for the other two guys, I’ll let them leave comments here with the details of how they did…if they want.

For the rest of the day, everywhere I went…there they were. Pre-game throwing? See below. That’s Greg in the orange/gray jacket and Gary with the yellow shirt:

10_pregame_throwing_greg_gary.jpg

It turned out that no one got the pre-game ball (because Jordan Schafer needs a lesson on how to be fan-friendly).

I wandered with my dad for the first inning, and then we grabbed a couple seats behind the Braves’ dugout. This was our view:

11_view_during_game.jpg

In the middle of the 2nd inning, Braves 1st base coach Glenn Hubbard tossed me the infield warmup ball. Then, after Johan Santana grounded out to end the bottom of the 3rd, Kotchman tossed me the actual game-used ball on his way in. (That one was commemorative.) There was one other fan who made an attempt to catch that ball, and it happened to be a kid with a glove. I asked him if he’d already gotten a ball, and to my surprise he said yes…so I kept it. If he had said no, I would’ve pulled out a non-commemorative BP ball from my backpack and handed that one to him. Anyway, just like that, on what felt like a decent-but-not-all-that-great-snagging-day, I still ended up with double digits.

The great part was simply being with my dad and sharing this experience. The man is FUN, and as an 83-year-old who can move (and even jog) all over the place, he’s a true inspiration, hopefully not just to me but to us all.

SNAGGING STATS:

12_the_nine_balls_i_kept.jpg• 10 balls at this game (nine pictured here because I gave one away)

• 169 balls in 21 games this season = 8.05 balls per game.

• 590 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 342 consecutive Mets games with at least one ball

• 3,989 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 104 donors (click here and scroll down for the complete list)

• $20.70 pledged per ball

• $207.00 raised at this game

• $3,498.30 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

I kinda rushed through this entry a bit. Perhaps you could tell. I’m super-busy, in part because I’m going back to Citi Field tonight…because I’m going to be filmed for a segment on FLYP, which is an “online rich media magazine.” I’m now 11 balls away from 4,000, and I’m still planning to snag the milestone at Dodger Stadium on May 18th. (FLYP is gonna try to have someone film me there as well.) When I said in my last entry that I was considering going to Philly and Yankee Stadium this week, I didn’t mean that I was actually planning to be at all those games. I *want* to snag No. 4,000 at Dodger Stadium, so if I have another typical snagging performance at Citi Field tonight, then I simply won’t attend any other games this week.Finally, I suppose I should mention that the Mets lost, 8-3, ending their seven-game winning streak. Santana suffered the loss despite NOT allowing an earned run, so he’s now 4-2 with a National League-leading 0.78 earned run average. Stats can be so silly at times.

9/24/08 at Citizens Bank Park

I knew this was going to be a good day when I bought a bottle of water at a 7-Eleven on the way to Philadelphia and got a 1917 penny in my change:

1917_penny.jpg

It also didn’t hurt that my girlfriend Jona was with me; good things tend to happen when she’s around.

When the stadium opened at 4:35pm, I raced inside and briefly had the left field seats to myself:

zack_left_field_seats_09_24_08.jpg

There weren’t any balls hiding in the flower bed, nor were there any home runs that flew my way, but I did have a chance to use my glove trick when a ball rolled to the wall in left-center field. In the following photo, you can see me way off in the distance, leaning over the railing as I was getting the glove to lower onto the ball:

zack_glove_trick_09_24_08.jpg

Ten minutes later, I snagged my second ball of the day–a home run hit by a righty on the Phillies that landed several rows in front of me and began rolling sideways through the seats. Several other fans quickly closed in on it, and I thought I was out of luck, but then the ball kicked back my way just enough for me to lunge and grab it underneath a seat. As I reached for it, my right shoulder happened to bump the back of the seat where a woman, who was also scrambling for the ball, happened to be bracing herself. As a result, one of her fingers happened to get pinched between my shoulder and the seat, and she reacted as if I’d killed her firstborn.

“I’m terribly sorry,” I said but she wouldn’t accept my apology. Instead, she proceeded to shake her hand (to exaggerate the pain) for a good 30 seconds while looking around for support from her fellow fans. No one noticed or cared. There was nothing TO notice. It was the most minor incident (if it could even be called that) in the history of baseball-snagging. I hadn’t done anything wrong, and she finally realized this and let it go.

Drama aside, things were going well. I’d been in the stadium for about 20 minutes, and I’d snagged two baseballs–a decent pace for reaching double digits, but then my snagging suffered a disastrous interruption. Several stadium employees (one of whom has an arrow pointing to him in the photo below) started combing through the seats and telling all the fans to head back up to the concourse and exit the stadium through the left field gate:

evacuation1_begins.jpg

In the 750 (or so) games I’ve attended in my life, I’ve been denied batting practice for a variety of reasons–bad weather, subway delays, fan photo events, policemen vs. firemen softball games, etc.–but what kind of sick joke was this?!

