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
It was another day of A-Rod hysteria:
Perhaps “hysteria” is an exaggeration. “Anticipation” and “excitement” and “teenage girls hoping to get on TV” would be a better way to describe the atmosphere.
When the stadium opened at 5pm, I raced out to the right field seats. My girlfriend Jona followed close behind with my camera. Here’s a shot of the section from afar. I’m standing in the last row (see the red arrow) wearing a black T-shirt and khaki green cargo shorts:
When A-Rod stepped into the cage, I moved up a few rows and quickly got my first chance of the day when he launched a deep fly ball in my direction. I could tell right away that it was going to fall a bit short, so I climbed over a row of seats…
…and when the ball predictably tailed to my left, I began to drift with it. If you look really closely at the following photo, you can see the ball in mid-air:
One second later, I reached to my left and made an uncontested, one-handed catch:
For the first 10 minutes, the seats remained fairly empty. I took advantage by running all over the place…
…but it didn’t always pay off. Here’s a photo that shows me tracking a home run ball…
…and here’s another that shows me NOT catching it:
I always seem to make great facial expressions when I narrowly miss baseballs. In my own defense, I missed this one because it sailed five feet over my head. Anyway, I got a chance to redeem myself moments later. A-Rod was back in the cage, and I was in position:
He launched another home run ball, this time to my right, and I took off after it:
Once I got close to the spot where I knew it was going to land, I slowed down a bit and started drifting:
I reached the spot:
The ball was heading right for me, but I could tell that it was going to sail a few feet over my head. There was no time to climb up on a seat. Did I have enough vertical leap in me to make the catch?
Here’s your answer:
Here I am just after landing with the ball…
…and here I am holding it up for Jona (who deserves received many hugs and kisses for taking these outstanding photos):
Five minutes later, Curtis Granderson really got a hold of one and sent the ball flying deep to my left. The sun was in my eyes, so as I started moving through my row, I held up my right hand to reduce the glare:
As soon as I passed the Modell’s sign, I climbed over a row of seats:
The ball landed, and I climbed over another row:
And then I climbed over another:
That’s when I grabbed it. (Did you notice that the guy in the red shirt never even moved? All he did was turn around to see where the ball landed.)
Moments later, I caught another A-Rod homer on the fly. It’s too bad that Jona didn’t get a photo of this one because I got clobbered while making the catch. I was in the middle of a cluster of people, and when I jumped for the ball, another guy crashed into me, elbowed me in the back of the head, caused my hat to go flying, and nearly made me tumble forward over a row of seats. I don’t think he meant to hurt me. I just think that some people are out of control and have no sense of their surroundings.
I’d snagged four baseballs in the first 15 minutes. Things were looking good. I thought I was on my way to double digits for the first time ever at the new Yankee Stadium — but then things slowed way down.
I still kept running all over the place…
…and climbing over seats…
…but I couldn’t get close to any other balls. I was still stuck at four when the Yankees’ portion of BP ended.
I threw on my Blue Jays cap and headed over to the left field side:
I don’t know what caused it, but the Blue Jays (who lead the majors in home runs) experienced a severe power outage. There was hardly any action in the stands, and as a result, I only snagged two more baseballs. The first was tossed by Jesse Litsch (who recognized me from Toronto). It was my 200th ball of the season. Here it is:
The second ball was a John McDonald homer. I grabbed it when it landed in the seats and handed it to the nearest kid.
Simple stuff. Six balls. Not terrible. Not great. But that’s to be expected at Yankee Stadium.
Did you know that there’s a butcher inside the stadium? And did you know that Jona is generally repulsed by meat? This photo pretty much tells the story…
…although I should point out that the three balls I’m holding were my A-Rod homers.
Could A-Rod break out of his slump and hit one to me during the game?! Jona asked me what I thought my chances were of catching No. 600. This was my reaction:
All I can say is that Yankee Stadium stresses me out. One thing, however, that did temporarily improve my mood was the free chocolate samples that we got from a Dylan’s candy stand inside Gate Two:
In the photo above, it looks so empty and peaceful, doesn’t it?
One word: HA!!
This was my view during the bottom of the first inning with A-Rod on deck:
(Historical tidbit No. 1: This was the 31st anniversary of Thurmon Munson’s death.)
Jona and I had seats in the middle of a row. Early in the game, we were able to grab a couple open seats next to the stairs, but in the middle innings, every single end-seat was taken. I had to make a choice. The options were:
1) Move into the middle of the row and basically have no chance to move if A-Rod happened to go yard.
2) Leave the section and try my luck somewhere else.
We left the section. I couldn’t even bear the thought of sitting in the middle of a row. I knew I would’ve felt like a caged animal, so we wandered for a few innings and ended up in the bleachers.
Why does Yankee Stadium stress me out? Why haven’t I bothered to make a serious attempt at catching No. 600 in New York?
This is why:
The strategy for catching a milestone home run ball at Yankee Stadium is simple: be exactly where the ball is going to be hit. There is NO room to move. Security checks tickets at every section. And even if you can somehow sneak into a section, there aren’t any empty seats. It’s a ballhawking nightmare.
When A-Rod grounded out to end the 7th inning, some people foolishly assumed that he wouldn’t come up again — and they left. Jona and I took advantage and moved back to our original section. Look at all this room I had:
(At Yankee Stadium, that’s a lot of room.)
The Yankees got two guys on base in the eighth, which meant that A-Rod would be due to bat fourth in the bottom of the ninth…and…thanks to a one-out homer by Nick Swisher in the final frame, A-Rod did indeed get one last turn to hit.
It would have been nice if Mister Rodriguez hit a line drive right to me because I almost definitely would’ve caught it. Obviously, there’s no way to guard against someone in the front row throwing their glove up at the ball and deflecting it, but putting freak plays aside, I really do believe that if A-Rod had hit the ball anywhere within, let’s say…five feet of me, I would have caught it. But instead, he grounded out to shortstop to end the game.
Final score: Blue Jays 8, Yankees 6.
(Historical tidbit No. 2: During this game, the Blue Jays tied an American League record by hitting six doubles in one inning.)
I raced over to the Jays’ bullpen and got one final ball from bullpen coach Rick Langford. I didn’t take my camera or backpack with me — Jona was hanging onto all my stuff — so when she finally made her way over, this was the only photo that she got:
It shows Langford and Janssen and the bullpen catcher walking across the field toward the dugout.
(Jona would like you to know that she took that last photo with her brand new iPhone 4, which she loves.)
• 7 balls at this game (6 pictured on the right because I gave one away)
• 202 balls in 22 games this season = 9.2 balls per game.
• 651 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 493 consecutive games in New York with at least one ball
• 139 consecutive Yankee home games with at least one ball
• 10 consecutive games at the new Yankee Stadium with at least two balls
• 7 consecutive seasons with at least 200 balls
• 4,560 total balls
• 45 donors (click here to learn more)
• $6.49 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $45.43 raised at this game
• $1,310.98 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
My 6-foot-6 friend Leon Feingold sent me the following email a few nights ago:
“Hey, want to meet some 7-footers tomorrow??? Call me around 10 or 11am….”
Based on this blog entry that I’d posted a month earlier, you could say that my response went something along the lines of “HELL yeah!!!”<
It turned out that the 5-foot-9 Martha Stewart was going to be taping a show based entirely on tall people. There was going to be a fashion show with extra-tall models (run by a tall designer), an interview with a 6-foot-3 woman who wrote the definitive book about being tall, and other tall-related topics.
“You can’t come into the studio audience,” wrote Leon in his follow-up email the next day, “b/c EVERYONE in the audience must be minimum 6′ and I’m afraid you just miss the cutoff. But you can come meet me and mom lining up outside at 221 w 26th (7/8) where they’ll be doing the taping, and meet Dave Rasmussen, who I think is 7’4″. We’re heading over now, and will be there through 4pm.”
It just so happened that I had to be at West 13th Street for a two-hour meeting ending at 12:30pm, so I headed over to find Leon as soon as I got out. Here I am with him and his 6-foot-1 mother, Eleanor:
(Note my “trying-to-appear-taller-than-I-actually-am” pose. For the record, I’m officially 5-foot-10 and five-eighths, which I normally round up to 5-foot-11.)
