Tagged: flag court

10/2/10 at Camden Yards

For the final weekend of the regular season, I drove down to Baltimore with Jona and two other friends. Here we are outside the stadium:

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In the photo above, the gentleman on the left is a teacher named Roger. He and I have known each other for more than a decade, and this wasn’t our first baseball road trip together. He was with me in 2003 when I snagged my 2,000th ball at Olympic Stadium. The guy in the yellow shirt is a writer named Bassey. I met him last year at my writing group. He played high school baseball in Milwaukee and now works for the New York Times.

Anyway, let’s get on with the action…

My first ball of the day was a batting practice homer hit by Adam Jones that landed in the empty seats in straight-away left field. Nothing fancy about it. My second ball, however, was a bit more exciting. Someone on the Orioles (not sure who) launched a homer 30 feet to my right. I bolted through my row and made a leaping back-handed catch at the last second. I didn’t know it at the time, but Jona had reached the left field seats by that point, and she took a beautiful action shot of the ball flying toward my open glove. The ball is hard to see because it’s overlapping the white uniform pants of some players in the background, so I drew a red circle around it. Check it out:

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Do you see the fan positioned two rows behind me? His name is Ben. He’s a new-but-very-talented ballhawk who recently snagged A-Rod’s 607th career home run. Do you see the fan running over from the next section? His name is Tim, and he, too, is fairly new and highly skilled as a ballhawk.

Ready for a funny photo of all three of us? Look at our ridiculous facial expressions as another home run ball sailed over our heads:

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I forget who ended up snagging that ball, but I can tell you that it wasn’t me.

Tim and Ben write a blog together called Baltimore’s Finest, and of course they both have profiles on mygameballs.com. Here’s Tim’s profile, and here’s Ben’s. (And hey, here’s mine. Awesome website. Totally free. Go there immediately and create a profile if you haven’t done so already.)

As for Roger and Bassey…

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…they weren’t interested in snagging baseballs. They just stayed in one spot and watched the action unfold all around them.

My third ball of the day was a Nolan Reimold homer that landed in the seats and rolled down to the front row. My fourth ball was a ground-rule double, and I have no idea who hit it. I’ve had a tough time this season with ground-rule doubles in Baltimore. The warning track is made of rubber, and the outfield wall is low, so lots of balls have bounced over me. On this one, however, I played it perfectly. Once I determined that the ball was going to land on the track, I backed up a few rows and ended up in the perfect spot to reach up for the easy catch.

When the Tigers took the field, I got Phil Coke to throw me a ball as he walked toward the bullpen. Here I am (wearing dark Tigers gear) about to catch it:

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My sixth ball was another homer. I ranged a full section to my right for it and made a back-handed catch in traffic:

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That one felt pretty good — and then I caught another homer on the fly in left-center. Here’s a photo of that ball on its way down:

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As soon as I caught the ball, I noticed that there was a young boy standing right in front of me. Even though I hadn’t robbed him, I decided to hook him up with the ball, and yes, Jona got a photo of that, too:

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Halfway through the Tigers’ portion of BP, Eddie Bonine tossed me a ball in straight-away left field, and then I caught another homer on the fly in left-center. This was probably my best play of the day. There were people all around, so I climbed up on a seat while the ball was in mid-air and reached far to my left over everyone. In the following photo, the diagonal arrow in the upper right is pointing to the ball, and the vertical arrow down below is pointing at me:

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Every time I snagged a ball, I tossed it to Jona so she could put it in my backpack. Here I am preparing to toss her another:

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Remember when I saw the Tigers at Target Field earlier this season on May 4th and May 5th? The Tigers were using balls during BP that had been marked like this with a thick black magic marker. Well, the Tigers were still using marked balls this past weekend in Baltimore. Some were marked on both the logo and sweet spot, while others were marked only on the sweet spot…like this:

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(That’s Jona’s hand, by the way. Don’t get the wrong idea.)

Later in the day, I noticed that one of my baseballs had a faint black streak on it:

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It occurred to me that the streak was probably the residue (or imprint) from one of those black marks on another ball. Cool, huh? It probably happened while the balls were being pressed together in the BP bucket or an equipment bag. I love stuff like that.

Every batter in the final group of BP was left-handed, so I headed over to the standing-room-only section (aka “The Flag Court”) in right field:

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The sun out there was brutal. Even though I was wearing a cap, I had to use my right hand to shade my eyes:

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Let me show you what I mean. Here’s a photo that Jona took while standing right behind me:

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Not only was it tough to see, but every time a ball sailed into the Flag Court, there was an all-out stampede for it:

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At one point, I completely whiffed on a line-drive homer that pretty much came right to me because I simply couldn’t see the ball. I found myself backing away from it and stabbing awkwardly at a random spot in the air where I thought it was going to end up. I suppose it was worth missing out on it to avoid getting hit in the face, but I still felt like a failure.

Here’s another action shot of a home-run-induced stampede:

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This ball ended up sailing completely over the Flag Court and clanging off the grill in Boog’s Barbecue.

I did manage to snag one ball in right field, and I owe it all to Jona and Bassey. The ball bounced into the cross-aisle just next to the Flag Court and came to rest at Jona’s feet. I was about 20 feet away at that point, and because there were other fans nearby, I figured Jona or Bassey would grab the ball. But instead Jona yelled, “Don’t touch it!!” and Bassey used his body to form a mini-barricade (or, as he desribed it, a “containment zone”) around it so that no one else could grab it. I was able to race over and scoop up the ball, and because it hadn’t entered the possession of any other fan, I was able to count it. If Jona or Bassey (or Roger, who was also standing nearby) had picked it up and handed it to me, that would have nullified it. So…big thanks to my friends for bailing me out and helping me reach double digits — that was my 10th ball of the day — when luck/skill seemed to turn against me.

Here are the four of us being silly after BP…

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…and here’s a HUGE moth-like creature that was chillin’ nearby on a brick wall:

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If that thing had flown into my face, I’m quite certain that Roger, Bassey, and Jona would now be deaf because I would have shrieked THAT loud. We all have our weaknesses, and bugs are one of mine. Nature is pretty and all, but I don’t like to get too close to it, if you know what I mean. I live a quarter of a mile from Central Park. That’s good enough.

Shortly before game time, I got Will Rhymes to sign my ticket…

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…and then I snagged two more baseballs within a 10-second span. The first was thrown by Brandon Inge. Here’s a photo of him just before he let it fly:

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In the photo above, do you see the guy on the field wearing the navy blue athletic gear? Well, I assumed that he was the Tigers’ strength/conditioning coach, so I pulled out my cheat sheet…

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…and felt pretty certain that his name was Chris. When all the players headed back to the dugout, there was one ball that was still sitting on the grass near the foul line. This guy happened to pick it up, so I shouted, “CHRIS!!!” as loud as I could, and what do you know? He turned and flung it to me as he jogged off the field.

That was my 12th — and unfortunately last — ball of the day. During the game, I had two really close calls on foul balls behind the plate, and I missed Nick Markakis’s fourth-inning homer by two feet. It was so depressing. I was standing at the back of the Flag Court. The ball was hit exactly in my direction, meaning I was perfectly lined up with it from the moment that it left the bat. I quickly determined that it wasn’t going to reach the back of the section, so I darted forward, hoping to make the catch just behind the wall at the front. Well, the ball landed ON TOP of the wall (where there’s a three-foot-wide metal platform) and skipped back over my head and rolled to the EXACT SPOT where I’d been standing in the first place. I still would’ve had the ball if some bozo eating a pulled pork sandwich hadn’t been standing there. It was terrible. Meanwhile, it seemed as if everyone else I knew was snagging game-used baseballs. Tim somehow got his hands on the only other homer of the night, a blast to straight-away left by Brandon Inge, and Bassey managed to grab a foul ball despite sitting in the middle of a row on the first base side.

Here’s Bassey with his ball — the first one he’d ever snagged in his life, including batting practice:

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Great for Bassey. Great for Tim. But it just added to my frustration. I busted my butt and ran all over the stadium for two hours and didn’t have anything to show for it. That’s right. Two hours. That’s how long the game lasted. The Orioles won, 2-1, behind a strong six-inning performance from Brian Matusz. Mike Gonzalez, Jim Johnson, and Koji Uehara each worked a quick scoreless inning in relief. For the Tigers, Armando Galarraga went the distance and notched a rare complete-game loss. He threw just 91 pitches in eight innings. That’s how to play a game in two hours. (Yankees and Red Sox, are you listening?)

After the final out, I met up with a friend from Baltimore named Adam. You might recognize him from previous blog entries. Here we all are:

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The five of us went out to dinner at a nearby Chinese restaurant, and then Jona and Roger and Bassey and I went back to our hotel. We were gonna have to be up early-ish the next day for the final game of the regular season.

SNAGGING STATS:

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• 12 balls at this game (11 pictured on the right because I gave one away)

• 297 balls in 30 games this season = 9.9 balls per game.

• 659 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 185 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 202 consecutive games outside New York with at least one ball

• 132 lifetimes games with at least ten balls

• 4,655 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 48 donors (click here to learn more)

• $7.53 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $90.36 raised at this game

• $2,236.41 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

Hey, wait, here’s one more photo. I was playing around with Photoshop and…well, here, just have a look:

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9/15/09 at Camden Yards

The day got off to a GREAT start…

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

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

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

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Amazing. And then things got better.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There was running:

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There was pain:

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(The running needed work.)

And there was friendship:

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

Back to snagging…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Coach!” I yelled, “Hit me a fungo!”

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

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

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

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

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

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That was my 19th ball of the day!

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

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

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

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

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Here I am reaching up to make the catch:

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

BAM!!!

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

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

Everyone else in the section laughed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is where I positioned myself for the righties:

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

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

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

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

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

This was my reaction:

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s the home run ball itself…

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

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

SNAGGING STATS:

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

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

• 621 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 117 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

• 6 lifetime games with at least 20 balls

• 9 lifetime game home runs

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

• 4,285 total balls

• 1 gut-wrenching mistake

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $25.26 pledged per ball

• $631.50 raised at this game

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

5/7/09 at Camden Yards

I attended this game with my friend Sean, and we met up with a couple other guys who read this blog: Donnie (aka “donnieanks” in the comments) and Gary (aka “gjk2212”). Here we all are outside the Eutaw Street gate. From left to right: Donnie, Sean, me, and Gary:

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As a baseball fan, this was one of the worst days of my life. Not only did I learn that Manny Ramirez is officially a fraud (I’m done rooting for him now), but it was sunny and there was NO batting practice. This was the ugly scene when I ran inside the stadium at 5pm:

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Jeremy Guthrie was walking from the bullpen through right-center field. I ran down to the front row and called out to him and thanked him for playing catch with me the day before. He told me he saw me get the two foul balls during the game. I asked him why there wasn’t batting practice. He shrugged and headed off toward the dugout. (I later heard two theories about the lack of BP. The first was that the field was still too wet from all the rain the night before, and the second was that the managers decided to skip BP because the players had been up so late.)

I saw a pitcher throwing in the Orioles’ bullpen, so I ran over…

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…and got one of the guys to toss me a ball when they were done, but it fell inexcusably short and bounced off the wall and rolled back toward them. Bullpen coach Alan Dunn walked over and picked it up.

“Go ahead and THROW it!” I shouted. “I won’t get hurt. I’ll catch it. I promise.”

That convinced him and he fired the ball right to me. It felt good to get that first ball out of the way.

There wasn’t anything else going on at that point, so I cut through the seats and slowly made my way toward the infield. Moments later I saw Sean running toward me and frantically waving me over. He said Guthrie had been talking to Ken Rosenthal about me, and that Rosenthal wanted to interview me.

“Are you SERIOUS?!” I said. “Thanks so much! How did that happen?”

Sean just told me that Guthrie was in the dugout and that I should go over there and talk to him.

This is what I saw when I got to the dugout:

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In the photo above, you can see Rosenthal wearing a suit and tie, standing off in the distance on the warning track. I couldn’t believe this was really going to happen. Finally, I was going to have a chance to tell a national audience about my charity efforts.

I asked Guthrie what was up. He told me to “go over and talk to Ken.” I thanked him profusely and then headed toward the outfield end of the dugout.

Rosenthal was busy talking to Adam Eaton, so I stood there and waited.

Then the grounds crew covered the field:

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In the photo above, Rosenthal is like, “Is this really happening?”

That was my thought too. This whole thing seemed fantastically bizarre, so when Eaton finally walked off, I shouted, “Hey Ken!”

He looked up, and I continued by saying, “I think I might be the victim of a practical joke, but Jeremy Guthrie told me you were looking for me.”

“Yeah, you are,” he said.

“Oh…” I replied, mildly amused and a bit deflated by the whole situation…”well, do you know who I am?”

“No.”

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“He didn’t tell you about me? I’m the guy who collects baseballs. I have almost 4,000 of them and–”

Rosenthal clearly wasn’t interested, so I stopped talking and walked off. Guthrie was already gone by that point, and 10 seconds later I saw Gary get a ball tossed to him behind the Twins’ dugout. Fabulous. Jeremy Guthrie COST me a ball (and cost Pitch In For Baseball roughly $20), but I suppose it was worth it. I can forever say that I’ve been pranked by a major league baseball player.

I did end up getting a ball behind the Twins’ dugout about five minutes later. Two coaches were playing catch. Gary was still over there, camped out in the front with his Twins gear, so my only chance was to move back about 10 rows and hope that the coach who ended up with the ball would take pleasure in making the more difficult throw to ME. That’s exactly what happened. The only problem was that the coaches were wearing warm-up jerseys covering their uniform numbers, so I had no idea who they were. Before they disappeared into the dugout, I pulled out my camera and took a few quick pics of the guy who’d hooked me up. When I got back to NYC late that night (and was reunited with my internet connection), I emailed the pics to my friend Bob (aka “bigglovebob”) in Minnesota and asked him who it was, and when I woke up this morning, I had an answer: Jerry White. Yay for technology. (And thanks to Bob.)

I headed toward the right field foul line because a couple Orioles were playing catch:

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In the photo above, you can see two fans all the way down in the front row. The fan on the right (in the orange shirt) was Donnie, and he still hadn’t snagged a ball, so I told him I’d stay back, and that I wouldn’t even ask for the ball when the guys were done. The only problem for Donnie was that he didn’t assert himself enough when the throwing session ended. The guy closer to him was first base coach John Shelby, and he started walking toward the dugout with TWO balls in his glove.

“Go on,” I told Donnie, “walk alongside him in the seats.”

Donnie moved slowly and asked softly, and Shelby was escaping with his brisk walk.

I decided at that point that I had to go for it, so I cut through the seats and caught up with Shelby and said, “Excuse me, is there any chance you could spare a baseball, please?”

“SPARE a baseball?” replied Shelby. “I never heard THAT one before. SPARE a baseball? Are you planning to give it back?”

(Yeah…anyway. Thanks. I didn’t say “borrow,” so why don’t you stick to coaching first base and leave the wordplay to the professionals?)

Thankfully it was a rhetorical question, and as soon as he finished asking it, he reached into his glove and pulled out a ball and flipped it to me.

Five minutes later, the confused grounds crew half-removed the tarp…

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…and several Twins came out and started throwing:

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Jesse Crain tossed me a ball when he was done, and less than a minute later, an overthrow (by Jose Mijares, I think) skipped off the top of the brick wall and landed several rows back. There was an all-out race for the ball, and thanks to the fact that other fans never seem to realize that gravity makes balls roll down steps, I ended up getting it. (People always run RIGHT to the spot where the ball lands, rather than heading to a spot several rows below as I always do.)

If I’d had anything worth getting signed, I probably would’ve gotten about a dozen autographs. It seemed like half the Twins’ roster came over and signed, but I didn’t have any ticket stubs, and I didn’t want the balls signed (I keep those pure except for my own teeny markings), so I just got close and took photos. Here’s a shot of Kevin Slowey (what a horrible name for a pitcher, but at least his first name isn’t Homer) and Joe Nathan:

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You know how players have their names stitched onto their gloves? Well, I don’t know if this was Nathan’s practice glove or what, but there was something funny stitched on it. Check it out:

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I got my sixth ball of the day thrown by Michael Cuddyer right before the game started. Nothing fancy. Pre-game throwing along the foul line. Yawn. None of the six balls were commemorative.

I spent most of the game in the standing room only section (aka “the flag court”) down the right field line. Here’s a look at that section from a spot just foul of the pole:

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Pretty nice, eh?

The only problem with that section, from a ballhawking perspective, is that when you’re standing at the back of it, you can’t see the field:

12_view_from_flag_court.jpg

I nearly caught Aubrey Huff’s home run in the bottom of the third inning. It was a line drive that barely cleared the wall on my right, and as I ran up to make the catch, the people who were standing at the wall backed up and flinched and got right in my way, forcing ME to back up and flinch (so I wouldn’t get creamed by a deflection). The ball hit some lady on the butt, and before I could see where it landed, some other guy (with no glove, of course) swooped in and snatched it. I definitely would’ve caught it on the fly if not for these people. Very very very very very very very frustrating…but I can’t blame them. I blame Aubrey Huff for not hitting it five feet higher.

That was the only action for me for the rest of the night. I ran over to the Orioles’ dugout with two outs in the ninth inning…

13_ninth_inning_05_07_09.jpg

…but didn’t get anything there.

Final score: Zack 6, Orioles 5, Twins 4.

SNAGGING STATS:

• 6 balls at this game

• 147 balls in 19 games this season = 7.7 balls per game.

• 588 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 3,967 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 103 donors (click here and scroll down for the complete list)

• $20.38 pledged per ball

• $122.28 raised at this game

• $2,995.86 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

7/21/08 at Camden Yards

I went to this game with one of my newer/favorite friends–a guy named Leon Feingold who happens to be a former minor league pitcher, a current member of Mensa, and a part-time competitive eater. He’s also pretty tall. Keep in mind that I’m 5-foot-11…

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Although Leon hasn’t pitched in the minors since 1995, he’s still a dues-paying member of the APBPA (Association of Professional Ball Players of America) and we got special treatment as a result. Camden Yards is one of those stadiums that opens in sections; everyone is allowed to enter two hours early, but for the first half-hour, the left field seats are open only to season ticket holders. Leon used his membership card (and did a whole lot of smooth talking) to get us into left field as soon as the gates opened.

For the first five minutes, there was officially NO competition. Check it out:

left_field_empty1.jpg

I moved to the front row in straight-away left field and promptly caught a home run on a fly
(as Randor Bierd looked on). This ball has one of the largest and deepest scuff marks I’ve scuffed_sweet_spot.jpgever seen. I’m guessing it was hit into the seats before the stadium opened and landed on a concrete step…then either bounced back onto the field or was tossed back by an usher. (I wrote the “3516” because this was the 3,516th ball of my collection.)

Over the next 20 minutes, about a dozen other fans made it out to the left field seats, and I snagged five more home run balls:

The first one landed in left-center and bounced up against the chain-link fence that separates the seats from the bullpen. The second one hit my glove and landed in an empty row behind me as I jumped and lunged for it. The third landed near me and several other fans, and I won the scramble as it rattled around in the seats. The fourth sailed 15 feet over my head and took an incredibly lucky bounce right back to me. The fifth landed in the seats, and I out-scrambled Leon and several other fans.

Then I got another ball–my seventh of the day–tossed to me by Dennis Sarfate (pronounced sar-FAH-tay).

Don’t feel bad for Leon. He brought his glove and snagged two home run balls during BP. He caught the first one on a fly and got a lucky bounce on the second. And don’t feel bad for the other fans. There were PLENTY of balls to go around, and I ended up giving away one of mine to a father and his young son who somehow managed to come up empty. It was ball-snagging heaven.

roy_halladay_and_others.jpgAfter the Blue Jays took the field at 5:30pm, I got my eighth ball tossed by Roy Halladay, then used my glove trick to snag No. 9 off the rubberized warning track, and broke double digits thanks to a little charity from Scott Downs.

If you take a closer look at the photo on the left, you’ll see a “Southwest Airlines” sign on the outfield wall, just above the head of the guy (Blue Jays pitching coach Brad Arnsberg) wearing No. 38. That wall is set several feet out from the base of the stands, so I sacrificed five minutes in left field and ran out there, just in case a ball had dropped into the gap when I wasn’t looking. I had to be slick about it, though. The day before Manny Ramirez hit his 500th career home run, a crazy usher had threatened to eject me for using the glove trick in that section, so I couldn’t just charge down the steps to the front row and lean over the railing. Therefore, I took my time…walked slowly…kept my glove hidden in my backpack…pulled out my camera…pretended to take some pics…casually made it down to the front…peeked over…moved 20 feet to my left…and took a pic for real. This is what I saw:

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Ball No. 11, baby!

Unfortunately, I didn’t get anything else during BP, and I got ignored/dissed by Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston for a ball that almost anyone else in the world would’ve tossed to me. But why dwell donovan_santos.jpgon the negative? Shortly before game time, I got my 12th ball of the day from a guy whom I correctly assumed was Donovan Santos, the Blue Jays “Strength and Conditioning Coach” (pictured on the right in the black shirt).

I spent most of the game with Leon, talking ab
out pitching and going for foul balls on the first base side of home plate. Nothing came close, and that’s probably a good thing because he probably leon_zack_inside.jpg
would’ve caught it. The day before the game, I asked him if he was planning to bring his glove and go for balls, and when he said yes, I asked what would happen if we were sitting together during the game and a foul ball came our way. I wanted to know if he planned to compete with me, and I got my answer: “You better eat your Wheaties tomorrow morning.”

two_game_used_balls.jpgI played the dugouts for third-out balls and got one from each side. Blue Jays catcher Rod Barajas flipped me the ball after Luke Scott took a called third strike to end the second inning…and Orioles first baseman Kevin Millar flipped me HIS ball after Matt Stairs grounded out to Brian Roberts to end the top of the seventh.

I jogged out to the right field standing-room-only section a few times over the course of the game, and and it’s a shame nothing came my way because that whole area of the stadium was a ghost town:

flag_court_empty.jpg

Still, I have two noteworthy things to report from my brief time in right field:

1) There was a fan wearing a T-shirt that said, “I AM KEEPING THE BALL.” Sadly, I didn’t get a photo, but I can tell you that it was a yellow shirt with the words stacked vertically. Very eye-catching. The back of the shirt said, “SEE FRONT OF SHIRT.”

2) At the foul-pole end of the standing-room-only section (you can barely see this in the photo above), the Orioles had one of several “ice stations” set up:

ice_station.jpg

Given the fact that it was 97 degrees and stiflingly humid at game time…how awesome is that? I’ve been to over 700 games in 44 different major league stadiums, and I’ve never seen this before. Can you imagine an ice station at Yankee Stadium? HA!!! You’d have to pay 25 cents per cube (no discount for fragments) and store the ice in a clear plastic bag because, as everyone knows, a styrofoam cup can be used as a weapon.

The Orioles won, 8-3. Jesse Litsch, who’s never been nice to me, took the loss. Radhames Liz, who has a phenomenal name, earned the win. Brian Roberts hit his major league-leading 37th double. Yay.

After the game, Leon got a ball (thanks to my expert guidance) from home plate ump Tim Tschida, and I got a ball from Alberto Castillo (not this Alberto Castillo, but THIS one, although I *have* received balls from both) at the Orioles’ dugout.

the_balls_i_kept_07_21_08.jpgSTATS:

? 15 balls at this game

? 253 balls in 35 games this season = 7.2 balls per game.

? 11 lifetime games with 15 or more balls

? 84 lifetime games with 10 or more balls

? 29 lifetime games outside NYC with 10 or more balls

? 531 consecutive games with at least one ball

? 127 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball

? 3,530 total balls

5/30/08 at Camden Yards

Manny Ramirez had 499 career home runs. The Red Sox were about to begin a four-game series at Camden Yards. I had to be there.

I took a train from New York City to Baltimore, met my friend Jake at the station, dropped off my laptop and four days’ worth of clothes at his place, and headed to the ballpark with him. I was prepared to stay for the whole series and then head straight to Boston, but this was the only game Jake would be attending.

jake_zack.jpgWe bought cheap seats (that we never sat in) and claimed a spot directly behind the Eutaw Street gate. We were the first ones there, and by the time the stadium opened at 5pm, there was an upsettingly long line behind us. Remember the crowd outside Camden for the Yankee game I attended late last season? It was something like that, so as soon as I got my ticket scanned, I sprinted through the concourse and headed into the right-center field seats. As I reached the front row, the batter ripped a deep line drive that rolled to the wall directly below me. Some random guy on the Orioles (wearing No. 68) happened to be jogging along the warning track, and I got him to flip the ball to me.

I didn’t expect to snag a lot of balls, so it felt great to take care of the first one early.

The right field seats filled up fast…

batting_practice_right_field.jpg

…so when the rest of the stadium opened at 5:30pm, I raced around to the left field side. Less than 10 seconds after I got there, a righty on the Red Sox hit a ground-rule double that bounced over my head. Thankfully there was only one other fan behind me and I was able to grab the ball off the steps as he clumsily reached for it.

The left field seats kept getting more and more crowded–so crowded that I can’t even describe it, so I’ll just share a picture of the section toward the end of batting practice:

batting_practice_left_field.jpg

Somehow, Jake managed to snag three balls without really trying. He did have a glove, and he was shouting at the players, but he never moved from the front row and hardly broke a sweat. Meanwhile, I was stressing and cursing and running all over the place, and it sort of paid off because I snagged a third ball with my glove trick back in right-center. The ball had dropped into the gap. I saw this happen from left field, so I ran over and got it easily. That gave me 3,399 lifetime balls, and I should’ve gotten No. 3,400…but didn’t. First, security stopped me from using the trick for a ball lying on the grass in front of the batter’s eye. Then, back in left field, I got Hideki Okajima to toss me a ball by asking in Japanese, but a women (with a glove and a Red Sox cap) reached up and caught it in front of my glove at the last second. She was in the front row. I was standing on the seat just behind her. I tried to get Okajima to toss the ball high, but he threw it at my chest which gave the woman in front of me a chance to interfere.

That was it for BP. I didn’t bother going to the dugout as the Sox left the field. The crowd was five rows deep. There was literally nowhere to go.

empty_seats_pregame_right_field.jpgJake ended up sitting with some friends near the Orioles’ dugout, so I headed out alone to right-center field just before the game started. Left field was packed, but there WERE a good number of empty seats across the stadium. I knew these seats would be filling up fast, and once they did, I’d have no choice but to position myself in the standing room only section in straight-away right field. Manny was batting cleanup, and I needed him to bat in the top of the first inning. That meant at least one of the first three hitters had to get on base and NOT get caught stealing or erased on a double play.

Jacoby Ellsbury led off the game with a double to left (woo!), moved to third on a sacrifice bunt by Dustin Pedroia, and scored on a single by David Ortiz. Then the stadium got loud. Flashbulbs started popping. Manny was announced. Fans stood up. And Manny responded with a double down the left field line. So much for that. I left the seats and spent the rest of the night in standing room only. The good thing about that section is the lack of obstacles other than a few flagpoles and the 100 or so drunk fans who always crowd the front. That’s the only place where they can actually see the batter. Here’s a view from the front:

standing_room_only_view1.jpg

As you can see, there’s a fairly high wall so when I took just a few steps back, this is what happened to my view:

standing_room_only_view2.jpg

The good thing about the high wall is that most people are more interested in seeing the game (and having a place to put their beers) than snagging balls so they cram against it; the balls, of course, are more likely to land further back, so although I missed three-quarters of the game, I was at least in a great spot to catch a home run.

Manny struck out in the third, and when he came up in the sixth, there was a young woman with a glove who positioned herself directly in front of me:

view_for_manny.jpg

Manny ended up flying out to right field, and things never got better for him or for me. If anything, they got worse because the competition kept increasing throughout the night. Manny flied out to right field again in the eighth and popped up to the catcher in the 11th, and by the time he came up in the 13th, this is what I was up against:

competition.jpg

I was almost relieved when he grounded harmlessly to 3rd base. Melvin Mora ended up throwing the ball away–one of two 13th-inning throwing errors by the left side of the infield that led to three unearned runs. Final score: Red Sox 5, Orioles 2.

STATS:

? 3 balls at this game

? 122 balls in 15 games this season = 8.1 balls per game.

? 511 consecutive games with at least one ball

? 114 consecutive games outside NYC with at least one ball

? 817 lifetime balls outside NYC

? 3,399 total balls