The good thing about going to an all-you-can-eat Indian buffet in Baltimore…
…is that there’s plenty of room to run around at Camden Yards and burn off the calories:
Within the first few minutes of BP, a right-handed batter on the Orioles smoked a line-drive homer that landed in the empty front row. I ran down and grabbed the ball:
“Who hit that?!” I shouted at my friend Rick Gold, who was camped out ten rows back.
“Fox,” said a voice that came from the warning track.
As it turned out, Kevin Millwood was standing just short of the wall and answered the question for me. How about that? Jake Fox. Yes, of course.
One minute later, I caught a home run on the fly, and once again I was unable to identify the batter.
“Who was THAT?” I asked Millwood.
“Tatum,” he said.
Ha! Awesome. Craig Tatum. I never would’ve known. And then I caught another Jake Fox homer on the fly.
At around 5:10pm, I snagged my fourth home run ball of the day. It wasn’t Fox. It wasn’t Tatum. Damn. I had no idea who hit it, and Millwood was gone. But whatever. I got the ball — that’s what matters — and (my girlfriend) Jona took a series of photos of me chasing it down. Here’s the first one. It shows me tracking the ball as I drifted to my left:
As soon as I determined that the ball was going to fall a bit short, I took my eyes off it and focused on climbing over a few rows of seats:
Then I looked back up as the ball was descending; note the red arrow pointing to it:
The ball landed, prompting a scramble with the fan in the gray jersey:
Finally, I beat him to it and grabbed the ball just as he was lunging for it:
Don’t feel bad for the other guy. He’s there every day and always snags at least a few balls.
Before the Orioles finished their portion of BP, I played catch for a minute with Jeremy Guthrie. Here’s a screen shot from a video that shows me catching one of his throws…
…and here’s another screen shot that shows me tossing it back:
(Whenever I try to embed a YouTube video on my blog, the format gets messed up, so I’m afraid you’ll just have to click here to watch it.)
In case you’re wondering how I got to play catch with Guthrie, it’s pretty simple: I asked. It also helped that I’ve gotten to know him over the years, but I’ve played catch with lots of players that I’d never met before…like Kyle Farnsworth. Now THAT was fun.
When the Orioles finished hitting, Rick and I each had four baseballs. I asked if we could get a photo together, and as we walked over to a sunny spot, he found a fifth ball hiding in the folded-up portion of a seat. Unbelievable. Here we are moments later:
The Blue Jays started warming up on the 3rd base side, so I changed into my Jays gear and headed to their dugout. Aaron Hill threw me my fifth ball of the day, and less than a minute later, I got another from Vernon Wells. In the following photo, the horizontal arrow is pointing to Wells, and the vertical arrow is pointing to the ball in mid-air:
Once the Jays started hitting, I raced back out to the left field seats. Look how empty it was; the arrow is pointing to me:
Then an amazing thing happened: I got three more balls in a 20-second span. The first two were home runs that I caught on the fly on back-to-back pitches. The third was another homer that landed in the seats…two pitches later, I think. I wasn’t sure who had hit them. Rick (who works for MLB.com) was almost certain that it was Edwin Encarnacion, so I’m gonna assume that that’s who it was.
A few minutes later, Jona called out to me from her spot 15 rows back.
“Can you come here for a minute?” she asked.
I couldn’t imagine what was so important that she’d be pulling me away from my normal spot.
“What is it?” I called back.
She didn’t say anything. She just gave me a look as if to say, “I can’t explain it, so you need to come over here,” and as soon as I started running up the steps, she very subtly pointed at the ground in the middle of a row.
I should know by now not to question her. This is why she called me over:
Jona knows that I will NOT count a baseball in my collection if another fan gains possession of it first, so instead of picking it up and handing it to me, she called me over so I could grab it myself. If that’s not love, then I don’t know what is.
That was my 10th ball of the day and No. 4,599 overall. The next ball was going to be a milestone, and in case it ended up being a home run, I wanted to know who was batting.
Well, it WAS a home run. Here I am catching it:
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to identify the batter, and when I asked the players who was hitting, they all ignored me except for Fred Lewis, who saw my Jays gear and said, “You’re a fan. You should know.”
All I know is that it was a right-handed batter with a very open stance. His left side was practically facing third base before he squared up and stepped straight into the pitch. Any ideas?
Here I am posing with No. 4,600 soon after:
Toward the end of BP, I got Blue Jays bullpen catcher Alex Andreopoulos to toss me a ball near the foul pole, and then I headed to the 3rd base dugout. Brian Butterfield, the team’s 3rd base coach, ended up walking in with a spare ball in his hand:
He tossed it to me. Here’s a photo of the ball in mid-air:
That was my 13th ball of the day, and I got another from Yunel Escobar just before the game (no arrow necessary):
You may have noticed that in the photo above, I wasn’t wearing my Blue Jays shirt. That was intentional. I figured that everyone on the team recognized me by that point, so I changed my appearance and just went with the hat.
The game itself was incredible — not because I caught anything, but because it only lasted an hour and 55 minutes! I don’t think I’d ever attended a game that finished so fast. The Orioles won, 3-1, behind a 95-pitch, complete-game effort from Brad Bergesen. For the Jays, Kyle Drabek made his major league debut and did pretty well. He allowed three runs in six innings…gave up nine hits, walked three, and struck out five, but the most impressive thing is that he hit 99mph on the radar gun, and I wasn’t even paying attention to the velocity for most of the night, so who knows? He might have even touched triple digits when I wasn’t looking. By the way, Drabek threw 88 pitches, and then two relievers — Shawn Camp and Scott Downs — combined to work the last two innings with thirteen pitches. The Jays and O’s threw a total of 196 pitches. THAT is how to play a game in under two hours. Normally, I love it when games last long, but not when I have a 200-mile drive waiting for me after the final out. Of course, Jona and I didn’t rush toward the garage right away. First I headed to the 3rd base line as the Jays relievers walked in from the bullpen. This was my view as they headed toward me:
Jesse Carlson tossed me a ball — my 15th of the day — and then Kevin Gregg threw me another 30 seconds later.
After that, I gave away two of my baseballs to kids and headed toward the Eutaw Street exit. Here are the 14 balls I kept:
• 16 balls at this game
• 247 balls in 26 games this season = 9.5 balls per game.
• 655 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 201 consecutive games outside New York with at least one ball
• 129 lifetime games with at least 10 balls
• 4,605 total balls
• 45 donors (click here to learn more)
• $6.49 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $103.84 raised at this game
• $1,603.03 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
This was my first game in more than a month, and let me tell you, it felt great to be back…
The story of the day was running. It seemed as if that’s all I did. Here’s a photo (that my girlfriend took) of me bolting toward a section in left-center for a home run that landed in the seats:
I grabbed that ball and caught a line-drive homer on the fly soon after. (I have no idea who hit either one.)
Things were off to a good start — but then it all fell apart.
The whole running thing? Not too successful. Despite the many rows of seats that I sprinted through and climbed over, I kept finding myself out of position. Here are two screen shots from a video that will illustrate my point. First I climbed over a row while the ball was in mid-air…
…and then I watched helplessly as it fell short:
And then the Orioles stopped hitting at 5:17pm — more than 15 minutes early. It was such a waste. All I could do was wander into foul territory and watch the Blue Jays get loose:
By that time, of course, I had changed into my Blue Jays gear, and it paid off. Lyle Overbay spotted me and threw a ball my way. Here I am behind the dugout, reaching out for the catch:
If you look closely at the photo above, you can see the ball in the pocket of my glove.
Once the Jays started hitting, I ran back out to left field and got some love from from Adam Lind. Here’s a photo that shows the ball sailing toward me:
Here I am running around some more and climbing over another row of seats:
Don’t forget, I had switched into Jays gear, so that’s me on the left with my back facing the camera. And in case you were wondering…no, I didn’t get that ball. I didn’t get this one either…
…but two minutes later, I did manage to catch a homer on the fly in the front row. Again, I have idea who hit it. I wish I did, but the batters were wearing shirts over their jerseys, so I couldn’t see their uniform numbers, and I didn’t recognize their stances from 375 feet away. Anyway, here I am reaching up for that ball…
…and if you look closely, you can see a little kid ducking out of the way on my left. I gave that ball to a different kid later on.
I had five baseballs at that point — a respectable total that could’ve been much higher if I’d been a little quicker and/or luckier. Here I am losing out in a scramble…
…and here I am losing out on a bobble:
In the photo above, you can’t see me, but trust me, I was there. Do you see the random glove in front of the left edge of the warehouse? That’s my glove.
Toward the end of BP, I got Blue Jays first base coach Omar Malave to throw me a ball in left-center, and I also snagged a ground-rule double in that same area. I think it was hit by DeWayne Wise, but I’m not sure.
Then I met a father-and-son duo named Gregg and Kyle. Gregg is the sports director for a TV station in Harrisburg, PA, and Kyle follows me on Twitter. (Here’s a link to my Twitter page. I haven’t been blogging much lately, but I’ve been tweeting just about every day.) They were both very nice, and I posed for a picture with Kyle before running off to the 3rd base dugout. Here were are together:
I won’t bore you with a photo of my dash to the dugout. Instead, I’ll skip to the good part:
In the photo above, do you see the player who’s about to throw a ball? That’s Shawn Marcum. He threw it to me. It was my eighth ball of the day.
Soon after BP ended, I got Marc Rzepczynski to sign my ticket. Here I am in the process of getting the autograph…
…and here’s the ticket itself:
Right before the game started, I got my ninth ball from John McDonald. He and Yunel Escobar had played catch in front of the dugout. Easy snag. No competition. Happy birthday to me. (Actually, it WAS my birthday.)
I spent the top of the first inning in left field. This was the view:
After that, I pretty much stayed in the standing room only section in right field. This was the view late in the game.
(It was Buck Showalter T-shirt Night.)
I also spent some time chasing (nonexistent) foul balls behind the plate. Here’s the view from that spot:
As for my girlfriend…
She picked a comfy spot and stayed put while I ran around and did my thing.
The game itself was whatever. I didn’t come within 100 feet of any of the three homers, and I never got closer than 50 feet to a foul ball. For the record, the Orioles pounded out 16 hits and won, 11-3.
Just after the final out, I got a ball from home plate umpire Bruce Dreckman. (GOSH, I love his name.) Then I got another ball from Jason Frasor near the 3rd base dugout when he walked in from the bullpen with his fellow relievers.
It didn’t feel like I had a great day — I wasted lots of opportunities during BP — but somehow still ended up with double digits.
• 11 balls at this game (10 pictured on the right because I gave one away)
• 231 balls in 25 games this season = 9.24 balls per game.
• 654 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 200 consecutive games outside New York with at least one ball
• 128 lifetime games with at least 10 balls
• 4,589 total balls
• 45 donors (click here to learn more)
• $6.49 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $71.39 raised at this game
• $1,499.19 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
I attended this game for one reason only: to see my buddy Heath Bell. (If you’re new to this blog, click here, here, here and here to read old entries about Heath’s awesomeness.) But before he and his Padres teammates took the field, there were Mets BP balls to be snagged…
My first ball was tossed by a player who was jogging on the warning track. I think it was Fernando Nieve, but I’m not sure because I never got a good look at him. In any case, the ball sailed right over a little kid in the front row, so as soon as I caught it, I gave it to him. My friend Brandon was at this game and took the following photo as I handed the ball over:
In the photo above, the fan wearing the white shorts is a friend of mine named Brian (aka “puck collector” in the comments). The other fan wearing the red cap is his dad, Wayne (aka “father puck”). I didn’t know they’d be there, so it was a nice surprise to see them. Brian got off to a slow start during BP, but recovered nicely and finished with a total of four balls. As for me, my day got off to a blistering pace.
John Maine tossed me a ball in left-center…
…but his throw fell short and bounced off the plexiglass at the bottom of the steps. Guess what happened next? He went and got another ball, and he threw that one too short as well. I’m not sure if he was messing around with me or what, but he was acting like his arm hurt too much to reach me. (For the record, he is on the 15-day DL with “right shoulder weakness,” but come on, he couldn’t have been much more than 50 feet away.) Francisco Rodriguez, who was shagging in right field, saw what was happening and took over for Maine. He got a ball and FIRED it at me from about — oh, I don’t know — 150 to 200 feet away, and his aim was perfect. (Too bad he can’t pitch like that when it counts.) It felt great to catch it. I’d been trying for years to get one from him, especially in recent years after he set the single-season saves record, but he was always…how should I say this? Umm…rude.
Chris Carter tossed me my third ball less than a minute later, and then I lunged awkwardly over the railing and grabbed a ground-rule double that unexpectedly bounced all the way up off the warning track.
Ready to see a VERY cool photo? Look what a fancy camera can do:
Here, let me give you a closer look:
It was a home run that was hit by a right-handed batter on the Mets. I wish I knew who, but whatever, the most important thing is that I caught it, and as you can see, I was straddling a row of seats at the time. Basically, what happened is that I ran to my right when the ball was hit, and then once I got in line with it and determined that it was going to fall a bit short, I started climbing forward over the seats. What I love about the photo is that you can see the seams on the ball. There’s no way that I could ever capture that kind of movement/detail with my little rinky-dink camera, but hey, that’s why Brandon is a professional videographer and I’m not. (That’s part of the reason, at least. It also helps to have mad camera/editing skills.)
Speaking of video, Brandon was filming when Jason Bay belted a home run right to me. Here are a few screen shots that show how it played out. You can see the ball in the first one:
See the guy wearing the white shirt on my left? He was cutting through the row just in front of me, and if you look closely, you can see that he was reaching up with his bare hand even though he had a glove. What you can’t see is that this guy was out of control. I didn’t mind that he tried to rob me — a home run is anyone’s ball, and he had every right to go for it — but I didn’t appreciate the fact that he smacked into me. That said, check out what happened next:
That’s right. The guy lost his balance and went flying. (He wasn’t hurt, and he ended up snagging two baseballs later on, so don’t feel too bad for him.) In the photo above on the right, you can see me holding up my arms as if to say, “I have nothing to do with this.”
My seventh ball of the day was tossed by Hisanori Takahashi (yes, I asked him in Japanese), and my eighth was totally unexpected. Jose Reyes was in the cage, taking cuts from the right side and peppering line drives all over the field. At one point, I turned to watch one, and before I knew it, I heard everyone around me yelling, “HEADS UP!!!” I looked up just in time to see another ball flying 10 feet to my left and five feet over my head. And then — CRACK!!! — Reyes promptly hit another line drive somewhere. Could Reyes have hit a home run in such a quick time frame when I wasn’t looking? It seemed unlikely, and after I chased down the ball, I looked up and noticed that a coach was hitting fungos from shallow center field. I would bet that the ball was a fungo that sailed too far. The guys in front of me insisted it was a Reyes homer, but I didn’t trust their baseball knowledge.
Here’s another series of three photographs, but I’m going to show them one at a time. First, Brandon took a shot of me standing around (which he later converted to sepia):
Then Jose Reyes scorched a deep line drive in my direction. Brandon told me later that he thought the ball was going to sail over my head. This was never even an option in my mind. I had it all the way and knew that it was going to fall short, so I drifted down to the front row…
…and then lunged as far over the railing as possible:
I caught the ball in the tip of my glove and got a thumbs-up from Takahashi.
I had nine balls. It was 5:02pm. The stadium had only been open for 22 minutes. (If the wind hadn’t been blowing in, I’m sure I would’ve had at least a dozen by that point — maybe even 14 or 15.) That’s when my friend (and former Watch With Zack client) Ross showed up. (You might remember him from 9/6/09 at Citi Field and 9/23/09 at Citi Field.) Here we are talking to each other:
“Want to guess how many balls I’ve snagged?” I asked.
“One?” he said. “Two?”
He was rather surprised to hear the actual number, and he took it well. (He was supposed to have arrived at the start of BP, but got held up because of an unfavorable train schedule.) He ended up snagging two baseballs — a respectable total under any circumstances, and especially good for having missed such a big chunk of time at the start.
Okay, get ready for another three-part photo, and let me first explain what you’re about to see…
The batter hit a home run to my right — a full section to my right — so I started running through a half-empty row. There was a man standing in the middle of the row, so I knocked him down and kept running. Just kidding. (No really, I’m kidding.) Without slowing down, I leapt over the seats into the next row and kept running. I didn’t end up getting the ball, so you know it has to be cool if I’m still showing it. Here, check it out:
See what I’m talking about? In the first photo, I’m jumping off my left foot and lifting my right leg over the seats. (You may recall that I sprained my left ankle on 5/19/10 at Turner Field. Needless to say, it’s all better.) In the middle photo, I’m flying above the seats with my legs pulled up. And in the photo on the right, I’m about to land on my right foot while looking up at the ball. I didn’t even realize that I’d hurdled a row of seats until Brandon showed me the footage later on. (Don’t you just love the fact that Wayne is not even looking up? He was filling out his scorecard.)
This is when things slowed waaaaay down for me. You see, Heath Bell wandered out in front of the Padres’ dugout while Mets were still hitting, and I had to head over and talk to him:
“First things first,” I told him, “congrats on an outstanding season in every possible sense.”
“Thanks,” he said, “but we still have a few more months to go.”
We chatted about random stuff for a minute, and then he asked, “How’s the book coming along?”
“Oh my GOD,” I said, “It’s killing me. It’s taken over my life, and I’m completely stressed.”
He asked me why, so I told him about my deadlines and all the remaining chapters that I still need to write and then edit.
I thought we were going to keep talking for a while, but all his teammates started pouring onto the field, so he had to go stretch with them. It was kind of frustrating because I knew he would’ve talked longer, but at least I got to see him.
I headed back to left field while the Mets finished hitting. When the Padres came out to throw, Brandon took a bunch of photos of Heath, including this one:
The Padres eventually began their portion of BP, and it was dead. The players shagging in left field were ignoring everyone (ahem…cough-cough…Mat Latos), so I headed over to right field. I thought I might have better luck there, and also, Heath was in right-center. I wasn’t planning to ask him for a ball. I just…I don’t know…wanted to stand closer to him because…why not?
Brandon followed me out to right field, and soon after we arrived, he began shouting like a madman. Let me paraphrase:
“ZACK!!! HERE IT COMES!!!”
When I looked up, the only thing I saw was the overhang of the Pepsi Porch. (That’s the second deck.) Where was the ball? Was it a home run? Or was a player throwing one into the seats?
A ball came out of nowhere and landed in my row about 15 feet to my right. Luckily, it didn’t take a crazy bounce, and I chased after it:
I was able to grab the ball just before the other guy (wearing the orange shirt in the photo above) got there. It was my 10th ball of the day, and it was a beauty. Check out the double-scuff:
Heath saw the whole thing play out and came over to talk to me. In the following photo, you can see me leaning out of the stands just to the left of the “M” in “The Mo’s Zone.” Heath had to keep one eye on the batter, so that’s why he’s not looking at me in this particular shot:
The music was blasting, so we had a tough time hearing each other. In addition, Heath had to keep craning his neck to look up at me, so he told me to head over to the seats along the right field foul line.
Heath and I talked for the rest of BP, and eventually, other fans got in on the conversation, too. One topic that came up was his recent bashing of the Mets organization. I hadn’t even heard about this. Another fan brought it up and was NOT happy about it. Heath was cool about it and defended himself well. He said that the newspaper pulled random quotes out of context and completely got the facts wrong, and that he’s so mad about it that he’ll never talk to any reporter from that paper again. He did, however, give a specific example of how badly the Mets treated him, and it was shocking. He said that when the Mets clinched the NL East in 2006, he was reprimanded and fined for “celebrating excessively” after the game. I asked him what exactly he had done that was deemed excessive. He said he was just spraying champagne in the clubhouse with David Wright and Jose Reyes and jumping around with everyone else and screaming and going nuts, but because he hadn’t been on the team all year — because he had spent more time in the minors than the majors — some people in the front office basically said he shouldn’t have been THAT excited…and that he was out of line…and that he didn’t really deserve to be such a big part of the celebration. These are not exact quotes. I’m just summing it up, but you get the idea. I was amazed and disgusted to hear that the Mets treated him like that. As Heath pointed out, he’d already been with the organization for many years at that point. He said he absolutely loved the Mets and rooted for them as much as anyone, even when he was in the minor leagues, so when he finally made it to the majors and the team clinched, he was as excited as anyone and just let loose. Can you blame him? All I can say is: shame on the Mets. Of course, there may be another side to the story, and if there’s anyone from the team’s 2006 front office who’s reading this, please get in touch and tell me the story from your point of view, and I’ll be happy to blog about it. (Maybe the Mets executives from 2006 are now running Best Buy. That would explain a lot.) Heath did say that he’d be happy to return to the Mets someday. He said he’s only upset about how he was treated by a small group of executives, most of whom are now gone.
Everyone appreciated hearing Heath speak from the heart, and let me make one thing clear: the time he spent chatting it up along the foul line wasn’t all negative. On the contrary, there were lots of funny moments. For example, there was an annoying kid who kept begging for a ball and eventually told Heath that it was his first game.
“It’s my first game, too,” said Heath. Then he paused and said, “Today.”
Everyone laughed, and then Heath turned to one of the security guards and said, “What about you?”
“It’s also my first game,” said the guy with a rough New York accent.
“Hey, me too!” I shouted. “This is my first game ever!”
It was hilarious. Everyone was cracking up and declaring that it was their first game, and as for the kid, Heath ended up signing an autograph for him, so all was right with the world. Heath signed for everyone. He was accommodating and funny and insightful and friendly. If you don’t root for him (at least when he’s not facing your favorite team of your fantasy players), then there has to be something wrong with you.
Shortly before the game started, I snagged my 11th ball of the day behind the Padres’ dugout. Jerry Hairston tossed it to me after playing catch, and then I grabbed a seat in the eighth row. It was a good spot to snag a 3rd-out ball, but I had some competition. Brian and Ross were there, and they were both wearing Padres gear. We decided to take turns each inning rather than simultaneously charging down to the front row and creating a mini-stampede. Brian, we all agreed, would get the 1st, 4th, and 7th innings, I would get the 2nd, 5th, and 8th, and Ross would get the 3rd, 6th, and (if necessary) 9th. We were all sitting behind the outfield end of the dugout — the perfect spot to get a ball from the first baseman, but a terrible spot to get one from the catcher. I would’ve gone to the home plate end, but I’d just gotten the ball from Hairston over there, and I didn’t want to intrude on the people in that section. I told Ross that he should go there, but he didn’t, and whaddaya know? Ike Davis struck out to end the first inning, and Nick Hundley, the Padres catcher, tossed the ball into the crowd right where he would’ve been. One inning later, when Mike Pelfrey tapped softly back to the pitcher for the final out, I headed down to the front row and knew that I was going to get the ball. There was absolutely no doubt about it. The only question was whether Adrian Gonzalez would toss me the actual game-used ball or if he’d pull a switcheroo and give me the infield warm-up ball instead.
Here’s a photo of the ball in mid-air, heading toward me…
…and here’s the ball itself:
Clearly, it was the infield warm-up ball; a gamer would never be that dirty and messy. Did I care? Not at all. I was just glad to have another ball.
That was the last time I went down to the dugout for the rest of the game. Instead, I sat with Brandon (and his family) near the back of the section. This was our view:
His mother had purchased tickets there, and while it pained me to sit in the middle of a row, I knew that there really wasn’t any other place I could’ve gone that would’ve been much better. Citi Field is a decent stadium for batting practice, but once the game starts, it’s terrible for ballhawking. I won’t get into all the reasons why. Just take my word for it.
Late in the game, I headed out to the seats in deep right-center. This was my fabulous view:
I wasn’t out there to look at the field. I just wanted to get close to the bullpen so I could see Heath again. This was the view to my left and behind me (after I reached over the railing with my camera):
In case you can’t tell, that’s Heath on the left. Soon after I took that photo, he saw me and gave a subtle nod.
The game was awesome. The Padres were winning, 1-0, with two outs in the bottom of the 7th inning. I was counting down the outs — four to go at that point — until Heath would get a save opportunity, but Jose Reyes spoiled it with a deep drive to left. The ball hit the very top of the wall and bounced back onto the field. At first, it was ruled “in play,” but then the umps reviewed it and overturned the call and awarded Reyes with a game-tying homer.
Before I headed back to the dugout, I met a young man named Brian (not to be confused with the Brian that I mentioned earlier) who told me he’d been reading this blog for a couple years. He also told me that he had a photo of me, and he asked if I would sign it. My answer, of course, was yes, and he let me take a photo of him holding it up:
Anyone want to guess what baseball I’m holding in the signed photo? Here’s a hint: you can find it in the photo section of my website. Also, FYI, the number under my name says “4520.” That was my current ball total at the time that I signed it. I’ve been signing all snag-related autographs like that since my first book came out in 1999. I never signed Watching Baseball Smarter with my ball total under my name, but I plan on going back to that signature when The Baseball comes out next year.
I made it back to the dugout during the top of the 10th inning, and Ike Davis won it in the bottom of the 11th with an absolute BOMB to right field. According to Hit Tracker, the ball traveled 444 feet (and jumped off the bat at a speed of 113.7 miles per hour). Look where it went. Cool, no?
Davis’s home run was a solo shot.
Final score: Zack 12, Mets 2, Padres 1.
My Ballhawk Winning Percentage is now .833 (12.5 wins, 2.5 losses). That’s good for first place in all six major league divisions.
Next game for me? Who knows. I seriously have to get back to work on my book.
• 12 balls at this game (11 pictured on the right because I gave one away)
• 162 balls in 15 games this season = 10.8 balls per game.
• 644 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 490 consecutive games in New York with at least one ball
• 353 consecutive Mets home games with at least one ball (338 at Shea Stadium; 15 at Citi Field)
• 127 lifetime games with at least 10 balls
• 4,520 total balls
• 37 donors (click here to learn more)
• $5.41 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $64.92 raised at this game
• $876.42 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
This was my first game at Turner Field in ten years, and I was pretty excited:
The crowd was going to be fairly small. The gates were going to open two and a half hours early. The configuration of the left field seats was going to be ideal. And in my previous four games at this stadium (two in 1999 and two in 2000), I’d averaged 9.5 balls per game.
I wasn’t merely hoping to have a big day. I was expecting it. But first, I had some exploring to do outside the stadium.
This is what I saw when I walked to the top of the steps:
That big area is called Monument Grove.
I walked over to the gate in deep left-center field and took a peek through the metal bars:
Two photos above, you can see a blueish wall in the distance. Here’s a closer look at it:
In case you can’t read it, the words on top say, “THE LONGEST CONTINUOUSLY OPERATING FRANCHISE IN MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL.” (I was not aware of that fact.) Underneath it, there were years and logos and names of all the Braves’ former cities and teams: Boston Red Stockings (starting in 1871), Boston Red Caps, Boston Beaneaters, Boston Doves, Boston Rustlers, Boston Braves, Boston Bees, Boston Braves (again), Milwaukee Braves, and finally the current Atlanta Braves. It wasn’t nearly as snazzy as any of the Twins shrines that I saw on May 4th at Target Field, but it was still cool to see the Braves honoring their past.
Here’s the center field gate…
…and this is what it looked like when I rounded the corner of the stadium:
Meh. Nothing wrong with it, but not particularly memorable.
Here’s another look from further down the street…
…and this is what it looked like after I rounded another corner:
Pretty standard stuff, I guess. The street on that side of the stadium was so green and hilly that it didn’t even feel like a stadium. Check it out:
I resisted the urge to try to talk my way in as I passed the media entrance…
…and rounded yet another corner:
That’s more like it.
Two-thirds of the way down the street, a bunch of autograph collectors were waiting for the Mets players to arrive:
See the guy standing on the right with the red ESPN shirt? His name is Pete Gasperlin (aka “pgasperlin” in the comments). I had met him on 5/6/10 at Target Field. He’s a huge Twins fan. He’s the founder of the Denard Span fan club on Facebook. And he’s the guy who took my girlfriend Jona into the Metropolitan Club when she needed a break from the 40-degree drizzle. Yesterday, while I was talking to him, Jose Reyes, Johan Santana, and Oliver Perez were dropped off right in front of us. There were a dozen people begging for their autographs, including one guy (as you can see above) who was wearing a REYES jersey. It would have taken the players a minute or two to sign for everyone, but instead, they headed inside without even looking up or waving. It was pathetic. (David Wright, by the way, had stopped to sign on his way in shortly before I got there. Pete showed me a card that he’d gotten autographed.)
Here’s what the stadium looked like just beyond the autograph collectors…
…and this is what it looked like when I rounded the final corner:
I was back to where I’d started, and I still had some time to spare, so I headed into the parking lot in order to get a look at Turner Field from afar:
Then I walked even further (about a quarter of a mile) and checked out the remnants of Fulton County Stadium:
Fulton County was the home of the Braves from 1966-1996. I was there for one game in 1992 and snagged one ball. It was thrown by a (now totally obscure) player on the Padres named Guillermo Velasquez. I remember it well. It was rainy. There wasn’t BP. I was in the left field corner with my family. I didn’t have a Padres cap. I was 15 years old at the time. And…what else can I say? The whole thing was lucky and feels like it happened in a previous life.
In the photo above, do you see the little random piece of wall on the little random patch of grass? Let me take you closer and show you what that is:
It’s the spot where Hank Aaron’s 715th career home run landed. (At the time, Babe Ruth held the record with 714, so this was a big big big big BIG big big deal. And of course it was more than just the numbers. There was the whole issue of race, too. Big deal. Very big.) Very cool to be standing so close to where such a major piece of history went down.
After that, I headed back to Turner Field and claimed at a spot just outside the gates:
The photo above was taken by Pete. The guy sitting on the right was the first person I had seen while wandering around the stadium earlier. He had stopped me and asked, “Are you Zack Hample?” Most people who recognize me are like, “Hey, aren’t you that guy from YouTube,” but this dude actually knew my name. (If I’m remembering correctly, his name is Matt.)
Five minutes before the gates opened, this was the line behind me:
When I ran inside and headed down to the front row in left-center, I was rather excited to see this:
Glove trick heaven!
Even more important, perhaps, was the fact that the seats extended all the way from the foul pole to the batter’s eye. In other words, I was going to be able to position myself in all sorts of different spots based on who was batting and where the crowd was clustered.
My friend Pete unintentionally got the assist on my first ball of the day. It was a ground-rule double that kinda handcuffed him in the front row, and when it dropped down into the gap, I was all over it. Then I caught a home run on the fly, hit by a right-handed batter on the Braves that I couldn’t identify. Nothing fancy about it. It was pretty much hit right to me. All I had to do was drift a few feet to my right and reach up for the easy, one-handed grab. Two minutes later, I saw a ball drop into the gap in right-center, so I ran over there. I reeled that one in and then discovered another ball in the gap, just a few feet to my left:
The problem with the section in right-center is that it’s really far from home plate. Check out the view:
The batters basically have to hit the ball 400 feet just to reach the seats, and because the front row is always crowded, you’re talking 410 to 420 in order for them to reach a spot where you’ll have some room to run.
I ran back to left field and snagged a ground-rule double that bounced into the seats near the foul pole. I was proud of myself for this one because the ball had been hit really high, and I was all the way over in straight-away left field. I knew that it wasn’t going to clear the wall on the fly, but instead of giving up on it, I kept running in case it bounced over. Two years ago, I wouldn’t have made that play. I wasn’t as good at judging fly balls, and didn’t have The Vision. I don’t know what’s happening, but my instincts are suddenly improving. I can feel it. It’s awesome.
I ran all the way to the seats in straight-away right field (it takes an effort to get there; the path is anything but direct) and caught a home run hit by Melky Cabrera. I had to move a full section to my right for it, and when I looked back up for the ball, I found myself staring right into the sun — so I felt good about that snag as well.
The gap in right field is partially blocked by the backside of the LED board:
It’s still possible to use the glove trick there, but balls don’t drop down too often.
When the Braves finished their portion of BP, I raced over to the seats behind their dugout — and was told by various ushers that I wasn’t allowed down there.
Seriously, what kind of Citi-esque nonsense was that? Braves hitting coach Terry Pendleton was throwing ball after ball into the crowd, and since I was already halfway down into the seats, I started yelling to get his attention. He threw a ball to a nearby female usher, presumably for me, and when she dropped it and it started rolling toward me, she yelled at me to get away from her ball. Then, after she “ran” over and grabbed it, Pendleton threw her another, which she kept.
“Are you kidding me?!” I yelled.
“Theesa fo’ my keeeids!” she insisted.
“Are you really competing with me for baseballs,” I asked, “and kicking me out of your section an hour and a half before game time?”
That IS, in fact, what was happening. As this usher was guiding me up the steps, however, I managed to get Pendleton’s attention, and he threw me my seventh ball of the day (which I caught right in front of her face).
Unbelievable. Does anyone have Ted Turner’s phone number? I need to have a word with him.
When the Mets took the field, I was once again prohibited from entering the seats behind their dugout — or even next to their dugout. The closest I could get was shallow left field!
I got a ball tossed to me in the left field corner by one of the trainer-type-strength-and-conditioning-coach dudes. Then I moved to straight-away left and fished a home run ball out of the gap. (That was my ninth ball of the day, and there was some competition from other fans with devices.) Less than a minute later, I caught a homer on the fly. I’m not sure who hit it. All I can tell you is that I was in the third row, and there was a guy around my age in the second row. When the ball went up, he misjudged it and moved back. This enabled me to carefully slip past him and drift down to the front row, where I leaned over the railing and made the catch.
Check out the ball:
It was a Citi Field commemorative ball. I’d snagged a bunch of these last year, but it was still great to get another. Commemorative balls are sacred to me — even the ones like this with poorly designed logos.
The Braves had been using standard balls with the word “practice” printed under the MLB logo; the Mets were using balls that had “practice” stamped sloppily on the sweet spot. Check it out:
The left field seats got pretty crowded…
…but that didn’t stop me. I snagged a David Wright homer that landed near me in the seats and then ran over to right field for the next group of hitters. It was either Jose Reyes or Luis Castillo — I just wasn’t paying close enough attention — but whoever it was hit a home run right to me. I mean right to me. I could sense that someone was running toward me in the row below me, so I reached up with two hands to brace for a potential collision. The ball cleared this other guy’s glove by three inches, and then he tripped and fell headfirst over his row. (Yes, I caught the ball.) Don’t feel bad for him. He was in his 20s and looked/acted like he belonged in the mosh pit at a punk rock show. Thirty seconds later, I saw him scramble for another ball and grab it right in front of a little kid, who looked pretty devastated. The kid’s father tried to plead with the guy to turn the ball over, and when he refused, I tapped the kid on the shoulder and handed him the one I’d just caught. The kid (as you might imagine) was thrilled, his father thanked me for a solid minute, and I got a bunch of high-fives from other fans.
Back in left field, I went on a mini-snagging rampage during the closing minutes of BP. Pedro Feliciano threw me my 13th ball of the day. Then I used my glove trick (No. 14). Then I grabbed a home run in the seats that some grown-ups bobbled (No. 15). And then used my trick again for a home run ball that landed in the gap (No. 16). I managed to get down to the Mets’ dugout at the end of BP, and as all the players and coaches were clearing the field, I got Howard Johnson to toss me No. 17.
I’d been planning to go for homers during the game, but now that I was so close to 20, I decided to stay behind the dugout and pad my numbers. For some reason, the Mets never came out for pre-game throwing, so that cost me an important opportunity, but there was still the chance to get a third-out ball. This was my view early in the game:
Yunel Escobar grounded out to Mets first baseman Ike Davis to end the second inning. Davis jogged in and tossed me the ball. Pretty simple. The ball, it should be noted, had the Citi Field commemorative logo on it, which means it wasn’t the actual ball that had been used during the game; Davis had obviously kept the gamer and tossed me his infield warm-up ball instead.
As I jogged up the steps, I happened to see Kevin Burkhardt, the Mets’ sideline reporter, sitting at the back of the section with his SNY microphone. I had gotten to know him a bit over the past few seasons, and once I started snagging baseballs for charity last year, I’d been asking him if he’d interview me about it someday. Long story short: the interview finally took place last night during the bottom of the 4th inning.
The whole thing only lasted a couple minutes, but I think it went pretty well. Here’s a screen shot (courtesy of SNY) before the interview started. It shows Kevin pointing out the camera that was going to be filming us:
Here’s another screen shot (courtesy of my friend Howie) during the interview itself.
Yes, Howie actually photographed his TV.
Kevin asked me two main questions:
1) How do you catch so many baseballs?
2) Can you tell me what you’re doing for charity?
It was great to get to give a plug on-air for Pitch In For Baseball. Big thanks to the Mets for letting me do it. (The Braves, as I mentioned three days ago on Twitter, denied my media/charity request.)
Here I am with Kevin after the interview:
I still have yet to see a tape of it, but according to Howie, when Eric Hinske homered the following inning (to a spot where I wouldn’t have been anyway), the Mets announcers mentioned me.
Gary Cohen said, “Zack did not get the ball,” to which Ron Darling replied, “He’s probably negotiating for it.”
I spent the rest of the game chasing nonexistent foul balls behind the plate. This was my view for right-handed batters:
There’s a cross-aisle that runs through the entire field level, so it’s easy to run left and right. The only problem is that the protective screen is rather tall, so balls have to loop back over it — something that doesn’t happen too often.
If you’ve been reading the comments on this blog, you may have noticed a bunch over the years from someone known as “lsthrasher04” and later “braves04.” The person who’s been leaving those comments lives in Atlanta. His name is Matt. We’d been in touch for a long time, but we’d never met in person until yesterday. I saw him briefly during BP, but I was so busy running all over the place that we barely had a chance to catch up. Late in the game, he came and found me, and we finally had a photo taken together. Here we are:
Matt had kindly given me some pointers about Turner Field in recent weeks. I returned the favor last night by signing his copy of Watching Baseball Smarter.
By the time the 9th inning rolled around, I still needed two more balls to reach 20. My plan, since the Mets were winning, 3-2, was as follows:
1) Go to the Mets’ dugout.
2) Get a ball from home plate umpire Ed Rapuano.
3) Get another ball from the Mets as they walk off the field.
4) If that fails, get a ball from the relievers when they walk in from the bullpen.
Good plan, right? It gave me three chances to snag two balls. Well, Rapuano took care of the first one, but then the Mets let me down. None of them tossed a ball into the crowd as they headed back in — and get this: the relievers never walked across the field. They must’ve headed from the bullpen to the clubhouse through the underground concourse.
So that was it.
My day ended with 19 balls.
(Yeah, I know, poor me.)
The Mets held on for a 3-2 win, so my Ballhawk Winning Percentage improved to what would be a major league best: .792 (9.5 wins and 2.5 losses).
Before heading out, I caught up with Pete…
…who generously gave me a new Braves cap. (My old one, circa 1992, was crinkly and fugly and being held together at the back with duct tape.)
Good times. Good people. Good baseball. Can’t wait for the next two games here. I’m hoping to snag 23 more and hit 4,500…
• 19 balls at this game (18 pictured on the right because I gave one away)
• 119 balls in 12 games this season = 9.9 balls per game.
• 641 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 192 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 124 lifetime games with at least 10 balls
• 4,477 total balls
• 31 donors (click here and scroll down to see who has pledged)
• $4.95 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $94.05 raised at this game
• $589.05 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
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
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 of the season. Don’t let my facial expression in the photo below fool you. I was indeed happy to be there:
Mainly, I was (and still am) shocked that the season had arrived — that I was actually standing outside Citi Field. The off-season flew by. I never had a break from baseball. I was (and still am) working full-time on my book.
(If you’re not familiar with Citi Field, the Home Run Apple wasn’t there last year. It was hidden behind the bullpens. And FYI, this is the old Apple from Shea Stadium, which I miss very much.)
Now, onto another important topic…
As I mentioned recently on Twitter, I’ve gained 11 pounds in the last six months. I went from a light-on-my-feet weight of 167 pounds to a sluggish-and-constantly-feeling-bloated 178. I basically haven’t gotten any exercise since Game 5 of the 2009 World Series, so it was good to be back at a stadium where I’d be “forced” to run around. It was also good that my friend Greg was there with an old ball. He and I and another friend named Matt tossed it around for 20 minutes before the gates opened, and thankfully, I hadn’t forgotten how to catch. Here’s Matt getting ready to fire the ball to Greg:
There was a fairly big crowd waiting to get in:
In the photo above, you can see Greg waving. He started the day with a lifetime total of 875 balls, and because Citi Field is Citi Field, I got stuck in a bad line, and he got a major head start on the dash to left field — and surprise-surprise, he had two baseballs by the time I got there.
I was completely out of breath. It was pathetic. I mean, it’s a long run from street level behind home plate to the elevated concourse in the outfield, but still, that’s just lame. I have some serious work to do.
It didn’t take long for me to snag my first ball of the season. Mets reliever Ryota Igarashi threw it to me after I asked him for it in Japanese. Here it is:
Oh yeah, baby, a Citi Field inaugural season commemorative ball. As it turned out, every single one of the Mets balls were commemorative. They obviously have a lot left over from last year.
Moments later, I snagged a Fernando Tatis home run that landed in the seats in left-center, and then I caught another one of his homers. That one came right to me. There was nothing to it. The real challenge came five minutes later when David Wright smoked a deep line drive in my direction. For some reason, I was standing in the middle of the third row when I determined that the ball was going to fall a bit short, so I quickly climbed over the seats into the second row, then climbed over THAT row of seats so that I was standing in the front row. I got there just as the ball was about to land, and I reached over the railing and made the catch.
“How did that feel?!” asked a man on my right, who probably thought it was the first ball I’d ever caught.
I shrugged and said, “Great.”
What else was I supposed to say? That those few seconds from the time the ball jumped off Wright’s bat until it smacked the pocket of my Mizuno glove showed me that I still had it?
When I finally looked at the ball, I noticed that it had a beautifully smudged logo:
Matt’s goal for the day was to snag one ball. As soon as he got it, he came over and grabbed my camera and took a few action shots of me. Here’s one that shows me climbing over some more seats as a home run flew into the second deck. I was trying to get in position in case it bounced back down into the front row (it didn’t). The red arrow is pointing at Greg:
Here I am scrambling unsuccessfully for a home run ball:
The guy in the black jersey ended up grabbing it. I suspect that the man in the gray jersey was bending over in case the ball trickled down the steps. (He looks kinda funny, no?)
Angel Pagan then tossed up a ball that sailed over the first few rows and was about to sail over my head, too…
…but I managed to climb up on a seat at the last second and catch it.
Matt told me to hold up the ball so he could take a photo, but I didn’t want to take my eye off the batter. In the two-part photo below, the pic on the left shows me saying, “Hold on,” and the pic on the right is the actual pose that Matt had requested:
Toward the end of the Mets’ portion of BP, I caught two Luis Castillo homers on the fly in straight-away left field, then happened to catch another homer out in left-center. I wasn’t looking at the batter. I was trying to get someone to toss me a ball from down below, when all of a sudden, I heard people shouting at something else, so I looked up and saw a HIGH fly ball coming toward me. At first, I didn’t think it was going to reach the seats, but it carried, and I reached far over the railing and made the catch. It was either hit by Jeff Francoeur or Jason Bay. Not sure.
Before the stadium had opened, Matt predicted that I’d snag 12 balls. I thought his guess was too high, but by the time the Marlins took the field, I was two-thirds of the way there. Hmm…
My ninth ball of the day was thrown by Burke Badenhop. It helped that I had changed into a Marlins cap and shirt, but my outfit didn’t do me any good for the rest of BP. I’m happy to report, though, that I caught three more home runs on the fly. (That’s a total of eight home runs that I caught on the fly, in case you lost count.) The first was hit by Dan Uggla, and I have no idea who hit the next two. I gave one of them to the nearest kid.
With a few minutes remaining in BP, I made my way toward the dugout and didn’t get anything there — except a photo of my Marlins crew:
From right to left, you’re looking at Greg (who ended up with nine balls), Matt (three), Ben (only one because he missed most of BP), me (keep reading), Ryan (six), and Ryan’s friend T.J. (three). Not one of us is actually a Marlins fan. We just had the gear to try to get extra baseballs.
Matt had bought a ticket in the front row behind the Marlins’ dugout. (Don’t ask how much it cost. He’s from California. This was his one and only game here, and the rest of his trip was paid for by his job, so he splurged.) I could’ve stayed down there with him, but I felt like wandering and playing for home runs. The left field seats were basically packed…
…so I headed toward the newly named “Shea Bridge”…
…and went up to the second deck in right field so I could take a photo of the bullpens. This is how the ‘pens looked last year. (If you’re too lazy to click that link, just know that they ran parallel to the outfield wall. The Mets’ bullpen was closer to the field; the visitors’ bullpen was tucked out of view below the overhang — stadium design at its worst.) This is the new bullpen configuration:
Weird but better. (Does anyone know anyone who works for the architectural firm that designs all these stadiums? It used to be called HOK. Now it’s named Populous. With all due respect, they could really use my help.)
By the way, when I first tried to photograph the bullpens from the field level seats in right field, the security-guard-usher-type-person stopped me. He wouldn’t let me down the steps from the concourse — and this was 20 minutes after batting practice had ended. He told me that I needed to have a ticket to go down there. I told him that I’d heard about the new improvements to Citi Field, and that I was excited to see them and take some photos so I could blog about it, but he was like, “Sorry, you’re not allowed. You need a ticket. That’s what I’ve been told.” How sad that some teams are so un-fan-friendly.
There really wasn’t anywhere for me to go. Mike Jacobs was sitting on 99 career home runs, so I found my way into the seats in deep right-center for each of his at-bats. This was my lousy view:
I don’t enjoy sitting 3.2 miles from home plate, but I’m willing to do it on special occasions. Of course, Jacobs ended up going 1-for-5 with a single and two strikeouts. I have nothing against the guy, but he doesn’t look good. He’s batting .111 so far this season, and it’s no surprise. He always seems to be behind in the count 0-2, and his swing looks awfully long.
Eventually, I went and sat with Matt behind the Marlins’ dugout. The view there was much better…
…and thanks to his generosity, I got a third-out ball from Gaby Sanchez after the fifth inning. I was going to let Matt go for it, but he insisted.
“It’s for the charity,” he said.
When the Marlins made a double-switch with two outs in the bottom of the eighth, I was back in right-center. Emilio Bonifacio took over in center field, so Tim Wood came out of the bullpen to play catch with him. I quickly changed into my Marlins gear and heard a few grumbles (about my lack of team loyalty) from the fans sitting nearby. I hurried over to the side railing and got Wood’s attention as he was walking back toward the bullpen. He threw me the ball, and when I turned around, all the fans were smiling. They knew what was up, so once I was out of Wood’s view, I made a big production of taking off the Marlins gear and revealing my Mets shirt underneath. It was classic. The whole section burst into laughter, and then, for added comedic effect, I pretended to wipe myself with the teal-colored clothing.
The game was rather entertaining — and unusual. Not only did the Mets tie it up after trailing 6-1, but all six of their runs scored without a hit. In the bottom of the first, there was a sacrifice fly. In the bottom of the seventh, there was another sac fly and a bases-loaded walk. One inning later, they plated three more runs on a throwing error, another bases-loaded walk, and a balk.
In the top of the 10th, I was sitting several rows behind the Marlins dugout with Matt, Greg, Ben, and Ryan. Wes Helms led off the inning, and on a 2-1 pitch, he dribbled a foul grounder toward Joey Espada, the third base coach. Ryan reacted quickly and made a beeline for the front row. Espada scooped up the ball and tossed it into the seats. It wasn’t thrown to anyone in particular. It was just one of those up-for-grabs lobs, and Ryan gloved it. There was some talk about whether or not he’d “stolen” the ball from a kid, but I don’t think he did. Check out this screen shot from the game (sent by a friend in Florida):
See the little red numbers?
1 = Ryan
2 = me
3 = Greg
4 = Ben
From where I was standing, it appeared that the ball sailed above the kid’s left/bare hand. (I’m talking about the kid wearing the white striped shirt.) To some people, it may have appeared that Ryan reached in front of him, but in fact Ryan respectfully stayed behind the kid and simply reached above him. It’s hard to tell. There’s so much gray area with these things, but really, it looked like a clean play as far as I could tell.
Here’s another screen shot:
5 = Matt
The Marlins ended up taking a 7-6 lead, and guess who came in and notched his first major league save in the bottom of the 10th. That’s right: my boy Tim Wood.
After the final out, I got a ball from Laz Diaz, the home plate umpire, as he walked off the field. It was my 15th ball of the day — a new Citi Field record. My previous high for this stadium was 14 balls, which I accomplished on 8/4/09.
On my way out of the stadium, I gave another ball away to a kid and then posed with my eight Citi Field balls:
• 15 balls at this game (13 pictured on the right because I gave two away)
• 131 balls in 14 lifetime games at Citi Field = 9.36 balls per game.
• 630 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 488 consecutive games in New York with at least one ball
• 121 lifetime games with at least 10 balls
• 4,373 total balls
• 13 donors (click here to see what this is all about)
• $1.37 pledged per ball
• $17.81 raised at this game
• $17.81 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball.
This was a very special day…
Not only was it my parents’ 35th anniversary, but it was the first time that I walked all the way around the outside of Citi Field since that snowy day in February of 2008.
Naturally, I took photos of everything, starting with the view from the subway exit:
I headed past the Brooklyn Dodgers Rotunda…
…and walked the length of the stadium toward the left field gate:
I rounded the corner and walked to the outermost edge of the parking lot. Here’s what the stadium looked like from afar — from about a quarter of a mile from home plate in straight-away left field:
I didn’t like what I saw. It didn’t look like a baseball stadium. It looked like a jumbled mess of generic modern architecture.
I walked closer…
On the right side of this edge of the stadium, there was some type of employee entrance:
In the middle, there was a chain-link fence blocking off a huge area of loading docks:
On the left side, there was a security guard and a “DO NOT ENTER” sign:
Do you see all those cork-shaped objects poking out of the ground every four feet? Do you know what those are for? Here in New York City, they’ve been popping up on sidewalks outside of new and important buildings. They’re there to prevent extremists (i.e. Al-Qaeda, Hamas, disgruntled Mets fans, etc.) from driving too close with explosive-laden vehicles.
Several policemen eyed me suspiciously as I walked around taking photos. I eyed them right back and rounded another corner…
…and peeked through one of Citi Field’s many glass doors. This is what I saw:
In case it’s not clear, this construction zone is inside Citi Field — basically at the deepest part of center field. Can anyone explain why the stadium is still under construction six months after it opened? Do we have Bernie Madoff to thank for this? What was/is this area supposed to end up being? I thought this new stadium was supposed to be “intimate.”
I approached the bullpen gate in right-center field:
In the photo above, did you notice all the cars and signs on the left side of the road? You know what’s over there, RIGHT across from the stadium? If you were to stand with your back facing the bullpen gate and walk across the street, this is what you’d see:
Instead of paying Oliver Perez $36 million to “pitch” for three years, the Mets should’ve bought out all the auto repair centers and replaced them with a public park…with some orange and blue flowers…and a few restaurants…and fountains…and a small baseball field where people could play catch…and statues of players who actually played for the Mets.
I rounded yet another corner and headed past the right field gate:
The following photo shows where the Mets players walk in from their parking lot:
Normally (as you might recall from my entry on 8/4/09 when I got Livan Hernandez to sign my 4,000th ball), this area is gated off in order to keep the fans as far away from the players as possible. The reason why it wasn’t blocked when I passed by is that it was already 4:15pm. All the Mets players were safely inside.
I made it all the way back around to the Rotunda:
(GOSH I love barricades!)
As I was looking for the best spot to wait in line, I ran into a new-ish friend (and aspiring ballhawk) named Ryan. He was there with his friend Keith. You’ll see a photo of them at the end of this entry.
Citi Field opened at 4:40pm, and I raced out to the left field seats. For a few minutes, I pretty much had the place to myself…
…but of course almost every batter was swinging from the left side of the plate. As a result, a ball ended up rolling onto the warning track in right-center field, so I ran over there. Ryan and Keith were standing nearby in the seats. They knew that I was there to snag that ball with my glove trick, but they didn’t mind. In fact, they even strategized with me about how I could get it without being seen by security. It was then that another ball rolled onto the track. Josh Thole jogged over to retrieve it, then tossed it to me (after I asked him politely for it) and left the other ball sitting there. Very strange. Moments later, a home run landed on the slanted area in front of the batter’s eye. Perfect! The security supervisor standing at the back of our section walked down a few rows and then climbed over the side railing to go get it. Ryan pulled out his camera and took a few photos while Keith stood next to me and used his tall frame as a shield. Here’s a pic of me getting the ball to stick inside the glove…
…and here’s another shot of the glove trick in action. You can see that I’m lifting up the ball while the yellow-shirted supervisor is wandering off in the background:
Some people consider this to be theft. My response: It’s not 1915 anymore. Fans are allowed to keep baseballs nowadays. Players and coaches (and ballboys and groundskeepers and ushers and photographers and announcers and mascots and vendors and security guards and other stadium personnel) actually GIVE balls to fans. Welcome to 2009.
And by the way, the ball that I snagged with my glove trick was a 2008 Yankee Stadium commemorative ball. The Mets are cool like that. They often use old/random commemorative balls during BP.
I headed back to left field, and once again, there was very little action. Brian Stokes walked by. He didn’t have a ball in his hand, and even if he did, I wouldn’t have asked him for it. Two days earlier, he had recognized me as That Guy who snags lots of baseballs. Normally, when players recognize me, it’s a bad thing. It means they’re not going to give me any more balls…ever. There’ve been exceptions — Josias Manzanillo, Pedro Martinez, and Heath Bell to name a few — but it’s rare. Anyway, when Stokes walked by, I shouted, “Hey, Brian, what’s up?!” He looked over and spotted me and waved, and it sounded like he yelled, “Hey, Zack!” I could be wrong. There’s a chance that he didn’t actually say my name. I might just have been hearing what I wanted to hear, but in any case, it was nice that he remembered me.
Thirty seconds later, while I was standing in the middle of the left field seats, minding my own business, watching the batter and hoping for a home run, I heard/saw someone trying to get my attention down below on the field. It was Stokes! He now had a ball in his hand, and he was making a gesture to indicate that he was going to throw it to me. I held up my glove…and…whooooosh!!! He fired a strike right to me.
“Thanks!” I shouted. “Is that for the charity?”
“I haven’t checked out your site yet!” he shouted back.
“But you still have my card?!”
“Yeah I got it!”
“Cool!” I said. “Thanks again!”
Then he waved and headed toward the foul pole, and I took a photo of the ball he’d thrown to me:
Yup, another Yankee Stadium commemorative. Brian Stokes is my new favorite player. With my luck, the Mets will trade him next year, and with the Mets’ luck (as was the case with Heath Bell), he’ll develop into an All-Star closer.
Halfway though the Mets’ portion of BP, a ball rolled onto the warning track down the left field foul line:
I waited for a minute to see if a player or security guard noticed that it was there, and when nobody went for it, I made my move. I raced over to the seats in foul territory and got as close as possible to the ball. Then I used my “half-glove trick.” That’s what I call it when I don’t actually use the rubber band or Sharpie, when all I do is fling the glove out and then yank it back in order to knock the ball closer. That’s all I had to do here because the wall was so low. Once I had the ball in my hand, I was thrilled to discover that it was a 2008 All-Star Game ball.
I headed back to left field and caught three home runs on the fly. The first — another Yankee Stadium commemorative — was hit by Jeff Francoeur, and I gloved it after running a section and a half to my left. The second was hit by Cody Ross (the Marlins had taken the field by this point) and it came right to me. The third homer? I have no idea who hit it because I was looking somewhere else and didn’t even see the ball coming until the very last second, at which point I darted to my right and made a lunging, back-handed catch.
The three homers gave me seven balls on the day. That might sound great, but I was pissed that I didn’t have a dozen. I misjudged one homer that ended up sailing five feet over my head. (I was in the middle of a section — in other words, NOT on a staircase — so I would’ve had to climb over two rows of seats while the ball was descending. It was a tough chance, but I feel like I should’ve had it.) Another home run tipped off the very end of my glove after another running/lunging attempt. Two more home runs were heading RIGHT toward me but fell five feet short. The Marlins players didn’t toss me a single ball despite the fact that I was decked out in
hideously ugly aqua-colored Marlins gear. Another home run sailed ten feet over my head and landed in a totally empty patch of seats. All it had to do was stay there and I would’ve been able to walk over and pick it up, but it ricocheted about a mile away. It was just one of those days when very little seemed to be going my way. The fact that I *did* have seven balls at that point was amazing and lucky. It shows how good Citi Field can potentially be (even though it’s nearly impossible to catch batted balls in right field). Someday…SOME day…mark my words: I’m going to snag 20 balls in a single game there. It might take a few more years of the Mets winning 45 percent of their games in order for the crowds to shrink sufficiently, but it *will* happen.
Another lame thing that happened during batting practice was that I had to deal with a hater. I was standing in the front row, getting ready to call out to a Marlins player, when I heard a man’s voice coming from the right, saying something about “running around like an idiot.” The voice was rather faint, and there wasn’t anyone standing nearby, so it didn’t occur to me that the words were aimed my way. Still I wanted to see who was talking so I looked over and saw an averaged-sized, 40-something-year-old man, sitting 15 feet to my right. He was wearing a glove and glaring at me.
“Are you talking to ME?” I asked. I wasn’t trying to start a fight. (Remember, I went to Quaker schools for eight years.) I was just taken by surprise by the whole situation, which seemed to be arising from nothing, and I genuinely wanted to know if, in fact, he WAS talking to me. It didn’t make any sense.
“Yeah, I’m talking to you!” he snapped.
I was already so annoyed by all the balls I’d missed that I was ready to explode, but I thought better of it and just shrugged it off and went about my business. Ten minutes later, when there was a lull between rounds of BP, I was still bothered by the whole thing. Why did the guy have a problem with me? I didn’t know him. I’d never talked to him. He obviously didn’t know me, so what the hell was his problem? I decided to confront him — but in a nice way. I walked over to his section. He was facing the field. I approached him from behind (since the front of the section was packed) and climbed over several rows of seats. As I sat down right behind him, he turned around quickly and noticed me and flinched, ever so slightly. That amused me. He obviously wasn’t expecting to see me again, and I swear, I just wanted to have a conversation with him and get to the bottom of his mysterious hostility.
“How’re you doing,” I said warmly but firmly. (This wasn’t a question. It was a statement.) “I was just wondering what exactly it is about me that you find idiotic.”
The guy was reasonably nice — as nice as he could be while telling me why he thought I sucked. He gave two reasons. First, he accused me of bumping into a kid, but then he admitted that he hadn’t really seen it, and that he HAD seen me pat the kid on the back after the kid got a ball. (In truth, the kid was a bit out of control and had bumped into me, but having once been an out-of-control kid myself, I let it slide.) Second, the guy accused me catching too many balls and therefore preventing other kids from getting them.
“Did you know,” I asked him, “that I give away balls to kids every time I go to a game?”
“I’ve never seen you give one away here,” he said.
“That’s because I usually wait until after the game to give balls away.”
“Well, that’s nice of you,” admitted the guy.
“And did you know,” I continued, “that I’ve been raising money for a kids’ charity this season with all the balls I catch at games?”
“I did not know that,” he said, now softening up.
I proceeded to tell him all about Pitch In For Baseball, and how I’ve gotten 123 people to make pledges for each ball that I snag, and how I’ve raised over $10,000 which will be used to ship baseball equipment to needy kids all over the world.
By the time we were done talking, the guy apologized to me and shook my hand. I also apologized to him for doing anything that might have given him the wrong impression. And that was that.
Right before the game started, several Marlins played catch in front of the 3rd base dugout:
In the photo above, the player on the left is Hanley Ramirez, and the player on the right (wearing No. 12) is Cody Ross. Ramirez finished first and tossed his ball to another fan one section to my left. Ross wrapped it up soon after, walked toward the dugout, scanned the seats for a cute little kid, and when he couldn’t find one (school is back in session, heh heh) he settled for tossing his ball to me.
I had a GREAT time during the game because I’d gone on StubHub earlier in the day and splurged for a ticket in the fancy “Sterling Level” seats behind home plate. At the beginning of the season, those seats were selling for hundreds of dollars apiece, but now, with the Mets embarrassing themselves, I was able to find one in the $70 range. That’s much more than I usually spend on tickets, but every now and then, I like to treat myself, and besides, I’d never been to that part of Citi Field, so I figured it was worth it to experience it once.
I headed out through a door on the field level concourse and then walked down a set of stairs. I don’t often get to go below field level, so this was quite a treat. This is what it looked like as I headed down. The red arrow is pointing to the Sterling Level entrance:
(Can we get some artwork on the walls? Maybe a big Mets mural? Or some old photographs? Maybe a trophy case? Something? ANYthing? Who the hell designed this place, and why wasn’t I consulted?)
Once I got through the doors, I felt incredibly out of place. I was wearing sneakers, cargo shorts, a T-shirt, a Mets cap, and a baseball glove. (And socks and underwear, in case you were wondering.) Everyone else there looked like…wait…was I even in a baseball stadium? This was the view to my right…
…and this was the view to my left:
A well-dressed employee approached me and said, “You look lost.”
It took an effort to explain (without losing my patience) that I was intentionally lost…that it was all part of my plan…that it was my first time down there…that I just wanted to be left the hell alone to wander and take photos and soak it all in.
I got some funny looks as I hurried through the club toward the seats. The game (there WAS a game, right?) was about to start…and…what? There were people sitting at a bar:
I was excited to be in the fancy club, but I didn’t like it at all. “Sterling Club” should be renamed “Sterile Club.” It was clean and spacious and luxurious, I suppose, if that’s your idea of luxury, but there was no charm or character or purpose. Not to me, at least. Why would anyone want to go to a baseball game and then sit at an air-conditioned bar watching it on TV? Am I missing something? Were all these other people there for the first time, too? It was like an airport lounge.
I was about to lose my mind. I had to get to the seats. This is how I got there:
My view for the game — or rather “for left-handed batters” — was outstanding. Check it out:
My actual seat was in the middle of a row somewhere, but since the section was half-empty, the friendly usher told me I could grab a seat at the end of a row.
After the top of the first inning, I recognized a security guard at the bottom of the section — a guy who was always really nice to me at Shea Stadium — so I got permission to go down there and talk to him. I couldn’t go ALL the way down to the protective screen. The seats there are separated by a “moat” (which you’ll see a bit later) and are reserved for people like Mrs. Beltran (yes, she was actually there). So, I went down to the first row behind the moat. I talked to the guard. We were glad to see each other. Last year at Shea, he had told me that Citi Field was going to be “a separation of the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots.'” I didn’t believe him at the time, or at least I didn’t think that the separation was going to be all that noticeable, but he was absolutely right. Citi Field is an elitist club that was built for millionaires (as opposed to the new Yankee Stadium, which was built for multi-millionaires); the average die-hard fan is an afterthought. This night confirmed it. Once the bottom of the first got underway, I sat down and kept talking to the guard. Angel Pagan, batting leadoff for the Mets, lifted a high foul pop-up that was heading 10 rows back and a full section to my left. I jumped out of my padded seat
and raced up the steps and cut through an empty row and came much closer to snagging the ball than I should’ve. There weren’t ANY other fans wearing gloves. I settled back down near the guard at the bottom of the section just as Pagan hit another foul ball. This time, it was heading into my section. I raced up the stairs and came within five feet of it as it landed. The ball then bounced back toward me and sailed one foot over my glove as I jumped and reached for it. I turned around and noticed that the ball had come to a rest against the bottom of a seat several rows below me. Normally, I wouldn’t have had a shot at it, but here in Moneyville, everyone else reacted in slow-motion. I bolted back down the steps, squeezed past an old man wearing moccasins, and dove on top of the ball. I was very careful not to bump into anyone; the only person who got banged up was me. I scraped my knuckles and slammed my right knee on the ground. There was a little blood. Nothing serious. But most importantly, and as I already said, NO ONE was hurt except me. I can’t stress that enough. It was a controlled dive on my part, if that makes sense. There was another fan approaching from the opposite direction, and I knew that he was going to reach the ball first unless I laid out. So I did. And I got it. And then he dove on top of me! I wasn’t expecting that. I don’t know what he was thinking. He actually tried to grab the ball out of my hand after I clearly had sole possession of it. I mean, it wasn’t even close. It wasn’t like a “held ball” in basketball where two guys grab it at the same time. No way. I had the ball in my bare hand when his hand was at least six inches away. I used all my strength (as I lay sprawled out on the concrete) to grip the ball and prevent him from prying it out of my hand. This was my first foul ball at Citi Field, so there was no way I was going to have it taken from me. I won the battle and finally got up — my camera had gotten banged up too — and returned to my aisle seat at the back of the section. I made eye contact with the guard at the bottom. He didn’t know whether or not I’d gotten the ball, so I held it up and he shook his head in disbelief. Moments later, my phone rang. It was Clif (a former Watch With Zack apprentice; aka “goislanders4” in the comments section) who was sitting behind the Marlins’ dugout. He’d seen the whole thing.
I caught my breath, tested my camera (it still loved me!), and inspected the ball. It had a beautiful patterned marking on one part of the cowhide. I can’t describe it or explain it. I can only show it:
The area with the marking was slightly — almost negligibly — rougher than the rest. How could this have happened? Is it possible that the pattern was imprinted when the ball first landed on the concrete steps in the stands? That’s my best guess. One thing I learned last month in Philadelphia when I got a lesson on how to rub mud on game balls is that the subtle patterns and abnormalities in the cowhide will be accentuated when the mud is rubbed on. Still, I can’t imagine that this pattern could’ve found its way onto the ball through mere rubbing alone. (BTW, if you want to see photos of other weird markings and defects, click here.)
When right-handed batters came up after that, I moved to the other side of home plate. There was lots of room to run…
…but nothing came my way.
During inning breaks and pitching changes, I explored the rest of the club. Here’s what the concession area looks like. I took this photo from the edge of the concourse that runs between the Rotunda and home plate…
…and here’s the concourse itself, if it can even be called that:
It’s really more of an entrance, although it DOES connect the left and right sides of the Sterling Level clubs.
At some random point in the middle innings, I felt a stinging sensation on the outer edge of my right wrist. I took a look at it. There was a small scrape. It took me a moment to realize that it must’ve happened while I was scrambling for that foul ball. This made me happy. It was the sign of a good injury; I was having so much fun and the adrenaline had been so high that I didn’t even know where I’d been hurt. Two days have passed since this game, and I *just* noticed that I have a larger scrape on my left shin. After careful review and analysis, I have determined that it’s the result of having lunged across the concrete ledge for the half-glove trick.
Anyway, on with the tour…
Here’s the Sterling Level patio seating:
That’s a good foul ball spot for righties, although there’s very little room to run.
Are you wondering about the bathrooms? I sure was, and since there weren’t any signs pointing to them, I had to ask a restaurant staff member to point me to them. I didn’t whip out my camera in the men’s room. (I was tempted to photograph all the marble and fancy appliances, but that just would’ve been creepy.) Instead, I took a photo just outside the men’s room, which shows where I had to walk to get there:
(WHY ISN’T THERE ANY METS STUFF ON THE WALLS?!?!)
Speaking of the restaurant, here it is:
At the far end, there were a couple tables near a window:
Those tables overlook the visiting team’s batting cage…
…but don’t get too excited. This type of “sneak peek” exists in a number of other new stadiums, including Citizens Bank Park, which is better than Citi Field in every conceivable way (except for all the Phillies fans) and opened five years earlier.
Way way WAY over, on the far end of the Sterling Level (on the 1st base side of home plate), there’s a window overlooking the Mets’ batting cage:
That crazy pitching machine was filled with tennis balls, each with small colored numbers printed in several places. The Mets (and perhaps other teams as well) run a hitting drill in which these balls are fired at the batters, who try to identify the numbers on them. I tried to take a close-up photo of the balls, but my camera wasn’t good enough. (Or maybe *I* wasn’t good enough.) You can see the photo here on the right. I apologize for the blurriness, but it’s the best I could do. And let me further explain something about the balls, since it might be impossible to see it for yourself: there aren’t different numbers on each ball. Instead, each ball has the same number in several places. Does that make sense? Good. Here’s a photo of another bar, taken from the corner near the batting cage window:
The TVs over the bar were showing both the Mets and Yankee games as well as a live match from the U.S. Open.
Here’s a photo that shows the enormity of the club. This is only about one-fifth of it:
I went back to the seats and stayed there. Here’s that moat I was talking about:
Late in the game, I ran into SportsNet New York reporter Kevin Burkhardt. He and I had met briefly last season, and he already knew about me then. This time, we got to talk for a full inning. I told him some details about my baseball collection, filled him in on the charity, and gave him a glove trick demo. While we were talking, I had chances to snag two more foul balls, but I came up short. I took a bad route on one and misjudged another because of the crazy backspin (long story) but Kevin was impressed just by the way I raced after them. He gave me his email address and told me to drop him a line next time I’m going to be at Citi Field, and he said he’d interview me during the game and plug my web site and mention the charity. The Mets only have 10 more home games, and I’ll only be free/motivated to attend a couple of them, so we’ll see…
After the game (which the Mets lost), I got a ball from Scott Barry, the home plate umpire, and then I raced over to the Marlins’ dugout where I got Fredi Gonzalez to give me his lineup cards. Unfortunately, when he tossed them to me, the wind separated them, so I was only able to grab one of the two. BUT…I’m happy to report that the one I grabbed happened to be the Mets’ card.
A few minutes later, I met up with Ryan and Keith:
Ryan (wearing the Marlins gear) had snagged four balls, which was quite an accomplishment considering that his lifetime total entering the day was just two! (Hey, you have to start somewhere. I remember when I only had two baseballs. It was 1990. I was in 7th grade. I hated it. That was probably the worst year of my life. But I digress.)
Here’s a look at the lineup card:
Notice how the switch-hitters have an “S” drawn next to their names? And how the lefties have an “L”? And how there’s a pitcher on the Mets named “Stoner”?
(If you want to see my complete collection of lineup cards, click here.)
Just before I headed up the steps, I pulled a ball out of a special compartment of my backpack. It was the ball that had been tossed to me by Josh Thole. I’d decided when it first came into my possession that it was going to be my give-away ball. Now the time had come for me to find a worthy recipient. I noticed a young kid with a glove heading up the steps with his dad. I caught up with them. The kid’s glove was empty. I handed the ball to him and told him how I’d gotten it. He was thrilled. His father shook my hand. They both thanked me and then disappeared into the night.
• 418 balls in 50 games this season = 8.36 balls per game.
• 619 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 483 consecutive games in New York with at least one ball
• 348 consecutive Mets games with at least one ball
• 133 lifetime game balls (not counting game-used balls that get tossed into the crowd)
• 18 different stadiums with at least one game ball
• 4,238 total balls
• 123 donors (click here and scroll down for the complete list)
• $25.03 pledged per ball
• $250.30 raised at this game
• $10,462.54 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball