Tagged: balls galore

9/15/09 at Camden Yards

The day got off to a GREAT start…

Camden Yards opened at 5pm. I was the first one in, of course, and when I ran out to the left field seats, I found a ball sitting in the front row in foul territory:

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As soon as I reached the foul pole and looked to my right, I discovered another ball…

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…and when I headed out toward left-center field, I saw this:

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Amazing. And then things got better.

During the next ten minutes (or so), I caught four home runs on the fly. I don’t know who hit any of them, but I can tell you that the last one impressed Jeremy Guthrie. He was shagging out in left field, just shy of the warning track, and had a perfect view.

Here’s how it played out (and FYI, all the photos of me were taken by my girlfriend Jona)…

As the home run was approaching, I drifted into the middle of a row to get in line with it, and then I realized that it was going to carry a few feet too far, so I stepped up onto a seat:

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At the very last second, I jumped up FROM the seat and made the catch high over my head, reaching back all the way. The following photo shows me at the peak of my jump with the ball already in my glove:

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Do you see the guy right in front of me with the dark blue shirt? He’s always out in the left field seats at Camden Yards, and Guthrie got all over him.

“Dude, you got posterized!!!” shouted Guthrie, who then reenacted the fan’s failed attempt to catch the ball:

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That other fan happens to be a nice guy and a talented ballhawk. I forget his name (because I just suck with names sometimes) but we’ve snagged together a bunch of times. He robbed me of a few homers earlier in the season, and this time I got the better of him. It happens.

Guthrie and I talked for a few minutes after that. He asked me how things were going with the charity, and I told him that this was probably the last Orioles game I’d be attending this season.

I ended up catching so many home runs during BP that I now can’t remember any of the details. It was truly insane. The following four-part photo shows me catching (or rather, ABOUT to catch) four different homers. In the bottom two photos, I’m wearing a dark blue Rays shirt:

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Everything was going my way. I happened to be in the right spot almost every time. Was it luck? Or skill? I suppose it was a combination of the two, but I really can’t explain it beyond that. I’d never experienced a batting practice like this in my life. Even the previous game (at which I finished BP with 17 balls and ended up with 22 by the end of the night) wasn’t this good.

Naturally, over the course of BP, there were some highs and lows and lulls.

There was running:

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There was pain:

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(The running needed work.)

And there was friendship:

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You know how you’ll run into a person several times over the course of a few months or years, and you never really connect or get to know them, but you can tell that it’s someone you could potentially be great friends with, and then eventually it all clicks into place and you finally have a solid conversation with them? Well, last night was THAT night for me and the guy pictured above in the orange shirt. His name is Adam. He’s a regular at Camden Yards, and he reads this blog.

Back to snagging…

For those keeping score at home (including Alan Schuster, who is kind enough to update my MyGameBalls.com profile for me), here’s a rundown of all the balls I got during the first 45 minutes:

1) easter egg
2) easter egg
3) easter egg
4) easter egg
5) Orioles homer; caught on the fly
6) Orioles homer; caught on the fly
7) Orioles homer; caught on the fly
8) Orioles homer; caught on the fly (“posterized”)
9) Orioles homer; grabbed it after it bounced
10) Orioles homer; caught on the fly
11) thrown by an unknown lefty pitcher on the Rays
12) B.J. Upton homer; caught on the fly
13) Rays homer; caught on the fly
14) Pat Burrell homer; caught on the fly

It was around this time that I realized I had a chance to snag 20 balls for a second consecutive game. Could it be done?!

Matt Garza threw me a ball from about 120 feet away. The ball was falling short, so I leaned waaaaay out and down below the left field wall to try to catch it…

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…but it tipped off the end of the my glove and settled on the warning track. Grant Balfour walked over and picked it up. I was afraid he’d recognize me from the previous day (when he gave me a ball during BP), and perhaps he did, but either way, I convinced him to toss it up.

Then I caught another home run on the fly in heavy traffic. One guy’s glove was RIGHT in my face, but I managed to hold on.

tom_foley_2009.jpgThen Tom Foley, the Rays’ third base coach, was walking through the outfield with a ball in one hand a fungo bat in the other.

“Coach!” I yelled, “Hit me a fungo!”

He looked up and threw me the ball instead. I was about five rows back, and the ball was falling short, so I climbed over a row while the ball was in mid-air and then reached way down over the next row to make a lunging catch.

Then a young kid behind me bobbled a home run ball, which I was able to snatch on one bounce. I immediately turned around and handed it to him. It was my 18th ball of the day.

Without warning, a ball smacked down into the seats one section to my right. I couldn’t tell where it had come from. I’d been watching the batter the whole time, and he hadn’t hit anything that reached the seats. Then I realized that Foley was standing on the foul line just behind 3rd base. He was hitting deep fungos toward left field so that the pitchers (who had nothing better to do) could try to rob home runs. The next fungo fell several feet short of the wall, and I lunged way out for it…

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…but I got robbed by Brian Shouse. In the photo above, you can see the ball streaking into his black glove. You can also see Lance Cormier’s glove flying 30 feet in the air. He had thrown it up to try to hit the ball. (If I were a manager, I wouldn’t let my players goof around like that unless we had already clinched a playoff berth.)

Then I got my revenge. I think it was Balfour who tried to catch the next fungo, but the ball cleared the wall by three feet, and I was all over it:

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That was my 19th ball of the day!

And then I had my chance to snag No. 20. There was a home run hit half a section to my left, so I drifted over and made a leaping catch at the last second, right next to a man who’d been whining about all the balls I was catching (even though he’d already snagged quite a few balls himself). He also accused me of never giving balls to kids (even though I’d just given one to a kid two minutes earlier). In the following photo, you can see this clown standing behind me in the light blue shirt. As for me, this was my reaction after catching the ball and reaching TWENTY for the second straight day:

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Foley was still hitting fungos. One more of them reached the seats, and I caught it.

(?!?!?!?!?!)

There was one final home run ball hit to me during BP. Here I am tracking it:

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Here I am reaching up to make the catch:

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See the guy with the long hair and goatee? He must’ve weighed about 250 pounds, and then…

BAM!!!

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He slammed into me and nearly sent me tumbling headfirst over the railing, but guess what? I held onto the ball.

“AND ONE!!!” I yelled with a smile, indicating that he had fouled me.

Everyone else in the section laughed.

I had snagged 22 balls, including 11 home runs on the fly. Both of those totals were BP records for me.

Six of the 22 balls had interesting markings, smudges, scuffs, and grass stains:

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In the six-part photo above, the ball on the top left has a small bat imprint on it. I’m pretty sure the imprinted word (which appears here in reverse) is “SELECT.” This is the ball that Balfour tossed to me after Garza’s throw fell short. The ball on the lower right was my 20th of the day.

After batting practice, I raced to the 3rd base dugout and got my 23rd ball of the day tossed by Rays bullpen coach Bobby Ramos. (This ball broke my single-game Camden Yards record of 22, which I had set the day before.) Then, right before the game started, I got No. 24 from Evan Longoria. He was using the ball to play catch with Willy Aybar, and when they finished, he threw it to me as a knuckleball. It was such a great day that even Jona got a ball after BP. I was in the front row behind the Rays’ dugout, and she was half a dozen rows back with my camera. I asked George Hendrick, the Rays’ first base coach, for the ball, but he scanned the seats and spotted her and tossed it her way instead. D’oh! (I need an uglier girlfriend.)

I spent the game in the standing-room-only section in right field. Here’s a photo of me walking toward Jona during an inning break:

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I stayed out there for all the left-handed batters.

This is where I positioned myself for the righties:

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I did lots of running all night, even with my battered right ankle which by this point was stinging and badly bruised. But it was worth it. This was a good foul ball spot. I had empty rows on both sides. But, unfortunately, nothing came close.

Back in right field, there was some action in the bottom of the 7th inning. Luke Scott led off and smoked a 2-0 pitch deep and to my right. The ball was clearly going to land in the seats and NOT in the standing-room-only section, but I took off and ran for it anyway. There were so many empty seats that anything seemed possible.

The following photo is a screen shot that I took from MLB.com. The red arrow is pointing to me:

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Miraculously, the ball bounced all the way into the narrow walkway at the back of the section. As it began rattling around, there were two other guys closing in on it from the opposite direction, and I was sure, for an instant, that they were going to get there first…but then the ball hit the edge of one of those brick pillars and ricocheted in MY direction. The ball was heading right for my knee, and it nearly got past me. I barely had time to react as I bent down to simply try to stop it from getting away:

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And then, suddenly, I felt the ball in my right hand. Just like that! It bounced RIGHT into my hand. I kind of trapped it up against the wall and against my leg. I couldn’t believe it, but I *did* in fact have sole possession of the ball.

This was my reaction:

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It was my 9th career game home run ball (toss-ups excluded). I feel like that’s an embarrassingly low number, but in my own defense, I *have* snagged 124 foul balls and one ground-rule double.

It’s tough to catch balls in the standing-room-only section. The view from the back looks like this…

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…so you can’t even see the ball until it’s a third of the way to you.

The following photo shows where I ran to grab the Luke Scott home run ball:

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See what I mean? There’s not that much space back there.

Here’s the home run ball itself…

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…and here’s the video highlight on MLB.com. I hope it works. I always have trouble with streaming video on my laptop. If there’s anyone reading this who either taped the game or can somehow pull this clip off the internet and convert it into an .AVI or .MOV format, please let me know. I’d love to upload the clip to this page on my web site, which lists all of my game home runs.

Okay, so this seems like the best day ever, right? Well, unfortunately, I pissed it all away with one inexcusable error. In the bottom of the 8th, Matt Wieters hit a deep home run that was heading toward the center-field side of the standing-room-only section. I bolted about 40 feet to my right and, to put it simply (because it’s too painful to relive the details), I should’ve caught the ball and didn’t. Epic fail. No excuses. I was (and still am) stunned and humiliated, and I just hope that I get the chance to redeem myself someday. The few people who witnessed (or heard about) my meltdown tried to comfort me with words of wisdom. The worst thing that anyone said was, “Think how boring life would be if you were perfect.” (That asinine gem came from a female usher who then hugged me.) The best thing anyone said was, “Hey, it happened to Luis Castillo.” (That came from my friend Leon Feingold.) Ultimately, nothing will cheer me up. I’ll just have to get over it, in my own way, at my own pace, and focus better from this moment on…

SNAGGING STATS:

25_the_24_i_kept.jpg• 25 balls at this game (24 pictured here because I gave one away)

• 465 balls in 52 games this season = 8.94 balls per game.

• 621 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 117 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

• 6 lifetime games with at least 20 balls

• 9 lifetime game home runs

• 4 different stadiums with at least one game home run (Old Yankee, Shea, PETCO, and Camden)

• 4,285 total balls

• 1 gut-wrenching mistake

CHARITY STATS:

• 126 donors (it’s not too late to make a pledge)

• $25.26 pledged per ball

• $631.50 raised at this game

• $11,745.90 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

4/3/08 at Yankee Stadium

I need to start by thanking my friend Eric Marinbach (who, by the way, runs THE definitive message board about bobblehead dolls). The cheapest ticket available for this game would’ve cost me more than $60. Eric was somehow able to come up with two extra $5 seats at the last minute–one for me and another for my girlfriend Jona–and he gave them to us for free. Nice looking tickets, too. Check it out:

tickets_04_03_08.jpgIt was another cold day (game-time temperature: 42 degrees) but that didn’t stop me from lighting the right field seats on fire during batting practice. As soon as I ran inside, I saw a line drive hit the protective netting along the right field foul line, and the ball dropped down behind the rolled up tarp. There were only a few other fans in the seats, and I wasn’t sure if any of them had seen it, so I raced over, got permission from a security guard to head down to the front row, and then lifted up the net and grabbed the ball. Too easy. I wanted to take a pic of the ball before I grabbed it, but Jona had my camera and even if she hadn’t, there just wouldn’t have been time.

I ran back out to the seats in straight-away right field, and within a few minutes, a Yankees player (not sure who) flipped up a ball. It cleared the people standing directly behind the wall and was heading over my head and about 10 feet to my right. I darted through the aisle and jumped and reached up high for a back-handed catch when a fan standing in the seats right above me reached out and tipped it out of my glove. We both bobbled the ball, and I snatched it during the fumble.

I snagged two more balls with my glove trick, and Jona got a really cool pic as I was reeling one of them in. This was her view from about 100 feet away…

zack_reels_in_ball_with_glove_trick1.jpg…and here’s a closer look at the same pic. I’m the one wearing the blue cap and puffy black jacket. You can see my glove dangling just to the left of the “314” sign.

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Did you notice the two other fans in this photo who are dangling their cup tricks? Some people with ball-retrieving devices like to pick a spot and immediately lower their contraptions. It’s like they’re claiming their spot, so that if/when a ball rolls to the wall below them, they’re all over it. But when balls roll 10 feet to the side, they’re screwed. I prefer to wait until I see a ball roll to the wall and THEN make my move. Sometimes I get there too late, but I’m always able to cover much more ground.

My fifth ball of the day was a line drive homer that barely reached the seats. Somehow it wasn’t touched by any of the fans standing behind the wall, and it rattled around in the crowded aisle for a couple seconds. Just before I snatched it off the ground, a man (who knew he didn’t have time to reach down for it) stepped on my hand, and when I tugged the ball out from under him, he a) nearly lost his balance and b) proceeded to yell at me.

The previous day, I didn’t snag a single ball during the 35 minutes that the Yankees were taking BP. But this time? I ended up with half a dozen before the Blue Jays took the field. Ball #6 required a touch of athleticism, and Jona saw me get it. Basically, I was about eight rows back when one of the many Yankees lefties (don’t ask me who) rocketed a deep drive in my direction. Only problem was…I wasn’t paying attention. I guess I’d looked down for a split second, for whatever reason, so I didn’t see the ball coming until everyone around me started shouting and jockeying for position. I looked up, spotted the ball coming in fast, instantly realized that it was heading over my head, and jumped as high as I could. THWAP!!! I caught it in the tip of my glove and the whole section (minus the guys standing directly behind me) applauded.

I’d been hoping for another commemorative ball, but no, all six had the regular MLB logo.

The Blue Jays took the field and starting hitting. Just about every batter was right-handed. It was terrible, and the players retrieving balls weren’t throwing much into the seats either. At one point, Jessie Litsch walked over to retrieve a ball, and when I asked for it, he said, “You got like forty-two balls yesterday, am I right?”

Needless to say, he didn’t toss me the ball, but I did manage to snag four more with the glove trick. One player stood on the warning track and watched intently as I got the first one. I gave another ball to a kid and beat out a couple fans with cup tricks two minutes later. (Don’t worry, they beat me a few times earlier in the day.) 

The non-snagging highlight of BP: I ran into a guy who was quoted 12 years ago in the very first article ever written about my baseball collection. His name is Howard Pressman. We hadn’t seen each other for at least five years. “You’re still doing it,” he said. Soon after, I saw him catch two homers on a fly and disappear into the crowd.

The non-snagging highlight after BP: Jona and I ran into a friend named Michael Fierman (aka “tswechtenberg” if you’ve been reading the comments on this blog). Here we all are:

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The non-snagging humorous moment of the night: There was a long line out the door of the men’s room, and everyone was grumbling and waiting rather impatiently when a young man with baggy pants and tacky bling side-stepped us all and barged right through.

“Whoa!! Whoa!! Whoa!!” we all shouted. “Where do you think you’re going?!”

“Don’t be watchin’ MY moves, baby!” he called back as he kept moving.

Once the culprit reached his urinal, a fat, 40-something-year-old man next to him said, “Dude, what’re you doing, cutting the line like that? Can’tcha see we’re all waiting here?”

The line-cutter answered without answering: “How you gonna talk to a man while he’s holdin’ his johnson?”

“What!” shouted the fat man playfully as if to challenge him. “I’m comfortable with my sexuality. How about YOU?!”

The culprit and his friends (who apparently were waiting near the exit) burst into laughter, and the fact that they found this amusing made the rest of us laugh.

And now back to our regularly scheduled program…
Shortly before the national anthems, I snuck past security on the 3rd base side for ball #11. Aaron Hill and David Eckstein (whose last name is an anagram of “neckti
es”) were throwing pregame_throwing_04_03_08.jpgin shallow left field, and I got Eck to flip me the ball on the way in. No way he’s 5-foot-7. I don’t care what the media guide says. I’ve seen subway rats taller than him.

All 11 balls I’d snagged were standard balls. The only grassy_balls_04_03_08.jpgthing unusual was that more than half of them had prominent grass stains.

The game itself was good–better for Yankee fans who saw their team win, 3-2. Jona and I kept moving all night. (I wanted baseballs; she wanted to stay warm.) I played most righties in the tunnel to the right side of home plate. (Nothing.) I played all lefties wherever I could find a couple open seats directly behind the main aisle on the left side. (Nothing.) I camped out in left field for Derek Jeter (who went 0-for-2 with a sac bunt and was hit by a pitch…fabulous) and A-Rod (who went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts…terrific) and Frank Thomas (who got ejected in the fourth inning for arguing a called third strike…thanks a lot, putz). I’m not used to going for home run balls, and let me tell you, it’s really frustrating. In this game, there weren’t any balls that left the yard, and even on a good day, there are still view_from_fourth_row_04_03_08.jpgjust a small handful. But I’ve decided that when a future Hall of Famer is in the batters box, it’s a waste of time trying to catch a foul ball.

Jona and I sat in the fourth row behind the Yankees’ dugout for the last two innings. Don’t ask me how. I will only say that the face value of those tickets is $250.

Joba Chamberlain picked up the win after tossing a scoreless eighth inning. Mariano Rivera notched his second save and held onto his precious ball. I couldn’t get one from the home plate umpire either, so my quest to get another commemorative ball failed miserably. It’s tough. Unless these balls start being used during batting practice, you’ll pretty much have to get your hands on a game ball, and at this stadium, it’s not easy because access to the seats behind the dugouts is extremely limited. I still think that these balls WILL end up being used in BP, so my advice to anybody from out of town who wants one is:
wait a couple months and then come to Yankee Stadium.

I might go back to the Bronx on Sunday afternoon if the weather’s nice. If not, my next game will be a Watch With Zack outing at Fenway Park on Tuesday, April 8.

willie_mays_card.jpgSTATS:

• 11 balls at this game = my 2nd highest one-day total at Yankee Stadium.

• 17 balls in 2 games this season = 8.5 balls per game.

• 498 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 110 consecutive games at Yankee Stadium with at least one ball

• 74 lifetime games with at least 10 balls (including 4 games at Yankee Stadium)

• 3,294 total balls…moves me ahead of Willie Mays (3,283) and into 11th place on the all-time hits list. Next up is Eddie Collins (3,315).