Unfortunately, I had just missed the super-tall guy — actually, there were two super-tall guys — but at least I got to hang out with Leon for a while. And if I wanted to wait for a couple hours, I could catch them on the way out.
Suddenly, the line started to move. Leon and his mother and all the other tall folks were about to head inside. He said he’d try to sneak me in. I didn’t see how that was possible. (Leon once snuck me into Citi Field, so I should stop doubting him.) He’d once snuck me into a Mensa meeting (where I managed to trick everyone into thinking I was smart), but how do you fake height? I happened to be wearing thick-ish sneakers, so that was good for about an inch, but everyone was wearing shoes that made them look taller. It was a celebration of height. Even the women were at least six feet tall, and most of them were wearing high heels.
We headed inside to a little check-in/security area with an airport-style metal detector. There were several “Martha Stewart” employees standing behind a counter, looking at everyone’s IDs and having them fill out forms. I was screwed. I knew it. Crap. I wasn’t scared about getting in trouble, but I was ready for them to tell me to get lost.
I handed my driver’s license to one of the ladies.
She looked it over and said, “You’re not on the list.”
“This is my friend, Zack,” said Leon. “He decided to join us at the last minute. Is there any chance you can still add him?”
“I think so,” she said. Then she checked the list to review some other names, and before I knew it, I was holding a ticket to the studio audience:
The fact that I was standing on my tiptoes might’ve helped, or maybe I’d managed to trick her because Leon had poofed up my hat to make me look a little taller. I don’t know what happened. Maybe the lady just wasn’t paying attention, or maybe she didn’t care, but regardless, I was in. Every member of the studio audience was given a yellow, ruler-like name tag. Here’s how I filled out mine:
There was a large waiting area with dozens of chairs and people milling about. I kept walking around on my tiptoes. My calves got sore within three minutes. I was thrilled to be there, but felt so out of place.
“Imposter!” snapped a middle-aged 6-foot-2 woman as I walked past the coat check area.
I couldn’t tell if she was joking, so I just shrugged and pointed at my name tag.
“You’re not six feet,” she said a bit too seriously.
I smiled and said, “I rounded up.”
And then it happened: the two TALLEST human beings I had EVER seen walked by with a bunch of other tall people (who looked short by comparison).
“Go get a photo!” said Leon.
Eleanor grabbed my camera (which I always carry with me, just in case), and we followed the crowd into a hallway. Everyone immediately turned and stared at me. It was bizarre. The two super-tall guys…THEY were the freaks of nature (I mean that in a good way), yet I was being looked at as the freak. Everyone was smiling, though. They knew why I was there.
“YOU!” I said, pointing up at a 7-foot-3 black guy named Curtis, and “YOU!” I said again, turning toward the 7-foot-4 (if you round up) white guy named Dave. “I *need* to get a photo with you two!!”
They just kinda looked at each other and shrugged and said okay. We gathered close together…and Eleanor took a couple quick photos…and oh my God. Check it out:
Seriously…JEE-zus Aitch. I was happier standing between those two guys than I would’ve been if I’d been standing with Hank Aaron and Cal Ripken Jr. I don’t know what it is. I just freakin’ LOVE tall people. You know how you hear stories about women who feel trapped in men’s bodies? Well, I feel like a 7-foot-8 monster who’s trapped in a nondescript 5-foot-11 (if you round up) body. I realize that 5-foot-11 is a perfectly acceptable height. In fact, it’s actually slightly taller than average, but as far as I’m concerned, just based on how I feel in my head and in my gut, my height is a complete disaster.
BTW, when I thanked these guys after the photo and reached to shake their hands, it’s like I was reaching right for their crotches. The whole thing was just…weird.
Eventually, it was time to line up outside the studio:
See that guy at the bottom of the ramp? He’s 6-foot-6. And the woman between him and Leon? 6-foot-2.
Once we got inside the studio, we were told that we could take photos before and after the taping, so…here you go:
The show itself was fine. I won’t give a play-by-play. You can watch it for yourself if you’re interested. It’s going to air on Thursday, February 18th. You might even catch a glimpse of me. On several occasions, those cameras that get shots of the crowd were pointing right at me, but I have no idea what exactly they captured or if it’ll be used in the actual show.
During the commercial breaks, I talked to the two women sitting next to me. One was 6-foot-1. The other was 6-foot-2. They told me that they’re members of the Tall Club of New York City. I fessed up and admitted that I’m not quite six feet tall (we were sitting down, so it wasn’t obvious) and asked if I’d be allowed to attend one of their events. They said there are get-togethers in bars that are open to the public. “Anyone can come,” said one of the women, “but we don’t like it when really really short guys show up. You know, really short, like 5-foot-8 or under. We call them ‘tree-climbers’.”
After the taping, Martha Stewart lingered in the studio for a few minutes and took questions from the audience:
In the photo above, do you see that big brown thing behind Martha? That, my friends, is a 1,250-pound chocolate cake (with a cherry made of sugar on top). Every audience member was given a piece of a different chocolate cake during the Q&A session. Each of us also received a copy of The Tall Book as well as a coupon for a free extra-tall cutting board. I’m thinking I might use mine as a coffee table.
Another thing about the photo above…
See all those people standing next to the cake? See the guy standing closest to it? That’s Tom Cruise. Sort of. It’s a life-sized cardboard cutout of him, which is to say that it’s exactly 5-foot-7…
Mwahaha!! Suck it, Cruise!
Here are three more photos of people standing with the cutout, going in increasing height order.
First, we have a random six-foot-tall hottie:
Next we have Leon:
And (drumroll) here’s the tallest of the tall:
Here’s a group photo, and FYI, the woman wearing red underneath the “AR” in “MARTHA” was standing on a bench:
Here’s one last photo (which needs no explanation):
(If there’s anyone reading this who’s at least seven feet tall, please get in touch. I want to know you and have 18 million of your babies. Okay, that was a joke, I only want 16 million, but no, seriously, I do want to know you. I swear this isn’t a sexual fetish. I just really REALLY adore tall people. The end.)
Last night, thanks to an invitation from my friend Mike, I attended a Steiner Sports dinner in New Rochelle, NY. (For those who don’t know, Steiner is basically THE biggest sports memorabilia company in the world.) The purpose of this event was a) to showcase some items that will be sold at an upcoming auction and b) to raise money and awareness for a not-for-profit agency called Family Services of Westchester.
Here’s a photo of the room where the event took place:
Some people were wearing suits and ties. Others were wearing jeans and baseball caps. And Dwight Gooden was wearing a leather jacket:
Gooden was one of three players in attendance. Unfortunately I didn’t get to have my photo taken with him (or to tell him that I attended his no-hitter in 1996) because it was so crowded, but I managed to get photos with the other two guys:
I knew I was only going to have 20 seconds with Yogi Berra, so rather than telling him that my dad served with him at a submarine base during World War II, I mentioned my baseball collection and asked if he had any weird stories about baseballs. All he said was that back in the old days, when balls were hit into the stands during BP, one of the coaches would sometimes walk out there and ask the fans to give ’em back.
As for Brett Gardner, the first thing I told him was, “Last year, during the final week at the old Yankee Stadium, you tossed your ninth-inning warm-up ball into the bleachers, and I got it, so thank you for that.”
“Oh…” he said, “you’re welcome.”
“Now, I don’t want you to feel used,” I continued, “but I’ve actually caught a LOT of balls in my life, and if I told you how many, you’d probably call me a liar.”
“How many?” he asked.
“Over forty-three hundred,” I said, and since there was no one else waiting to talk to him at that point (he’d already been there for a couple hours), we got to chat for a few minutes. He asked me questions about my collection, and after I explained some of the details, I told him that I used my collection to raise a lot of money for charity this year. I then asked him what his fastest time running the 60-yard dash was, and he said it was something like “six-three-six,” meaning 6.36 seconds, which is thoroughly insane, not to mention more than a full second faster than I ever ran it. I bowed down to him in “We’re not worthy!” fashion, and he admitted that he’s probably not quite that fast anymore.
“But you WERE when it mattered,” I said, “when all the scouts had their stopwatches ready.”
Dwight Gooden and Yogi Berra and Brett Gardner weren’t the only celebrities at the dinner; the man responsible for the food itself — Executive Chef Robert Hesse — was quite well known as well. Here’s a photo of him with my friend Mike:
Hesse starred on the show “Hell’s Kitchen” and has recently worked as a personal chef for some bigtime sports stars (including Hank Aaron). Here’s a short article about him.
In the photo above, the plate in Hesse’s right hand has two slices of pork tenderloin and a small cup of his beyond-awesome sausage gumbo. The plate in his left hand has a pulled pork slider, mac-n-cheese, and roast beef with some kind of white/creamy sauce on top.
I asked Hesse if he’d ever caught a baseball at a game, and when he said no, I said, “Good because I’m completely inept in the kitchen.”
Back to the baseball memorabilia, here are a few of the items that were on display:
In the photo above, do you see that little case just beyond the upper right corner of the “final season” base? That contained a freeze-dried clump of dirt and grass from the old Yankee Stadium.
Here’s another cool item. I don’t know exactly what to call it or where in the old stadium it was located, but it seems to be some kind of mail slot unit. Check it out:
Here’s a close-up:
Here’s another photo of the room:
Did you notice the turnstile in the photo above? (I miss the old NYC stadiums so much. I can’t even describe it. I had a dream last night that I was at Shea, and there were about 14 fans in the entire ballpark. I was in heaven…and I was nearly depressed when I woke up.)
Here’s a signed “holiday ball” from Joba Chamberlain:
(I got Joba’s autograph for free at the 2007 Futures Game. Haha.)
I wanted to see what kind of ball Joba had signed. In other words…what did the logo say? Was it an All-Star ball? Those are typically the only types of balls with multi-colored stitching (click here and here and here for some examples), so I walked around to the back of the table and crouched down. This is what I saw:
Whoa. That’s pretty snazzy. I never knew that such a ball even existed…and do you see the name on it? The printed signature? It says “Brandon Steiner.” That’s THE guy at Steiner Sports — the head of the whole company. Shortly after I took this photo, I got to meet him and chat for a few minutes, and based on a few things we discussed, I have a feeling that I might be crossing paths with him again next season…
The best thing that happened on my birthday this year was NOT snagging 22 balls at Camden Yards. Not even close. The highlight was receiving the following email from my friend Erik Jabs:
I remember you writing that one day you’d like to take BP on a major league field.
PNC Park is having a season ticket holder batting practice on Tuesday,
Oct 6. It’s a regular BP with the cages and screens and everything.
They also use MLB balls, and you can elect to use players’ game bats.
I’d you’d like to, you’re welcome to be my guest and take BP on that day.
I wrote a little about it last year when my blog was beginning:
Let me know,
Three weeks after I received this email, I flew to Pittsburgh with my mom (who came along just to watch) and my friend Brandon (who took all the photos you’re about to see)…
Here I am walking into PNC Park with Erik and a few of his friends:
This was my reaction after stepping onto the field:
It was nine o’clock in the morning. The sun was bright, but the grass was still wet, and it was only 49 degrees — not ideal conditions to jack one over the fence, but I was hopeful.
There were only about 100 people in our 9am-11am group, and we all gathered in the stands for the welcome speech:
The speaker thanked us for supporting the Pirates in 2009 (You’re welcome!) and explained a few basic things about how our three-group session on the field was going to be run:
Group One would be hitting first…
Group Two would be free to roam anywhere on the field and shag baseballs…
Group Three would start by lining up on the warning track in right field and catching fly balls that were going to be fired from a pitching machine…
I was in Group Three, which meant that all the balls were going to be soggy by the time I stepped into the cage. It also meant that I had to break the rules for a couple minutes and play catch at shortstop:
The rules, it should be noted, were not strictly enforced. Some people from Group Two made a beeline for the right field warning track, while others in Group Three (like me and Erik) wandered all over the place.
Here I am with Erik:
(Erik is 6-foot-4.)
The fly ball machine was positioned on the infield dirt behind first base:
It wasn’t THAT exciting to catch routine 200-foot fly balls fired from a machine, especially when I had to wait in line for five minutes between each one. What WAS exciting was simply being on the field:
Quite simply, it was a dream come true.
Finally, after more than an hour, Group Three was called in to hit. I raced to the front of the line and grabbed an aluminum bat that belonged to one of Erik’s friends. I could’ve used wood — there were more than a dozen players’ bats lying around — but I decided I’d go with metal until I put one out.
Unfortunately, that never happened (and here’s where I make tons of excuses)…
In addition to the balls being damp, I had to hit off a pitching machine that was firing most of the balls shoulder-high. Also, the late-morning sun was shining right in my eyes from straight-away center field. In addition, I only got eight pitches, which included my bunt to start the round as well as another pitch that I took moments later because it was head-high. There were so many people waiting to hit, and the guys feeding the machine were in such a rush to get me out of the cage that they only gave me three seconds between each swing to get ready for the next one. It was like, “Hurry up and have your fun and get the hell out.” (But don’t get me wrong: it WAS fun.)
Here I am taking a mighty cut at one of the only belt-high pitches I saw:
Although, as I mentioned above, I didn’t hit a ball out of the park, I did manage to hit a line drive that bounced onto the warning track. If the ball weren’t damp and heavy, it might’ve gone out, and if I’d swung about an eighth of an inch lower, it definitely would’ve gone out.
After everyone in Group Three got their eight-pitches (no one in any group even came close to hitting one out), we each got to jump back in the cage for a four-pitch lightning round. Brandon wandered out behind the mound and took the following photo of me at the plate:
It was exhilarating to get to take BP on a major league field, and
while it certainly went down as I expected, it wasn’t anything like
what I’d dreamt of so many times. In my own personal FantasyLand, I
have a stadium all to myself. The grass is dry. It’s 82
degrees. Leon Feingold is pitching BP fastballs to me with pearls, and of course I’m hitting the crap out of them.
Former big league pitcher Rick Reuschel was hanging around near the batting cage. He and I talked for a minute and then had our picture taken.
(In my next life, I’m going to be 6-foot-7.)
1) a friend of Erik’s
2) a Pirates season ticket holder
3) the owner of the metal bat I’d used
4) a member of the Ballhawk League
5) a good ballplayer
6) a great guy
As you can see in the photo above, Nick brought his copy of Watching Baseball Smarter for me to sign…which I did…with an extra big smile because it was the most worn-out/well-appreciated copy of the book that I’d ever seen. Nick told me he’d read it several times and underlined his favorite parts, which turned out to be half the stuff in it. Check out this two-page spread in the “Umpires” chapter:
The whole book looked like that.
It was lunchtime. Our two-hour session on the field had ended.
We entertained ourselves at the speed-pitch booth:
In the photo above, that’s me on the left, Nick on the right, and Nick’s younger brother Bryan in the middle. Bryan (who’s just 16 years old) threw the fastest pitch of the day at 73mph.
Then it was time to eat:
And then we wandered back down to the field:
Thanks to a not-so-secret loophole in the system, we all got to head back onto the field. Here I am, waiting for my turn to hit:
See the batting glove I’m wearing in the photo above? On this fine day in Pittsburgh, I decided to use Jeromy Burnitz’s batting gloves — the ones he tossed to me in 2004 at Shea Stadium. (Here’s my whole collection of batting gloves, in case you care.)
There were a dozen helmets lying around next to the cage…
…and none of them fit.
These were some of the bats:
I took my eight swings with Nick’s metal bat…
…and finished up with Jose Bautista’s wood bat. No homers. But I hit some deep fly balls and got a compliment from former Pirate John Wehner. Here I am with him:
Wehner said that even HE wouldn’t have been able to hit a home run with such bad balls. (I wish I had a photo of the balls, but since I don’t, let me just say this: the worst ball that you could possibly catch during BP at a major league game would be better than any ball I was invited to hit at PNC Park.) He might’ve just been saying that to make me feel better…but then again, he did only hit four career homers in the big leagues…but no, it was nice to hear.
Brandon and I wandered out to the bullpens. Here I am on the mound:
Here I am on the bench:
Here’s a sign that was on the wall out there:
Here I am clowning around on the warning track (robbing a…double?) with Bryan looking on:
Brandon and my mom and I were going to have to leave for the airport soon, so I spent my remaining time catching fly balls from the pitching machine.
Here I am getting ready to catch one:
Here I am losing my footing on another:
(We were not allowed to wear spikes or cleats.)
I failed to catch that particular ball and ended up like this:
Here’s one final photo of me and mom before we headed out:
The Pittsburgh Pirates are awesome for letting their season ticket holders take over the field for a day. By comparison, the New York Mets “rewarded” their season ticket holders by letting
them run the bases (for 20 seconds) after the final game of the season.
I have to end this entry with a BIG thank you to Erik for giving me the opportunity to do this. Check out his blog. He should have an entry up about it soon. Also…thanks to Brandon for taking all the photos.
Sixteen months ago, I had a Watch With Zack game at Shea Stadium with a seven-year-old kid named Cooper. Remember? It was Cooper’s first game ever, and even though there wasn’t batting practice that day, I managed to snag two commemorative baseballs for him.
Well, Cooper is now nine years old, and yesterday his family brought him back back to New York for another game with me. Here we are outside Citi Field:
In the photo above, the woman is Cooper’s mother Becky; the older gentleman is his grandfather Arthur.
As soon as the stadium opened, Cooper and I raced out to the left field seats. It was a day game, so I was glad to see that the Mets were taking batting practice. Meanwhile, Cooper was excited because it was the first time that he’d ever been to batting practice. Here he is, running down into the seats:
As soon as we reached the front row, Mets coach Razor Shines tossed a ball to another kid. That kid was older than Cooper (and wasn’t nearly as cute), so I called out to Shines and got him to look up at us, and then I asked him if he could possibly spare another ball. Shines said no and proceeded to mumble something about how we should stay where we were because there’d be some balls hit to us. (Gee, thanks!) But then he retrieved another ball that had rolled onto the warning track and, without much warning, tossed it up toward Cooper. Please don’t drop it, I thought. The ball was coming. I held my breath. It was falling a bit short, but Cooper wasn’t phased. He reached six inches over the railing and made a nice two-handed basket catch. I gave him a high-five and took his photo with the ball:
It was the first ball that he had ever snagged on his own.
The Mets didn’t throw many balls into the crowd after that, and the seats were still pretty empty, so I moved back a few rows and focused on snagging home run balls. I explained some basic strategies to Cooper, and he caught on quickly. Even though we were more than 375 feet from home plate, and even though he had never been to BP, and even though he was only nine years old, he was able to track the flight of the balls. He admitted that he wasn’t quite ready, however, to actually make an attempt at catching one, so when David Wright lifted a deep fly ball in our direction, I drifted down the steps and reached out over the wall for the easy one-handed catch. As soon as I took the ball out of my glove, I realized that I had reached in front of another kid who’d been camped out underneath it, so I handed him the ball. Then, two minutes later, I grabbed another Wright homer after it sailed over my head and ricocheted back to me.
That was it for the Mets’ portion of BP. The players were only on the field for 20 minutes, so Cooper and I headed to the 3rd base side. The Nationals were stretching in front of their dugout, but because the rules at Citi Field are so strict, we couldn’t get anywhere near them. Still, I was able to convince coach Marquis Grissom to throw us a ball from more than 100 feet away. In the following photo, the arrow is pointing at Grissom…
…and did you notice that Cooper was no longer wearing his Mets cap? Little things like that make a difference, but anyway, as the ball started sailing toward us, I was hoping that Cooper would be able to catch it. Unfortunately for him, it wasn’t within his reach, so I had no choice but to lean out over the railing and snare it. (It was a training ball.) Cooper had said that he didn’t mind which one of us actually caught the balls, but I knew it would be more exciting for him if he was actually the one to get them.
When the Nationals started playing catch along the left field foul line, I positioned Cooper behind THE most generous ball-giver in baseball: Livan Hernandez. Cooper was now wearing a red Nationals cap. He was all set. This was our view:
As soon as Hernandez finished throwing, I called out to him and asked for the ball on Cooper’s behalf. Hernandez turned and tossed it to him. Here’s a photo of the ball in mid-air, and as you can see, the guy on my right tried to reach out and catch it:
It was no coincidence that I was standing between Cooper and this other guy. I could tell just by looking at him that he was going to try to catch the ball no matter what, so I used my body as a shield to prevent him from reaching all the way out…and Cooper was able to make the catch! I was actually hoping that Hernandez had been using a training ball — Cooper had never gotten one of those — but it was just a standard Selig ball. I told Cooper that if he didn’t snag a training ball, I’d give him mine.
We moved to the left field corner in foul territory. Ron Villone jogged past and picked up a ball. Cooper was in the front row. I was standing right behind him. I asked Villone if he could toss the ball “to the little guy” and he DID toss it, but it sailed five feet over Cooper’s head and came right to me. Once again, I had no choice but to make the catch. That was my fourth ball of the day, and then after moving with Cooper to the seats in left-center, the same thing happened with Logan Kensing. I asked for the ball FOR Cooper, but it was tossed to me instead. (Another training ball.) My theory is that the players were afraid that Cooper wasn’t big/athletic enough to make the catches. Finally, J.D. Martin showed some faith and tossed a ball to Cooper, who caught it easily. (Standard ball.)
When batting practice ended, I had five balls and Cooper had three, and there was a chance to get one more. Someone on the Nationals had hit a home run that landed on (and rolled to the bottom of) the batter’s eye:
I knew I wasn’t going to be allowed to use my glove trick, so I took Cooper to the other side of the batter’s eye (where the side railing is much lower) and asked a security guard if he could get someone to walk out there and retrieve the ball. The four-part photo below (starting on the top left and then going clockwise) shows what happened next:
Let me explain:
TOP LEFT: A police officer climbed over the railing.
TOP RIGHT: The officer walked around the Home Run Apple toward the baseball.
BOTTOM RIGHT: The officer returned with the ball.
BOTTOM LEFT: The usher bobbled the ball when the officer tossed it to him.
And then the usher handed it to Cooper. (Another standard ball. Aarrghh!)
Cooper and I headed over to Shake Shack, where his mother and grandfather were already on line. We saw them before they saw us, so I placed all four of Cooper’s balls in his glove and had him stand in just the right spot so that when the line snaked back around toward us, his mother and grandfather would see him. This was their reaction:
And THIS was my lunch:
Arthur was kind enough to treat me, and let me tell you…I didn’t need to eat again for seven hours.
The photo above was taken from our actual seats. As good as they were, I still wanted to be a bit closer so that Cooper would have a steady flow of chances to snag a 3rd-out ball. Since we were on the Mets’ side, Cooper changed back into his Mets cap. Here he is from behind, sitting on the end of the row, getting ready to race down the steps:
Most of the 3rd-out balls ended up in the hands of first baseman Daniel Murphy, who tossed them unpredictably all over the place. I really wanted Cooper to snag a Citi Field commemorative ball, or at least to snag one for him. In the middle innings, I nearly caught one of Murphy’s throws, and then late in the game, Cooper nearly got his glove on a toss from Carlos Beltran. Check out the photo below. You can see Beltran right above the security guard’s head. Cooper is in the front row (just to the right of the guard) and the ball is in mid-air (in front of the red advertisement on the left field wall):
Unfortunately, the kid to the right of Cooper got that ball, but not all hope was lost.
In the 9th inning, I worked my way down with Cooper into the seats on the 3rd base side. The home plate umpire was Rick Reed. He was our last shot at getting a Citi Field ball, but the final three outs seemed to last forever, and Cooper seriously HAD to get going. He and his mother had to catch a flight at 5:30pm, and the game (which had started at 1:10pm) was coming up on three hours. She and Cooper probably would’ve left in the 7th or 8th inning if not for me, but I convinced them to stay until the end. I told them there was a good chance at getting one more very special ball, so she and Arthur lingered patiently (though perhaps anxiously) in the concourse while Cooper and I did our thing. Brian Stokes was not cooperating. He retired Willie Harris on seven pitches, but then surrendered a single to Ian Desmond, an RBI double to Ryan Zimmerman, and an RBI single to Adam Dunn. Then pitching coach Dan Warthen held a tea party on the mound. Then Stokes struck out Josh Willingham and walked Elijah Dukes after getting ahead on him 0-2. It was ugly. Manager Jerry Manual had seen enough. Pitching change. (Oh my God! Hurry UP!!!) Francisco Rodriguez came in and fanned Christian Guzman to end the game. (Finally! Thank you!!!) I bolted down to the front row and tried to get Reed’s attention as he headed toward the tunnel. He blew right past me without looking up, but I saw him pause briefly to toss balls to some other fans, so I raced back up the steps and moved alongside him as he walked quickly through the tunnel down below. Just before he reached the end, he pulled out one final ball and tossed it up near me. There were some other fans reaching for it too, but I managed to grab it, and I immediately handed it to Cooper. Here he is with that ball:
But wait, there’s more!
The Nationals relievers were walking in from the bullpen, so I raced back over near the dugout and squeezed into the front row behind the photographers’ box. Someone wearing No. 55 was walking toward me with a ball, but I had no idea who it was, so I frantically pulled out my roster for a quick look. It was Marco Estrada. “MARCO!!!” I shouted when he was still 40 feet away. He spotted me and threw the ball right to me, but some HUGE guy on my right reached out in front of me. Our gloves bumped and the ball fell down into the photographers’ box. A security guard climbed down in there and got the ball and tossed it back to Estrada. I pointed at Cooper, and he threw the ball toward us for a second time. I wanted Cooper to be the one to catch it, but I knew that if I hung back and let him go for it, someone else was going to reach in and snatch it, so I reached out as far as I could and made the grab. It was a standard ball, and I handed that one to Cooper as well. Phew!
I really wanted to stay and take some photos, but Cooper and his mother ***HAD*** to go, so I walked outside with them and gave Cooper a training ball and said a very quick goodbye.
Final score: Zack 7, Mets 6, Cooper 4, Nationals 2.
• 472 balls in 53 games this season = 8.91 balls per game.
• 622 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 484 consecutive games in New York with at least one ball
• 349 consecutive Mets games with at least one ball
• 20 consecutive Watch With Zack games with at least two balls (click here for more Watch With Zack stats; note that Cooper is now the youngest client to have snagged a ball)
• 4,292 total balls
• 126 donors (it’s not too late to become No. 127)
• $25.26 pledged per ball
• $176.82 raised at this game
• $11,922.72 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
This was the final day of my trip, and it began with a home-cooked breakfast of bacon and eggs:
The meal was prepared by Nettie, my “host mother” for the week. She and her husband Danny have season tickets at Coors Field, and to put it lightly, they are C-R-A-Z-Y about baseball. Their home is filled with baseball-related items, and when I finished eating my breakfast, I photographed as much of them as I could before leaving for Coors Field.
First of all, did you notice the smaller plate in the photo above? Yeah, those are baseball seams coming out in all four directions. And how about the salt and pepper shakers? I’m telling you, these people are nuts (and I mean that in a good way; I keep trying to get them to adopt me). Wherever I looked, there was a baseball-themed object.
The four-part photo below shows some of their food-related baseball items. Starting on the top left and then going clockwise, you can see 1) a baseball sign on their kitchen wall, 2) a baseball mixing bowl, 3) teeny baseball candles with burnt wicks, and 4) a baseball toothpick holder:
See what I mean?
And we’re just getting started…
Here’s another four-part photo that shows 1) baseball caps hanging on baseball hooks, 2) mini-baseball statues high up on a ledge, 3) a baseball key hook with an “I Love Baseball” lanyard hanging from it, and 4) a baseball stool sitting in front of a bottle-shaped Colorado Rockies piggy bank:
Ready for more?
Here’s another collage that shows 1) baseball rugs, 2) a baseball lamp sitting in front of a baseball clock, 3) a baseball calendar, and 4) baseball coasters and a baseball pad:
Speaking of clocks…
The one pictured below on the lower left has a baseball pendulum swinging back and forth:
Let’s go from clocks to pillows…
…and from pillows to the downstairs bathroom. Here are the towels:
Here’s the soap dish:
And hey, let’s not forget the baseball hooks on the inside of the door:
Elsewhere in Danny and Nettie’s apartment, there were two baseball mouse pads:
Then there was the pair of All-Star Game sneakers, which were sitting in front of a dresser with baseball handles:
And finally (although I’ve only shown a fraction of the baseball items in their home), check out the Rawlings luggage:
How cool is that?! (I’d be too nervous to travel with it. I’d be paranoid that someone would steal it.)
Anyway, yes, Coors Field…
It was a dreaded day-game-after-a-night-game, which meant there might not be batting practice. Still, I was optimistic and marched confidently toward Gate E:
Oh yeah, baby, that’s right: the big glove was BACK.
Unfortunately, this is what the field looked like when the stadium opened:
No batting practice!
I don’t get it. Why wasn’t there BP? The previous night’s game (at which there was no BP because of rain) had started at 6:40pm. It lasted two hours and 46 minutes. That means it ended at 9:26pm. That’s not exactly late. And the Rockies had only scored one run. Why?! I demand to know! Because it was get-away day? Sorry, but that’s lame.
This was my eighth game of 2009 without batting practice. My baseball totals at the previous seven were: 4, 3, 3, 6, 3, 4, and 2. That’s an average of a little over 3.5 balls per game. Not good…not now…not when I needed to snag five balls in order to reach 400 for the season. It’s not like this was going to be my last game of the year, and it’s not like I’d never reached 400 before. It’s just that…I don’t know…it was something I’d been shooting for by the end of August.
There wasn’t much happening early on, but I still had a chance to get myself on the board. Several Dodgers pitchers began playing catch in the left field corner, and one of them made a bad throw that rolled all the way into deep left-center. They didn’t bother to retrieve the ball, so it just sat there, right on the grass in front of the warning track. Naturally, I ran over and got myself as close to the ball as possible. This was my view as I waited there for the next five minutes:
Finally, a couple pitchers stepped out of the bullpen in right-center and began walking slowly across the field. Hiroki Kuroda was the player closest to me, and he spotted the ball on his own. I didn’t have to point at it or call his name. I didn’t even bother asking him for the ball in Japanese. I didn’t say a word. I was the only fan standing there *and* I had the big glove. If ever there was a guaranteed ball, I figured, this was it…and sure enough, he walked over and picked it up and tossed it to me. I made a careful two-handed catch and squeezed the ball inside the gigantic pocket. I thanked Kuroda in Japanese, then took a peek at the ball, and was happy to see that it said “DODGERTOWN” on the sweet spot. Nice!
Danny had not snagged a Dodgertown ball at either of the previous two games, and he knew that I had, so he asked me if I could spare one of mine.
“I know you always give away one of your baseballs to a little kid,” he said, “so can I be the little kid today?”
Danny had the ball in his possession soon after. It was an honor to give it to him, knowing that he would treasure it in his own collection.
There wasn’t too much action after that, unless you consider THIS to be action:
Everyone inside Coors Field, it seemed, wanted to see the big glove, and everyone asked the same question: “Where did you get it?” I meant to count the number of times I got asked that question, but once the stadium opened, I quickly forgot. I would estimate the number to be somewhere around 50, and I gave the same answer every time: “I don’t know. It was a gift. A friend found it online and sent it to me.” Next time I take the big glove to a game, I might print up cards with that answer and hand them out.
Meanwhile, the lack of activity on the field was mind-numbing. All I could do was spend my time posing with the big glove…
…and then take photos of my friend Robert Harmon doing the same:
Finally — I don’t even know when — a few more Dodgers came out to run and stretch and throw in shallow left field.
Ramon Troncoso spotted my big glove and asked if he could see it.
Here he is checking it out as Ronald Belisario stood nearby looking on.
Belisario tossed a few balls to Troncoso, who struggled to catch them and seemed to enjoy the challenge. Then he handed the glove to Belisario, who inspected it thoroughly before walking it back over to me:
(Is it just me, or does the glove kinda look like an octopus or giant squid? You have to click these links. Especially the octopus. In fact, better yet, copy-and-paste the link into a new window and then drag it down next to the glove. Huh? Huh?)
Soon after my big glove was returned, I got George Sherrill to toss me my second ball of the day. Just like the ball I’d gotten from Kuroda, this one also had a Dodgertown stamp on the sweet spot.
One of the nice things about being at a game without batting practice (just kidding, there IS nothing nice about it) is that the players have more free time, and they’re usually more relaxed, and it’s easier to get close to them. That was the case here, as Troncoso came over and leisureley signed autographs for everyone:
I got his autograph on a ticket from the previous game, then ran around to the right field side and got Ubaldo Jimenez to sign one from August 25th. Here are the two autographs:
Coincidentally, both of those players wear number 38 and wrote it underneath their names.
Then, once again, there was a lack of action.
See what I mean?
I *thought* I was going to snag my third ball along the right field foul line, but I ran into some bad luck. Franklin Morales was playing catch with Joe Beimel, so I headed down to the front row and held up the big glove:
I simply wanted Morales to see me so that he’d consider tossing me the ball when he was done. Well, totally unexpectedly, right in the middle of long-tossing, he decided to throw one to me — except he airmailed me, and the ball landed in the fourth row, and some other fan ended up with it. Fabulous.
I headed to the left field corner after that because Jonathan Broxton started playing catch with Guillermo Mota. Here’s a shot of Broxton catching one of the throws:
There were a bunch of fans waiting along the foul line, but I was the only fan in fair territory. When the two players finished throwing, Broxton walked over and looked at the big glove and smiled and fired the ball at me from about 40 feet away. I was lucky to catch it. It was another Dodgertown ball, and before I had a chance to label it, he started waving at me with his glove as if to say, “Throw it back.” So I did. I tossed him a near-perfect knuckleball, and he seemed to be mildly impressed. He then turned his back to me and took a few steps toward the fans in foul territory and cocked his arm back as if he were going to throw them the ball. He then turned back to me and laughed and tossed me the ball for a second time. I was really surprised by the whole interaction. I’d seen the Dodgers a bunch of times in recent years, and Broxton was never friendly. It’s nice to know that even the most serious player can be “cracked,” as it were, and it’s also nice to have an extra reason to root for him (beyond the fact that he’s a freak of nature with a frighteningly strong arm).
The following photo needs no explanation…
…although I should point out (because it’s hard to see here) that the guy has a purple goatee.
Shortly before the game started, Juan Castro threw me another Dodgertown ball along the left field foul line, and then I got Andre Ethier to sign a ticket. This one, unlike the autograph he’d signed for me the day before, did not get smudged:
A few minutes later, Manny Ramirez and several other guys began playing catch in front of the 3rd base dugout. I decided to put on my Dodgers T-shirt, and I wore it backwards so that the “RAMIREZ 99” would face toward the field. I *really* wanted a ball from Manny, and I thought it might help convince him to toss one to me. Unfortunately (I know…shocker) when Manny finished throwing, he didn’t toss the ball to anyone. He didn’t even end up with the ball (he could have if he wanted to), so I turned my attention elsewhere. Rafael Furcal…yes! He’d thrown me a ball two days earlier, right in that section, right before the game. I knew he was going to end up with the ball again. My only concern was whether or not he’d recognize me.
“Ladies and gentlemen…” boomed the voice of the public address announcer, “will you please rise and remove your hats for the singing of our national anthem?”
Furcal caught the final throw and jogged toward the dugout. I was being forced to stand behind Row 10. (That’s one of the stupid rules at Coors Field.) I held up my big glove and shouted his name. He looked up and lobbed the ball to me. I was convinced that someone else was going to reach in front of me…but no one touched it! I made another careful two-handed catch with the big glove and felt great about having just snagged my 400th ball of the season. (My single-season record is 543. I did that last year.)
Seconds before the music started, I took a photo of the ball. The red arrow is pointing to Furcal:
Then, after the anthem was done, I asked a nearby fan to take my picture in the approximate spot where I’d made the catch:
It was game time. I headed out to my front-row seat in left field.
The two worst things about the game were that:
1) There was only one home run, and it didn’t land anywhere near me.
2) I was sitting in the sun, and the right side of my face ended up pinker than the left.
The highlight of the game was when a one-armed fan (who looked like Robert) ran over and grabbed my big glove and sat back down in his seat (in front of which was his own little strip of AstroTurf) and posed for my camera:
Yep, just another day at the ballpark…
Here’s a photo of me, taken by Robert who was sitting just beyond the one-armed fan:
Here’s another photo that was taken by Robert. He’s in the middle. Jameson Sutton (the guy who snagged Barry Bonds’ final home run ball and sold it for $376,612) is on the left…and I’m on the right:
I’m ashamed to admit that Robert’s ear hair (okay, no, it was just his regular hair) was tickling MY ear…and no, I didn’t enjoy it. (The fan in the background is like, “Whoa, take it easy, fellas…”)
Good times (but not a whole lot of balls) in Denver.
Final score of this game?
Dodgers 3, Rockies 2.
My boy Broxton notched a four-out save.
And then Danny and Nettie drove me to the airport.
• 400 balls in 47 games this season = 8.51 balls per game.
• 616 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 175 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 4,220 total balls
• 120 donors (click here and scroll down for the complete list)
• $24.86 pledged per ball
• $124.30 raised at this game
• $9,944.00 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
When I ran inside Yankee Stadium yesterday, I was glad to see that the grounds crew was in the process of setting up batting practice:
Why was I glad? Because BP was not guaranteed. Not only was there a “flood watch” in the forecast, but this was a dreaded weekend day game–the absolute toughest time to snag baseballs. If it were up to me, I would not have attended this game. But it wasn’t up to me. I had Watch With Zack clients, and this was the game they picked. The photo on the right shows me with the two of them, and yes, they’re both grown-ups.
This photo was taken at about 11am. By that point, batting practice still hadn’t started, and the right field seats (as you can see) were already packed. Not good.
As for my clients, the man standing next to me is named Eli (pronounced “Ellie”), and the woman on the right is his wife Kathryn. They’ve been married for 20 years. She grew up in Kansas City and went to a ton of games there. He grew up in Israel and only recently got into baseball. This was just the fourth game he’d ever been to, and it was the first time he’d ever arrived in time for batting practice. Needless to say, he’d never gotten a ball from a game–and neither had she, but that wasn’t why she had hired me for the day. I was, in effect, Eli’s surprise birthday present. (Kathryn always orchestrates some type of surprise for his birthday; last year she flew a bunch of his friends in from Italy.) I was there strictly to teach him about baseball and to help him understand all the rules and strategies and nuances and statistics, etc.
Anyway, batting practice, afterthought that it was…
The Yankees finally got started at around 11:30am. I had two close calls but ended up empty handed. (The sun got in my eyes on one; a security guard got in my way on the other.) No big deal, right? I’d snag a bunch of balls during the Athletics’ portion of BP…right?
The Athletics didn’t take BP, but no problem, right? I’d just get a ball from one of the pitchers playing catch in left field…right?
Even though I was decked out in a rather eye-catching Athletics costume, no one threw me a ball. And then the grounds crew took the screens down and started preparing the field for the game.
Crap. (And then some.)
My streak was in serious danger of ending. I’d gotten at least one ball in each of the previous 606 games I’d been to–a streak dating back to September of 1993. And now I could feel the whole thing slipping away. In fact, I was convinced that it was going to end, and not only that…I was going to have to refund the $500 fee that Kathryn had paid me. That’s part of the deal with a Watch With Zack game: No ball = epic fail = full refund for the client.
Somehow, despite my inner turmoil, I was able to pull myself together and smile for a photo with this guy:
His name is Stuart Jon (check out his web site) and he’s been reading my blog for quite some time. After many many emails (and his pledge of three cents per ball for my charity), this was the first time we’d met in person. Knowing I would be at this game, he brought both of my books and asked me to sign them for his one-year-old boy named Charlie.
Finally, at around 12:45pm, there was a promising sign of life on the field:
The A’s players had come out to stretch and run and throw. THIS was going to be my chance to get a ball, but it wasn’t going to be easy. I couldn’t go in front of the railing (the one with the drink holders in the photo above), so I was somehow going to have to get the players’ attention and convince one of them to launch a ball over eight rows of seats and dozens of fans. I had done it before, but it was always tough.
There were only two balls in use. I screamed my head off for the first one, but Adam Kennedy tossed it to a little kid in the front row. Daric Barton, the starting first baseman, ended up with the other ball, and I was sure that he’d hang onto it and use it as the infield warm-up ball, but I shouted for it anyway. What else was there to do? I shouted and he ignored me, so I shouted again, and he looked up into the crowd, so I shouted once more and waved my arms and he looked right at me. I flapped my glove, and he turned and fired the ball. It was falling a bit short. I knew that I’d be able to reach it, but I was afraid that the man in front of me would reach up and intercept it…but it barely cleared his hands, and it smacked right into the pocket of my glove. It was the biggest relief EVER. The ball had a Yankee Stadium commemorative logo (like this) and I immediately handed it to Eli:
Five minutes later, a few outfielders began throwing, and I got a second ball (also commemorative) from Rajai Davis! I gave that one to Kathryn. Here she is with it in her hand as she was filling out the starting lineups on her score sheets:
My streak was alive. They both had a ball. I could relax…and that was great because there wasn’t much I could’ve done during the game anyway. We were sitting in the middle of a long row, one and a half sections from the end of the 3rd base dugout. Great seats to watch the game? Yes, of course. Great seats to catch a foul ball or a 3rd-out ball? Erm…no. I’d bought the tickets off StubHub, which unfortunately doesn’t provide seat numbers so there was no way to find out (until the transaction was complete) if we’d be on the aisle. So yeah, we were all trapped there, but given the fact that I’d snagged those two baseballs, it was actually nice to sit still and focus on Eli and not have to worry about adding to my total.
This was our view.
This was my lunch:
This was also my lunch:
I don’t have good luck with waiter-service-food at baseball games. This was only the second time I’d ever ordered it. The other time was at Turner Field nearly a decade ago. I’d snuck down into the fancy seats with a friend, so we ordered food and before it arrived, we got kicked out by security. We’d already paid for it, and thankfully we were allowed to wait at the top of the section (in the cross-aisle) until it arrived. It was highly embarrassing.
I sat next to Eli during the game and explained stuff nonstop from Watching Baseball Smarter. He already knew quite a bit (including the infield fly rule), so it was a challenge at times to come up with things that were new, but I found a way.
The game itself was thoroughly entertaining. There were several lead changes, and there was only one home run. (Home runs bore me if I’m not in a position to catch them. I wish the MLB Network would show highlights of triples instead.) When Mariano Rivera entered the game (for a four-out save) and “Enter Sandman” started blasting, a fan in the upper deck was shown headbanging on the Jumbotron. I’ve seen this guy before. He’s hilarious:
During the 9th inning, Kathryn asked me to sign the baseballs to her and Eli. I suggested signing one ball to the two of them so they could keep the other ball pure. She was fine with that, and this was the result:
The “4142” represents my current ball total. That’s how I sign everything snag-related.
Kathryn and Eli had their own copy of “Watching Baseball Smarter,” and after the game I signed that too. Here we are:
Final score: Yankees 7, Athletics 5.
Here are Kathryn’s score sheets:
Very impressive. (“I’m a semi-serious geek for a girl,” she told me.)
On our way out, I stopped to get a pic of the Great Hall…
…and when we got outside (and because Kathryn and Eli’s camera battery had died), I took one last photo of them, which you can see below on the right.
• 2 balls at this game
• 322 balls in 38 games this season = 8.47 balls per game.
• 607 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 135 consecutive Yankee games with at least one ball
• 6 consecutive games at the new Yankee Stadium with at least two balls
• 18 consecutive Watch With Zack games with at least two balls
• 4,142 total balls
• 114 donors (It’s not too late to make a pledge. Click here to learn more…)
• $24.59 pledged per ball
• $49.18 raised at this game
• $7,917.98 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
This is one of those stories that requires context, so here it is:
1) I’ve become friendly with Padres closer Heath Bell.
2) Heath knows about my baseball collection and seems to enjoy adding to it.
3) When I saw Heath on 4/15/09 at Citi Field, he told me he had saved a ball for me from the World Baseball Classic–but he didn’t have it with him. The ball was in San Diego.
Ever since that game, Heath and I have been texting back and forth, trying to figure out when and where we could meet. Obviously, since the Padres’ travel schedule was set, it was up to me to make the effort.
Here’s some more context…
The week before the All-Star Game, Heath left me a voice-mail in which he asked if I was going to be there. “Unfortunately I don’t have a ticket for ya,” he said, “just ’cause I got a bunch of people coming, but hey, if you are, hit me up.” I called him back, got his voice-mail, and told him that I was not going to be attending the All-Star Game. Then I reminded him that I’d be in Philadelphia on July 23rd and said that if he happened to see an extra All-Star Game ball lying around, it’d be cool if he could grab it for me, but if not, no worries.
On July 21st (the day before the Padres were going to be leaving on an eight-game road trip), I texted Heath with a “friendly reminder” to bring the ball from the World Baseball Classic.
Yesterday was THE day: July 23rd at Citizens Bank Park. Was Heath really going to bring the ball? I wasn’t sure…and it ended up raining like hell during the drive down to Philly (see the photo on the right)…but I had to keep going. I had to be there. To hell with batting practice. There was no other way I’d ever get to count a ball from the World Baseball Classic in my collection. As I’ve mentioned many times before, I don’t count Spring Training balls, and the only minor league balls I’ve counted were used by major league players at major league stadiums at actual major league games. (For the last few years, the uber-cheap Tigers have been using balls like this and this during BP.) Along these lines, I decided back in 2006 not to count balls from the Classic–it’s an exhibition that isn’t exclusively played by major leaguers–but if I somehow were to snag a Classic ball at a regular season game, that would be the one exception.
I reached the stadium at around 3:30pm, and even though it was really gray and windy, there was no sign of rain:
There was no sign of life either, and for a while I didn’t know what to think. Would there possibly be batting practice? Would there even be a game?
By the time the stadium opened at 4:35pm, there was a huge crowd waiting outside the gates, and when I ran inside, this is what I saw:
Of course the left field seats (where everyone is confined for the first hour) ended up getting unbearably crowded:
During that first hour, I managed to snag three balls. The first was thrown by Joe Blanton at the furthest edge of the seats in left-center field. The second came via the glove trick near the foul pole, and the third was a home run that I caught on the fly. I don’t know who hit it. There’s a slim chance that it was Jayson Werth, but whatever. Doesn’t matter.
I spotted Heath as soon as the Padres took the field:
I shouted his name and waved my cap (the one that he gave me on 8/31/08 at PETCO Park) and he looked up and spotted me in the crowd. As he started throwing, he told me to wait for him in foul territory. For some reason, though, the rest of the stadium still hadn’t opened by 5:40pm, so when Heath headed off to the clubhouse (presumably to get THE ball), I wasn’t able to keep pace with him by cutting through the seats toward the dugout. That sucked. It meant I had to wait with everyone else near the foul pole, where the wall was so high that I wasn’t going to be able to have a normal conversation with Heath or shake his hand. And then it started to rain. The Padres kept hitting, however, and eventually Heath came back out and started walking toward me:
It looked like he had something tucked inside his glove, and as he got closer and tossed it up, I still had no idea what it was:
I could tell that there was a ball inside…no wait…there were TWO balls inside. It was some sort of tube sock…dark green fabric…with knots tied around each ball to keep them separate. My mind couldn’t process it, but I snapped back to reality just in time to yell “Thank you!!” as Heath jogged off toward right-center. Two balls?! Seriously? Had he given me two balls from the World Baseball Classic? Or was one of them from the All-Star Game? Or maybe from some other All Star event? Since I now number my baseballs, how would I know which one I’d snagged first? I got them both at the same time. But why even number them if they were each one-of-a-kind?