Apparently it wasn’t a joke. I heard rumors of a “bomb scare” as I walked through the concourse and headed toward the gate:

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Once all the fans AND employees had been evacuated, the gate was closed behind us.

And then we waited…

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…and waited.

And waited.

So much for this being a good day, I thought.

I stayed close to the gate and kept trying not to look at the clock inside the stadium. I couldn’t help it. It was 5:15pm. Then 5:20. Then 5:30, at which point I knew the Phillies were off the field so I changed into my Braves gear.

“We’ll be opening back up any minute,” said a Phillies official who was brave enough to remain on the inside of the stadium.

Meanwhile, the rumors about the bomb scare were taking shape. Just about everyone, it seemed, was on a cell phone, talking to someone they knew who lived nearby and was watching the live coverage on the news.

I overheard someone talking about “suspicious packages.”

evacuation4_zack.jpgIt was 5:45pm. I wasn’t happy.

There was half an hour of batting practice remaining. I thought about stepping out of line and walking b
ack to the ticket office and demanding a refund and driving back to New York City…but I decided to wait a little longer, at least until batting practice would be ending. If I wasn’t back inside by then…then screw it.

I overheard someone talking about the suspicious packages being a shipment of hot dogs.

?!?!?!?!

It was 5:50pm.

The Phillies official approached the gate and made an announcement (that only 38 people heard) that all fans who had already been inside the stadium would have to get their tickets re-scanned.

I wondered if that would even work with those stupid scanners, and the official was probably wondering the same thing because he then borrowed a woman’s ticket (without asking her if she’d already been inside) and tested it. Whaddaya know, it worked.

It was 5:55pm when the stadium reopened. I’d missed over an hour of batting practice. I raced back to the left field seats to look for easter eggs–there weren’t any because the employees had already reentered through another gate–and then sprinted around to the right field side, hoping to salvage my day:

zack_right_field_09_24_08.jpg

I quickly caught a home run on a fly that was hit by a righty on the Braves. Nothing special. It was an uncontested, chest-high, one-handed catch that I made while drifting to my right through the front row in right-center field. When I looked down at the warning track, I saw Jeff Bennett looking back up at me.

“You like that?!” I shouted.

He didn’t respond.

Five minutes later, I got a ball tossed to me by Braves “Baseball Systems Operator” Alan Butts. It was totally lucky. I was in the fourth row. Several fans were in the front row. I saw them yelling for a ball and didn’t even know who they were yelling at. All of a sudden, a ball sailed up and flew five feet over their heads and came RIGHT to me. It almost made up for the home run I misjudged and didn’t snag soon after.

That was it for BP. Four balls. It was pretty sad.

I ran over to the Braves’ dugout just before the players and coaches came off the field. I positioned myself behind the home-plate end and waved my arms in the hopes that SOMEone would see me and flip me a ball:

zack_dugout_after_BP1.jpg

Not only did I get a crappy (though interestingly streaked) training ball from hitting coach Terry Pendleton…

ball3799_training_streaks.jpg

…but I also got a bat from Greg Norton:

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Mama mia! This instantly made the whole day worthwhile. The bat wasn’t even cracked, and I hadn’t even asked for it. Norton had just slid it to me across the dugout roof without warning. That’s how I’ve gotten all four of my bats–just dumb luck–and you can see them all (along with some other “bonus items”) on this page on my web site.

I was afraid that stadium security would make me leave the bat with Fan Assistance until after the game (that’s what happened on 9/22/06 at Camden Yards), but no one said a word and I was left in peace to enjoy the delightful essence of pine tar.

I had 3,799 lifetime balls when several Braves began their pre-game throwing along the left field foul line. The seats were practically full by that point (damn the Phillies for being in first place) so I wasn’t able to position myself in a good spot. I had to squeeze against a railing next to two women (who were there for some unknown reason), and when Martin Prado ended up with the ball, my view of him was partially blocked by an usher and a cop who were standing on the warning track. Well, Prado ended up spotting me anyway, and you can see how the whole thing played out in the four-part pic below. Starting on the top left and then going clockwise, I’m a) waving to get Prado’s attention, b) watching and waiting and determining if I’m going to need to jump as his throw sails toward me, c) reaching up as high as I can and making the catch without jumping, and d) holding up the ball and feeling great about life:

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Here’s it is–ball No. 3,800:

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I can’t really say that Jona and I “snuck” down to the Phillies’ dugout in the top of the 1st inning because that would imply that the ushers were trying to keep us out. Ins
tead, we waltzed down to the dugout and grabbed a couple seats on the end of a row, about eight rows back. Conveniently, Ryan Howard ended up with the ball at the howard_kotchman.jpg
end of the inning courtesy of Brett Myers, who induced a 1-6-3 double-play groundout from Omar Infante. I was down in the front row before Howard even caught the throw from Jimmy Rollins (and of course I crouched down as I crept there so I wouldn’t block anyone’s view), and I had exactly NO competition as he jogged off the field and tossed me the ball.

Fast-forward seven outs. It was the bottom of the second inning. I was sitting with Jona in a similar spot on the Braves’ side. Jo-Jo Reyes got Chris Coste to bounce into a 6-4-3 double play. Casey Kotchman took the throw at first base and began jogging toward me. I was wearing my Braves hat and Braves shirt. There were no kids in sight. None of the grown-ups were aware of the snagging opportunity that was about to unfold. It was going to be so easy that I was almost embarrassed. It’s like the ball was guaranteed, and sure enough, Kotchman flipped it right to me.

That was my 8th ball of the day. Not bad.

Believe it or not, I was prepared at that point to call it quits on the snagging and just sit and watch the game with Jona (and root for the Braves). So that’s what we did…until the top of the fourth inning when the guy whose seats we were in decided to show up.

The field level seats were as crowded as I’d ever seen them, and since our actual seats were way up at the top of the upper deck, there was no place to go. Therefore, we wandered and ate and checked out the view from the party deck (or whatever it’s called) in the deepest part of center field. I’d never been up there, and this is why:

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Awful! You can’t even see two of the outfielders, but I guess if you like to drink and you’re willing to think of the deck as a bar with a $10 cover charge where you can kinda see some baseball way off in the distance, then it’s probably a great place to be. Needless to say, Jona and I didn’t stay long. We didn’t need to. The Braves scored six runs in the top of the fifth to take a 9-3 lead, and by the end of the sixth, thousands of fans had left.

I love it when fans leave early. I love it so much. I love empty seats. I love having space to maneuver. I wish the home team would always get blown out when I’m at a game (with rare exceptions, like if I have a son someday who ends up playing in The Show and I go to watch him at his home ballpark).

Anyway, Jona and I went back to the Braves’ dugout, but this time I picked a different staircase–one section closer to home plate. I figured that if the bottom half of any of the remaining innings ended with a strikeout, I might be able to get the ball from catcher Brian McCann.

Jayson Werth did indeed end the bottom of the seventh with a strikeout, but McCann held onto the ball and took it into the dugout. While I was down in the front row, however, first base coach Glenn Hubbard wanted to toss a ball to the woman directly on my right but before he let it fly, he tried to fake me out by pointing to the left so I’d lunge that way and be unable to interfere. It didn’t work. I kept my eyes on him the whole time and was perfectly aware of the situation. He had no choice but to toss the ball, and when he did, I stepped aside and let the woman catch it. Five seconds later, Hubbard poked his head back out of the dugout and rewarded me with a ball of my own.

shane_victorino.jpgjulian_tavarez.jpgSomething funny happened in the bottom of the eighth–something I’d never seen at any baseball game. Not on TV. Not in person. Not in Little League. Not in the Major Leagues. Shane Victorino (aka Mr. Feisty) was leading far off third base and, for a moment, not paying attention so Julian Tavarez (aka Mr. Hothead) sprinted off the mound in an attempt to tag him. Victorino made it back to third base safely but must’ve gotten quite a scare because he didn’t notice what was happening until Tavarez was halfway there.

Now, I have no idea who started it…all I can tell you is that Victorino and Tavarez started jawing at each other.

“Gimme the camera!!! Gimme the camera!!!” I yelled at Jona as both dugouts and bullpens emptied onto the field:

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It was never a “brawl.” No one threw punches. No one was ejected. But home plate umpire Jeff Kellogg did issue a warning to both teams. Tavarez then proceeded to strike out pinch hitters Greg Dobbs and Matt Stairs to end the inning. This time, McCann tossed me the ball, and as I was reaching up casually to glove it, I sensed that someone was invading my personal space from behind, so I lunged for the ball at the last second, and as I closed my glove around it, a 40-something-year-old fat man lunged at my glove and clawed for the ball and yanked my arm down as he stumbled forward. My shoulder was actually a bit sore after that–luckily Jona is a professional massage therapist–but I held onto the ball and returned to my seat. I realized later that this was a milestone ball; it was Tavarez’s 50th strikeout of the season.

Other highlights from the night included seeing a fan with a pierced neck…

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and getting a ball from Kellogg shortly after the Phillies (and Myers, ha-HAAA!!!) lost 10-4.

Oh, and I also got the lineup cards:

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Here’s a closer look at them:

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…and here are a few photographs of the bat, starting with a shot of Norton’s uniform number written on the end:

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Here’s a close-up of his name:

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Here’s the pine tar-coated trademark…

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…and here’s his name and number on the knob:

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As for the bomb scare, THIS is what really happened.

What a day.

STATS:

? 11 balls at this game

? 528 balls in 69 games this season = 7.6521739 balls per game.

? 565 consecutive games with at least one ball

? 142 consecutive games outside NYC with at least one ball

? 96 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

? 39 lifetime games outside NYC with at least 10 balls

? 23 double-digit games this year (extends my personal record)

? 3,805 total balls