On May 1st, I took lots of photos outside Progressive Field, and on May 2nd, I went nuts with my camera inside the stadium. May 3rd — my final game in Cleveland — was simply the day for me to snag an obscene number of baseballs.
It started like this…
…and continued with this…
For some reason, the ushers at this stadium rarely collect the home runs that land in the seats before Gate C opens.
Soon after I grabbed those three Easter eggs, I got David Huff to toss me my fourth ball of the day near the bullpen in right-center. Nothing special, right? At least that’s what I thought until I started scribbling some notes and numbers, and then it hit me: I had just snagged my 4,400th lifetime ball. Here I am with it:
Moments later, Grady Sizemore flipped a ball to me in right center. Even though he’s struggling this season, I’ve always liked him and wanted a ball from him, so it felt great to finally get one.
This was my view of the field:
My sixth ball of the day was a total fluke. David Huff tossed it into the front row roughly 50 feet to my left — and there wasn’t anybody there. I don’t understand it, but whatever. All that matters is that I was able to run over and pick it up.
My seventh ball was thrown by Chris Perez near the visitors’ bullpen down the right field line. My eighth and ninth balls were home runs that I caught on the fly; the first was hit by an Indians righty (no idea who), and the second was a line drive off the bat of Mister Sizemore.
It was 5:01pm. The stadium had barely been open for half an hour. I was thinking BIG, but then I hit a bit of a dry spell.
Twenty minutes later, when the Blue Jays took the field, things picked back up. Shaun Marcum tossed me my 10th ball of the day, and then I got another from Brandon Morrow. Here’s a photo that I took a few minutes later. It shows those two guys standing around with their teammates:
Now get this…
Five minutes later, Marcum walked back onto the warning track to retrieve a ball. I wasn’t even going to bother asking him for it, but then at the last second, right before he was about to fire it back toward the bucket, I said, “Hey, Shaun, let’s play catch.” He responded by turning around, tossing me the ball, and then walking away before I had a chance to throw it back.
You know what else was weird? Two players (Huff and Marcum) had each thrown me two baseballs in the same day. (Okay, fine, Huff didn’t exactly throw the second one *to* me, but it still counts.)
Look how empty the stands were, one hour after the stadium had opened:
In the photo above, do you see the fan in the pink shirt? He’s right in the center of it, standing in the fourth row. Well, after I caught two more home runs on the fly, I ended up beating him out for another ball that landed in the seats. He was pretty bummed about it, so I asked him if he’d snagged a ball yet.
“Yeah,” he replied, “I’ve actually gotten a couple.”
“Oh, cool,” I said, “because if you hadn’t, I was gonna offer you this one.”
He thanked me, and then he asked if I was Zack.
“Yeah, how’d you know?”
“I’m Jimmy,” he said. “I the guy that emailed you and told you I was going to be here.”
We talked for few minutes and then parted ways temporarily.
Now, in case you’ve lost count, I had 15 balls by this point, and yeah, I was thinking about reaching 20. There wasn’t a whole lot of time remaining in BP, but I had a secret plan. During the previous 90 minutes, there were FIVE home runs that landed in the second deck in right field; when the rest of the stadium opened at 6pm, I raced up there. Here’s a summary of what happened:
1) There was one other guy who also ran up to the second deck.
2) All five balls were scattered in the front row (some in puddles).
3) The other guy took a bad route, and I got a slight head start.
4) I grabbed four of the five balls.
5) I missed one because he shoved me from behind, forcing me to overrun it.
6) I offered him a few choice words.
Naturally, I didn’t have time to pull out my camera and photographs the baseballs sitting in the stands, so please, take my word for it. I’m not making this stuff up. Just smile and nod and accept the fact that I had 19 balls in my backpack by the time I ran over to the left field bleachers. (By the way, I have no idea who hit the three homers that I’d snagged a bit earlier — balls No. 13, 14, and 15 on the day. All I can tell you is that they were hit by lefties on the Jays, and that the 14th ball was the 1,500th I’d ever snagged outside of New York City.)
Jimmy was in left field. There were a few other fans nearby. Someone on the Jays — a right-handed batter — launched a deep home run that landed halfway up the bleachers. I sprinted up the steps and hurdled a few benches and grabbed the ball half a second before Jimmy got there. (He was a good sport about it.) That was my 20th ball of the day (!!) and then, while I was up there, the same batter hit another ball that clanked off a nearby bench. I didn’t even see it coming. I only heard it, and I was able to jog over and pick that one up, too. (Sorry for the lack of photos, but seriously, there was never a break in the action.)
Two minutes before the end of BP, I tried unsuccessfully to get a Jays pitcher to throw a ball up to me.
“You got like 30 balls already!” he shouted.
“Not quite that many!” I yelled.
“Why don’t you dump all the balls out of your backpack and I’ll throw one to you?” he joked.
I think it was Josh Roenicke, but I’m not sure. He was wearing warm-up gear over his uniform, and I was 20 feet high, but anyway, while he was jawing at me, another home run ball clanked off a nearby bench. Once again, I hadn’t seen it coming. In fact, it nearly hit me, and it ended up AT MY FEET in left-center. Roenicke (or whoever it was) threw his arms up in disgust. Too funny. And that was it for BP.
Finally, there was a moment to relax/breathe.
Jimmy and I got a photo together:
In case you’re wondering, that thing in front of my right ear is a pen. I’d been scribbling notes about all the balls I snagged, and I tucked it into my cap.
I gave away one of the balls to a kid, then changed out of my Blue Jays costume, and went to the back of the bleachers with Jimmy:
In the photo above, I’m holding my 20th ball of the day. Jimmy (who took the photo) lent me his glove to use as a barricade so the balls wouldn’t roll down the steps.
Remember those puddles in the 2nd deck that I was talking about? One of the balls had evidently been laying face down in the water:
Balls No. 21 and 22 both looked pretty cool:
I suspect that the ball on the left hit the edge of a bench. That’s gotta be how the gash got there.
Before Jimmy left to go watch the Cavs’ playoff game, he asked me to sign one of his baseballs. Then I wandered down to the Home Run Porch and caught up with a fellow ballhawk named Sean Malafronte. Here we are together:
I had met him for the very first time earlier in the day when we were waiting in line outside Gate C — but I had already heard about him because he was involved in this home run controversy last season. Crazy stuff. It turned out that he had heard about me, too, and we kept running into each other throughout the day. I believe he ended up snagging eight balls.
Several minutes before game time, I made it down to the Indians’ dugout just before Shin-Soo Choo finished playing catch. Here he is, about to make one of his final throws:
I got him to toss me the ball by asking for it in Korean. Then, on my way out to the left field bleachers, I gave away another ball and took the following photo of the empty stands:
Oof. Make me wish I lived in Cleveland. (No offense, Cleveland, but I really love New York.)
This was my view during the game…
…and this is a screen shot that shows me missing Jose Bautista’s 2nd-inning homer by five feet:
The HORIZONTAL arrow is pointing to the spot where I was sitting, the VERTICAL arrow is pointing to me, and the DIAGONAL arrow is pointing to the spot where the ball landed.
If you watch the replay, it doesn’t look like I was running particularly fast, and it’s true. I wasn’t. But here’s why. The following photo shows the route that I had to take:
Let me explain the numbers (and symbol)…
1) I was sitting in the second row.
2) As soon as the ball was hit, I had to climb over the bench…
3) …and jump down to the front row.
4) I had to cut left in order to avoid the people and benches.
$) The money spot — it’s where the ball landed.
If the ball had stayed in the stands, I would’ve been able to count to three and then pick it up. The other fans had NO idea what was happening. But no, of course, because I’m jinxed when it comes to game home runs, the ball smacked off the Road Runner ad, landed in the aisle, and bounced back onto the field. Un-effing-believable.
At least the game itself was exciting. Blue Jays starter Brett Cecil took a perfect game into the seventh inning. He then got Asdrubal Cabrera to hit a weak come-backer, walked the next two batters, and struck out Austin Kearns for the 2nd out. That’s when I took the following photo to document the fact that his no-hitter was still intact:
Moments later, Jhonny Peralta hit a clean, line-drive single to left field, and that was that. (Was it MY fault? Did *I* somehow jinx him my taking a photo? I made sure not to talk about the no-hitter while it was still in progress. Damn. Would’ve been nice to witness history.)
During the break before the start of the ninth inning, I moved to the center field end of the bleachers and tried to get Grady Sizemore to throw me his warm-up ball. He ended up throwing back to Chris Perez, the reliever who was playing catch with him, and Perez threw it to me instead. HA!!! It was my 24th ball of the day — my fourth highest single-game total ever — and Perez was the third player to throw me a pair. Are you hearing me? Three different players each threw me two balls in one day. I know it’s a random/meaningless “accomplishment,” but I’d bet that no one else has ever done it.
I took the following photo from the spot where I caught the throw. (I had to jump for it while I was standing on the steps. One of the cameramen yelled, “Nice catch.”) The arrow is pointing to the spot where Perez was standing when he threw it.
Since the Jays had the lead, I headed to their dugout in the bottom of the ninth, and I took this photo along the way:
After the final out, I got robbed by another fan on what would’ve been ball No. 25. Rommie Lewis tossed it to me from the side; the awkward angle enabled some other guy to reach out in front of me, and he apologized profusely.
“Hey, it’s all good,” I told him. “Get whatever you can get.”
Final score: Zack 24, Blue Jays 5, Indians 1. My Ballhawk Winning Percentage is now .800 (4 wins, 1 loss.), which means I’d be in first place in any division in the majors.
I gave away one more ball as I headed toward the right field exit, and before I left the stadium, I took a few final photos. Here’s one…
…and here’s another:
I just LOVE empty stadiums. I mean…I love stadiums, period, but there’s something extra special about being inside one when there aren’t any other fans. (The whole game practically felt like that.)
That was it for the Cleveland portion of my trip. I knew that my next stop — Target Field — was going to be a bit more crowded.
• 24 balls at this game (21 pictured on the right because I gave three away)
• 62 balls in 5 games this season = 12.4 balls per game.
• 634 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 185 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 123 lifetime games with at least 10 balls
• 7 lifetime games with at least 20 balls
• 4 consecutive seasons with at least one game at which I snagged 20 balls
• 4,420 total balls
• 29 donors (click here and scroll down to see who has pledged)
• $3.85 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $92.40 raised at this game
• $238.70 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
Sunny days without batting practice are the worst. This is what I saw when I arrived at the stadium and peeked through the left field gate:
I took my time walking over to Gate C (on the right field side). There were a couple dozen fans when I got there. Normally, I try to make sure that I’m the first one to enter, but in this case it didn’t matter, so I waited patiently as everyone filed into the stadium ahead of me:
This was my first look at the field:
Moments after I made it down to the front row, I heard a voice from behind say my name. I turned around and saw a familiar face. It was a guy from Akron, Ohio named Dan Cox. He and I had met once before on 6/17/08 at Coors Field. (That was the day that a reporter and photographer from the Associated Press were following me around, and Dan actually ended up with his picture in the article. If you click here, you can see him in the top photo standing just over my left shoulder with a red shirt.) We kept in touch, and he recently told me that he was going to attend this game. Here we are:
Oh yeah, I should probably mention that I snagged two baseballs. Several Twins pitchers had come out to play catch, and when they were finishing, I convinced Jesse Crain to hook me up by telling him that I had a good knuckleball and wanted to show him. He threw me
a mediocre knuckler and then waved toward himself with his glove as if to say, “C’mon, let’s see what you got.” I threw him my best knuckler, which turned out to be as bad as his (oops), and it kept going from there. We played catch for about 30 seconds, throwing nothing but so-so knuckleballs. Unfortunately, it all happened so fast that by the time I thought about handing my camera to Dan, it was too late. Then, two minutes later, Crain saw one of his teammates — I’m not sure who — toss me another ball. Before Crain could protest, I told him that I would give it to a kid, and I kept my promise.
Gate C had opened at 11:30am. The rest of the stadium opened at noon, and when it did, Dan and I moved to the left field foul line. I positioned myself in the front row while Kevin Slowey (pictured below with his leg up) played catch with Scott Baker:
Dan stayed a couple rows back, and at one point, I turned around to look at him. This is what I saw:
Yeah, there was a ball just sitting there. There were even a few other fans nearby, but no one saw it. I moved toward it slowly and picked it up. No one noticed. I showed Dan, and we both shrugged.
Once the players cleared the field, it was time to wander and take pics. I started by walking through the cross-aisle toward the left field corner:
The aisle isn’t great for foul balls because, as you can see, it’s tucked slightly under the overhang of the second deck. That said, foul balls do shoot back there behind the plate.
I headed to the upper deck…
…and walked through the concourse…
…and then went down to the front row. Check out the third base dugout:
See that red area right behind it? No, it’s not a carpet. It’s just painted concrete, but it’s still pretty cool and functions like a cross-aisle. The seats behind it are very exclusive. It’s the “Mercedes Benz Front Row,” and you can’t go there without a ticket.
I walked up to the last row directly behind home plate…
…and then took a couple photos, which I later combined to make a panorama:
On my way back down to the Home Run Porch in left field, I poked my head into the suite level. Check it out:
There was so much room to run during the game. I was in heaven. For left-handed batters, I alternated between the seats on the third base side…
…and in right-center:
For all righties, I stood toward the back of the Home Run Porch. This was my view:
(That’s Dan standing in front of me with the glove.)
The view was not as bad as you might think. I could actually see the batters in between the people standing at the front. Here’s a close-up of the previous photo. It’ll show you what I mean:
In the top of the 5th inning, Jim Thome connected on his 569th career home run, tying him with Rafael Palmeiro (BOO!!!) for 11th place all time. The ball landed in a gap directly behind the wall in dead center. Here’s a photo of that area from above:
If the ball had traveled five feet farther, it would have landed in the trees, and I might have been able to reach under the fence for it on the lower level of Heritage Park. But no, Chris Perez walked over from the Indians’ bullpen and picked it up, and that was the end of it.
Here’s a photo of the Home Run Porch from above:
Is that beautiful or what? It doesn’t matter if your ticketed seat is in the last row of the upper deck. If you want to hang out on the Porch, you’re welcome to do so. Bravo, Indians, for making the fan experience so laid-back and positive. (As for the quality of the team, that’s another story.)
Have you heard about the Indians fan who sits in the last row of the bleachers and bangs a drum? (That sounds like the opening line of a joke, but I’m being serious.) He’s been going to games forever, and he’s done lots of interviews of the years. The reason why I’m mentioning him is that I went up there to say hello. Here he is focusing on the game…
…and here I am with him:
His name is John Adams, and he’s a legend. This was his 2,917th game. He has missed just 37 games in 36 years. I asked if the Indians still make him buy an extra seat for his drum. He said it’s not an issue because he has four season tickets. I asked if the Indians ever told him not to bang the drum when the ball is in play or if that’s his own decision. He said he decided on his own out of respect for the game. I asked if he ever snagged a home run ball that landed on a staircase and bounced all the way to the back row. The answer is no. Anyway, go say hi to him if you’re ever at Progressive Field. He’s incredibly friendly and chatty, and he told me that he enjoys the opportunity to talk to so many people.
I was back on the Porch in the bottom of the 7th, when Asdrubal Cabrera lifted a deep fly ball down the line. I drifted forward to the railing at the front. The ball was coming…coming…and I had it lined up perfectly. It was going to be the easiest catch ever, but dammit, it ended up falling about ten feet short and bouncing high off the wall for a double. Here’s a screen shot that shows the action:
The UP arrow is pointing at me, the LEFT arrow is pointing at Dan, and the DOWN arrow is pointing to a fan who’s really, really, really into the game. I love it. It’s like a full-body maneuver to peek around the wall from that little nook.
The Twins won the game, 8-3, behind a solid, seven-inning performance by Francisco Liriano. Catcher Wilson Ramos, filling in for the injured Joe Mauer, went 4-for-5 in his major league debut. Delmon Young also went 4-for-5 (with a homer) as Minnesota combined for 20 hits.
I ended up getting one more ball after the game behind the Twins’ dugout. I don’t know who provided it. It was flipped up randomly from under the roof. So…I ended the day with four balls — fewer balls than the winning team had runs — which means I took my first “loss” of the season. At 3-1, my Ballhawk Winning Percentage is now .750.
• 4 balls at this game (3 pictured on the right because I gave one away)
• 38 balls in 4 games this season = 9.5 balls per game.
• 633 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 184 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 4,396 total balls
• 25 donors (click here and scroll down to see who has pledged)
• $2.91 pledged per ball (if you add up all 25 pledges)
• $11.64 raised at this game
• $110.58 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
The last time I visited this stadium, it was called Jacobs Field, the Indians were in first place, and every seat was sold out for the season. That was 1998. Let’s just say that things have changed.
Yesterday, before I headed over to Progressive Field, I met up with two ballhawks from Pittsburgh named Nick and Bryan Pelescak. (Yes, they’re brothers, and I first met them last fall when I got to take BP on the field at PNC Park.) It was only 2pm. They’d just checked out of their hotel, and they had lots of time to kill, so they wandered around the outside of the stadium with me while I took photos. One of the first things I saw was the view through the gate behind the “Home Run Porch” in left field:
This was a beautiful sight. It had been raining two hours earlier, yet the batting cage was now set up for BP.
We kept walking…
…and I took a ton of photos. Here are two more.
Whenever I visit a new stadium, I always walk around the outside of it and go nuts with my camera. Yeah, I’d been here before, but it had been so long that I did all my exploring/documenting from scratch.
Here’s a shot of Gate C — the gate that opens first. It’s located in deeeeep right-center:
Do you see the person standing at the gate? That was another Pittsburgh ballhawk named Erik Jabs. (He’s the guy who founded the Ballhawk League.) I knew that he and Nick and Bryan were going to be at this game, and although I was looking forward to hanging out with them, their presence meant that I’d have to face some serious competition.
Erik stayed at Gate C and watched our bags. Nick and Bryan and I kept wandering. Here’s a four-part photo that shows what it looked like as we walked from the right field edge of the stadium around toward home plate:
Here I am across the street from Progressive Field, imitating the building-sized LeBron James poster way off in the distance:
In the four-part photo below, the pic on the upper right shows the stadium’s “toothbrush lights.” The pic on the lower right shows my old (circa 1992) Indians cap next to a long overdue replacement.
(Don’t worry, I took that sticker off the bill as soon as I took the photo. People who leave those things on their caps — that’s one thing I’ll never understand.)
Here I am with Nick (who’s fielding an imaginary grounder), Erik (who’s reaching out for the backhand), and Bryan (who’s tracking a fly ball) outside Gate C:
Yeah, it’s a ridiculously dorky photo (and I look fat), but whatever. Good times, I tell you. (The photo was taken by a guy named Chad from Canton, Ohio. He and I were in touch about a year ago, and when he heard that I was going to be at this game, he decided to make the trip to hey in person. We ended up crossing paths throughout the day and sitting together on and off during the game. Cool dude.)
Want to see the line of fans waiting to get inside the stadium for BP? Yes, of course, you do, but first, I want you to think about how crowded it gets at some places, like Fenway Park and Citi Field. Are you ready? Okay, here we go. I took the following photo THREE minutes before Gate C opened:
Right before we all ran inside, we made a little bet. I’m not sure if it could be called a “friendly wager” because there was a little bit of money involved. Erik, Bryan, Nick, and I decided that at the end of batting practice, the guy who snagged the most baseballs would receive one dollar from each of the other three people.
The good thing about Progressive Field is that it opens two and a half hours early for night games. The bad thing is that fans are confined to the right field seats for the first hour and a half! So, basically, by the time the entire stadium opens, it’s 6pm, and there’s only 15 or 20 minutes left of batting practice. Bleh. I will say, though, that the right field seats are pretty good. There’s lots of room to run. Check it out:
In the photo above, Nick is on the left, Bryan is down in the front row, and Erik is standing one section further away, with his hand on his head. The reason why we were all clustered in right-center is that there were a bunch of righties batting. We figured that if any of them were gonna go oppo, it was going to happen closer to the center field edge of the section. (BTW, that concrete platform down in front is great for preventing fan interference, but it sucks for snagging baseballs. It makes it impossible to use the glove trick, and if you’re not careful, home run balls will bounce up off it and hit you in the face.)
Erik snagged a ball fairly quickly, and then Bryan got one as well. Things weren’t looking good for me, but then something unusual happened. Jensen Lewis fielded a ball, and when everyone started asking for it, he turned and fired it into the upper deck. The ball then bounced down into the second deck, and I ended up getting a seat cleaner to toss it down to me. Here’s the ball, and you can see the guy in the background:
Here’s another look at the right field seats after it started getting a bit more crowded:
Erik and Bryan each had three balls, while Nick and I were stuck at one apiece. I was sure that I was going to lose the bet — and I was okay with it. At least I was having fun.
I snagged two more balls within a matter of minutes. I got Chris Perez to throw the first one after I told him I was “going deep” and started running up the steps. Then I caught a Russell Branyan homer on the fly more than 15 rows back. Maybe even 20 rows. Everyone was crowding the front (as usual) so I played deep, figuring that he’d be able to reach me.
I was still a couple balls behind when the Twins took the field and started playing catch:
I was hoping to snag a Target Field commemorative ball, but I wasn’t freaking out about it. This was the first of five Twins games that I was going to see in the next week, so I assumed I’d get one eventually.
The Twins started hitting. A ball rolled onto the warning track right below me. I had to climb on a seat in order to look down and see it, but the logo was facing away from me. In other words, I had no idea what type of ball it was. Jesse Crain walked over and picked it up. I asked him politely for it, and he tossed it my way. Here’s a photo of THAT ball:
(You can see Crain in the photo above. He’s walking toward another ball on the warning track in right-center.)
My fifth ball of the day was rather odd…in terms of how I got it. During the first hour of BP, several balls landed in the empty seats along the right field foul line. I was hoping that they’d all still be there when the rest of the stadium opened, but unfortunately, a cop wandered down into the section and retrieved them all. For some reason (perhaps because I held up my glove), he threw one of them to me from about 100 feet away. The Twins’ bullpen was positioned between us. It was quite a toss, and it was right on the money.
Speaking of money, I was in good shape with the bet after getting Ron Mahay to give me my sixth ball of the day. Erik and Nick and Bryan all had solid numbers at that point, but I had taken the lead — and then I got another Target Field ball from Pat Neshek. Nothing fancy about it. Someone hit the ball onto the track. I ran down to the front row. He flipped it up, and I reached higher than everyone else around me. I was really happy to finally get one from him after having read his truly awesome blog on and off for a few years. (To prove how much I like his blog, check out my favorite links on my web site.)
Finally, when the rest of the stadium opened, I decided to go to the left field bleachers. On the way, I stopped and peeked over the edge of the Indians’ bullpen in right-center, and wouldn’t you know it? There was a ball sitting all the way at the back, waiting for me. I neglected to photograph it, but wait…here’s a photo that I had taken earlier in the day. It shows a different ball sitting in nearly the same spot:
I had enough string for the glove trick — that wasn’t the problem — but the chest-high railing made it impossible to lean over. See how it angles back? I had to pull one of those plastic chairs over and stand on it. An elderly usher watched me and didn’t say a word. The whole thing took a couple minutes, and when I was done, I got a nice round of applause from the dozen or so fans who were also looking on.
That was my eighth ball of the day. Double digits? Keep reading…
I ran to the bleachers and got Jon Rauch to throw me No. 9. Here he is down below:
The bleachers are quite steep, as you can see in the following photo:
It’s hard to maneuver up and down the benches, but in straight-away left field, there’s a cross-aisle at the front that provides plenty of room to run laterally. You’ll see a photo of it later…
During the last round of BP, I caught two Delmon Young homers on the fly. The first was a nice lazy fly ball. The second was a laser that required me to reach slightly over the low railing down in front.
I had eleven balls, three of which had the word practice stamped underneath the MLB logo:
(The balls are not actually yellow. They’re nice-n-white, but I was forced to photograph them in my hotel room, which has terrible lighting.)
As soon as batting practice ended, Erik, Nick, and Bryan entered Heritage Park…
…and headed down to the lower level to look for baseballs hidden in the trees:
They didn’t find any, which meant it was time to settle the bet. Erik had seven balls. (He finished the night with eight, and you can read all the details on his blog.) Bryan had snagged five, and Nick (who also has a blog) had four. Excellent numbers all around. I just happened to come out on top, and this was the result:
Erik decided to hold all his baseballs while he handed over the dollar, just to prove that he hadn’t gotten blown out.
It turned out that we’d each gotten at least one Target Field ball:
Now, to make a long story a little less long…
When we were taking these photos in Heritage Park, all my baseballs were on the ground right behind me, not more than five feet away. I’d taken them out of my backpack, and I then placed the bag on top of them, you know, to (mostly) shield them from the few other fans who were milling about, looking at the plaques, etc. I didn’t think much about these people. It was quiet. It was Cleveland. There was no need to act all paranoid and New-Yorker-ish, so I turned my back for a few moments here and there, and when I started putting all the balls back into my bag, I noticed that there was one missing. Which ball? My best Target Field ball, of course — the one that Jesse Crain had tossed to me. I thought one of my fellow ballhawks was playing a joke, but they assured me repeatedly that they had nothing to do with it, and that’s when it hit me that someone else, in fact, had stolen one of my commemorative balls. Unbelievable.
Anyway, life goes on.
Shortly before the game started, I got Justin Morneau to sign the front of my ticket and Denard Span to sign the back:
I tried for a pre-game warm-up ball behind the Twins’ dugout, but came up empty. Then I moved toward the back of the section and got Nick to take the following photo of me:
Nothing special about it. I just wanted a decent photo of myself inside the stadium.
As for the game, I decided to go for nothing but home runs. To hell with foul balls and third-out balls. There was room to run in the outfield, and I intended to take full advantage. I wanted to be in the standing room area (aka “the Home Run Porch”) down the left field line, but Nick was there all night, and I didn’t want to get in his way, so I spent most of my time running back and forth for righties and lefties from the bleachers in straight-away left to the stands in right-center. Here’s what it looked like from the tunnel in left field:
The usher was nice and let me stand there. Every usher was nice. No one ever harassed me or asked for my ticket. I was free to roam, and that’s how it should be, especially at a stadium where a Saturday night game draws just 13,832 fans.
When I moved to the front of the tunnel, this is what it looked like to the right:
Is that awesome or what?! (The lady sitting closest to me doesn’t appear to be all that excited about it.) Of course, there weren’t any home runs hit there while I was there. I was in right-center field when Justin Morneau was batting, and he ended up hitting a home run that landed less than ten feet from where I’d been standing all night for righties. My home run curse continues. It’s official. Last year was pretty much a disaster in terms of game home runs, and things are not looking good early in 2010.
This is what it looks like under the left field bleachers:
And this is the greatest rally cap I’ve ever seen:
That was an Indians cap, FYI, and it obviously worked because the Tribe scored two runs in the bottom of the eighth inning to tie the game at 4-4, and then they won it in the 11th.
The final score was 5-4, which means my Ballhawk Winning Percentage remained perfect.
Nick and Bryan left early — it’s a two-hour drive back to Pittsburgh — so we didn’t get to say goodbye, but Erik stuck around, and we walked out together. No telling when I’ll see these guys again, but hopefully it won’t be long.
• 11 balls at this game (10 pictured on the right because one was stolen)
• 34 balls in 3 games this season = 11.3 balls per game.
• 632 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 183 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 122 lifetime games with at least ten balls
• 56 lifetime games outside of New York with at least ten balls
• 22 different stadiums with at least one game with 10 or more balls
• 4,392 total balls
• 24 donors (click hereto see what this is all about)
• $2.86 pledged per ball
• $31.46 raised at this game
• $97.24 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
This was my first game at the new Yankee Stadium. I arrived more than five hours before game time, and I could tell right away why it cost $1.5 billion. In a word, the place is glorious. This was the view shortly after I exited the subway:
I had lots of time to spare (as planned) so I walked around and took a zillion photos. This is what the side of the stadium looks like just past Gate 6:
Everything was crisp and clean and well designed and classy. Even the ticket windows…I mean, just look:
In the photo above, did you notice the flat-screen TVs mounted high on the wall? If you look at the one on the upper right, you can see that the field was not set up for batting practice. Thankfully, within the next few minutes, the L-screen was rolled into place:
I already had a ticket that a friend had bought for me, so just for the hell of it (and because I wanted to have something to complain about later on my blog) I asked how much the cheapest available ticket was. Anyone want to guess? If you said ninety-five dollars, you are correct. (Insert complaining here.)
I kept walking, crossed a little road, and took a photo of Gate 4–the home plate gate:
Then I continued my journey…
…and passed Gate 2 (the left field gate)…
…and rounded the corner of a “Preferred Parking” garage that’s connected to the stadium:
At the old stadium, fans weren’t able to walk all the way around. There was a fenced off parking lot for the players, next to which was a road that turned into a ramp that merged onto a highway. Not good. I like being able to walk all the way around the outside a stadium. I feel a greater connection to it if I can inspect it from all angles, so I’m glad to say it IS possible to walk all the way around the new stadium.
At the old stadium, there were four gates: 2, 4, 6, and the bleacher entrance.
At the new stadium, the latter has been replaced with Gate 8:
Here’s a look at the right field side of the stadium from underneath the elevated train tracks:
I’d made it full-circle, so I decided to take a peek at the old stadium:
It was dead. And sad:
All the memorabilia stores were closed…
…but back at the new stadium, things were jumping. There were hundreds (if not thousands) of people waiting to get in:
In the photo above, do you see the kid with a glove, a dark green shirt, and tan shorts? His name is Connor and he’s 13 years old. He had recently left a few comments on this blog, and this was the first time we met in person. We ended up crossing paths throughout the day, so remember his name.
The game was scheduled to begin at 3:40pm, and the gates opened at 12:30. You might think it’s the most awesome thing ever to get inside that early, but guess what? It sucks. As a general rule, batting practice doesn’t start that early, so the stadium ends up getting crowded before any balls reach the seats. You know that feeling during the first minute of BP when you’re one of just a handful of fans in the entire stadium? And you can hear the crack of the bat echoing?
And you feel like the players are hitting home run balls just for you? Well, you can kiss that feeling goodbye in the Bronx, but it’s still pretty cool to be able to be inside, crowded or not, for the start of batting practice.
Given the fact that there was no point in rushing inside, I stopped for a moment and took a photo of the…I don’t know what to call it. The outer concourse? All I can say is that it’s spectacular. Check it out:
Okay, so it looks like an airport terminal, and it’s kind of a rip-off of the outer concourse in Arlington, but it’s still pretty damn cool. With all due respect to Jackie Robinson, I think this is even more dazzling than the Rotunda at Citi Field. Let’s face it, the Mets’ new home is not THAT special. Sure, it’s nice, and the outfield wall has some interesting angles, and the second deck overhangs the warning track in right field, and there’s a brand new Home Run Apple, but overall it looks like every other ballpark that’s been built in the last decade. The new Yankee Stadium, however, is one of a kind and breathtakingly beautiful. Like I said earlier, it was clear from the start.
Here’s the inner/field level concourse:
The new Yankee Stadium was designed by an architect named God, but it’s run by Satan. Forget the fact that backpacks are not allowed. Don’t even get me started with that. You know what else is not allowed? Going down into the field level seats for batting practice…unless of course you have a ticket for those seats. Let me clarify. You CAN get into the field level concourse no matter where your ticketed seat is located, but unless you actually have a SEAT on the field level, you will not be able to get down into the actual seats to snag baseballs. It’s that simple. There was a security guard at every staircase:
Batting practice hadn’t even started. (You can see the grounds crew watering the infield in the photo above.) It was more than three effin’ hours before the first pitch, and yet the guards were not letting people down into the seats. As you can imagine, there were some pretty angry fans. I talked to one guy who’s paying $20,000 this year for season tickets in the upper deck. He was there with his 11-year-old son, and he was furious that the two of them weren’t allowed down into the seats to try to catch a ball or get an autograph.
I can understand that the owners want to encourage people to buy the fancy seats (and then reward the people who do), but this is just horrible. It’s funny how the team makes such a huge production of playing “God Bless America” during the 7th inning stretch because this policy of keeping fans–especially fathers and sons–out of the good seats for BP is downright un-American.
You’re probably wondering where my assigned seat was, and if I made it into the field level seats, and if I managed to keep my streak alive, etc., so let me just say this: when Zack Hample goes to a new stadium, Zack Hample GETS INTO the field level seats. (Hey! Talking about oneself in the third person is fun. I can see why Rickey Henderson does it. I can’t wait for his induction speech.) It wasn’t always easy. I got kicked out of the right field seats during BP and later had a guard threaten to call his supervisor, but I survived. That’s because I had a few people looking out for me. For starters, one young man who reads this blog told me the name/section of a certain guard who would let me down into the seats if I mentioned his name. (Don’t ask. It’s a secret. Absolutely no exceptions.) Then there was my friend Linda, the one who bought me the ticket for this game. She and her friend Cindy had field level tickets on the right field foul line. My ticket was in the upper deck. They arrived at game time. You figure out the rest. Finally there was another young man named Alex who had a ticket on the left field foul line and kindly lent it to me at one point. So yeah, it took a team effort to help me beat the system.
I got an early peek at the seats in right field…
…and I could not be-LIEVE what I was seeing. Every single seat, even 400 feet from home plate, was soft and cushy:
(These seats will probably look like crap in a few years after nature has its way with them.) Normally these fancy seats are limited to the fanciest sections. The entire new Yankee Stadium, it turns out, is one big fancy section, and if you’re not convinced yet, look at this:
Yes, right there in the concourse, there was a friggin’ butcher carving steak behind a glass window, and just around the corner there was a gosh-darn fruit stand:
(How many different ways can I curse without actually cursing?) The prices were reasonable, at least for New York City. Two pears for three dollars? That’s what I’m used to paying on the Upper West Side.
Another nice thing about the new stadium is that the field level concourse runs all the way around the outfield. The following photo shows the concourse directly behind the batter’s eye. I think the space is way too narrow, especially considering that this is where the line starts for Monument Park:
I made it back to the right field side of the stadium, and the Yankees began playing catch soon after. One of the balls got loose and rolled up to the wall along the foul line. Not only was there a security guard at the top of every staircase, but there was also a guard at the bottom. Being in a stadium for batting practice should feel like being in a playground, but instead it felt like I was at a border crossing. There were more security guards than fans, so I figured I was going to get yelled at, possibly even threatened or ejected for using my glove trick, but I had to give it a shot. I waited until the nearest guard turned his back and then I went for it. The following photo, taken from the RF bleachers by a college kid named Luke who reads this blog, shows me in action:
As I was getting the ball to stick inside my glove, the guard turned around and stared at me. I had a sinking feeling in my gut. Was he going to confiscate the ball and call his supervisor?
“I saw you on The Tonight Show,” he said. “That’s pretty cool.”
I ended up talking to him for a few minutes and thanking him profusely for being so nice and letting me get the ball.
Was it a commemorative ball?!?!
…but it’s a valuable ball to me.
There were still a few guys playing catch in shallow right field, so I cut through the seats along the foul line. (Once I was down in the seats, no one stopped me from moving side to side.) Damaso Marte was about to finish throwing, and this was as close as I could get:
When he was done, I waved my arms and jumped up and down and called his name–anything to get his attention, and it worked. He looked up and spotted me in the sea of empty seats and lobbed the ball over the netting and over the partition, right to me. Perfect aim. Easiest catch ever. I had my second ball of the day. Not commemorative.
I moved to the seats in straight-away right field and snagged a third ball (not commemorative) in an unexpected way. I had started running toward the end of the section in right-center for a home run that ended up landing in the bullpen. Just at that moment, another ball landed ten feet away from me, right in my row. A nearby fan told me that Brian Bruney had thrown it. I have no idea who he was even aiming for, or if it’s even true that he’s the guy who threw it, but hey, I’ll take it.
It was shortly after this snag that I got kicked out of right field–a real shame because there were a bunch of lefties hitting bombs at that point. I managed to make it down into the left field seats, and since the lefties were pulling everything, I passed the time by taking some more photos. In the shot below, you can see how the bleachers (the section above the red “State Farm” ads) are separated from the fancy seats:
If you have a bleacher ticket, you will be forced to stay in the bleachers. See how there’s a gap between the two State Farm ads? That’s a little tunnel that leads underneath the bleachers to that narrow concourse. Don’t despair if you have a bleacher ticket. There were a lot of home run balls that reached the first few rows, and the players also tossed some balls there. And…although you might get stopped by security, there will be plenty glove trick opportunities from the seats above the bullpens:
The following photo shows what I *think* is the line for Monument Park, snaking up and around the ramps/stairs:
The Indians took the field and started playing catch, and whaddaya know, a ball got loose and rolled up against the wall in foul territory. Glove trick. Bam! Ball number four was mine. Security didn’t say a word.
Now…you might recall that at my previous two games at Citi Field, the visiting team had been using the Mets’ commemorative balls. I was hoping that the Indians might be using the Yankees’ balls, but no. No such luck. Every ball I got from the Tribe was standard. How many more balls did I get? Well, thanks to Alex who snagged a bunch of his own and let me have his spot in the very crowded front row, I was able to get Rafael Perez (in the photo below) to toss me his ball after he finished throwing.
Then, after moving to the seats in straight-away left field, I spotted a ball sitting on the warning track near the foul pole:
Remember that kid named Connor? He was already there with a glove trick of his own, but unfortunately for him, he experienced quite a mishap. Let’s just say he needs to practice tying better knots, but don’t feel bad for him. He had snagged his first two balls EVER during the Yankees’ portion of BP. As for me, I flung my glove out and knocked the ball closer, and as I was reeling it in, two bad things happened:
1) A security guard marched down the steps and told me I had to stop.
2) The ball slipped out of my glove and plopped back down onto the warning track.
For some reason, the guard turned his back for a moment and started blabbing on his walkie-talkie, so I quickly pulled up my glove, tightened the rubber band, and lowered it for one final attempt. The guard turned back around and faced me and said I had to bring my glove back up right away, and that if I did that again, I would “be gone.” Naturally I did as he instructed. I raised the glove…and the ball was inside of it. HAHA!!! Take THAT, Yankee Stadium security!!! There’s a new sheriff in town and…never mind.
My seventh ball of the day was a line drive homer that I caught on the fly. (Given the fact that I somehow hadn’t caught a batted ball on the fly in my previous six games, this felt like quite an accomplishment.) When the ball left the bat, I thought it might reach the seats, but I definitely didn’t expect it to reach me in the eighth row. Still, I scooted through the row to get in line with it, and when it ended up flying right at me, I was caught a bit off guard and nearly got handcuffed by it. Balls are really carrying at this new stadium, so be prepared.
Two minutes later, I got someone on the Indians (might’ve been the bullpen catcher) to throw me a ball over everyone’s head in front of me. I was still about eight rows back. It was beautiful.
As for the new rule about keeping people out of the seats for BP, I have to say…I’m slightly torn about it. It worked out well for me because I was able to get down there. I mean, the seats were FAR less crowded than they would’ve been. Can you imagine what kind of zoo I would’ve had to deal with if everyone had been trying to snag baseballs in my section? Even with the new rule, look how crowded it got by the end of BP:
Still, I think the new rule sucks bigtime. People should be able to go wherever they want, at least when the players are warming up. If there’s more competition as a result, so be it. It’s only fair. In the meantime, though, I will only go to this stadium if I am guaranteed to get into the field level seats, and even then, I won’t be happy about going. The new stadium is gorgeous beyond words, but the experience of being there is the opposite of relaxing. Going there is not just an event…it’s an ordeal. I can’t imagine doing it every day or even every week. Going to a ballgame should be relaxing. You show up early, you run around for balls, you kick your feet up during the game (because the seats around you are empty) and buy a hot dog. You keep score. You chase foul balls. You wander around and watch the action from different angles. Late in the game, after people leave, you move down closer to the field. THAT is how it should be. But here? I felt like I was under surveillance throughout the day. The stadium is so nice that it’s too nice. It’s like being a guest in a house that’s so pristine and museum-like that you’re afraid to sneeze because you might break something. Luxury has replaced functionality. I don’t know. It’ll be interesting to see what it’s like in 10 years when there’s no Jeter, no A-Rod, no Posada, no Mariano, etc. Eventually the Yankees will suck. They have to. Eventually they’ll lose 90 games and fail to reach the playoffs five years in a row. It has to happen. Right? They can’t be a powerhouse forever, can they? Every organization goes through slumps, and when it happens to the Yankees and the stadium is half-full every game, it might actually be fun.
After BP, I headed to the upper deck. This was the view from the escalator:
Dammit!!! Why does this place have to be so nice?! I love it! But I hate it! GAH!!!
At the top of the escalator, there was a landing for the suite entrance. Marble floors…yes:
Then there was another escalator. This was the view looking back down:
It’s too nice. It’s just absurd. It’s not a stadium. It’s a luxury hotel. It’s a palace. It’s a mall. It’s flawless. Baseball stadiums should have flaws. Sometimes a zit or a crooked tooth can be sexy, you know? Are we in New York City or Dubai? Jesus Aitch.
Here’s the upper deck concourse:
And yes, fine, here’s my overall assessment:
I was really pressed for time, so the following photo isn’t great. I just wanted a shot of the upper deck itself, but as I was pulling out my camera, everyone started standing and removing their hats for the national anthem. Still, in a basic way, it captures the essence:
Here’s my panorama attempt from the last row of the upper deck:
A lot of people have been asking how I do this. It’s really quite simple. You see, there’s this invention called Photoshop…
I’m glad to be able to report that the new stadium does have a few nooks and crannies. There was a staircase leading down from the upper deck that was simply marked “exit.” I asked a nearby guard (there was ALWAYS a nearby guard) if I could use it get to the field level or if it was strictly an exit to the street. He said I could get to the field level. Excellent.
After zig-zagging down a few sets of stairs, I came to an unmarked landing where trash and food was being stored:
Was I on the suite level? Was this the back of some concession area? I had no idea, and it made me happy. There were no guards, no cameras, no fans, no signs. Peace on earth.
I walked down the next staircase (which you can see in the following photo, coming from the right-hand side) and saw a security guard at street level:
Great. Dead end. There was no way to get to the field level…or was there? I asked the guard, and he pointed behind me and slightly to the right. HUH?! When I looked in the direction he was pointing, this is what I saw:
What the hell was he talking about? I asked him again, and he told me to walk around the corner and said I’d get to the concourse.
I did what he said, walked around the railing and metal support beam, and found myself standing here:
I walked through the corridor, and sure enough, it spat me out right into the bustling field level concourse. How awesome is that!
Now, like I said earlier, I had people pulling strings for me, so I ended up sitting in a pretty good spot during the game. This was my view:
In the top of the second inning, the Indians scored 14 runs. That’s not a typo. I’ll spell it out just to prove it. Ready?
Look at the scoreboard, and even more importantly, look at center fielder Brett Gardner’s body language:
It was the most runs that the Yankees have ever allowed in one inning. Even Freddy Sez was ready to give up:
Connor came down to my section halfway through the game. Here we are:
He was nice enough to turn his attention away from the game and take a bunch of photos of me for my website, including this one which I think is funny when compared to this one of me at Citi Field. All these pics are on my photos page. Check it out sometime if you haven’t done so already.
Remember the game I went to on 9/2/08 at Dodger Stadium? I was running back and forth during the game for third-out balls and managed to get a few thrown to me over the obnoxious partition that blocks the first few rows behind the dugout. Well, even though there’s a similar partition at the new Yankee Stadium, I was in a good spot to get third-out balls, but the Indians completely dissed me. They kept tossing them to little kids in Yankees gear right behind the dugout. I’m all in favor of kids getting baseballs–I later gave one of my eight balls away to a kid–but man, I just wanted ONE game-used ball with a commemorative logo. It was really frustrating. Who knows if/when I’ll be back in that section? I figure the Yankees will eventually be using commemorative balls during BP, so they should be fairly easy to snag late in the season, but I didn’t want to have to wait. At the very earliest, the next Yankee game I can possibly attend is on May 15th.
Here’s a look at the partition…
…and if you’re wondering why the stadium is so empty, it’s because the Yankees were in the process of losing, 22-4. (Aww.)
By the way, if you think you can simply ask people for their ticket stubs and sneak right down to the dugout, think again. Every fan in that exclusive section is given a wristband (just like at Citizens Bank Park), and the band changes color from day to day. Next time you watch a Yankee game on TV, pay close attention to the people sitting behind the plate, and you’ll see what I’m talking about. In order to get back into the section below the partition, you have to show your ticket AND the wristband.
After the game, I met up with Linda and Cindy:
Linda is the one wearing dark green, and as for my outfit, all you need to know is that the “24” isn’t for Grady Sizemore.
This was the view from the elevated subway platform:
There’s a lot of great stuff to see at the new ballpark, so bring a camera and make sure the battery is charged. While you’re at it, take out a loan and be prepared to battle security all day long.
• 8 balls at this game (7 pictured here because I gave one away)
• 58 balls in 7 games this season = 8.3 balls per game.
• 576 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 130 consecutive Yankee games with at least one ball
• 46 major league stadiums with at least one ball caught
• 3,878 total balls
• 84 donors (click here and scroll down for the complete list)
• $16.37 pledged per ball
• $130.96 raised at this game
• $949.46 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
My nightmare nearly occurred in real life. I truly thought I was going
to miss batting practice. My friend Leon (who you might remember from 7/21/08 at Camden Yards)
made the trip with me, but he had to work until 12:30pm, and I had to
meet him in midtown, and I got caught in traffic, and we didn’t get
through the Lincoln Tunnel until 1:15pm, and then we hit a major delay
on the New Jersey Turnpike and heard that there was a “serious
accident” at some point up ahead that had caused all lanes to be closed. The situation
was so bad that I considered a) making a U-turn and going home (after we’d driven nearly 100 miles) or b)
veering off and going to the game in Philadelphia (even though I
wouldn’t have had the right hats or rosters). Somehow, though, the
delay eventually cleared up, and the “serious accident” was nowhere to
be found, and I was able to reach a top speed of 91mph (if only I
could’ve thrown a baseball that fast), and we reached Baltimore at
4:35pm. Camden Yards was set to open half an hour later, so I dropped
off Leon at the warehouse and he ran around the corner and held a spot
in line at the Eutaw Street gate while I parked and found a bathroom.
But then there was the issue of the weather. It was supposed to be mostly sunny, but it ended up being mostly gloomy. I was paranoid that there wasn’t going to be batting practice, so when I made it back to the stadium, I walked around to the gate/fence behind the picnic area in deeeeep center field and climbed up a few inches–and this is what I saw:
I was overjoyed. Need a closer look?
I couldn’t see the field, but I got a glimpse of the top of the batting cage, and that’s all that mattered. There WAS going to be batting practice. Hooray.
So, how was it? Let’s just say that although there were some frustrating moments (like when I first ran in and was the only fan in left field and a home run landed one section over in the totally empty seats and promptly bounced back onto the field), I ended up being so busy that I didn’t have time to take any photographs. Here’s the rundown…
BALL #1 — Home run into the seats, 10 rows back and near the foul pole. Leon probably could’ve gotten it, but knowing that every ball I snagged would be adding to a record and moving me closer to 500 for the season, he kinda took his time getting there and let me grab it. Whatta guy. (The ball, as you can see here on the right, has some beautiful splotchy/muddy marks on and around the logo.)
BALL #2 — Thrown by Orioles pitcher Garrett Olson. I later gave this one away to a kid.
BALL #3 — Home run into the seats in left-center field. (I don’t know who hit ANY of the balls. Some people have a knack for identifying players from 400 feet away who are covering their numbers with warm-up jackets. I’m not one of them.) There were a few other fans in the seats at this point. The ball sailed over my head, landed on the steps, bounced to the back of the section and then conveniently bounced right back down the steps toward me.
BALL #4 — An errant throw that got away from one of the Indians pitchers as they were all warming up along the left field foul line. The ball trickled onto the rubberized warning track in foul territory, and since the front row was basically empty and the wall there is only a few feet high, I was able to move 15 feet to my right and lean over for the easy snag.
BALL #5 — Tossed by a left-handed Indians pitcher despite the fact that I’d JUST snagged the previous ball. It was a white guy with curly hair, and he wasn’t THAT tall. It couldn’t have been Zach Jackson (who was the starter that night) or Cliff Lee (who’s easy to recognize). It wasn’t Rafael Perez (who’s definitely not white) or Rich Rundles (who’s 6-foot-5). I think it was either Scott Lewis or Jeremy Sowers. I looked at their photos when I got home, but I still couldn’t tell who it was. Waaah.
BALL #6 — Thrown by Masahide Kobayashi in foul territory after I asked him in Japanese. His translator then walked over and asked how I knew Japanese. I told him I only knew how to ask for a ball. He was amused.
BALL #7 — Snagged with the “half-glove trick” along the left field foul line. The full glove trick, of course, involves a rubber band and Sharpie; the “half” trick, as I call it, is one that requires nothing more than the string. That was the case here as the ball was sitting halfway out on the warning track. I lowered the glove, swung it out, knocked the ball closer on the first try, and reached over the low wall for it with my bare hand.
BALL #8 — Home run into the seats in left-center field. I was two sections over in straight-away left, and out of the 20 (or so) fans that were in the vicinity, I was the only one running for it while it was still in mid-air. Everyone else waited for it to land and THEN decided that they might run over and try to grab it. The ball bounced into the row below me, so I lunged far forward, bracing myself with my glove hand on the backs of the seats, and grabbed the ball with my bare hand, one second before the nearest guy would’ve gotten there. (The ball, pictured on the right, has a small patch on the surface that resembles wrinkled skin. That’s the only way I can describe it. I’ve seen this a few times in the past. It’s very strange, and I have no idea how it would’ve happened. Any theories?)
BALL #9 — High foul ball into the seats along the left-field foul line. It was hit by a lefty. It was his first set of swings so I figured he’d be aiming for the opposite field, and indeed he was. The ball landed a couple feet away from me as I bolted up the steps in an unsuccessful attempt to catch it. There were four other guys sitting nearby (none of whom had gloves) and the ball thankfully didn’t bounce in their direction. Of course, 10 seconds later, a righty launched a home run RIGHT to the spot where I would’ve been standing had I not moved into foul territory. Ahhhh…
BALL #10 — Deep home run into the seats between straight-away left field and the foul pole. I almost got there in time to catch it on a fly. I reached out with my glove and flinched at the same time to avoid getting hit in the face by a potential ricochet. The ball happened to pop up two feet and hang in the air exactly in front of me, and I nabbed it with a swipe of my glove.
BALL #11 — Ground-rule double. It was a high fly ball hit by a lefty. As David Dellucci drifted back to make the catch, I yelled, “Let it bounce, baby!” and to my surprise (and delight), he backed off at the last second and did just that. The ball bounced high off the warning track, sailed over everyone’s heads in the half-dozen rows in front of me, and came down RIGHT where I was standing. I had to reach up extra high to prevent a gloveless man (who was running through my row from the left) from interfering.
BALL #12 — Home run. Straight-away left field. Caught on a fly. I’d been playing every batter differently. The batter before was bigger and taking more powerful swings, so I’d been standing deeper and in left-center field. THIS batter was smaller and swinging for line drives, so I moved down a few rows and headed one section closer to the foul pole. It paid off. He hit a ball that ended up coming right to me. At first it appeared to be heading to my left so I drifted over a few steps. Then, when it started to hook back, I moved back with it. A man in the front row made a lame attempt to reach up. The ball sailed two feet over his outstretched glove, and I caught it one-handed as two gloveless fans on my left made an equally lame attempt to go for it.
BALL #13 — Tossed by Ryan Garko at the Indians’ dugout right after BP.
BALL #14 — Tossed by an unknown player 30 seconds later.
Then, half an hour before the first pitch, I took the following photo to show how empty the stadium was:
Then I got some (bad) pepperoni pizza and drank a bottle of water.
Then I got Jamey Carroll’s autograph on an old Rockies-Indians ticket stub:
Then I got my 15th ball of the day thrown by Shin-Soo Choo after his pre-game throwing in front of the dugout. (I didn’t ask him for it in Korean, even though I could have. All I needed to do was shout his name.)
There’d been a rumor that Major League Baseball was going to use commemorative balls for the July 4th weekend, as well as on September 11th. The logo was supposed to look like this…
…except not in color.
Well, if there ever WAS a ball with that logo on it, it never made an appearance inside a major league stadium during the July 4th weekend, so I figured I wasn’t going to see one last night. Still, I busted my butt and stayed in motion throughout the night in an attempt to snag a game-used ball.
I played lefties for foul balls on the third base side of home plate:
I went for third-out balls behind the Indians’ dugout…
…and did the same on the Orioles’ side:
What did I get for all my trouble?
ONE lousy non-commemorative ball:
Kevin Millar tossed it to me after the top of the 3rd inning. Oh boy.
I came incredibly close to a foul ball a couple innings later, and of course I had a few bad breaks during BP. I don’t mean to complain. I still had an amazing day, but if things had been just a little better, I could’ve easily snagged 20 balls. I’ll do it there someday.
The Orioles (in case anyone cares) won, 6-3, and I got a photo with Leon (who had snagged four balls of his own) on the way out:
? 105 balls in the last two weeks
? 469 balls in 60 games this season = 7.8 balls per game.
? 556 consecutive games with at least one ball
? 140 consecutive games outside NYC with at least one ball
? 93 lifetime games with at least 10 balls
? 37 lifetime games outside NYC with at least 10 balls
? 20 double-digit games this year (extends my personal record)
? 3,746 total balls
Let me start with a big THANKS to everyone who took photographs of me yesterday. I really appreciate it…
Okay, so the Associated Press was done with me. They had followed me around for the past two days and felt they got everything they needed, so I was on my own. As a result, I decided to break out the big glove (which I had used only once before on 4/24/08 at Champion Stadium). I figured the Indians were sick of me and probably wouldn’t throw me any balls unless I had an edge–a really, really obnoxious edge.
As soon as I ran inside Coors for batting practice, two home runs clanged off the metal bleacher benches in left field, and I grabbed them both. Check out the gash on the first ball:
Before the bleachers got crowded, I was able to race up the steps from the front row whenever a home run was sailing over my head:
It was still early so I kept the big glove in my backpack. There weren’t any kids behind me shouting for balls (yet) but I did have to compete with two Coors Field regulars: Jameson Sutton and Robert Harmon. Here we are…walking around in the front row:
Jameson (wearing the dark blue T-shirt), as many of you know, is the fan who snagged Barry Bonds’ final home run ball, and Robert (in the background with the gray beard) was right there with him on that fateful September night. It was strange to be snagging baseballs with these guys after having written a long article about them only a few months earlier. For the bulk of last winter, I had been trying to track down the mystery man who snagged that ball. I was talking to fans (starting with Robert) and members of the Rockies’ front office and people at the Hall of Fame and presidents of auction houses. It was the ultimate scavenger hunt…and then…poof! Jameson appeared. And it was a HUGE story in the sports world. And I flew to Denver for the press conference. And now…here we all were, just hanging out and chasing BP balls like it was nothing. And by the way, about half an hour later, I saw Jameson reach over the wall and make a nice one-handed catch on a home run. The point is…when I was first interviewing him on the phone, he had claimed that he dropped the Bonds homer because he was bumped from the side, and although the video replay backed him up, I still thought he was just some lucky klutz who’d let a life-changing ball deflect off the heel of his glove. But now that I’ve seen him in action, I can say with confidence that Jameson is very athletic and perfectly capable of catching any ball that comes his way.
It was time for the big glove:
Rockies pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez (who surrendered Bonds’ final home run) tossed me a ball just before the Rockies finished BP, but the Indians weren’t impressed. C.C. Sabathia smiled at me for about an eighth of a second and then tossed a ball to someone else:
I happened to be wearing the big glove a bit later in left-center field (because I was trying unsuccessfully to get Grad
y Sizemore’s attention) when one of the Indians batters hit a deep fly ball in my direction. Rafael Perez chased the ball but couldn’t catch it and it bounced right to me:
Did I catch it? No. The fan next to me reached out and deflected it and caused the ball to drop back onto the field.
I sensed an opportunity in straight-away left field and took off:
Yes! Francisco DID show me some glove-love after all:
As for Rafael Betancourt?
No love. And when BP ended soon after, I only had five balls. I was hoping for double digits, at least one on this trip, but it just wasn’t happening. At least Mr. Evil (arms folded in the photo above) got shut out for the second game in a row. He hasn’t gotten a single ball since he shoved me three days ago.
After BP, I signed a couple baseballs for two kids named Hunter and Mylee–the kids of a guy named Don (aka “Rock Pile Ranter” to those of you who read the comments) who’s wearing the floppy hat in the following photo:
I (jokingly) told the kids to hold onto the baseballs because they were worth a lot of money.
“Yeah,” said Jameson in front of the other ballhawks, “but my autograph is worth more than yours.”
We all laughed (even *I* had to laugh) and then posed for a photo:
The guy standing on the right is Danny Wood (who snagged Bonds’ 698th career homer), and the guy to HIS right is Dan Sauvageau (who’s caught 36 homers on a fly during games). I know I’ve mentioned these snagging accomplishments in previous entries, but I’m saying it again here in case you missed it or forgot. Between the five of us, we’ve probably snagged close to 10,000 balls.
I used the big glove to get Casey Blake to throw me a ball at the Indians’ dugout just before the first pitch, and guess what happened…the ball went right through! Apparently, one of the holes in the webbing is just a bit too big, but I got lucky and still ended up with the ball. It landed behind me in the empty second row and trickled out onto the staircase where several other fans were a bit too late in trying to snatch it.
The game was a disaster for me. I had a ticket for the front row in left-center field, and I decided to sit along the left field foul line instead:
I figured it’d be dead in the outfield and that I’d have a bunch of chances to scoop up foul grounders.
This was my view during the game…
…and I *did* catch a foul grounder (my 200th ball of the season) off Francisco’s bat in the top of the third inning…
…but there were **TWO** home runs hit **EXACTLY** to my seat, and the same guy caught them both!!! Oh my God, I felt (and still feel) like the biggest A-Hole on the planet. First Manny in Baltimore…then Griffey in Miami…now this crap in Denver. This is seriously the worst month of my ball-snagging career. What good is it to average 7.7 balls per game if none of the balls mean anything?! Okay, great, I got a foul ball during the game, but in the grand scheme of things, WHO CARES?!?!
I was so upset that I had to distract myself by eating Dippin’ Dots and photographing the clouds…
…but I couldn’t even do THAT right. Robert, the real photographer, was also taking pics of the clouds, and snapped one that was just a little bit better:
In case you’re wondering, Robert’s photo is not Photoshopped. There was no trick photography involved, and I know this because:
1) The silhouette of the stadium isn’t blurry, which means he wasn’t moving the camera, and
2) He came back to my hotel room directly after the game, swapped memory cards with me, and I downloaded all his photos directly onto my laptop. This was one of them.
Here’s another…of me photographing the ball with the gash:
Yes, I like bottled water. And I recycle.
Anyway, the Rockies swept the Indians. Blah blah. As if it matters. I’m so pissed off. And I’m acting like a baby. I know this. You don’t need to point it out. Hopefully I can end this trip with some better luck tonight against the Mets. Reminder: LOOK FOR ME ON TV. Tape the game if you can. If I do happen to catch a home run, I’d love to own the footage. I might not be sitting exactly in my seat all night, but I’m definitely not going to stray too far. Look for the Waldo shirt and if you’re up for it, keep a running tally of all the times you spot me. Game time is 9:05 p.m. ET. Don’t miss it.
? 7 balls at this game
? 200 balls in 26 games this season = 7.7 balls per game.
? 522 consecutive games with at least one ball
? 125 consecutive games outside NYC with at least one ball
? 895 lifetime balls outside NYC
? 117 lifetime game balls (not counting game-used balls that get tossed into the crowd)
? 25 lifetime game balls outside NYC
? 5 consecutive seasons with at least 200 balls (Click here for my yearly breakdown.)
? 3,477 total balls
For the second day in a row, the Associated Press was waiting for me at the top of the stairs when Gate E opened at 5pm:
The photographer (David Zalubowski…standing on the right) took pics as I bolted up the stairs, and the writer (Pat Graham…wearing the white striped shirt) sprinted after me as I raced through the concourse and headed to the front row in left field.
Within the first few minutes of batting practice, Rockies pitcher Jorge De La Rosa tossed me a ball, and I used my glove trick to snag another off the warning track.
As soon as there was a break in the action, I labeled the balls and scribbled down a few notes on my rosters. David kept taking photos and Pat looked on:
In the photo above, there are three important fans that need to be pointed out. The blond woman on the right is Deb Arguijo, the mother of Jameson Sutton who snagged Barry Bonds’ 762nd home run ball. The man to the left of Pat (in the dark cap and flowery shirt) is Danny Wood, the guy who caught Bonds’ 698th home run and robbed me of several BP balls two days earlier. And finally, the guy standing to the left of Danny (in the maroon cap) is Dan Sauvageau who once caught two home runs on a fly in one inning and turned down a request to be on “Good Morning America” because he was going on a golf trip the next day.
Give up? Here, let me zoom in a bit and show you:
That’s right, he took photos of me from the upper deck. It felt great (and a bit scary, too, I suppose) to know that everything I did was potentially being captured from so far away.
…and I successfully prevented him from snagging a single ball. Meanwhile, I made another attempt with my glove trick for a ball that was sitting halfway out on the warning track. I figured the ushers wouldn’t be too happy about it and might even stop me before I got it, but at the very least I wanted to give David another opportunity to take some photos. Well…sure enough, just after I flung my glove out onto the field, I heard someone shout, “Zack!!! Zack!!! Zack!!! Zack!!! Zack!!!” I thought it was another fan, warning me that an usher was coming over, but when I looked up I realized it was the head usher himself. Oy. I apologized profusely and thankfully didn’t get in trouble. He was super-nice. The fact is…there’s a rule throughout Coors Field (it’s even printed in the stadium A-to-Z guide) that ball-retrieving devices are not allowed, and he had to enforce it. The good news is that Indians pitcher Edward Mujica walked over and flipped me the ball. I looked up at David in the upper deck and gave a fist pump, and he gave one back. Success!
For some reason, there were a ton of lefties taking BP, and the balls just weren’t flying to left field. I only got one more ball during BP, and it was a line-drive homer that pretty much came right to me. Neither the evil fan on my left nor Danny on my right had a chance to interfere, and I made an easy one-handed catch at the wall.
After BP, David returned from the upper deck and took some photos of me holding up my four balls. As soon as he was done, I gave one of them away to a kid with a glove who had gotten shut out.
I took one last photo with Pat…
…and we parted ways. He felt he had everything he needed and wanted to get a head start on writing the story.
I headed to the right field foul line, immersed myself in the mob of fans, came six inches from catching a ball tossed by Garrett Atkins, and got Ryan Spilborghs’ autograph:
With two soft-tossing lefties on the mound–Jeff Francis for the Rockies and Aaron Laffey for the Indians–I figured all the right-handed batters would be pounding foul grounders down the third base line, so this is where I sat:
I didn’t snag anything, but it wasn’t because of the competition:
No…the reason I got blanked during the game is that there were only TWO foul grounders that headed in my direction. The first was scooped up by the third base coach (of course) and the second hooked a bit to my right and bounced too far away from the wall.
? 6 balls at this game
? 193 balls in 25 games this season = 7.7 balls per game.
? 521 consecutive games with at least one ball
? 124 consecutive games outside NYC with at least one ball
? 888 lifetime balls outside NYC
? 3,470 total balls
In case you’re wondering, the AP story should be hitting the national wire on Friday, June 27 (but you have to understand that I have no control over that). Meanwhile, the Palm Beach Post is putting together a front-page article about Ken Griffey Jr.’s 600th career home run, and since I was five stinkin’ feet away from catching it, they interviewed me. That piece is scheduled to run on June 22. And finally, since I have a few minutes to spare before heading back to Coors Field, I’m going to comb through all the comments on my last few entries and answer everyone’s questions. If you left a comment but didn’t actually ask a question, I won’t respond, only because I don’t have time (and I apologize for that), but know that I always read every comment.
I’ll leave you with one more photo…of a fan who loves the Rockies AND Indians:
Pat picked me up at my hotel at 2pm, took me out to lunch, and interviewed me extensively about my baseball collection. We had talked for an hour before I’d left for Denver, and by the end of the meal, he had more than 5,000 words of notes and quotes on his laptop.
We headed over to Gate E at 4:45pm. Pat had a press pass that gets him into just about any game in any sport in any stadium–but he didn’t have a ticket for this game at Coors, so he had to trek halfway around the stadium to the media entrance and then
rush back. He barely made it in time, and it’s a good thing because I snagged three home run balls within the first minute or two of batting practice. The first landed in the front row aisle all the way out in left-center field and rolled to an usher who was kind enough to step aside and let me grab it. The second (pictured here on the left) landed several rows deep in the bleachers near the foul line, and since the stands were still mostly empty, I had time to race up the steps from the aisle and cut through the section of metal benches. The third landed 15 rows deep and conveniently bounced right back to me.
As soon as I stopped running all over the place for balls, the Associated Press photographer showed up, but before long, he got a cool action shot of me lunging for (and catching) a ball tossed by Indians pitcher Scott Elarton. Over the next 20 minutes or so, I got two more balls thrown to me (one of which I gave to a kid with a glove) by David Dellucci and Edward Mujica, and that was IT for batting practice. It was incredibly frustrating. I came within five feet of at least half a dozen balls, both home runs and ground-rule doubles. I don’t know what was going on. I just seemed to be consistently out of position or a step too slow. Was it just bad luck? Was I losing my edge? I really can’t explain it. Then, on several occasions, when I left my spot briefly to try to get a ball thrown to me somewhere else, the batter ended up hitting a home run RIGHT to where I’d been standing. It was just one of those days, and the worst moment of all occurred late in BP. First check out the following photo (taken by my friend Robert Harmon…the guy from my Bonds 762 article), and then I’ll explain what happened:
Let me start by identifying everyone:
1) the AP photographer
2) an usher (note the tunnel that he’s standing in)
3) a guy named Dan who reads this blog and brought his copy of my book for me to sign
4) Zachary Ben Hample
5) Pat Graham
6) pure evil
There was a home run ball hit right at us that barely sailed over our heads. We jumped for it, or at least *I* jumped for it. I don’t even know if he’s athletic enough to get both feet off the ground at the same time, but anyway, after we missed the ball, there was a brief lull when we were both trying to figure out where it went. Suddenly we realized that it had landed in the tunnel directly behind us, and we started running. I didn’t take a pic of this tunnel, so you’ll have to settle for this cheap drawing. Basically, where the tunnel goes underneath the stands, the left half is blocked by a concrete wall, and the right half has an open door. The ball had rolled through the door, and I was running straight for the opening, about to zoom past this guy Doug when he realized he was about to get beat so he elbowed me from the right side and shoved me into the wall on the left as he kept running…and he ended up getting the ball. I couldn’t retaliate with a shove of my own because my every move was being witnessed and captured by the Associated Press (and anyway, using physical force against other fans is not my style), so I had to settle for giving him a piece of my mind. I pretty much told him that what he did was uncalled for and that that kind of behavior belongs at Yankee Stadium.
His response: “Oh grow up!!”
But enough of that. I have better things to talk about, like the fact that Pat was so nice that it was almost unbelievable. I got the sense that he would’ve been interested in me even if he weren’t writing about it for his job. I’m not saying he still would’ve hung out and taken notes for eight and a half hours, but he was just a GOOD guy. Some people in the media have gone out of their way to make me look bad and poke fun at what I do, but I knew that wasn’t the case with Pat. And then there were the little things he did for me…like, for
example…when he ran up to the press box after BP to drop something off, he returned with a cup of peanut M&M’s.
Before the game started, I snuck down to the Indians’ dugout and heard an usher tell another fan (who wasn’t as skilled in the art of sneaking) that the players don’t give out balls. Thirty seconds later, after the fan had walked back up the steps, Casey Blake tossed me my seventh ball of the day.
Generally speaking, a seven-ball day is great in the Bronx and lousy in Philadelphia. Overall, it’s about average for me–not enough to celebrate, but not bad enough that I can complain. That said, I was sooooooo frustrated to have snagged just seven balls by that point. If things had been a little better during BP, I could’ve easily had a dozen. I explained all of this to Pat during the game, and he never stopped taking notes. At one point, he pulled out a voice recorder and had me give a 90-second monologue about what I do and how I got into it. While I was halfway through, an Indians batter lost the grip on his bat and sent it flying in our direction. (It fell about 30 feet short.) I didn’t miss a beat and kept talking, but I must’ve been distracted because when I mentioned my ball total, I accidentally said “3473” instead of “3463.” Pat told me not to worry about it. The way he saw it…I would have that many balls by the time the piece ran. He told me that the audio clip would soon be on the AP web site along with a slide show from BP. (The photographer had to leave before BP ended, but he’ll be back again today with Pat. It was so much fun just to BE photographed. He was crouching in the aisle during BP, telling me to pose this way and that, getting pics of my glove…and of course all the fans were staring at me and probably wondering, “Who the hell is THAT guy?”)
I never went to my assigned seat during the game. Instead I worked the dugouts and tried to get a third-out ball tossed up. Once again, things just weren’t going my way, and in case you want to hear me complain a bit more, let me just say that Brad Hawpe hit a home run EXACTLY to the spot where my seat had been the night before.
Despite the fact that the attendance was only 28,146, the lower level was nearly full. There weren’t many aisle seats behind the dugout, so I ended up having to sit in Row 34. That’s not exactly the best place to be if you want a third-out ball, but I got lucky as the sixth inning came to a close. Hawpe hit a towering pop up to shortstop Jhonny Peralta, so I had time to bolt down the steps while the ball was in mid-air. I ended up getting it tossed to me, and when I turned around, there was a little kid (with a glove!) standing right behind me. It just so happened that I already had another ball in my pocket because I’d been planning to give it away, so I asked the kid if he’d snagged a ball yet, and when he said “no,” I pulled out the practice ball and handed it over. He thanked me and raced up the steps to show his family. The usher patted me on the back and several fans gave me high-fives, and meanwhile I got to keep the game-used ball so it was a win-win situation. By the way, this was the furthest back I’d ever been sitting before a successful attempt for a third-out ball. I challenge you–I dare you–to sit in the 30th row (in the ballpark of your choice) and try to snag one.
More frustration? Late in the game, I tried to move to a great spot for foul balls behind home plate and was stopped by an usher. Less than an inning later, a batter hit a high foul pop-up that landed on the staircase ***RIGHT*** where I wanted to sit (there were even a couple empty seats there), and no one even bothered to stand up and try to catch it. AARRGHH!!! Pat could’ve used his press pass to get me into any section in the stadium, but he wanted to see how I maneuvered on my own.
I tried going for an umpire ball after the game and ran into some bad luck there as well. Tim Tschida, it turned out, only had two extra balls and gave them both to kids in the first few rows. He actually stopped and told me he only had two…and get this…he apologized and then thanked me for asking.
Yeah, great, you’re welcome. Anytime.
Final score: Rockies 10, Indians 2.
? 8 balls at this game
? 187 balls in 24 games this season = 7.8 balls per game.
? 520 consecutive games with at least one ball
? 123 consecutive games outside NYC with at least one ball
? 882 lifetime balls outside NYC
? 3,464 total balls