I was dying to untie the knots and see what was inside the sock, but there was a ball that was sitting on the warning track in left-center. I decided that my surprise would have to wait for a couple minutes, so I ran over and leaned way out over the flower bed and used my glove trick to reel it in. When I pulled the ball out of my glove, this is what it looked like:
The rain, meanwhile, was great. It was light enough that the Padres kept hitting, but heavy enough that it chased half the fans out of the seats:
I took the sock out of my backpack…
…but just as I was about to start untying the knots, several righties starting taking their cuts, so I threw the sock back in my bag. AAHH!! It was killing me to keep waiting, but it would’ve killed me to miss any opportunities.
My decision paid off. Someone on the Padres hit a home run that landed near me in a small cluster of fans. The ball got bobbled (not by me) and landed briefly on the top edge of the back of the seat right in front of me, at which point I snatched it. Nice! That was my seventh ball of the day, including the two that Heath had given me.
It was time to see what was in the sock…
If I’d gone to the All-Star Game, the flights and hotel and ticket would’ve cost more than $1,000, and what would I have hoped to get out of it? Umm, snagging the ball pictured up above on the right. Yay for Heath Bell. That’s all there is to it. (Oh…and if you want to see my entire collection of commemorative balls, click here.)
Anyway, a bunch of lefties started hitting so I ran over to right field and ended up catching a home run on the fly. See the guy below in the “HAMELS 35” jersey?
After I caught the ball by reaching in front of him, he threatened to throw me over the wall.
Stay classy, Philadelphia! Yeah!
My goal, at that point, was to snag two more balls and reach double digits. I didn’t snag anything else during BP, but I did get my ninth ball right before the game started. Drew Macias was playing catch with Will Venable…
…and Macias hooked me up when they finished. (I’m proud of myself–even though it’s indicative of other problems–for not getting distracted by the cheerleaders.)
Over the course of the day, several people recognized me from YouTube, including one guy who’s 6-foot-10, and since I have an obsession with height (obviously not my own), here we are:
If I’m remembering correctly, his name is Morgan. I asked him if he has ever tried to catch baseballs at games, and luckily for the rest of humanity, his answer was no. Can you imagine how much he would dominate? Who would ever stand next to him? He’d have a whole section to himself wherever he went. Is there anyone reading this who’s freakishly (and I mean that in a good way) tall? If so, I want to hear about your snagging experience. I wonder if there’s ever been a seven-footer who was serious about ballhawking. Yikes.
After the national anthem, Heath and I caught a glimpse of each other near the dugout. I mouthed the words “thank you” and put my palms together and make a little bowing gesture. He gave me a nod as he began walking across the field toward the bullpen, and that was the last I saw of him.
As for the game, I’d splurged and bought a Diamond Club ticket. Why, you ask? Because of all this room to run for foul balls:
The only problem was that there weren’t any foul balls to be caught. That area seems like it would be awesome, but it’s so close to home plate and so close to field level that most foul balls fly way overhead.
One good thing about the Diamond Club is that there’s a sweet view of the batting cages. Here’s Eric Bruntlett taking some mid-game hacks:
Another good thing is the food. Yes, it’s expensive, but the quality really is the best I’ve ever experienced at a stadium. Check out what I got for 11 bucks:
That’s a burger with grilled onions, swiss cheese, and bacon, along with a caesar salad and fresh pineapple. Yum! (I’d also eaten two hot dogs after BP, one with diced/raw onions and another with cheese sauce. So?)
After the game, I went to the Padres’ dugout (even though they lost) and saw a ballboy tossing out ball after ball. I got him to toss one to me, and for a second, I thought it was commemorative because there was a big dark spot on it, but it turned out just to be a smudge:
Still, the ball was clearly game-used, so that was cool.
As soon as I snagged it, I gave one of my BP balls to a little kid. It just so happened that an on-field security guard (who recognizes me, it should be noted, and is exceptionally rude) saw me hand it over. What was his response? Instead of a) praising my generosity or b) simply keeping his mouth shut, he c) started scolding the ballboy for giving a ball to me (“What’s the matter with you?!”) and demanding that I give away balls to all the other kids in the section.
Citizens Bank Park has officially become Yankee Stadium.
• 320 balls in 37 games this season = 8.6 balls per game.
• 606 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 168 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 109 lifetime games with at least 10 balls
• 48 lifetimes games outside of New York with at least 10 balls
• 4,140 total balls
• 114 donors (click here and scroll down for the complete list)
• $24.59 pledged per ball
• $245.90 raised at this game
• $7,868.80 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
You know it’s going to be a bad day when you’re waiting outside a stadium and there’s a middle-aged man wearing a cut-off T-shirt:
See what I mean? Bad day. It went from bright-n-sunny at 4:30pm to dark-n-cloudy by the time the gates were set to open half an hour later:
And sure enough, once again, I got screwed out of batting practice. This is what I saw when I ran inside the stadium:
At least the Mariners came out and played catch in shallow left field:
(Did you notice the psychotic sky in the photo above?)
Here I am in the front row:
I basically had the place to myself, but then of course it started drizzling, and then there was thunder and lightning, so the ushers kicked me (and the few other fans) out of the seating bowl. Somehow, apparently, it was perfectly safe for the players to stay on the field, but it was a life-and-death situation for everyone else.
Anyway, the ushers were nice enough to let me stand in the cross-aisle just underneath the overhang of the second deck. This was the view (from right behind my crinkly, circa-1995 Mariners cap):
A couple players finished throwing and launched a ball over my head to the fans sitting above the aisle. In the photo below, you can see me turning and looking at it:
Who was taking all these photos, you ask?
Another pair of players finished throwing and chucked their ball right to me. Sweeeet! The only problem was that I couldn’t figure out who threw it–mighta been Brandon Morrow–but that’s because I got THREE more balls within the next 60 seconds. It was nuts. There’d been a huge bolt of lightning right near the stadium and then it started pouring half a minute later, so all the players abandoned the field within a very small time frame. Felix Hernandez threw me my second ball of the day, and I have no idea who threw me the third. Here’s an action shot of that snag:
I ended up giving that ball away to a kid, and I’m glad to report that the fourth ball came from David Aardsma. I’d been hoping to get one from him because of his last name, which is first alphabetically in the history of major league baseball. You know that long list I have of all the players and coaches who’ve thrown me balls? Now it really starts with a bang. (No offense to Jim Abbott.)
My friend Mike (the one who hooked me up with free parking on 6/3/09 at Nationals Park) showed up soon after, and we hung out for a bit and got pizza. Look how awesome the pizza is at Camden Yards:
(The ball is there for perspective. Without it, you might’ve thought that each slice was only three inches wide.)
This is the best food deal I’ve ever found in any stadium. You get ALL that pizza for $6.25, and yes, that’d be a ripoff in the real world, but as far as MLB concession stands are concerned, it’s great. (You can find this pizza stand behind third base on the field level concourse. Go there, eat some, and think of me.)
The highlight of the game was seeing a two-run homer overturned because of fan interference. Mariners left fielder Endy Chavez tried to make a leaping catch at the wall, and as soon as the ball skipped off his glove and landed in the front row, he protested. The umps huddled and then walked off the field and were gone for like 5 or 10 minutes (during which time, I would argue, the replay should have been shown on the Jumbotron), and when they returned, they called the batter out. Naturally the fans were pissed, but they got what they deserved.
The rest of the night was uneventful. I camped out in the standing-room-only section for lefties, ran around to left field whenever the switch-hitting Matt Wieters was batting right-handed, and played all other righies along the right field foul line. I didn’t get any more balls, but I did get a cool picture of the sky:
Boring, boring, boring.
Ken Griffey Jr. was worthless.
Final score: Zack 4, Orioles 3, Mariners 1.
I haven’t been to a game with batting practice in TWENTY days.
That’s a ninth of the season!
• 4 balls at this game
• 197 balls in 26 games this season = 7.58 balls per game.
• 595 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 161 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 4,017 total balls
• 107 donors (click here for more info and to make a pledge)
• $24.00 pledged per ball
• $96.00 raised at this game
• $4,728 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball