For the final weekend of the regular season, I drove down to Baltimore with Jona and two other friends. Here we are outside the stadium:
In the photo above, the gentleman on the left is a teacher named Roger. He and I have known each other for more than a decade, and this wasn’t our first baseball road trip together. He was with me in 2003 when I snagged my 2,000th ball at Olympic Stadium. The guy in the yellow shirt is a writer named Bassey. I met him last year at my writing group. He played high school baseball in Milwaukee and now works for the New York Times.
Anyway, let’s get on with the action…
My first ball of the day was a batting practice homer hit by Adam Jones that landed in the empty seats in straight-away left field. Nothing fancy about it. My second ball, however, was a bit more exciting. Someone on the Orioles (not sure who) launched a homer 30 feet to my right. I bolted through my row and made a leaping back-handed catch at the last second. I didn’t know it at the time, but Jona had reached the left field seats by that point, and she took a beautiful action shot of the ball flying toward my open glove. The ball is hard to see because it’s overlapping the white uniform pants of some players in the background, so I drew a red circle around it. Check it out:
Do you see the fan positioned two rows behind me? His name is Ben. He’s a new-but-very-talented ballhawk who recently snagged A-Rod’s 607th career home run. Do you see the fan running over from the next section? His name is Tim, and he, too, is fairly new and highly skilled as a ballhawk.
Ready for a funny photo of all three of us? Look at our ridiculous facial expressions as another home run ball sailed over our heads:
I forget who ended up snagging that ball, but I can tell you that it wasn’t me.
Tim and Ben write a blog together called Baltimore’s Finest, and of course they both have profiles on mygameballs.com. Here’s Tim’s profile, and here’s Ben’s. (And hey, here’s mine. Awesome website. Totally free. Go there immediately and create a profile if you haven’t done so already.)
As for Roger and Bassey…
…they weren’t interested in snagging baseballs. They just stayed in one spot and watched the action unfold all around them.
My third ball of the day was a Nolan Reimold homer that landed in the seats and rolled down to the front row. My fourth ball was a ground-rule double, and I have no idea who hit it. I’ve had a tough time this season with ground-rule doubles in Baltimore. The warning track is made of rubber, and the outfield wall is low, so lots of balls have bounced over me. On this one, however, I played it perfectly. Once I determined that the ball was going to land on the track, I backed up a few rows and ended up in the perfect spot to reach up for the easy catch.
When the Tigers took the field, I got Phil Coke to throw me a ball as he walked toward the bullpen. Here I am (wearing dark Tigers gear) about to catch it:
My sixth ball was another homer. I ranged a full section to my right for it and made a back-handed catch in traffic:
That one felt pretty good — and then I caught another homer on the fly in left-center. Here’s a photo of that ball on its way down:
As soon as I caught the ball, I noticed that there was a young boy standing right in front of me. Even though I hadn’t robbed him, I decided to hook him up with the ball, and yes, Jona got a photo of that, too:
Halfway through the Tigers’ portion of BP, Eddie Bonine tossed me a ball in straight-away left field, and then I caught another homer on the fly in left-center. This was probably my best play of the day. There were people all around, so I climbed up on a seat while the ball was in mid-air and reached far to my left over everyone. In the following photo, the diagonal arrow in the upper right is pointing to the ball, and the vertical arrow down below is pointing at me:
Every time I snagged a ball, I tossed it to Jona so she could put it in my backpack. Here I am preparing to toss her another:
Remember when I saw the Tigers at Target Field earlier this season on May 4th and May 5th? The Tigers were using balls during BP that had been marked like this with a thick black magic marker. Well, the Tigers were still using marked balls this past weekend in Baltimore. Some were marked on both the logo and sweet spot, while others were marked only on the sweet spot…like this:
(That’s Jona’s hand, by the way. Don’t get the wrong idea.)
Later in the day, I noticed that one of my baseballs had a faint black streak on it:
It occurred to me that the streak was probably the residue (or imprint) from one of those black marks on another ball. Cool, huh? It probably happened while the balls were being pressed together in the BP bucket or an equipment bag. I love stuff like that.
Every batter in the final group of BP was left-handed, so I headed over to the standing-room-only section (aka “The Flag Court”) in right field:
The sun out there was brutal. Even though I was wearing a cap, I had to use my right hand to shade my eyes:
Let me show you what I mean. Here’s a photo that Jona took while standing right behind me:
Not only was it tough to see, but every time a ball sailed into the Flag Court, there was an all-out stampede for it:
At one point, I completely whiffed on a line-drive homer that pretty much came right to me because I simply couldn’t see the ball. I found myself backing away from it and stabbing awkwardly at a random spot in the air where I thought it was going to end up. I suppose it was worth missing out on it to avoid getting hit in the face, but I still felt like a failure.
Here’s another action shot of a home-run-induced stampede:
This ball ended up sailing completely over the Flag Court and clanging off the grill in Boog’s Barbecue.
I did manage to snag one ball in right field, and I owe it all to Jona and Bassey. The ball bounced into the cross-aisle just next to the Flag Court and came to rest at Jona’s feet. I was about 20 feet away at that point, and because there were other fans nearby, I figured Jona or Bassey would grab the ball. But instead Jona yelled, “Don’t touch it!!” and Bassey used his body to form a mini-barricade (or, as he desribed it, a “containment zone”) around it so that no one else could grab it. I was able to race over and scoop up the ball, and because it hadn’t entered the possession of any other fan, I was able to count it. If Jona or Bassey (or Roger, who was also standing nearby) had picked it up and handed it to me, that would have nullified it. So…big thanks to my friends for bailing me out and helping me reach double digits — that was my 10th ball of the day — when luck/skill seemed to turn against me.
Here are the four of us being silly after BP…
…and here’s a HUGE moth-like creature that was chillin’ nearby on a brick wall:
If that thing had flown into my face, I’m quite certain that Roger, Bassey, and Jona would now be deaf because I would have shrieked THAT loud. We all have our weaknesses, and bugs are one of mine. Nature is pretty and all, but I don’t like to get too close to it, if you know what I mean. I live a quarter of a mile from Central Park. That’s good enough.
Shortly before game time, I got Will Rhymes to sign my ticket…
…and then I snagged two more baseballs within a 10-second span. The first was thrown by Brandon Inge. Here’s a photo of him just before he let it fly:
In the photo above, do you see the guy on the field wearing the navy blue athletic gear? Well, I assumed that he was the Tigers’ strength/conditioning coach, so I pulled out my cheat sheet…
…and felt pretty certain that his name was Chris. When all the players headed back to the dugout, there was one ball that was still sitting on the grass near the foul line. This guy happened to pick it up, so I shouted, “CHRIS!!!” as loud as I could, and what do you know? He turned and flung it to me as he jogged off the field.
That was my 12th — and unfortunately last — ball of the day. During the game, I had two really close calls on foul balls behind the plate, and I missed Nick Markakis’s fourth-inning homer by two feet. It was so depressing. I was standing at the back of the Flag Court. The ball was hit exactly in my direction, meaning I was perfectly lined up with it from the moment that it left the bat. I quickly determined that it wasn’t going to reach the back of the section, so I darted forward, hoping to make the catch just behind the wall at the front. Well, the ball landed ON TOP of the wall (where there’s a three-foot-wide metal platform) and skipped back over my head and rolled to the EXACT SPOT where I’d been standing in the first place. I still would’ve had the ball if some bozo eating a pulled pork sandwich hadn’t been standing there. It was terrible. Meanwhile, it seemed as if everyone else I knew was snagging game-used baseballs. Tim somehow got his hands on the only other homer of the night, a blast to straight-away left by Brandon Inge, and Bassey managed to grab a foul ball despite sitting in the middle of a row on the first base side.
Here’s Bassey with his ball — the first one he’d ever snagged in his life, including batting practice:
Great for Bassey. Great for Tim. But it just added to my frustration. I busted my butt and ran all over the stadium for two hours and didn’t have anything to show for it. That’s right. Two hours. That’s how long the game lasted. The Orioles won, 2-1, behind a strong six-inning performance from Brian Matusz. Mike Gonzalez, Jim Johnson, and Koji Uehara each worked a quick scoreless inning in relief. For the Tigers, Armando Galarraga went the distance and notched a rare complete-game loss. He threw just 91 pitches in eight innings. That’s how to play a game in two hours. (Yankees and Red Sox, are you listening?)
After the final out, I met up with a friend from Baltimore named Adam. You might recognize him from previous blog entries. Here we all are:
The five of us went out to dinner at a nearby Chinese restaurant, and then Jona and Roger and Bassey and I went back to our hotel. We were gonna have to be up early-ish the next day for the final game of the regular season.
• 12 balls at this game (11 pictured on the right because I gave one away)
• 297 balls in 30 games this season = 9.9 balls per game.
• 659 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 185 consecutive games with at least two balls
• 202 consecutive games outside New York with at least one ball
• 132 lifetimes games with at least ten balls
• 4,655 total balls
• 48 donors (click here to learn more)
• $7.53 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $90.36 raised at this game
• $2,236.41 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
Hey, wait, here’s one more photo. I was playing around with Photoshop and…well, here, just have a look:
This was one of the most fun/hectic days I’ve ever experienced at a major league stadium.
For starters, it was a Watch With Zack game; my client was a 23-year-old from Indiana named Justin. We were joined by Phil Taylor, a senior writer for Sports Illustrated, who’s working on a big story about ballhawking. And that’s not all. There was also a two-person film crew following my every move and getting footage for a separate documentary about collectors. (I blogged about the filmmakers two months ago when they first interviewed me.)
See what I mean?
Fun. And hectic.
Let me point out that Justin didn’t mind the media being there. In fact, he was looking forward to getting a behind-the-scenes look at how it would all go down. He had booked this game a month in advance, so when the media contacted me and asked if they could tag along with me at a game, I ran it by Justin first to make sure it was okay. If he had said no, then I would’ve picked a different game to do the interviews.
Anyway, let’s get to the first photo of the day. It shows some friends, acquaintances, and “key players” outside the gate:
From left to right, you’re looking at:
1) Phil Taylor from Sports Illustrated.
3) Justin, my Watch With Zack client.
4) An aspiring ballhawk named Andrew. He and I have now run into each other three times since last season, all at different stadiums.
5) Avi Miller (check out those orange socks) who writes an outstanding Orioles blog.
6) Rick Gold, a fellow ballhawk, who began the day with 937 lifetime balls.
7) My good friend Ben Hill, who writes a blog about minor league baseball’s wackiest promotions. He lives in NYC and traveled to Baltimore with me for the day. He’s gone to several games with me in the past, including this one three years ago in Philly.
I saw some other familiar faces outside the gate and made a couple new friends during the hour that we were all standing around. By the time the stadium opened, there were a ton of people. Everyone was really friendly, we had a lot of laughs, and I remember thinking, “Phil picked a good day to join me.” I mean…most of the people I see/meet at games are friendly, but it just felt like love was in the air a bit more than usual. During the five hours that Phil spent with me, several fans asked for my autograph, one guy asked to have his six-year-old son’s picture taken with me, and two female ushers greeted me with hugs. Bottom line: ballhawking has gotten some bad press in recent seasons, so I’m hopeful that Phil got a positive impression of it based on our time together.
Five minutes before the stadium opened, the filmmakers showed up. I didn’t take a photo of them at that point because I was distracted. I was being interviewed by Phil, and I was giving Justin a few pointers, and I was focused on being the first one in so I could try to beat everyone else to the left field seats. Moments after I got there, I took the following photo:
Justin, wearing the orange Orioles shirt that he’d received on the way in, was already in position 13 rows back. Rick, wearing the black shirt, was walking through my row.
BP was dead at the start. An usher had already combed through the seats to pick up the loose baseballs, and the Orioles weren’t hitting many home runs. It’s too bad there wasn’t more action because the media was officially on the scene:
That’s Paul with the big camera and Meredith with the smaller one (and of course that’s Phil from Sports Illustrated sitting between them).
After ten minutes or so, I raced one full section to my left and snagged a home run ball that landed in the seats, and on the very next pitch, I sprinted back to my original spot and caught a homer on the fly. That felt good. I was on the board. I’d even used a bit of athleticism. Phil had gotten a good view. Paul and Meredith had gotten good footage.
What about Justin, you ask?
Two days earlier, when I had spoken to him on the phone, he told me that he wanted ME to break double digits. He also told me that he didn’t want any of the balls that I caught, and that he mainly wanted to learn by watching me in action. But still, he wanted to snag some baseballs on his own, and I did my best to help him.
Unfortunately, the Orioles stopped hitting at 5:16pm — roughly 15 minutes ahead of schedule — so that took a major chunk of opportunities away from us. It did, however, give us a chance to wander into foul territory and focus on getting balls from the Angels.
Justin threw on a maroon Angels T-shirt and headed to the corner spot near the 3rd base camera well:
When the Angels started throwing, Justin moved down the foul line into shallow left field, and as a result, I happened to get the next two balls. Mike Napoli tossed me one. The other was a random overthrow that skipped off the rubberized warning track and bounced into the empty front row.
Paul and Meredith followed me everywhere and kept the cameras rolling:
I helped Justin pick the best possible spot along the foul line…
…and played a role in getting Jered Weaver to toss him a ball. This was only the third ball that he’d ever snagged at a major league game, and it was the first one that had been given to him by a player.
Moments later, another errant throw bounced off the warning track and ended up in the seats, this time ten rows back, so I scampered up the steps and grabbed it.
The Angels had started hitting by that point, and I noticed that a ball had rolled onto the warning track in straight-away left field. I hurried over, used my glove trick to reel it in, and immediately handed the ball to the smallest kid with a glove.
That was my sixth ball of the day, and I got Scott Kazmir to throw me No. 7 in left-center. I was about eight rows back when I got his attention. He lobbed it perfectly, right over everyone and into my glove. (After batting practice, I gave that ball away, too.)
That’s when things slowed way down. The stands got really crowded, and I ran into some bad luck. For example, I was standing in one spot for about ten minutes, and there was NO action there. Eventually, I ran down to the front row to chase a ball that ended up falling short, and while I was there, Howie Kendrick hit a home run that landed right where I’d been. But hey, that’s just how it goes. I realize that I’d gotten lucky earlier with the two overthrows that bounced near me in the seats.
Justin was in a good spot, or at least a spot that’s normally good, but the balls just weren’t flying our way, and the Angels abruptly stopped hitting at 6:08pm. The visiting team’s batting practice normally goes until 6:20-ish, so that sucked. On the plus side, though, the shortened session of BP gave us extra time to eat and talk to Phil. (Justin got interviewed, too.) Paul and Meredith suggested eating at one of the tables near the concession stand. That certainly would have been easier because they had to deal with their equipment in addition to their food and beverages, but I insisted on heading back to the seats — and it’s a good thing. Halfway through the meal/interview, I noticed that Orlando Mercado and Mike Napoli were getting close to finishing playing catch down the left field line.
“Run over there,” I told Justin with a mouthful of pepperoni pizza. “You’ll probably get that ball, but you have to hurry.”
He looked over in the direction where I was pointing, shrugged, and took another bite of his chicken strips.
“Fine,” I said, “I’ll go over there.”
I threw my pizza back in the box, wiped my hand on my shirt, grabbed my glove…and returned 90 seconds later with the ball. Mercado, thankfully, had been the one who ended up with it. I’m pretty sure that Napoli would’ve recognized me and thrown it to someone else.
Shortly before game time, I got Torii Hunter’s autograph on my ticket:
(I tried to get him to use my blue Sharpie, but he was moving quickly with his own black marker.)
Justin and Phil and I spent most of the game in the standing-room-only section in right field:
There were lots of lefties in the lineup, so it was a good spot, but of course there wasn’t any action. The closest we came was when Luke Scott blasted a home run to right-center field, which, according to Hit Tracker, traveled 447 feet. The ball cleared the seats and landed in the narrow walkway at the very back of the section. I ran in that direction from the standing room…
…but got trapped behind a couple other fans approximately 15 feet from the spot where it landed.
Paul and Meredith had already taken off by that point, and Phil left soon after. He felt like he’d gotten enough info/material, and he told me he’d get in touch if he had any follow-up questions. His article, by the way, will either run this season as the pennant races are heating up or it’ll run next spring in the “baseball preview” issue. Phil told me that he had interviewed some other ballhawks (he wouldn’t say who) and that they all told him that he had to talk to me. (That was nice to hear.) I mentioned a lot of names to him, so there’s really no telling who else he’ll end up interviewing.
Anyway, late in the game, Justin and I went for foul balls. This was our view for several left-handed batters:
Then, in the top of the ninth, I helped him sneak down to the umpires’ tunnel behind the plate. He took the right side of the tunnel, and I hung back a few rows on the left. In the following photo, the red arrow is pointing to him:
After the final out, home plate ump Jerry Layne placed a ball in Justin’s glove…
…and then he handed me a ball, too, just before he disappeared.
That was it. Justin doubled his lifetime total by snagging two baseballs, and I finished with nine — not terrible considering that the teams skipped half an hour’s worth of batting practice.
Final score: Orioles 6, Angels 3. (Nice debut for Buck Showalter as the Birds’ new skipper.)
In case you were wondering, my friend Ben Hill was nowhere near me during the game. He met up with his own friend, and they sat together behind the Orioles’ dugout. Ben has finally achieved full-time status at MLBAM (Major League Baseball Advanced Media), so he now has a pass that gets him into any non-sold-out major league game for free, and once he’s inside, he can sit wherever he wants. Pretty cool, huh? If only he had more free time to take advantage.
Ben took one final photo of me and Justin after the game:
Justin and I then said our goodbyes. Ben and I then made the three-hour drive back to New York City.
• 9 balls at this game (7 pictured on the right because I gave two away)
• 211 balls in 23 games this season = 9.2 balls per game.
• 652 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 199 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 24 consecutive Watch With Zack games with at least two balls
• 4,569 total balls
• 45 donors (click here to learn more)
• $6.49 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $58.41 raised at this game
• $1,369.39 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball