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
On May 1st, I took lots of photos outside Progressive Field, and on May 2nd, I went nuts with my camera inside the stadium. May 3rd — my final game in Cleveland — was simply the day for me to snag an obscene number of baseballs.
It started like this…
…and continued with this…
For some reason, the ushers at this stadium rarely collect the home runs that land in the seats before Gate C opens.
Soon after I grabbed those three Easter eggs, I got David Huff to toss me my fourth ball of the day near the bullpen in right-center. Nothing special, right? At least that’s what I thought until I started scribbling some notes and numbers, and then it hit me: I had just snagged my 4,400th lifetime ball. Here I am with it:
Moments later, Grady Sizemore flipped a ball to me in right center. Even though he’s struggling this season, I’ve always liked him and wanted a ball from him, so it felt great to finally get one.
This was my view of the field:
My sixth ball of the day was a total fluke. David Huff tossed it into the front row roughly 50 feet to my left — and there wasn’t anybody there. I don’t understand it, but whatever. All that matters is that I was able to run over and pick it up.
My seventh ball was thrown by Chris Perez near the visitors’ bullpen down the right field line. My eighth and ninth balls were home runs that I caught on the fly; the first was hit by an Indians righty (no idea who), and the second was a line drive off the bat of Mister Sizemore.
It was 5:01pm. The stadium had barely been open for half an hour. I was thinking BIG, but then I hit a bit of a dry spell.
Twenty minutes later, when the Blue Jays took the field, things picked back up. Shaun Marcum tossed me my 10th ball of the day, and then I got another from Brandon Morrow. Here’s a photo that I took a few minutes later. It shows those two guys standing around with their teammates:
Now get this…
Five minutes later, Marcum walked back onto the warning track to retrieve a ball. I wasn’t even going to bother asking him for it, but then at the last second, right before he was about to fire it back toward the bucket, I said, “Hey, Shaun, let’s play catch.” He responded by turning around, tossing me the ball, and then walking away before I had a chance to throw it back.
You know what else was weird? Two players (Huff and Marcum) had each thrown me two baseballs in the same day. (Okay, fine, Huff didn’t exactly throw the second one *to* me, but it still counts.)
Look how empty the stands were, one hour after the stadium had opened:
In the photo above, do you see the fan in the pink shirt? He’s right in the center of it, standing in the fourth row. Well, after I caught two more home runs on the fly, I ended up beating him out for another ball that landed in the seats. He was pretty bummed about it, so I asked him if he’d snagged a ball yet.
“Yeah,” he replied, “I’ve actually gotten a couple.”
“Oh, cool,” I said, “because if you hadn’t, I was gonna offer you this one.”
He thanked me, and then he asked if I was Zack.
“Yeah, how’d you know?”
“I’m Jimmy,” he said. “I the guy that emailed you and told you I was going to be here.”
We talked for few minutes and then parted ways temporarily.
Now, in case you’ve lost count, I had 15 balls by this point, and yeah, I was thinking about reaching 20. There wasn’t a whole lot of time remaining in BP, but I had a secret plan. During the previous 90 minutes, there were FIVE home runs that landed in the second deck in right field; when the rest of the stadium opened at 6pm, I raced up there. Here’s a summary of what happened:
1) There was one other guy who also ran up to the second deck.
2) All five balls were scattered in the front row (some in puddles).
3) The other guy took a bad route, and I got a slight head start.
4) I grabbed four of the five balls.
5) I missed one because he shoved me from behind, forcing me to overrun it.
6) I offered him a few choice words.
Naturally, I didn’t have time to pull out my camera and photographs the baseballs sitting in the stands, so please, take my word for it. I’m not making this stuff up. Just smile and nod and accept the fact that I had 19 balls in my backpack by the time I ran over to the left field bleachers. (By the way, I have no idea who hit the three homers that I’d snagged a bit earlier — balls No. 13, 14, and 15 on the day. All I can tell you is that they were hit by lefties on the Jays, and that the 14th ball was the 1,500th I’d ever snagged outside of New York City.)
Jimmy was in left field. There were a few other fans nearby. Someone on the Jays — a right-handed batter — launched a deep home run that landed halfway up the bleachers. I sprinted up the steps and hurdled a few benches and grabbed the ball half a second before Jimmy got there. (He was a good sport about it.) That was my 20th ball of the day (!!) and then, while I was up there, the same batter hit another ball that clanked off a nearby bench. I didn’t even see it coming. I only heard it, and I was able to jog over and pick that one up, too. (Sorry for the lack of photos, but seriously, there was never a break in the action.)
Two minutes before the end of BP, I tried unsuccessfully to get a Jays pitcher to throw a ball up to me.
“You got like 30 balls already!” he shouted.
“Not quite that many!” I yelled.
“Why don’t you dump all the balls out of your backpack and I’ll throw one to you?” he joked.
I think it was Josh Roenicke, but I’m not sure. He was wearing warm-up gear over his uniform, and I was 20 feet high, but anyway, while he was jawing at me, another home run ball clanked off a nearby bench. Once again, I hadn’t seen it coming. In fact, it nearly hit me, and it ended up AT MY FEET in left-center. Roenicke (or whoever it was) threw his arms up in disgust. Too funny. And that was it for BP.
Finally, there was a moment to relax/breathe.
Jimmy and I got a photo together:
In case you’re wondering, that thing in front of my right ear is a pen. I’d been scribbling notes about all the balls I snagged, and I tucked it into my cap.
I gave away one of the balls to a kid, then changed out of my Blue Jays costume, and went to the back of the bleachers with Jimmy:
In the photo above, I’m holding my 20th ball of the day. Jimmy (who took the photo) lent me his glove to use as a barricade so the balls wouldn’t roll down the steps.
Remember those puddles in the 2nd deck that I was talking about? One of the balls had evidently been laying face down in the water:
Balls No. 21 and 22 both looked pretty cool:
I suspect that the ball on the left hit the edge of a bench. That’s gotta be how the gash got there.
Before Jimmy left to go watch the Cavs’ playoff game, he asked me to sign one of his baseballs. Then I wandered down to the Home Run Porch and caught up with a fellow ballhawk named Sean Malafronte. Here we are together:
I had met him for the very first time earlier in the day when we were waiting in line outside Gate C — but I had already heard about him because he was involved in this home run controversy last season. Crazy stuff. It turned out that he had heard about me, too, and we kept running into each other throughout the day. I believe he ended up snagging eight balls.
Several minutes before game time, I made it down to the Indians’ dugout just before Shin-Soo Choo finished playing catch. Here he is, about to make one of his final throws:
I got him to toss me the ball by asking for it in Korean. Then, on my way out to the left field bleachers, I gave away another ball and took the following photo of the empty stands:
Oof. Make me wish I lived in Cleveland. (No offense, Cleveland, but I really love New York.)
This was my view during the game…
…and this is a screen shot that shows me missing Jose Bautista’s 2nd-inning homer by five feet:
The HORIZONTAL arrow is pointing to the spot where I was sitting, the VERTICAL arrow is pointing to me, and the DIAGONAL arrow is pointing to the spot where the ball landed.
If you watch the replay, it doesn’t look like I was running particularly fast, and it’s true. I wasn’t. But here’s why. The following photo shows the route that I had to take:
Let me explain the numbers (and symbol)…
1) I was sitting in the second row.
2) As soon as the ball was hit, I had to climb over the bench…
3) …and jump down to the front row.
4) I had to cut left in order to avoid the people and benches.
$) The money spot — it’s where the ball landed.
If the ball had stayed in the stands, I would’ve been able to count to three and then pick it up. The other fans had NO idea what was happening. But no, of course, because I’m jinxed when it comes to game home runs, the ball smacked off the Road Runner ad, landed in the aisle, and bounced back onto the field. Un-effing-believable.
At least the game itself was exciting. Blue Jays starter Brett Cecil took a perfect game into the seventh inning. He then got Asdrubal Cabrera to hit a weak come-backer, walked the next two batters, and struck out Austin Kearns for the 2nd out. That’s when I took the following photo to document the fact that his no-hitter was still intact:
Moments later, Jhonny Peralta hit a clean, line-drive single to left field, and that was that. (Was it MY fault? Did *I* somehow jinx him my taking a photo? I made sure not to talk about the no-hitter while it was still in progress. Damn. Would’ve been nice to witness history.)
During the break before the start of the ninth inning, I moved to the center field end of the bleachers and tried to get Grady Sizemore to throw me his warm-up ball. He ended up throwing back to Chris Perez, the reliever who was playing catch with him, and Perez threw it to me instead. HA!!! It was my 24th ball of the day — my fourth highest single-game total ever — and Perez was the third player to throw me a pair. Are you hearing me? Three different players each threw me two balls in one day. I know it’s a random/meaningless “accomplishment,” but I’d bet that no one else has ever done it.
I took the following photo from the spot where I caught the throw. (I had to jump for it while I was standing on the steps. One of the cameramen yelled, “Nice catch.”) The arrow is pointing to the spot where Perez was standing when he threw it.
Since the Jays had the lead, I headed to their dugout in the bottom of the ninth, and I took this photo along the way:
After the final out, I got robbed by another fan on what would’ve been ball No. 25. Rommie Lewis tossed it to me from the side; the awkward angle enabled some other guy to reach out in front of me, and he apologized profusely.
“Hey, it’s all good,” I told him. “Get whatever you can get.”
Final score: Zack 24, Blue Jays 5, Indians 1. My Ballhawk Winning Percentage is now .800 (4 wins, 1 loss.), which means I’d be in first place in any division in the majors.
I gave away one more ball as I headed toward the right field exit, and before I left the stadium, I took a few final photos. Here’s one…
…and here’s another:
I just LOVE empty stadiums. I mean…I love stadiums, period, but there’s something extra special about being inside one when there aren’t any other fans. (The whole game practically felt like that.)
That was it for the Cleveland portion of my trip. I knew that my next stop — Target Field — was going to be a bit more crowded.
• 24 balls at this game (21 pictured on the right because I gave three away)
• 62 balls in 5 games this season = 12.4 balls per game.
• 634 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 185 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 123 lifetime games with at least 10 balls
• 7 lifetime games with at least 20 balls
• 4 consecutive seasons with at least one game at which I snagged 20 balls
• 4,420 total balls
• 29 donors (click here and scroll down to see who has pledged)
• $3.85 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $92.40 raised at this game
• $238.70 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
Sunny days without batting practice are the worst. This is what I saw when I arrived at the stadium and peeked through the left field gate:
I took my time walking over to Gate C (on the right field side). There were a couple dozen fans when I got there. Normally, I try to make sure that I’m the first one to enter, but in this case it didn’t matter, so I waited patiently as everyone filed into the stadium ahead of me:
This was my first look at the field:
Moments after I made it down to the front row, I heard a voice from behind say my name. I turned around and saw a familiar face. It was a guy from Akron, Ohio named Dan Cox. He and I had met once before on 6/17/08 at Coors Field. (That was the day that a reporter and photographer from the Associated Press were following me around, and Dan actually ended up with his picture in the article. If you click here, you can see him in the top photo standing just over my left shoulder with a red shirt.) We kept in touch, and he recently told me that he was going to attend this game. Here we are:
Oh yeah, I should probably mention that I snagged two baseballs. Several Twins pitchers had come out to play catch, and when they were finishing, I convinced Jesse Crain to hook me up by telling him that I had a good knuckleball and wanted to show him. He threw me
a mediocre knuckler and then waved toward himself with his glove as if to say, “C’mon, let’s see what you got.” I threw him my best knuckler, which turned out to be as bad as his (oops), and it kept going from there. We played catch for about 30 seconds, throwing nothing but so-so knuckleballs. Unfortunately, it all happened so fast that by the time I thought about handing my camera to Dan, it was too late. Then, two minutes later, Crain saw one of his teammates — I’m not sure who — toss me another ball. Before Crain could protest, I told him that I would give it to a kid, and I kept my promise.
Gate C had opened at 11:30am. The rest of the stadium opened at noon, and when it did, Dan and I moved to the left field foul line. I positioned myself in the front row while Kevin Slowey (pictured below with his leg up) played catch with Scott Baker:
Dan stayed a couple rows back, and at one point, I turned around to look at him. This is what I saw:
Yeah, there was a ball just sitting there. There were even a few other fans nearby, but no one saw it. I moved toward it slowly and picked it up. No one noticed. I showed Dan, and we both shrugged.
Once the players cleared the field, it was time to wander and take pics. I started by walking through the cross-aisle toward the left field corner:
The aisle isn’t great for foul balls because, as you can see, it’s tucked slightly under the overhang of the second deck. That said, foul balls do shoot back there behind the plate.
I headed to the upper deck…
…and walked through the concourse…
…and then went down to the front row. Check out the third base dugout:
See that red area right behind it? No, it’s not a carpet. It’s just painted concrete, but it’s still pretty cool and functions like a cross-aisle. The seats behind it are very exclusive. It’s the “Mercedes Benz Front Row,” and you can’t go there without a ticket.
I walked up to the last row directly behind home plate…
…and then took a couple photos, which I later combined to make a panorama:
On my way back down to the Home Run Porch in left field, I poked my head into the suite level. Check it out:
There was so much room to run during the game. I was in heaven. For left-handed batters, I alternated between the seats on the third base side…
…and in right-center:
For all righties, I stood toward the back of the Home Run Porch. This was my view:
(That’s Dan standing in front of me with the glove.)
The view was not as bad as you might think. I could actually see the batters in between the people standing at the front. Here’s a close-up of the previous photo. It’ll show you what I mean:
In the top of the 5th inning, Jim Thome connected on his 569th career home run, tying him with Rafael Palmeiro (BOO!!!) for 11th place all time. The ball landed in a gap directly behind the wall in dead center. Here’s a photo of that area from above:
If the ball had traveled five feet farther, it would have landed in the trees, and I might have been able to reach under the fence for it on the lower level of Heritage Park. But no, Chris Perez walked over from the Indians’ bullpen and picked it up, and that was the end of it.
Here’s a photo of the Home Run Porch from above:
Is that beautiful or what? It doesn’t matter if your ticketed seat is in the last row of the upper deck. If you want to hang out on the Porch, you’re welcome to do so. Bravo, Indians, for making the fan experience so laid-back and positive. (As for the quality of the team, that’s another story.)
Have you heard about the Indians fan who sits in the last row of the bleachers and bangs a drum? (That sounds like the opening line of a joke, but I’m being serious.) He’s been going to games forever, and he’s done lots of interviews of the years. The reason why I’m mentioning him is that I went up there to say hello. Here he is focusing on the game…
…and here I am with him:
His name is John Adams, and he’s a legend. This was his 2,917th game. He has missed just 37 games in 36 years. I asked if the Indians still make him buy an extra seat for his drum. He said it’s not an issue because he has four season tickets. I asked if the Indians ever told him not to bang the drum when the ball is in play or if that’s his own decision. He said he decided on his own out of respect for the game. I asked if he ever snagged a home run ball that landed on a staircase and bounced all the way to the back row. The answer is no. Anyway, go say hi to him if you’re ever at Progressive Field. He’s incredibly friendly and chatty, and he told me that he enjoys the opportunity to talk to so many people.
I was back on the Porch in the bottom of the 7th, when Asdrubal Cabrera lifted a deep fly ball down the line. I drifted forward to the railing at the front. The ball was coming…coming…and I had it lined up perfectly. It was going to be the easiest catch ever, but dammit, it ended up falling about ten feet short and bouncing high off the wall for a double. Here’s a screen shot that shows the action:
The UP arrow is pointing at me, the LEFT arrow is pointing at Dan, and the DOWN arrow is pointing to a fan who’s really, really, really into the game. I love it. It’s like a full-body maneuver to peek around the wall from that little nook.
The Twins won the game, 8-3, behind a solid, seven-inning performance by Francisco Liriano. Catcher Wilson Ramos, filling in for the injured Joe Mauer, went 4-for-5 in his major league debut. Delmon Young also went 4-for-5 (with a homer) as Minnesota combined for 20 hits.
I ended up getting one more ball after the game behind the Twins’ dugout. I don’t know who provided it. It was flipped up randomly from under the roof. So…I ended the day with four balls — fewer balls than the winning team had runs — which means I took my first “loss” of the season. At 3-1, my Ballhawk Winning Percentage is now .750.
• 4 balls at this game (3 pictured on the right because I gave one away)
• 38 balls in 4 games this season = 9.5 balls per game.
• 633 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 184 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 4,396 total balls
• 25 donors (click here and scroll down to see who has pledged)
• $2.91 pledged per ball (if you add up all 25 pledges)
• $11.64 raised at this game
• $110.58 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
The day got off to a GREAT start…
Camden Yards opened at 5pm. I was the first one in, of course, and when I ran out to the left field seats, I found a ball sitting in the front row in foul territory:
As soon as I reached the foul pole and looked to my right, I discovered another ball…
…and when I headed out toward left-center field, I saw this:
Amazing. And then things got better.
During the next ten minutes (or so), I caught four home runs on the fly. I don’t know who hit any of them, but I can tell you that the last one impressed Jeremy Guthrie. He was shagging out in left field, just shy of the warning track, and had a perfect view.
Here’s how it played out (and FYI, all the photos of me were taken by my girlfriend Jona)…
As the home run was approaching, I drifted into the middle of a row to get in line with it, and then I realized that it was going to carry a few feet too far, so I stepped up onto a seat:
At the very last second, I jumped up FROM the seat and made the catch high over my head, reaching back all the way. The following photo shows me at the peak of my jump with the ball already in my glove:
Do you see the guy right in front of me with the dark blue shirt? He’s always out in the left field seats at Camden Yards, and Guthrie got all over him.
“Dude, you got posterized!!!” shouted Guthrie, who then reenacted the fan’s failed attempt to catch the ball:
That other fan happens to be a nice guy and a talented ballhawk. I forget his name (because I just suck with names sometimes) but we’ve snagged together a bunch of times. He robbed me of a few homers earlier in the season, and this time I got the better of him. It happens.
Guthrie and I talked for a few minutes after that. He asked me how things were going with the charity, and I told him that this was probably the last Orioles game I’d be attending this season.
I ended up catching so many home runs during BP that I now can’t remember any of the details. It was truly insane. The following four-part photo shows me catching (or rather, ABOUT to catch) four different homers. In the bottom two photos, I’m wearing a dark blue Rays shirt:
Everything was going my way. I happened to be in the right spot almost every time. Was it luck? Or skill? I suppose it was a combination of the two, but I really can’t explain it beyond that. I’d never experienced a batting practice like this in my life. Even the previous game (at which I finished BP with 17 balls and ended up with 22 by the end of the night) wasn’t this good.
Naturally, over the course of BP, there were some highs and lows and lulls.
There was running:
There was pain:
(The running needed work.)
And there was friendship:
You know how you’ll run into a person several times over the course of a few months or years, and you never really connect or get to know them, but you can tell that it’s someone you could potentially be great friends with, and then eventually it all clicks into place and you finally have a solid conversation with them? Well, last night was THAT night for me and the guy pictured above in the orange shirt. His name is Adam. He’s a regular at Camden Yards, and he reads this blog.
Back to snagging…
For those keeping score at home (including Alan Schuster, who is kind enough to update my MyGameBalls.com profile for me), here’s a rundown of all the balls I got during the first 45 minutes:
1) easter egg
2) easter egg
3) easter egg
4) easter egg
5) Orioles homer; caught on the fly
6) Orioles homer; caught on the fly
7) Orioles homer; caught on the fly
8) Orioles homer; caught on the fly (“posterized”)
9) Orioles homer; grabbed it after it bounced
10) Orioles homer; caught on the fly
11) thrown by an unknown lefty pitcher on the Rays
12) B.J. Upton homer; caught on the fly
13) Rays homer; caught on the fly
14) Pat Burrell homer; caught on the fly
It was around this time that I realized I had a chance to snag 20 balls for a second consecutive game. Could it be done?!
Matt Garza threw me a ball from about 120 feet away. The ball was falling short, so I leaned waaaaay out and down below the left field wall to try to catch it…
…but it tipped off the end of the my glove and settled on the warning track. Grant Balfour walked over and picked it up. I was afraid he’d recognize me from the previous day (when he gave me a ball during BP), and perhaps he did, but either way, I convinced him to toss it up.
Then I caught another home run on the fly in heavy traffic. One guy’s glove was RIGHT in my face, but I managed to hold on.
Then Tom Foley, the Rays’ third base coach, was walking through the outfield with a ball in one hand a fungo bat in the other.
“Coach!” I yelled, “Hit me a fungo!”
He looked up and threw me the ball instead. I was about five rows back, and the ball was falling short, so I climbed over a row while the ball was in mid-air and then reached way down over the next row to make a lunging catch.
Then a young kid behind me bobbled a home run ball, which I was able to snatch on one bounce. I immediately turned around and handed it to him. It was my 18th ball of the day.
Without warning, a ball smacked down into the seats one section to my right. I couldn’t tell where it had come from. I’d been watching the batter the whole time, and he hadn’t hit anything that reached the seats. Then I realized that Foley was standing on the foul line just behind 3rd base. He was hitting deep fungos toward left field so that the pitchers (who had nothing better to do) could try to rob home runs. The next fungo fell several feet short of the wall, and I lunged way out for it…
…but I got robbed by Brian Shouse. In the photo above, you can see the ball streaking into his black glove. You can also see Lance Cormier’s glove flying 30 feet in the air. He had thrown it up to try to hit the ball. (If I were a manager, I wouldn’t let my players goof around like that unless we had already clinched a playoff berth.)
Then I got my revenge. I think it was Balfour who tried to catch the next fungo, but the ball cleared the wall by three feet, and I was all over it:
That was my 19th ball of the day!
And then I had my chance to snag No. 20. There was a home run hit half a section to my left, so I drifted over and made a leaping catch at the last second, right next to a man who’d been whining about all the balls I was catching (even though he’d already snagged quite a few balls himself). He also accused me of never giving balls to kids (even though I’d just given one to a kid two minutes earlier). In the following photo, you can see this clown standing behind me in the light blue shirt. As for me, this was my reaction after catching the ball and reaching TWENTY for the second straight day:
Foley was still hitting fungos. One more of them reached the seats, and I caught it.
There was one final home run ball hit to me during BP. Here I am tracking it:
Here I am reaching up to make the catch:
See the guy with the long hair and goatee? He must’ve weighed about 250 pounds, and then…
He slammed into me and nearly sent me tumbling headfirst over the railing, but guess what? I held onto the ball.
“AND ONE!!!” I yelled with a smile, indicating that he had fouled me.
Everyone else in the section laughed.
I had snagged 22 balls, including 11 home runs on the fly. Both of those totals were BP records for me.
Six of the 22 balls had interesting markings, smudges, scuffs, and grass stains:
In the six-part photo above, the ball on the top left has a small bat imprint on it. I’m pretty sure the imprinted word (which appears here in reverse) is “SELECT.” This is the ball that Balfour tossed to me after Garza’s throw fell short. The ball on the lower right was my 20th of the day.
After batting practice, I raced to the 3rd base dugout and got my 23rd ball of the day tossed by Rays bullpen coach Bobby Ramos. (This ball broke my single-game Camden Yards record of 22, which I had set the day before.) Then, right before the game started, I got No. 24 from Evan Longoria. He was using the ball to play catch with Willy Aybar, and when they finished, he threw it to me as a knuckleball. It was such a great day that even Jona got a ball after BP. I was in the front row behind the Rays’ dugout, and she was half a dozen rows back with my camera. I asked George Hendrick, the Rays’ first base coach, for the ball, but he scanned the seats and spotted her and tossed it her way instead. D’oh! (I need an uglier girlfriend.)
I spent the game in the standing-room-only section in right field. Here’s a photo of me walking toward Jona during an inning break:
I stayed out there for all the left-handed batters.
This is where I positioned myself for the righties:
I did lots of running all night, even with my battered right ankle which by this point was stinging and badly bruised. But it was worth it. This was a good foul ball spot. I had empty rows on both sides. But, unfortunately, nothing came close.
Back in right field, there was some action in the bottom of the 7th inning. Luke Scott led off and smoked a 2-0 pitch deep and to my right. The ball was clearly going to land in the seats and NOT in the standing-room-only section, but I took off and ran for it anyway. There were so many empty seats that anything seemed possible.
The following photo is a screen shot that I took from MLB.com. The red arrow is pointing to me:
Miraculously, the ball bounced all the way into the narrow walkway at the back of the section. As it began rattling around, there were two other guys closing in on it from the opposite direction, and I was sure, for an instant, that they were going to get there first…but then the ball hit the edge of one of those brick pillars and ricocheted in MY direction. The ball was heading right for my knee, and it nearly got past me. I barely had time to react as I bent down to simply try to stop it from getting away:
And then, suddenly, I felt the ball in my right hand. Just like that! It bounced RIGHT into my hand. I kind of trapped it up against the wall and against my leg. I couldn’t believe it, but I *did* in fact have sole possession of the ball.
This was my reaction:
It was my 9th career game home run ball (toss-ups excluded). I feel like that’s an embarrassingly low number, but in my own defense, I *have* snagged 124 foul balls and one ground-rule double.
It’s tough to catch balls in the standing-room-only section. The view from the back looks like this…
…so you can’t even see the ball until it’s a third of the way to you.
The following photo shows where I ran to grab the Luke Scott home run ball:
See what I mean? There’s not that much space back there.
Here’s the home run ball itself…
…and here’s the video highlight on MLB.com. I hope it works. I always have trouble with streaming video on my laptop. If there’s anyone reading this who either taped the game or can somehow pull this clip off the internet and convert it into an .AVI or .MOV format, please let me know. I’d love to upload the clip to this page on my web site, which lists all of my game home runs.
Okay, so this seems like the best day ever, right? Well, unfortunately, I pissed it all away with one inexcusable error. In the bottom of the 8th, Matt Wieters hit a deep home run that was heading toward the center-field side of the standing-room-only section. I bolted about 40 feet to my right and, to put it simply (because it’s too painful to relive the details), I should’ve caught the ball and didn’t. Epic fail. No excuses. I was (and still am) stunned and humiliated, and I just hope that I get the chance to redeem myself someday. The few people who witnessed (or heard about) my meltdown tried to comfort me with words of wisdom. The worst thing that anyone said was, “Think how boring life would be if you were perfect.” (That asinine gem came from a female usher who then hugged me.) The best thing anyone said was, “Hey, it happened to Luis Castillo.” (That came from my friend Leon Feingold.) Ultimately, nothing will cheer me up. I’ll just have to get over it, in my own way, at my own pace, and focus better from this moment on…
• 465 balls in 52 games this season = 8.94 balls per game.
• 621 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 178 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 117 lifetime games with at least 10 balls
• 6 lifetime games with at least 20 balls
• 9 lifetime game home runs
• 4 different stadiums with at least one game home run (Old Yankee, Shea, PETCO, and Camden)
• 4,285 total balls
• 1 gut-wrenching mistake
• 126 donors (it’s not too late to make a pledge)
• $25.26 pledged per ball
• $631.50 raised at this game
• $11,745.90 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
Earlier this season, I had two Watch With Zack games with a 14-year-old Yankee fan named Joe. He and I combined for 22 balls on 5/8/09 at Citi Field, and then we visited the Pitch In For Baseball warehouse on our way to Citizens Bank Park on 7/6/09. Remember?
Well, Joe is incredibly generous. He had an extra season ticket for this game at Camden Yards, and he offered it to me. (A season ticket at Camden gets you into the left field seats half an hour early.) He didn’t care that I’d be competing with him for baseballs. He just wanted to see me in action and hang out and help me add to my collection. Truly amazing. And of course I took him up on it.
I made the drive from New York City with Jona, and we arrived at the stadium at around 4pm. Here we are with Joe outside the Eutaw Street gate:
See that ball I’m holding? It was a cheap, six-dollar “Babe Ruth” ball that Joe bought from the team store so that we could play catch:
He had just gotten a new glove and needed some help breaking it in.
The stadium opened at 5pm, and we hurried out to the left field seats. (Jona, unfortunately, was trapped in right field for the first half hour because she didn’t have a season ticket.)
Jeremy Guthrie was shagging in left field, so I shouted his name, and when he looked up, the first thing he shouted back was, “Hey! How’s the baseball collection coming along?!”
Then he walked a little closer and told me that he’d heard I was at Yankee Stadium the previous week.
“Yeah,” I said, “on July 20th. I was looking for you.”
And that was pretty much the end of our conversation.
Two minutes later, Joe and I each found a ball sitting in the second row. Here’s the one that I grabbed (which I later gave to an usher to give to the kid of his choice):
Then I went on a snagging rampage. I started by picking up a ball that bounced into the first row in left-center field. Then I caught FOUR home runs on the fly, all pretty much in straight-away left. (I think Ty Wigginton hit one of them and Adam Jones hit another, but whatever.) Then I won a two-person race and grabbed another home run ball that had
landed in the folded up portion of a seat, and I finished the first half-hour by catching another
homer on the fly (pictured here on the right). Some guy in the row in front of me had jumped for it at the last second, and it cleared his glove by six inches. That gave me eight balls on the day. It was nuts. At one point I had six balls bulging out of my pockets because I didn’t have a chance to label them and put them in my backpack. I should admit that I missed out on three balls that I should’ve (or at least could’ve) had. Two were home runs that basically came right to me, but I wasn’t aggressive enough in boxing out this one other guy. Then there was a ground-rule double that tipped off the very end of my glove when I jumped for it. AARRGHH!!! I wasn’t making flat-out errors, but I still wasn’t happy with my performance.
This was the scene shortly after 5:30pm when the left field seats opened to everyone:
Do you see anything disturbing in the photo above?
Let me zoom in a little for you:
What kind of IDIOT leaves a little kid alone in a section where baseballs go flying into the crowd, not to mention a little kid who’s sleeping?!?! (These are no doubt the the same type of parents who leave their kids in the car with the windows rolled up when they go shopping at Walmart, or better yet, who use their kids as drug mules.)
Halfway through the Royals’ portion of batting practice, I tried using my glove trick to pluck a ball off the warning track–and I would’ve gotten it if Roman Colon hadn’t walked over and moved the ball further out. Here’s a photo that Jona took from about 50 feet away. You can see my glove dangling on the field:
I could tell that Colon was just having fun and messing with me in a good-natured way (unlike our friend Gustavo Chacin), and sure enough, after teasing me for a solid minute, he picked up the ball and flipped it to me.
A few minutes later, I made my best play of the day. There was a deep fly ball hit in my direction, and I immediately judged that it was going to sail over my head, so I drifted back a couple steps, then looked down and scooted further up the stairs. It was kinda like I was an outfielder who takes his eye off the ball and runs to the spot where he thinks it will land. I looked back up and spotted the ball as it was descending…
…and then reached way up over my head at the last second and made the catch. See the guy wearing the yellow shirt? If this had been a basketball game, he would’ve been charged with a foul–possibly even a flagrant foul. At the instant that the ball smacked into my glove, his left arm was wrapped tightly around my neck. I think it was an accident, but still there’s no excuse for that.
Here’s my favorite photo of the day. It shows me taking notes while Joe is looking out at the field:
See that pinkish ring on the inside of my right knee? Yeah, ouch. Twenty minutes earlier, I banged into a seat while scrambling for a loose home run ball, and no, I didn’t get it.
Orioles manager Dave Trembley signed autographs after batting practice:
I got him on Jona’s ticket:
Here I am with Joe a few minutes later:
If you want to know how many balls Joe ended up snagging, you’ll have to check out his blog.
I headed over to the 3rd base side. Billy Butler and Zack Greinke started signing:
That’s me in the blue shirt, patiently waiting for my turn. I’d brought a ticket from Kauffman Stadium and got them both to sign it:
Greinke signed in black ON the black portion of the ticket with someone else’s Sharpie. Brilliant. And when I told him that my name is “Z-A-C-K as well,” he didn’t even look up or respond. What a doofus. Has anyone ever had a positive interaction with him? When I saw him last month in Kansas City, he was similarly quite/cold/rude. Is it the social anxiety disorder? Is that a legitimate excuse for not even responding when someone speaks politely to you from three feet away? I was the only fan who bothered to thank him for signing, and he didn’t say “You’re welcome.” I don’t care who you are or what kind of “disorder” you’re diagnosed with. How hard is it to say “You’re welcome”? Am I being too critical? I’ve met parrots who can say it.
Maybe I’m just writing this blog entry out of frustration…
Right before the game started, I positioned myself along the foul line in shallow left field to try to get a ball tossed my way. I was the ONLY fan with a glove, and I was the ONLY fan wearing Royals gear. If ever there was a guaranteed ball, this was it. What happened next? Alex Gordon threw me a ball…and missed…by ten feet! Here I am, climbing up onto the brick ledge, reaching out helplessly with an extreme look of dismay:
Here’s a closeup of my reaction (with Gordon trying to use body English on the upper right to direct his crappy throw my way):
Five words, Mister Gordon: That’s why you’re the Royals.
During the game, I stayed in the right field standing-room-only section for all the lefties, and of course there was no action. As for the righties, whenever there were at least two of them hitting back-to-back, I moved to a tunnel behind home plate. Perfect foul ball spot. At one point late in the game, I stopped to talk to a friendly usher on the way to my spot, and wouldn’t you know it, a high-arcing foul ball landed EXACTLY where I would’ve been standing–where I *had* been standing throughout the night. The ball clapped off the pavement in the middle of the empty cross-aisle. It was painful, so please, forgive me for being annoyed after having snagged 10 balls. The day was filled with more frustration than success.
Let me end on a positive note. Here are two nice things about the day:
1) I met a bunch of different people who read this blog, as well as a few folks who recognized me from YouTube and various other places.
2) Billy Butler was my Beat The Streak hitter, and he went 5-for-5, mwahaha! I now have a 10-game streak for the first time since I started playing last month. (I have Prince Fielder going tonight against Collin Balester.) Of course, now that I’ve bragged about it, it’s surely going to end. I’d just like to say, though, that if I somehow win the $1.5 million prize, I’m going to use the money to attend 150 (or more) baseball games in one season at all 30 major league stadiums, and I will attempt to snag 1,000 balls. (And, since I promised, I’m also going to buy Jona a Mini Cooper.)
Anyway, that was it. No homers near me during the game. No foul balls. No umpire ball. No dugout ball. No bullpen ball. Nothing. All of my snagging was confined to the first 50 minutes of the day. What a waste of a potentially monstrous performance. (So much for ending on a positive note. Oops.)
• 10 balls at this game (including 6 home runs that I caught on the fly)
• 332 balls in 39 games this season = 8.51 balls per game.
• 608 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 169 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 110 lifetime games with at least 10 balls
• 49 lifetime games outside of New York with at least 10 balls
• 4,152 total balls
• 116 donors (click here and scroll down for the complete list)
• $24.69 pledged per ball
• $246.90 raised at this game
• $8,197.08 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
(Wait, THAT’S a positive note. I passed the $8,000 plateau…)
I expect to snag at least 10 balls at every game. I talked about that in my previous entry, remember? I also said that something has to go wrong in order for me not to snag that many.
Well, yesterday, something nearly went horribly wrong at the start of the day, and then I had to deal with two unexpected challenges soon after.
Speaking of the start of the day, here I am outside the left field gate:
The stadium opened at 4:30pm–two hours and 40 minutes before game time–and soon after I ran inside, I nearly sprained/broke my ankle. What happened was…I stepped onto a little concrete ridge on the upper concourse, not realizing that it WAS a ridge. I thought it was a platform that extended out at that height, so when I took a step forward, my right foot rolled off the edge, and as a matter of instinct, I gave with it and nearly fell down in the process. The right side of my ankle hurt a little bit right after, and I was scared out of my mind. It seemed to be okay, but I wasn’t sure if there was going to be a delayed reaction of pain, or if it was going to get worse as I kept running around.
Jona was with me (she’s the one who took all these photos) and she told me to “be careful” and “take it easy,” but those are phrases that mean nothing to me when I’m inside a major league stadium–especially one as awesome as the New K–so I just started doing my thing and running all over the place as if nothing was wrong. Somehow, thankfully, the slight pain in my ankle actually went away.
I started off by running out to left-center and peeking over the outfield wall to see if there were any balls on the warning track:
Nope. Nothing. And I should probably mention the first of my two challenges: the Royals hadn’t started hitting yet. The previous day, when I ran inside, batting practice was already in progress, but this time the place was dead.
That turned out to be a good thing.
I headed over to the lower level of the Pepsi Party Porch in right field…
…and ended up playing catch with Kyle Farnsworth for more than five minutes! I’m not exaggerating. I just asked him straight-up if he wanted to play catch, and he tossed me the ball he was holding. Then, after I caught it, he held up his glove to indicate that he wanted me to throw it back. (Normally, when I ask guys to play catch, they’ll toss me the ball and then just let me keep it right away.)
Here’s a photo of Farnsworth throwing the ball to me…
…and here I am firing it back:
I didn’t have much room to work with; after every throw I had to make sure not to follow through all the way so that my hand wouldn’t whack the metal railing.
I managed to avoid getting hurt, and all I can say about the whole thing is…it was amazing. Jona switched her camera to movie mode and got several minutes’ worth of video. When I have more time (perhaps this coming weekend), I might put it on YouTube. I don’t know yet, but anyway, I’ve played catch from the stands on many occasions, and the only time that rivals this one was the Heath Bell Experience on 9/29/05 at Shea Stadium. THAT was awesome because Bell was shouting playfully at me and crouching down and calling balls and strikes, and there was a small audience of fans that gathered near me in the seats…but this throwing session with Farnsworth was great because it was calm. Once we started, he and I never talked. We were just two guys throwing the ball back and forth. Nothing needed to be said. Baseball was our common, silent language.
As I expected, we stopped throwing as soon as BP started and of course he let me keep the ball.
I headed to the upper level of the Porch and got Luke Hochevar to throw me a ball:
His aim, however, was off and the ball sailed over my head and landed in the fountains. No big deal. I just pulled out my little water-retrieval-device and reeled it in.
The four-part photo below (starting on the top left and then going clockwise) shows how it all went down:
Someone left a comment on my previous entry and asked if it’s possible to reach over the railing and grab baseballs out of the water. As you can see in the photos above, the answer is no…although at one point, over in left field, a fan climbed over the railing and sprawled out on that green/gray concrete ledge, and he grabbed a couple balls out of the water before I had a chance to snag them with my device. Security wasn’t around when he did that. That’s how he got away with it. I don’t recommend climbing over. I talked to a few different ushers who said that fans who go in the water are punished just like fans who run on the field: a night in jail and a $1,500 fine. It’s not worth it for a BP ball, but for a walk-off grand slam? I’d consider it.
Back to the Hochevar ball…
After I reeled it in, I put it in a Ziploc bag so it wouldn’t soak everything else in my backpack:
See the plastic shopping bag in the photo above? First of all, it’s a Fairway bag. Best food market ever. There’s one right near me in NYC on Broadway and 74th Street. Secondly, I brought it with me to the stadium so that I could keep the device from leaking all over my backpack as well. Water management is key.
My ankle was totally fine, and I ran nonstop all over the place:
Back in left field, I got Coco Crisp to toss me my third ball of the day. You can see it in mid-air in the following photo:
Just a few minutes later, Ron Mahay tossed me Ball No. 4, and then I headed back to right field to use my glove trick.
Remember those two challenges I talked about earlier in this entry? The second challenge was security. There was one guard in particular who wasn’t too fond of the trick, and he hurried out to the Porch while my glove was dangling:
At some stadiums, like AT&T Park, fans are allowed to bring all kinds of crazy contraptions inside, and security doesn’t care AT ALL if people pluck balls right off the field. I realize, however, that not every owner/stadium/city is as cool as San Francisco. If security doesn’t want fans to take balls off the field, fine. I still don’t think it’s “stealing” but whatever. They have a right to draw the line somewhere, so I wasn’t too upset (or surprised) when the guard came over and made me stop. What DID make me mad was when he stopped me from using the trick five minutes later for a ball in the gap in dead center field. There’s nothing in that gap. You know those seven balls that were there the day before? They were STILL there. No one goes back there. There’s no camera. No equipment. Nothing. I strongly feel that fans should at least be allowed to retrieve balls from gaps like this. The guard’s explanation? He didn’t want ME to lower my glove on a string because it would encourage other fans to do it too.
Well, guess what. I have news for that guard: his job is about to get way more stressful. Not only did FSN film me using the glove trick the previous day, and not only did they broadcast that footage for the whole world (okay, maybe just Missouri) to see, but there’s also this wonderful invention called the internet. And then there’s this blog. And then there’s a whole blog entry I wrote a few years ago that shows people exactly how to use the glove trick. Want to see how to do it? Click here. Then take your glove trick to Kauffman Stadium and wreak havoc and tell ’em Zack sent you. (You might need to specify that it was Zack Hample and not Zack Greinke. He’s still the more famous Zack, but I’m working on it.)
The outfield seemed worthless to me at that point, and I seriously thought my day was going to end with a grand total of six balls, so once the rest of the stadium opened at 5:30pm, I headed to the Royals’ dugout on the 1st base side:
The Royals were about to finish their portion of BP. I thought I might be able to get someone to toss me a ball on the way in. (In the photo above, do you see the other fan walking through the seats with the white Greinke jersey and the blue backpack? His name is Garrett. More on him in a bit.) What I didn’t consider was finding a ball in the seats:
Did you notice how sweaty I was?
I felt great after finding that ball and then I got Roman Colon to toss me my 6th of the day a couple minutes later:
After that, I changed into my Diamondbacks gear, headed out to left field, and snagged two more balls within the next ten minutes or so. The first was tossed by Chad Qualls near the foul pole, and the second was a Mark Reynolds homer that landed in the last row in straight-away left field and then conveniently plopped right down at my feet. There were a bunch of other fans out there at that point, so it’s a good thing the ball didn’t ricochet elsewhere.
Then I heard Jona shouting frantically to get my attention. I was way over near the batter’s eye, and there was a ball that had landed in the fountain. I don’t know how I missed it. It must’ve been thrown because I was paying close attention to the hitters.
I ran over to the ball, knowing that it might sink at any second…
…and then I lowered my device into the water…
…and got it!
Moments later, another ball landed in the water (it was a home run and I don’t know who hit it), and I fished that one out as well.
Hoo-haaaa!!! Just like that, I had reached double digits.
Toward the end of BP, Blaine Boyer tossed me a ball in left-center…
…and then I used my water gadget to fish another ball out of the fountain. It was a home run that I absolutely would’ve caught on the fly, but some guy (who had no business even thinking about catching it) bumped into me at the last second, and the ball deflected off my glove as a result.
That gave me 12 balls.
Garrett, who had recognized me the day before from YouTube, asked me to sign his scorebook, and then we took a photo together:
As soon as BP ended, I hurried to the restaurant at the upper concourse in right field and met up with a few guys from the FSN crew. It was time for my pre-game interview. I was drenched in sweat, so I changed into my Royals shirt and hoped that the camera wouldn’t see the embarrassing sweat stain on my butt:
The sweat stain actually went all the way around my waist, several inches below my belt, but the shirt was just long enough to cover it. You have no idea how hot and humid it was, and how much running I’d been doing during BP. I think I drank three 20-ounce bottles of water during BP, and I never had to use the bathroom. My body just absorbed all that water and sweated out the rest.
The photo above, by the way, was taken as I was being led to the interview location on the left field side. The guy walking next to me (in the black shirt and light tan pants) is named Nate Bukaty. He’s the one who interviewed me. Here we are, right before we went live, down in the camera well next to the bullpen:
Here’s a photo that Jona took during the brief interview itself:
I was so amped up at that point (from running around for two hours and snagging a dozen balls and playing catch with a major leaguer and being reprimanded by stadium security) that I ended up being all jittery in the interview. It also didn’t help that I was told right beforehand that the whole interview was only going to last 90 seconds. There was so much I wanted to cover. I wanted to talk about how I’m snagging baseballs for charity, and I wanted to mention my books, especially Watching Baseball Smarter. At the time, I just thought I was being all energetic and fun, but now that I’ve had a chance to watch the tape, I really don’t like how I came off. In fact, I’m downright embarrassed by my performance. I just needed to stand still and slow the HELL down, and I’ve been interviewed enough by now that I should’ve had the presence of mind to take a deep breath and step back from it all for a moment and just…collect myself.
Oh well. The other interview I did during the third inning went better. But before that one took place, I signed a few more autographs…
…and got Diamondbacks coach Glenn Sherlock to toss me a ball along the left field foul line:
(No red arrows in the photo above. You can figure out what’s happening.)
I ran back and forth from right field to left during the first two innings, and of course there weren’t any home runs hit.
Then it was time to make my way over for my in-game interview. For some reason, the TV announcers (Ryan Lefebvre and Frank White…yes, THE Frank White) weren’t doing the game from up in the booth. Instead, they were set up on the Pepsi Party Porch near the right field bullpen:
It’s really a shame. I was looking forward to getting a media credential and then wandering all over the stadium as soon as my interview was done, but because all of my interviews took place in the stands, there were no credentials to be had. Still, it was a total thrill to get to be interviewed during the game. I can’t count the number of in-game interviews I’ve seen where some lucky stiff gets to put on a headset and stand between the announcers and talk about his charity or whatever. Now, for the first time in my life, *I* was going to be that stiff. HA! And unlike all the other stiffs, I was actually going to be fun. I just knew it.
Here’s a look at the announcers from above…
…and here’s a view from the side:
That’s Frank White shielding his eyes from the sun. He won eight Gold Glove Awards. Wow.
Here’s a shot that Jona took of me from above, right before I went on the air…
…and here I am, being interviewed during the actual game. DAMN it was fun:
I was told that I was only gonna be interviewed during the top of the third inning, and of course, just my luck, the invincible Zack Greinke was pitching. I was sure he was gonna mow down the D’backs one-two-three, and that I’d be told to take a hike as soon as FSN went to a commercial break.
My prediction was half-right: Greinke DID retire the side in order…BUT…two good things happened:
1) Felipe Lopez had an eight-pitch at-bat to lead off, and Justin Upton worked a full count two batters later. So…the three outs took a bit longer than usual.
2) As the third out was being recorded, and as my heart was sinking faster than a baseball in the fountain, Lefebvre said ON THE AIR that I would be sticking around for another half-inning. That came as a total surprise, and I was ecstatic.
It gave me a chance to be a human being and discuss ballhawking without having to rush through my talking points. During the interview, I could hear some producer’s voice in my ear. He was making occasional comments and suggestions to all of us. At one point, he told Lefebvre what to ask me, and another time, he pointed out the fact that I’d been turning my back to Mister Frank White. We were in a commercial break at that point, so I turned and faced White and put my arm around him and offered a sincere apology and told him that since his partner was asking all the questions, I had just been facing him out of instinct. White wasn’t offended, and we laughed about it, and then during the bottom of the inning, I made sure to look at both guys as I told my various stories. Another thing that I did during my interview was…whenever the ball was put into play (or when someone struck out), I had to stop talking and give Lefebvre a chance to do the play-by-play. No one told me to do this. I wasn’t coached at all for this interview. I just did that because I’ve seen enough interviews to know that’s how it’s done.
Here’s another photo taken during the interview:
Lefebvre and I were both wearing our gloves. White didn’t need one.
“Mine are all made out of gold anyway,” he said. (Awesome.)
The bottom of the third saw five men come to the plate (yay) but two of them hit the first pitch (boo). So…it wasn’t THAT long of an inning, but at least I had a little extra time to do my thing.
Here I am with Lefebvre and White after the interview:
No, I didn’t ask for White’s autograph. I probably could’ve had him sign all 12 of my balls during the commercial break, but I just didn’t care. I’ve become less and less interested in autographs. It was the experience the mattered. I got to shake his hand three times. Yes, I counted. Yes, I have since washed my hand. And yes, I meant to say “12 of my balls” and not 13; I forgot to mention that after the pre-game interview, I gave away one of the balls to a man in a wheelchair. Normally I only give balls to kids, but this guy was wearing a glove, and he had a leg missing. I couldn’t NOT give him a ball.
For the rest of the game, I kept running back and forth for potential home run balls. Jona sat next to the batter’s eye and held my backpack:
Mark Reynolds was the only guy who went deep. I should’ve gotten the ball but I was playing him too far toward left-center and he hit it to straight-away left. The ball didn’t reach the walkway. It landed in the second row, so it would’ve been tough, but I still feel like I should’ve had it. And that was the only action for me during the game.
Greinke was very hittable. He struck out nine guys in 6 2/3 innings, but he allowed six runs–four earned–on eight hits and two walks. Not great, but his ERA is still dazzling at 1.96.
Final score: Diamondbacks 12, Royals 5.
I raced to the D’backs dugout with two outs in the bottom of the ninth and:
1) Got coach Jeff Motuzas to toss me my 14th ball of the day
2) Found a crumpled up dollar on the ground as I headed up the steps.
An hour after the game ended, I was in a Denny’s restaurant near the stadium with Jona, and who walked in? Clay Zavada.
The end. Gotta run back to Kauffman for my third and final game. I’ll get those interviews up on my site at some point soon so everyone can see them. (I’d put them on YouTube, but MLB would take them down for copyright infringement. Duh. I need to have a word with Mister Selig about that…)
• 14 balls at this game
• 247 balls in 30 games this season = 8.23 balls per game.
• 599 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 165 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 106 lifetime games with at least 10 balls
• 46 lifetime games outside of New York with at least 10 balls
• 4,067 total balls
• 110 donors (click here and scroll down for the complete list)
• $24.16 pledged per ball
• $338.24 raised at this game
• $5,967.52 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
QUESTION: Who took all the photos in my previous entry?
Here we are outside the stadium, waiting for the gates to open:
Are we still together? What’s our official status? Don’t ask. All you need to know (or rather all I’m gonna say) is that we’ve been spending time together. I’m so bad at being vague. This is good practice.
Anyway…baseball…yes, finally, for the first time in three weeks, I was at a game with batting practice. I’d been having THE worst luck with weather, so it felt great to finally have a chance to put up some big numbers.
On my way out to the seats in straight-away left field (during which time three different ushers told me to stop running), I found a ball sitting in the front row:
Is that a beautiful sight or what?
A minute later, Jona made her way out there and started taking photos:
You might think my pink shirt is dumb (okay, it is), but you have to admit that it makes it easy to spot me.
Here’s a cool shot that shows me and several Orioles running for a ball:
I didn’t get that one, but several minutes later, Jona took a photo of me hurdling the seats for a home run ball that I *did* end up snagging:
I beat out one other guy for the ball. Here we are lunging for it:
I have no idea who hit that ball, and I don’t know who hit the next one either. I do know that it was my 200th ball of the season, and of course I remember having caught it on the fly. Here’s a photo that shows me tracking it:
Did you notice the Orioles player watching me in the background?
The left-handed hitting Felix Pie (pronounced “pee-AY”) stepped into the cage, and I figured he was going to start by trying to hit some balls to the opposite field…and I figured there was a chance that he’d slice a few into foul territory, or at least down the line…and I was right.
In the four-part photo below, starting on the top left and then going clockwise, you can see a red arrow pointing to a ball bouncing toward me. The fourth photo (on the lower left) shows me reaching all the way down and grabbing it off the rubberized warning track:
(Don’t forget…you can click all these photos for a closer look.)
As I was returning to the seats in fair territory, I snagged two more home run balls within a 20-second span. The first ball landed in some empty seats and skipped up high enough in the air that I was able to run over and catch it before it took another crazy bounce. (I found out later, while updating my stats, that this was the 3,700th ball I’ve snagged since my consecutive games streak began in 1993.) The second ball landed in the middle of an empty row, and I ran over and grabbed it about 10 feet away from the nearest fan.
That gave me six balls on the day, and I snagged No. 7 by cutting through a row in left-center and catching a ground-rule double.
After that, Seattle took the field so I changed into my Mariners gear and convinced Bruce Hines, the team’s 3rd base coach, to throw me a ball. In the following photo, I’m wearing the “ICHIRO 51” shirt, and you can see Hines just behind my right hand, getting ready to toss the ball:
I ran back into foul territory and grabbed ball No. 9 off the warning track. It had trickled to Miguel Batista, who was playing catch, and instead of picking it up and firing it toward the bucket, he had gently kicked it behind him. (I wonder if he would’ve done that if he knew I was at this game.)
Ichiro and Russell Branyan and Ken Griffey Jr. all started hitting, so I raced over to the standing-room-only section in right field. It was surprisingly crowded, and since I’d actually missed the first round of swings (for a reason I won’t mention), I only ended up catching two homers out there…BUT…I made a nice play on both of them, especially the first. I’m pretty sure Ichiro hit it. The ball was heading right toward me, and as it was about to land, there were a few other guys drifting to camp under it. I stayed about five feet behind the spot where I knew it was going to land, then crept up at the last second and timed my leap perfectly. I was like an outfielder robbing a home run, except I was moving forward instead of backward…and for a moment, while I was in mid-air, it felt like I was flying above the competition…and I reached up and made the catch above several other hands and gloves. It felt sooooo good. Then, less than a minute later, I caught another one that almost hit one of the flag poles on the way down. The nicest thing about that play is that I judged it perfectly. At least a dozen other guys were running around cluelessly, thinking the ball was going to land at the front of the section as it began descending toward us. I, however, hung back and picked the spot where it was going to land, and I reached up for the easy catch at the last second as everyone was just starting to run back toward me. Heh.
In all fairness, I should admit that I misjudged one ball horribly a bit earlier in the day, and then of course I got a bunch of unlucky ricochets on others, so even though it might seem (from what I’m writing) like I’m the luckiest and most athletic human being of all-time, that’s not exactly the case.
Back in left field, I used my glove trick to snag my 12th ball of the day (I gave that one away to a kid after BP) and soon caught another homer on the fly in a highly congested patch of seats.
Jason Vargas tossed me my 14th ball, and it was a good snag for two reasons:
1) The ball had an interesting streak-like marking on the logo. You can see a photo of it on the right. Any theories on how the ball would’ve ended up looking like this?
2) I had to make a nice play on it. I was standing in the front row. Vargas kind of flipped/side-armed the ball in my direction, and I could tell from the moment it left his hand that it was going to sail over my head. Keep in mind that this was a simple toss that never went more than 20 feet in the air. It wasn’t like a home run, where I have several seconds to take my eye off the ball, move to a different spot in the seats, and then look back up and make the catch. No no. This was all split-second. I looked down VERY quickly, hopped over the front row of seats, looked back up, found the ball in mid-air as it was about five feet away from landing, and lunged far back behind the 2nd row to make a back-handed catch.
At the very end of BP, I raced over to the Mariners’ dugout and got my 15th ball tossed by hitting coach Alan Cockrell. Not bad.
Guess who I ran into after that. (Okay, yes, I’d been running into him all day.)
Nick Yohanek, aka “The Happy Youngster.”
Here we are at the dugout. I don’t blame him for not putting his arm around me. Never mind the pink shirt I was wearing earlier. Look how sweaty I was at this point:
Just before the game started, Jose Lopez (pictured below) played catch with Adrian Beltre in front of the dugout:
Beltre ended up throwing me the ball. That gave me SIXTEEN balls for the day, and I was really tempted to keep playing the dugouts and trying to get foul balls. It would’ve been awesome to have a 20-ball performance, but the standing-room-only section in right field was too
great to ignore. Not only was I hoping to catch a Griffey home run (that’s basically why I decided to make this trip) but I also wanted to catch Matt Wieters’ first major league homer. And besides, I’m now finally trying to be more home-run conscious in general; if I have to give up a few less meaningful balls as a result, so be it.
During the game, this was my view from the back of the standing-room-only section:
Because I couldn’t see the batter from where I was standing, Jona stayed at the front and played the role of “spotter.” She gave me subtle hand signals each time the pitcher was releasing the ball. It was very helpful because I was able to know exactly when a home run might’ve started flying my way, but because I’ve had AWFUL home run luck this season, nothing was hit anywhere near me. Still, it was fun to hang out in that section and know that at least I had a great chance of catching one.
Here’s a look at the section from the side:
Wieters came up with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, and I stayed put. I never would’ve forgiven myself if I’d left the section just before he hit a bomb right to where I’d been standing all night. But there was no bomb to be caught. The future of the Orioles’ franchise struck out swinging to end the game.
Final score: Mariners 4, Orioles 1.
• 213 balls in 27 games this season = 7.89 balls per game.
• 596 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 162 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 104 lifetime games with at least 10 balls
• 44 lifetime games outside of New York with at least 10 balls
• 4,033 total balls
• 109 donors (click here and scroll down for the complete list)
• $24.06 pledged per ball
• $384.96 raised at this game!
• $5,124.78 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
One final unrelated note: I’ve had some major problems with my email this week. (I think it’s because the atrocious internet situation at my lame and overrated hotel here in Baltimore screwed me up.) I might have lost a few emails in the process, so if you’ve written to me recently and you don’t hear back from me by…let’s say…June 18th, go ahead and email me again. Sometimes I take a week to answer emails anyway, but in this case…yeah, if you’re waiting for a reply, just be patient and then give another shout. And also, if you’ve emailed me to get snagging advice about a certain stadium, all I can tell you is: read my blog. If I’ve blogged about a particular stadium, you’ll find everything there, and if I haven’t blogged about it, that means I haven’t been there since at least 2004 and I probably don’t remember too much about the place anyway. I get too many emails in general, especially ones like this, to answer everyone personally. I’m really sorry. It’s nothing personal. I’ll still try to write back to everyone, but if I write something brief, please understand why.