Tagged: game-used ball

9/1/09 at Citizens Bank Park

The highlight of the day BY FAR was hanging out with my mom. Here we are outside the stadium:

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The baseball portion of the day, unfortunately, was rough. I ran all over the place while the Phillies were taking batting practice…

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…and I only managed to snag ONE ball during that time. I won’t even bother listing all the close calls and unlucky moments (most of which were the product of being in a sold-out stadium). All I’ll say is that I snagged the ball with my glove trick and that my mom took a cool photo of me while I was stretching across the flower bed. Check it out:

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Once the Giants took the field, I changed my outfit accordingly…

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…and it actually paid off. I headed into foul territory as the Giants pitchers were finishing playing catch. Matt Cain ended up with the ball and considered tossing it to a bunch of Phillies fans, but I got his attention. He then looked back at the other fans (which included several young women). Then he looked at me again. I tipped my cap and flaunted the Giants logo on my shirt. He looked at the other fans one last time. Then he looked at me, and I shrugged as if to
5_ball4222.jpgsay, “Come on, I’m wearing Giants stuff. It doesn’t matter how cute the Phillies fans are. You can’t possibly be serious about giving the ball to them.” (Yes, my shrug communicated all of that.) Cain finally turned and threw me the very dirty ball, pictured here on the right.

Twenty minutes later, I caught a home run that was hit by a righty on the Giants. I have no idea who. He was wearing a warm-up jersey over his uniform number, and I was way too busy jockeying for position to pay any attention to his stance or swing. There was a swarm of fans around me. I had to jump up and reach above all of their gloves to make the catch. There was such a frenzy that my mom (who was standing 10 feet away) didn’t even know that I’d gotten the ball until I took it out of my glove and showed her.

That was it for BP.

Tim Lincecum signed autographs for five minutes at the dugout. People were going crazy. I couldn’t get near him. I settled for taking his photo:

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After that, I met up with David Rhode, the executive director of Pitch in For Baseball, the charity for which I’m raising money this season. David was there with his 14-year-old son Casey. They’re bigtime Phillies fans, which is understandable given the fact that they actually live in Pennsylvania, but still, when the three of us had our picture taken, I felt compelled to wear my Giants gear and try to cover up their evil Phillies logos. Here we are:

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Ten minutes before the game started, I worked my way down to the front row along the left field foul line. Juan Uribe was playing catch with a couple other guys, and when they finished,
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I got him to throw me the ball. (The ball is pictured here on the right. As you can see, it has a smudged MLB logo, which I find somewhat
interesting.) It was easy. Not only was I the only person there wearing
Giants gear, but no one else was even wearing a glove or standing up.

After that, my mom and I headed to the Diamond Club seats behind home plate. We stayed near the back of the unofficial standing-room-only area, just in front of the glass doors that lead into the club. This was our view for right-handed batters:

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It’s a great foul ball spot — not ideal because of its close proximity to the field — but it’s good enough that I feel like I have a genuine shot on every single pitch. I got my chance with one out in the top of the 2nd inning. Randy Winn hit a very high foul pop-up that was pretty much heading right to me. As I was drifting with it and preparing to make the catch, a man walked up from behind me and inadvertently cut me off…or maybe *I* was the one who cut *him* off. It doesn’t matter. The point is…from my perspective…he got right in my way at the last second. But he wasn’t trying to catch the ball. He didn’t have a glove. He was carrying beers. He didn’t even know the ball was coming. He just happened to stroll out through the doors…and THWACK!!! The ball clocked him on the forehead. Direct hit. Holy hell. My instinct, of course (because I’m such a kind-hearted person), was to grab the ball, which conveniently landed at my feet. The man, meanwhile, spilled his beer and staggered backward and spouted an incredible string of obscenities (not at me, but at his general misfortune) as security whisked him off for medical treatment. I noticed that he had a big bloody welt on his head. It was alarming, to say the least. I was planning to give him the ball (or at least *a* ball) when he returned, but I didn’t see him for the rest of the night.

Here’s a photo of the ball:

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(Nope, no forehead imprint.)

I had another shot at a foul ball in the 9th inning, but I totally blew it. It was hit way over my head — into the third deck, I think — and was dropped by some fans. The ball fell all the way back down and landed on the pavement near me in the standing-room area. I ran toward it and tried to smother it before it bounced back up, but I failed miserably and deflected the ball right to some other fans. It was a lot more complicated than that, but I don’t want to relive it by telling the story here. Some things are better left unsaid. Anyway, I was so upset (not just because I’d booted my chance at a foul ball but because I was getting booed by so many people) that a teenaged kid walked over to me and handed me a ball. It wasn’t THE ball. It was a different game-used ball that he happened to have. Long story short: I tried to convince the kid that I really *really* didn’t need his baseball, but he was determined to give it to me, and there came a point when I realized it would have insulted him if I didn’t accept his gift. So, I reluctantly allowed him to hand it over (no, the ball doesn’t count in my collection), at which point a bunch of people (his mom included) started cheering him for his generosity. And then, 15 minutes later, I turned the ball over to a younger kid who was heading out of the stadium with an empty glove.

Those final 15 minutes were action-packed. Cole Hamels completed his two-hit, 1-0 masterpiece — only the fourth 1-0 game in the six-year history of Citizens Bank Park — and I got a ball tossed to me at the Giants’ dugout by one of the relievers.

SNAGGING STATS:

11_six_balls_09_01_09.jpg• 6 balls at this game (pictured on the right)

• 406 balls in 48 games this season = 8.46 balls per game.

• 617 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 132 lifetime game balls (not counting game-used balls that get tossed into the crowd)

• 4,226 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $25.01 pledged per ball

• $150.06 raised at this game

• $10,154.06 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

8/11/09 at Camden Yards

“T-Shirt Tuesday” always draws a big crowd at Camden Yards:

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Thankfully I had a spot at the front of the line, and it paid off. As soon as the stadium opened at 5pm, I raced out toward the left field seats and found a ball sitting in the front row along the foul line. The ball was VERY scuffed and even had a tiny piece of concrete embedded in its cowhide cover. Check it out:

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I would’ve taken a photo of the ball sitting in the seats, but Jona had my camera, and since she didn’t have a season ticket, she was trapped in right field for the first half-hour. The good news is that she took a bunch of photos of me from afar. In the photo below, I’m the guy in the white T-shirt:

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Within the first few minutes, I lost a three-person race for a loose ball in the seats…

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…but quickly made up for it by making a nice running catch on a home run hit by Melvin Mora. The following four-part photo (starting on the top left and then going clockwise) shows me 1) running through an empty row, 2) crossing the staircase, 3) pausing for a moment to look up, and 4) lunging far to my glove side to make the catch:

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That first section was 22 seats wide. I love having room to run. Baltimore is the best.

Unfortunately I had some bad luck after that. Three different balls tipped off the very end of my glove — two of which ricocheted back onto the field — and then I got robbed on a deep fly ball by Chris Tillman:

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Cool photo, huh? Here’s a closer look:

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It might look like the ball is falling short of my glove, but I guarantee that I would’ve caught it.

I’m happy to say that my luck improved soon after. Robert Andino launched a deep home run to my right and I took off through an empty row. As I reached the staircase on the far side of the section, I looked up just in time to see the ball fly 20 feet over my head. It landed on the staircase and took a gigantic bounce deeper into the section. It bounced all the way into the seats above/behind the cross-aisle (which is about 25 rows back). I sprinted up the steps as a fellow ballhawk trailed close behind…

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…and I cut through the aisle and managed to grab the ball as it began to trickle down the steps of the elevated section. Fun!

That was my third ball of the day, and I snagged another soon after. I’m not sure who hit it. All I know is that it was a home run by a right-handed batter on the Orioles. It landed in a mostly-empty patch of seats in left-center field, and I ran over and grabbed it. There was nothing special about it until I took a peek at the ball itself. Here are two photos of it:

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Have you ever seen anything like that?! Forget the small gash on the right. I’m talking about the bas-relief-like impression on the left. It looks like there are letters, perhaps the first three of the word BASEBALL? But if so, what would have created that mark on the ball? Could it have been a bat? And if it was, why aren’t the letters reversed like a mirror image? I’ve snagged my share of bat-imprinted balls, and the markings always look two-dimensional like this, so I’m completely stumped here.

At 5:30pm, I changed into my dark green A’s gear, and Jona headed over to left field. She took a photo of me standing around…

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…and got another photo of me climbing over some seats:

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I didn’t end up getting that ball. I wasn’t getting anything. I kept having close calls, and Jona captured me with a look of dismay after one of them:

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Somehow, I ended up snagging a bunch of balls after that. I don’t know why. I guess my luck just improved. It started when I positioned myself deep in the section for Tommy Everidge. I caught one of his home runs on the fly, and then ten seconds later, I grabbed another one of his home run balls that whacked a seat and bounce right up to me. It was beautiful. I was running through the row, and the ball popped up waist-high, and I kind of swatted at it with my andrew_bailey_2009.jpgglove and scooped it up in one motion. (I later gave that one away to a kid. I should probably keep the home run balls and give away the ones that are tossed to me, but whatever.) Then, a few minutes later, I started using my glove trick to knock a ball closer on the warning track, and a player came over and picked up the ball and tucked it into my glove. I’m not sure who it was, but the same thing happened AGAIN five minutes later with Andrew Bailey (whom I now realize was the guy who bounced the ball to me off the warning track the day before). Anyway, poof, just like that, I’d snagged four balls within a 10-minute span to salvage my day, and then I snagged another home run ball — my ninth ball overall. It was absurdly lucky. The ball fell five feet short and headed right toward two guys with gloves who were standing two rows in front of me. Incredibly, they not only dropped it, but they somehow managed to bobble it two rows back. It kind of skipped off their wrists and blooped right into my row where I bent down and grabbed it without any competition. I mean, the seats were fairly crowded at that point, but there wasn’t anyone else in my row at that moment (which is why I was IN that row). You get the point. It was as lucky as it gets.

Meanwhile, when BP ended a few minutes later, I was as sweaty as it gets:

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I don’t know what it is with me and butt sweat. I’m not sure if that’s a perfectly normal bodily reaction to running around nonstop for 70 minutes when it’s 90 degrees and humid…or if I should see a doctor about it. As for my upper body, my white T-shirt was completely soaked, and the A’s shirt was absorbing the moisture. I didn’t even care. That’s what showers are for. Someone once suggested that I get one of those under-armor shirts, but I haven’t gotten around to it.

I headed to the left field foul line when the A’s came back out to stretch and run and throw…

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…and I got Mark Ellis to sign a ticket:

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(Nice handwriting, pal. You’re fired.)

Then I got Adam Kennedy to toss me his warm-up ball after he finished throwing. I was surprised he gave it to me. He’d thrown me one the day before at the same time in the same spot when I was wearing the exact same thing.

During the game, I stayed in the right field standing-room-only section whenever there was a left-handed batter, and I moved to the seats on the right side of home plate for most of the righties. I was constantly on the move…

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…and Jona was kind enough to carry my backpack for me.

(By the way, that alien shirt is THE shirt I was wearing as an 18-year-old in 1996 when I snagged my 1,000th ball. Check it out. On the front it says, “Baseball: a higher form of intelligence.”)

There weren’t any home runs that came anywhere near me, but there was some action behind the plate. In the top of the fifth inning, Mark Ellis hit a foul ball that shot straight back over the protective screen. It was heading about 40 feet to my left. The photo below was taken from the tunnel where I was standing, and the arrow is pointing to the spot where the ball ended up:

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Naturally, I bolted through the aisle (is it too late to have an aisle installed at Citi Field?) and watched with great pleasure as a gloveless man sitting in the elevated section behind the aisle bobbled the ball and dropped it over the railing. There was another fan standing nearby in the aisle, but he didn’t even know what was happening, so I was able to swoop in and grab the ball after it took one bounce. It was embarrassingly lucky and easy, and I won’t lie — I love it.

I got even luckier after that (although in this case there was some skill involved too). One inning later, as I was hurrying through the aisle from the outfield to my normal spot behind the plate, Scott Hairston happened to slice a high foul pop-up in my direction.

Take a look at the photo below. It shows the aisle where I was walking, but even more importantly, it shows a platform that extends out from underneath the second deck. (There are TV cameras up there.) Here it is:

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The ball went HIGH up in the air, and I really didn’t think I was going to have a play on it. I couldn’t be certain where exactly it was going to land, but I knew it was going to come close, so I got myself into position to give myself a chance. I weaved in and out of a few people, then did the same thing with those vertical/folding chairs. It felt like there were a million obstacles, and as the ball started to descend, I thought, “No way…” If the ball carried far enough back into the stands to reach the aisle, it was going to land on that platform. At least that’s what I thought…and I was pretty sure that if it missed the platform, it wasn’t going to reach me. Still, I kept drifting and looking up and tracking the ball as it came closer and closer, and then before I knew it, I was surrounded by grown men who were all jostling for position and reaching up. It was coming right to us…to ME. I had picked THE perfect spot, so I reached up as high as I could with both hands and squeezed my glove around the ball when it landed. Ha-HAAA!!! It was a totally unexpected foul ball. I hadn’t even been in a “good” spot. I was merely passing through. The whole section erupted with cheers, and I got high fives and fist bumps from half a dozen fans. Best of all, I got a kiss from Jona who’d been standing 20 feet away and saw the whole thing.

I went ALL OUT to get more foul balls after that — my one-game record is three — but I didn’t have any other chances.

The game itself was great. The Orioles won, 3-2, and the whole thing was done in 2 hours and 23 minutes. (I later learned that I witnessed a bit of history: Rajai Davis hit the 10,000th double in A’s history.)

After the game, I got a ball at Oakland’s dugout. A bunch of relievers walked in from the bullpen, and when they all disappeared from sight under the dugout roof, a ball came sailing up and bounced right to me. It was rubbed with mud, which means it was either used in a game or intended for game use, so that’s cool.

On my way out, a large middle-aged man struck up a conversation with me. He recognized me from the day before as That Guy who had gotten a foul ball from the press box and handed it to a little kid sitting nearby. It just so happened that this man was Landon Powell’s father, and the little boy (who was at his first game ever) was one of Landon’s nephews. Landon ended up signing that ball for him.

The End.

SNAGGING STATS:

17_the_two_foul_balls_08_11_09.jpg• 13 balls at this game (the two foul balls pictured here on the right)

• 369 balls in 42 games this season = 8.79 balls per game.

• 611 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 113 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

• 51 lifetime games outside of New York with at least 10 balls

• 131 lifetime game balls (not counting game-used balls that get tossed into the crowd)

• 10 lifetime game balls at Camden Yards

• 15th time snagging two or more game balls in one game

• 4,189 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $24.75 pledged per ball

• $321.75 raised at this game

• $9,132.75 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

7/23/09 at Citizens Bank Park

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.

heath_bell.jpgEver 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.

1_driving_in_the_rain.jpgYesterday 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:

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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:

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Sweet Jesus!

Of course the left field seats (where everyone is confined for the first hour) ended up getting unbearably crowded:

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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:

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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:

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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?

Hmm…

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:

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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:

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I took the sock out of my backpack…

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…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.

Okay.

Deep breath.

It was time to see what was in the sock…

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Like, wow.

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?

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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…

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…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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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.

SNAGGING STATS:

19_the_nine_balls_i_kept_07_23_09.jpg• 10 balls at this game (9 pictured here because I gave one away)

• 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

CHARITY STATS:

• 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

7/20/09 at Yankee Stadium

Once again, there was a huge crowd waiting to get inside Yankee Stadium:

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Think that’s a lot of people? Well, guess what…this was just one of the four entrances. I wasn’t surprised or concerned. It’s always that crowded, and I’ve learned to deal with it. There was, however, one thing that set this day apart from all of my other trips to The New Stadium: it was a Watch With Zack game.

My clients were a father and son from California, and the photo below shows the three of us. I’m on the left, 11-year-old Andrew is in the middle, and Jeff is on the right:

2_zack_andrew_jeff.jpg

For the record, they weren’t wearing Yankees gear just to fit in; they really are big Yankee fans.

Batting practice hadn’t yet started, so we took some more photos and discussed our ball-snagging strategies. Then, to make it easier for Andrew and Jeff to ask the players for baseballs, I gave them each a sheet of paper that looked like this:
3a_orioles_yankees_rosters.jpg

Yankees bullpen coach Mike Harkey had been playing catch with Chien-Ming Wang. I’d had my eyes on them at first, then shifted my attention elsewhere, and luckily looked back up just as they were finishing.

“MIKE!!!” I yelled.

There were other grown-ups and ballhawks standing all around us. It all happened so fast. There wasn’t time to get Andrew out in the open where he might’ve been seen, so I instinctively darted off to the side and waved my arms and got Harkey to throw me the ball. It was commemorative:

4_ball4128_mike_harkey.jpg

The fact that I had snagged that ball was both good and bad. It was bad because Andrew hadn’t gotten it, but it was good because I was on the board. I no longer had to worry about getting shut out, so I turned all my attention to Andrew and made sure that HE would be the one to snag the next ball.

Coming into this game, Andrew had snagged a lifetime total of four baseballs, including one that his dad had caught and given to him. Andrew’s single-game record? One ball. I was determined to help him break that.

Several Yankee pitchers were playing catch in right field, so I headed over to the foul line with him and set him up as close as possible:

5_andrew_RF_foul_line.jpg

As you can see, this actually wasn’t close at all, and the pitchers didn’t show him any love. We could’ve fought our way down into that section on the right, but it didn’t make sense to be buried in the crowd.

Speaking of crowds, look how crowded it was in right field as BP was getting underway:

6_right_field_crowded.jpg

In the photo above, the red arrow is pointing to a fellow ballhawk named Alex who did three nice things for me over the course of the day:

1) He took photos of me with Andrew and Jeff.
2) He gave me space during BP (so we wouldn’t compete for the same balls).
3) He hooked me up with a dugout-area ticket stub during the game.

As for Andrew, I knew he needed to be in the front row, and although it took some time, eventually I found him the perfect spot. When you’re 11 years old–let’s face it–most people are going to be taller than you, so I had Andrew slip into a spot that was good for two reasons. First, there were two pitchers playing catch right in front of him, and second, the person on his right was even shorter:

7_andrew_RF_front_row.jpg

Three minutes later, Phil Coke ended up with the ball and looked up into the crowd to pick out a worthy recipient.

“Phil!” I shouted. “How ’bout a ball for this young man right here?!”

Coke looked up, and I pointed down at Andrew from the second row. That did the trick. Coke took a step toward us and appeared to be getting ready to toss the ball. At the very last second, I leaned forward and reminded Andrew to reach as far out as possible for it. The ball started sailing our way, and the little kid on the right made his own attempt to catch it. This was the result:

8_andrew_ball1_phil_coke.jpg

It was a perfect Yankee Stadium commemorative ball.

BTW, did you notice that the woman in the background has a ball in her pocket? Yeah, don’t feel bad for that little kid who got outsnagged by Andrew. That woman was the little kid’s mom. He’d already gotten a ball.

Andrew ran over to the next section and showed the ball to his dad:

9_andrew_showing_ball_to_his_dad.jpg

If I’d been at this game by myself, I would’ve snagged several balls during the Yankees’ portion of BP. Lots of homers had landed near my normal spot at the back of the section, but I was at this game for Andrew. He wanted to get balls on his own rather than having me run all over the place and snag balls for him. And so…I only got one ball out in right field. It was a homer that *might* have been hit by Erik Hinske, but I’m not sure. It landed in a thick crowd of people and ricocheted right to me. Commemorative ball. Pristine logo. Hell yes.

Three days earlier, the Yankees had been using Metrodome balls during BP, but now, I’m happy to report, the Yankee Stadium balls were out in full force.

After the Yankees finished hitting, we headed over to the left field side and changed into bright orange Orioles shirts. I already had my own “RIPKEN 8” shirt that I bought on eBay a while back, and just recently I’d received a free pair of “MORA 6” shirts at a Camden Yards giveaway. I lent those two shirts to Andrew and Jeff. Look how much it helped them stand out…

10_andrew_jeff_during_BP.jpg

…and within a couple minutes, Andrew snagged his second ball of the day:

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This one came from Felix Pie. I helped Andrew by calling out for it, and Andrew helped himself by making a nice jumping catch–and just like that, he had doubled his single-game record.

He and I each snagged one more ball during BP. For me, it was a home run (don’t ask me who hit it) that landed in the seats, and for him, it was a toss from Brad Bergesen.

Once BP was done, we took off the Orioles shirts and posed with our haul:

12_andrew_zack_balls.jpg

Just before game time, Andrew and I worked our way to the seats behind the Orioles’ dugout. Of course we had to stay behind that ghastly partition, but because he was once again wearing one of my bright orange Orioles shirts, it didn’t make a difference. I don’t need to point him out with an arrow in the photo below. You can pick him out easily on your own:

13_andrew_during_pregame_throwing.jpg

This was the scene two minutes later:

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Yes, he had snagged another ball (his fourth of the day), this time courtesy of Nolan Reimold.

With a bit of trickery and assistance, Andrew and his father and I managed to stay in that section for the rest of the night. It was a great spot not only to watch the game but for Andrew to get a 3rd-out ball. Unfortunately he did a lot of shouting/waving that wasn’t getting him anywhere. Here’s one of his unsuccessful attempts to get a ball…

15_andrew_unsuccessful_3rd_out_ball_attempt.jpg

…and here’s another, this time in competition with Alex:

16_andrew_unsuccessful_3rd_out_ball_attempt.jpg

Things weren’t looking good. Even when 1st baseman Aubrey Huff ended up with the inning-ending balls, he wasn’t throwing THE game-used balls into the crowd. He was saving those for himself (or perhaps for MLB’s authentication program) and tossing the non-commemorative infield warm-up balls into the crowd instead.

Finally, though, Andrew had his chance.

The sixth inning ended when Huff fielded a grounder and tossed it to pitcher David Hernandez, who ran over to cover 1st base. Alex wasn’t there (it turns out he was on line for sushi), so Andrew didn’t have any competition. Andrew didn’t realize that Hernandez was the guy who had the ball; he had his eye on Huff and nearly gave up when Huff disappeared under the dugout roof. I told him that the pitcher had the ball, so Andrew held his ground, and we both started waving our arms to get Hernandez’s attention.

Here’s a photo of Hernandez throwing the ball into the crowd:

17_andrew_getting_3rd_out_ball.jpg

Here’s a photo of the ball in mid-air:

18_andrew_getting_3rd_out_ball.jpg

It appeared to be falling short. I wasn’t sure who Hernandez was aiming for, but I didn’t think there was any chance for Andrew to catch it.

Here’s a photo of Andrew reaching WAY over the railing for the ball, while the grown men in front of him are falling all over themselves:

19_andrew_getting_3rd_out_ball.jpg

And here’s a priceless reaction from one of them:

20_andrew_getting_3rd_out_ball.jpg

Why was that guy so stunned (and saddened)? Because my young dude had just made a catch that would’ve made most major league 1st basemen wet their pants.

21_andrew_holding_3rd_out_ball.jpg

Andrew had more-than-doubled his entire lifetime total in one game. We joked about the fact that I’d have to snag more than 4,000 balls in one game to do that.

During the game, I sat next to Andrew and pointed out some of the things I had written about in Watching Baseball Smarter: the positioning of the 3rd base coach, the catcher looking into the dugout for signs, the runner on 2nd taking his lead behind the baseline, etc. Meanwhile, Jeff used a fancy camera to take some high-quality action shots. Here’s one of them:

22_jeff_photographs_jeter.jpg

The game itself was good, I suppose, if you enjoy games in which every run scores on a solo homer.

Top of the 1st inning? Nick Markakis homer.

Bottom of the 2nd inning? Eric Hinske homer.

Bottom of the 9th inning? See below:

23_jeff_photographs_matsui.jpg

Walk-off shot by Hideki Matsui. (Nice camera work, Jeff!)Final score: Andrew 5, Zack 3, Yankees 2, Orioles 1.

Andrew really deserved to get pointed at in the post-game photo:

24_zack_andrew_jeff_postgame.jpg

He and his father were nice enough to let me keep my two commemorative balls. I gave the other/standard ball to Andrew (I couldn’t send him back to California without an official Zack Hample snagged ball), and then he posed with all of them:

25_andrew_postgame.jpg

SNAGGING STATS:

• 3 balls at this game

• 310 balls in 36 games this season = 8.6 balls per game.

• 605 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 134 consecutive Yankee games with at least one ball

• 5 consecutive games at the new Yankee Stadium with at least three balls

• 17 consecutive Watch With Zack games with at least two balls

• 4,130 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $24.59 pledged per ball

• $73.77 raised at this game

• $7,622.90 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

But wait! There’s more!

We lingered outside the stadium until most of the people were gone, and then Andrew and I played catch for about 20 minutes. This is what it looked like from my point of view:

26_zack_andrew_playing_catch_postgame.jpg

After that, we rode the subway together back into Manhattan and then said our goodbyes.

6/11/09 at Camden Yards

F-R-U-S-T-R-A-T-I-O-N.

That pretty much sums it up.

I started out in left field and snagged four balls during the first round of batting practice. (What’s so frustrating about that? Keep reading.) The first one was thrown by George Sherrill…

1_zack_in_left_field.jpg

…and the next three were home run balls.

The first of those homers tipped off my glove (as I made a leaping attempt to catch it) and bounced right back to me off a seat. Even if it hadn’t taken a perfect bounce, I still would’ve snagged it because the seats were gloriously empty.

The second homer came right to me and I easily caught it on the fly while drifting slowly through an empty row.

The third homer was hit by Adam Jones. (I don’t know who hit the others.) It was a high fly ball that barely cleared the wall in left-center. It bounced off some guy’s bare hands and conveniently landed in the empty second row where I was standing.

It was only 5:12pm. The stadium had been open for about 10 minutes. I was all set to have a MONSTER day, but then the Orioles stopped taking BP. Bam! Just like that. They all jogged off the field.

Fifteen minutes later, while the Mariners were stretching in front of their dugout, the entire grounds crew came out and sat on the rolled up tarp:

2_grounds_crew_ready_to_ruin_my_day.jpg

(The guy who’s sitting fourth from the right is playing with his gum, in case you were wondering.)

I heard a voice crackling out of one of their walkie-talkies. It said, “Stand by for BP breakdown.”

Why?!

WHY?!

WHY?!

WHY?!

Because it started raining, JUST as the Mariners started hitting. That’s why.

This was the result:

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John Wetteland, the Mariners’ bullpen coach, started signing autographs IN STYLE along the left field foul line. Check it out:

4_john_wetteland_signing_in_style.jpg

It’s official: my new life goal is to have someone hold an umbrella over my head while I sign autographs. Or maybe my goal should simply be to experience ONE rain-free game at Camden Yards.

This was the dreary scene on Eutaw Street:

5_eutaw_street_wet.jpg

Right before the game started, I got Jamie Burke to toss me a ball at the Mariners’ dugout. Then I ran around to the Orioles’ side and got another ball (No. 4,039 lifetime) from Brian Roberts. Check out this “action” shot of my snag from afar:

6_zack_getting_ball4039.jpg

Roberts always tosses a ball to that spot before the game, but he always tosses it to a little kid. For some reason, though, at that moment, there weren’t any kids in sight, so he had no choice but to toss it to me. Ha.

The game started on time, and for the first couple innings, I moved back and forth between the standing-room-only section in right field and the seats in left-center.

This was the view in left:

7_view_from_left_field_during_game.jpg

Nothing special, right?

Well, look how empty the seats were to MY left:

8_of_course_no_homers_landed_there.jpg

Did any home runs land there?

No, of course not.

It’s incredible. I’ve positioned myself in so many great spots and given myself so many chances to catch a game home run this season, but it’s just…not…happening.

You know what DID happen?

More rain:

9_yet_another_rain_delay_for_zack.jpg

The game was delayed 27 minutes in the third inning. Fabulous. I spent about 17 of those minutes standing in line for pizza at a concession stand which was run by exceptionally incompetent employees. There was a taco bar next to the pizza area, and there was one employee at each. NONE of the people on line wanted a taco, so what did the taco lady do? She stood there and watched the pizza guy slowwwwwwly cut slices and slowwwwwly put them in boxes, one by one, rather than helping him out and speeding up the process. It’s like she wasn’t allowed to go near the pizza because it wasn’t a taco. And the guy! Oh my God, it’s like he was just learning to use his hands for the first time, and then when he couldn’t find a spatula, he tried using the pizza-slicing wheel thingy to scoop up the slices. But you see, he wasn’t smart enough to keep the boxes near the pizza. No, THAT would’ve made too much sense. Instead he kept scooping up the slices (each of which he touched with his hands so they wouldn’t fall) and carrying them to the boxes, and on several occasions the cheese dripped off the side and landed on the floor. Normally the Orioles do a great job of running the stadium, so I’ll let it slide this time.

Back to the game…

There were two home runs. Luke Scott, who bats left-handed, hit one over the Bud Light ad in left-center (naturally I wasn’t there) and Russell Branyan, who also bats left-handed, hit the sixth longest home run in the history of Camden Yards. That one reached the back off the seats just to the right of dead-center. (Naturally I wasn’t there either.)

About halfway through the game, I gave up on left field; whenever a bunch of righties were coming up, I went for foul balls behind the plate instead. I should’ve caught one in the 6th inning. There was a high pop-up that nicked the facade of the second deck and landed RIGHT in the aisle about five feet away from where I was standing. The aisle had been empty all night. The paid attendance was less than 13,000 *AND* there had been a rain delay. Get my point? Not too many fans. But. of course, at the exact moment that the foul ball was hit, a woman in a wheelchair rolled in front of me and blocked the aisle. She even stopped rolling when she saw the ball go up. Then, after the ball smacked off the pavement (essentially right on the other side of her chair) and bounced far, far away, she looked up at me and said, “Oh, sorry, I just didn’t wanna get hit.” Fine. Fair enough. I won’t make a wheelchair wisecrack or deny her right to cower in fear. I’m just saying: I’m having the worst luck.

Okay, maybe not THE worst luck. I did end up getting a foul ball in the bottom of the 8th. There were two outs. Mark Lowe was pitching. Ty Wigginton was at bat. The count was 1-0. The ball sailed high in the air and landed in a staircase on my left, and I grabbed it off the steps. Here I am, standing at the bottom of the stairs with the ball:

10_zack_ball4040_location.jpg

That made me feel better. The day was not a total loss, but man, the standing-room-only section really let me down. Nick Yohanek (aka The Happy Youngster) was out there too, and we were both disappointed. He *really* had some bad luck earlier on. Man oh man.

Anyway, that was basically it. The Mariners won, 6-3, so I went to their dugout but didn’t get anything there. Nick and I said goodbye (no telling when we’ll cross paths again) just after he took this photo of me and Jona:

12_jona_zack_postgame_06_11_09.jpg

On my way out, I found the cutest kid in the stadium and stole a ball from him:

13_zack_stealing_ball_from_kid.jpg

(I hope you know I’m joking. I really was GIVING a ball to that kid in the photo above.)

SNAGGING STATS:

• 7 balls at this game

• 220 balls in 28 games this season = 7.86 balls per game.

• 597 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 129 lifetime game balls (not counting game-used balls that get tossed into the crowd; those are way too easy in my opinion and don’t deserve to be counted in a special category)

11_smudge_on_ball4040.jpg

• 30 lifetime game balls outside of New York

• 200 lifetime balls at Camden Yards (the Wigginton foul ball, pictured here on the right, was No. 200…the extra-dark mark on the ball came from hitting the black paint on the edge of one of the steps)

• 4,040 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 109 donors (click here if you’re thinking about making a pledge)

• $24.06 pledged per ball

• $168.42 raised at this game

• $5,293.20 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

Next game for me? Tuesday, June 16th in Kansas City. If there’s one day that I really really really need the rain to hold off, that would be it. And by the way, assuming I get at least one ball every day in KC, the game on June 18th will be the 600th of my streak.

5/12/09 at Citi Field

As a native New Yorker, I’ve been conditioned not to talk to strangers or even make eye contact with them, so when I got on the subway yesterday to go to Citi Field and heard some guy ask a question about Johan Santana, I ignored it. It was a silly question anyway: “What happened with Johan last night? He just didn’t have it?”

Of course Johan HAD it. Sure, he suffered the loss, but–

Suddenly it occurred to me that since I was wearing a Mets cap and a Shea Stadium shirt, the Johan chatter might have been directed my way, so I looked up and sure enough the guy was staring right at me.

johan_santana_headshot.jpg
“Actually, he pitched great,” I said. “He only allowed two runs, and they were both unearned.”

“Really,” said the guy with enthusiastic surprise. “I didn’t get to watch the game. I only heard a little bit on the radio.”

We ended up talking for the next five minutes. He asked me if I’d been to Citi Field, and what I think of the new Yankee Stadium, and how I get to go to so many games. Each question led to another and another, so finally I just came right out and explained my whole deal with snagging baseballs.

“How ’bout you?” I asked. “What do YOU do?”

“I’m an actor,” he said.

“Oh…cool,” I replied, not knowing how to follow that up with anything insightful or intelligent. All I could think of was that he was young-ish, outgoing, good looking, and well dressed, so his answer made sense.

“I was on the Sopranos for four years,” he said.

“Seriously?! Wow, forgive me, I’m clueless when it comes to pop culture and the media and celebrities.”

“No problem,” he said.

sopranos.jpg
“So wait, if I watched that show, I’d totally recognize you right now?”

“Yup.”

“So…people come up to you all the time and know who you are?”

“Yeah,” he said, “especially at Mets games for some reason.”

“What’s your name?”

“Will Jano…”

What did he say? Jano…what? There was another syllable at the end, but I didn’t quite catch it, and I didn’t want to make an even bigger fool of myself by asking him to spell it, so I just said I’d look him up later. I asked if he had any projects currently in the works, and he named a couple movies including “Taking Woodstock.”

will_janowitz.jpg

I gave him my card, and we shook hands and parted ways when the train pulled into Times Square.

ANYWAY…
I have since looked him up, and his name is Will Janowitz. Has anyone heard of him? Here’s his page on IMDb.

My trek to Queens on the #7 train was less eventful. I sat in the last car, ate two slices of pizza, and wrote a page in my neglected journal. Then, after getting out at the Mets/Willets Point stop, I headed downstairs and walked over to the Jackie Robinson Rotunda.

Who was there? Three important people:

1) My friend Greg (aka “gregb123”) in the comments section.

2) My friend Donnie (aka “donnieanks”).

3)
A 60-ish-year-old man named David Ross (not to be confused with the 31-year-old David Ross who plays for the Braves) who’s an editor for an “online rich media magazine” called FLYP.

David was there to interview me (with a very small HD video camera), and he got started right away. I handed my camera to Greg and asked him to take a few photos of me. He took four, and I look ridiculous in all of them, only because I was either blinking or in mid-syllable. (At least that’s what I’m going to tell myself). Here’s the least bad of the four photos:

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See what I mean? Ridiculous. But at least it gives you an idea of what was going on.

I raced out to the left field seats when the gates opened at 4:40pm, and Gary Sheffield greeted me by scorching a line-drive homer to left-center. I was the only one out there (Greg and Donnie had positioned themselves closer to the foul pole), and I knew I wasn’t going to be able to catch it on the fly, so I just prayed that it wouldn’t ricochet back onto the field. Thankfully, the ball stayed in the seats and rolled down into the front row. I pulled out my camera, looked over my shoulder, and saw Donnie give me a nod as if to say, “Go ahead and take your damn photo. I’m not gonna run over there and steal the ball from you.”

Here’s the photo:

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Is that a nice sight or what?

By the way, that ball had last year’s Yankee Stadium commemorative logo on it. Pretty nifty. And random. Obviously there are a bunch of extras floating around.

A minute later, with David’s camera pointed at me, I caught a homer on the fly and robbed the 6-foot-5 Donnie in the process. Donnie was cool with it. I hadn’t boxed him out or slammed into him. It was a clean play all the way. As soon as the ball was hit, I stepped down into the row in front of him, then drifted laterally as the ball approached, and made a leap at the last second. If it had been a couple feet higher, or if he’d run down into the row in front of me, he would’ve had it. That’s how we do it in New York City. If you can catch a batted ball, you go for it. Period. You don’t back off (as the uber-polite guys at Coors Field do) just because someone else is camped under it. In New York, there’s ALWAYS someone else camped under it. It’s a real competition, not a family softball game. That’s what makes it fun, and of course Donnie was a true gentleman about it.

You know who wasn’t a gentleman? A security guard out in center field who stopped me from using the glove trick to reel in the following ball:

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I flung the glove out and knocked it closer, and after I’d moved the ball to a spot right below me, he started shouting and then walked out onto the batter’s eye and snatched it. Not cool. I could understand if security wanted to stop me from pulling up a ball off the warning track, but in the dead area behind the outfield wall? Really?! Good job, Mets. Way to train your employees. Tell them to focus on stealing balls from fans (and money from charity) instead of making sure that there aren’t razor blades out in the open in the seating areas. Yeah, that’s right, I found one sitting on the steps in left-center. Unbelievable. Welcome to Citi Field, everybody. Come see the Mets and die.

My third ball was thrown by Livan Hernandez, and it tailed a foot or two to my left. After I reached out and caught it, I realized that it had been intended for the woman standing next to me, so I handed it to her…and yes, it counts as part of my collection. Both Greg and Donnie said it was fair to count it, as did my friend Brad who’s the ultimate voice of reason when it comes to ballhawk-related issues. If Livan had pointed to the woman before throwing the ball, I would’ve stepped aside and let her catch it, but since it wasn’t obvious when he first let it fly (from a distance of about 75 feet), I decided to go for it.

That was it for the Mets’ portion of BP, and I didn’t get anything during the first 20 minutes that the Braves were on the field. Slow day. I was nervous. I’d started the day with a lifetime total of 3,989 balls, and I was planning to snag No. 4,000 in Los Angeles six days later. In fact, by this point, it wasn’t merely a plan–it was a promise. I’d already spoken to someone with the Dodgers and guaranteed that I would snag No. 4,000 at Dodger Stadium on May 18th. This game at Citi Field was going to be my last before flying to the west coast, so I *needed* to snag at least a few more balls. Ideally, I wanted to snag about seven or eight. That would’ve left me three or four balls short of the milestone–just the right amount to create a little suspense but not so short that I’d be nervous about failing to reach it. Even if I only snagged six balls at this game, I felt like I could still probably find a way to snag five at Dodger Stadium, but I didn’t want to take that chance…so yeah, I needed four or five MORE balls in addition to the three I’d already snagged from the Mets.

Tim Hudson flipped one up without looking. I was in the crowded front row, and as soon as the ball left his hand, I knew it was going to sail over my head, so I started climbing over the seats, and when the it plunked down (thankfully there was no one behind me), I was right in position to grab it. Phew! That was ball No. 4.

This is how crowded the seats were at that point:

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As you can see, it was packed near the foul pole, but there was some room to run in left-center. Of course, there’s a reason for all that room, namely the distance (well over 400 feet) that a batter would have had to hit the ball to clear the 16-foot wall to the right of the “384”
sign.

Toward the end of BP, Jeff Francoeur launched a deep drive to my left. I darted across an entire section before anyone else even budged, and I was able to grab that ball off the ground. Hell yes. I was approaching my recommended daily allowance of balls…and then I reached it. Martin Prado tossed me ball No. 6 (I later gave that one away to a kid) and I felt relieved. I was almost certain that I’d find a way to snag at least one more ball, but even if I didn’t, at least I was only five away from the Promised Land.

That was it for BP.

David interviewed me for a bit before the game, and then we moved to our very good seats (courtesy of FLYP) behind the Braves’ dugout.

First inning? Nothing.
Second inning? Dead.
Third inning? Nada.
But in the middle of the fourth inning, I got Braves first base coach Glenn Hubbard to toss me the infield warm-up ball.

Sweeeeeet! That was my seventh ball of the day. I was SET. As far as No. 4,000 was concerned, I didn’t need to snag anything else, but of course I kept at it because a) I can’t be at a baseball game and NOT try to use my glove, and b) I still wanted to raise money for Pitch In For Baseball.

The fifth inning came to an end when Mike Pelfrey hit a weak grounder up the middle. Yunel Escobar fielded it, stepped on second base to force out Omir Santos, and threw me the ball as he approached the dugout. It was a thing of beauty (and not just because it was commemorative). Escobar was a full section to my left, but he spotted my Braves gear and tossed the ball JUST high enough to clear the reaching hands of the fans next to me. If they had even a three-inch vertical leap, I would’ve been out of luck. (Not that I’m an Olympian or anything, but I’m always amazed at how unathletic people are.) Anyway, in case you’ve lost count, that was my 8th ball of the day. Now, just three balls away from 4,000, I was really *really* set.

Although this might be hard to believe, the highlight of the game was NOT Carlos Beltran’s extra-inning walk-off walk. No sir. The highlight (and I forget the exact moment at which it occurred) was when a fan ran out onto the field wearing nothing more than a Mets rally monkey. Seriously…he was naked except for…the monkey. The guy ran out into the infield, made a rather graceful foot-first slide into second base (ouch), and was apprehended by security soon after:

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The photo above was taken by Donnie (my camera…don’t ask) and it’s not even the best photo he got. If you want to see the real zinger, you’ll have to check out his blog entry about this game. So funny! On Donnie’s blog, you can actually read what’s written on the guys’ stomach.

The game itself was truly exciting. For most of the last two innings, everyone in the stadium was standing, and in the following photo, you can see Fernando Tatis getting plunked by Mike Gonzalez:

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After the game (which the Mets won, 4-3), I couldn’t resist trying to get a ball from home plate umpire Andy Fletcher…and I succeeded.

Jeez.

I almost felt bad about ruining the suspense of ball No. 4,000. Now there’s really no question about whether or not I’ll get it on May 18th at Dodger Stadium. The only question is…how will I get it? (And also how far past 4,000 will I go?)

As for the FLYP interview, I’m not sure when it’ll be ready, but hopefully I’ll have an update within the next week or two.

SNAGGING STATS:

8_the_seven_balls_i_kept_05_12_09.jpg• 9 balls at this game (7 pictured here because I gave two away)

• 178 balls in 22 games this season = 8.09 balls per game.

• 591 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 473 consecutive games in New York with at least one ball

• 343 consecutive Mets games with at least one ball

• 3,998 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $20.70 pledged per ball

• $186.30 raised at this game

• $3,684.60 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

5/11/09 at Citi Field

The worst thing about my dad is that he’s not *really* a baseball fan. He follows the sport by reading about it sporadically in The New York Times sports section, and he’ll watch a few games on TV here and there, but that’s about it. Still, he goes with me to the occasional game, and this was one of them.

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As we rode out to Citi Field on the No. 7 train, I showed him the Braves roster that I had printed. The roster didn’t say “Braves” on it, and I hadn’t told him who the Mets were playing.

“Which team is this?” he asked in all seriousness as he began looking at it. Then he spotted Derek Lowe’s name and said, “Is he with Boston? Are we seeing Boston?”

Oh dear.

But hey, at least my dad knew that Lowe WAS with Boston at one point…right?

My dad looked at the rest of the roster and pointed out all the other players he had heard of. There were three: Chipper Jones, Jeff Francoeur, and Casey Kotchman (because Casey’s father Tom managed the Boise Hawks when I worked for them in 1995).

Garret Anderson and his 2,377 career hits? Nah.

Then my dad and I made a list of all the major league ballparks he’d been to, and we came up with ten: Shea, Yankee, Fenway, Veterans, Fulton County, Candlestick, Bank One, the new Comiskey, Citizens Bank…and Sportsman’s Park…he thinks. That’s where the St. Louis Browns played in the first half of the 20th century, and he remembers seeing the one-armed Pete Gray.

As our train approached Citi Field, my dad said, “It’s weird for me to be out here and see this. It doesn’t feel like New York.”

(Amen to that.)

One thing that was really cool to see, however, was that the Mets had finally marked the spots in the parking lot where the bases at Shea Stadium used to be. (Big thanks to my friend Gary for giving me a heads-up about this.) Here I am with my dad near home plate…

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…and here’s a closer look it:

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Here’s first base…

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…and here’s where the mound used to be:

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It gave me chills to toe the “rubber” and think about the fact that I was standing in the very same place as Dwight Gooden and Tom Seaver and Heath Bell and so many other legendary Mets pitchers.

Then, of course, I had to go through the motions of making a full windup and delivery:

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We headed back to Citi and my dad noticed the “Fan Walk” bricks:

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If he had a brick, he said it would read as follows:

I CAN’T BELIEVE I PAID FOR THIS
-STU HAMPLE

His reaction to the stadium itself was simple: “That’s a big mother.”

We took a peek inside the Jackie Robinson Rotunda, and he gave a mixed review.

On Robinson: “Too bad he wasn’t a Met. They borrowed history ’cause they got nothing else.”

On the rotunda itself: “It has a 19th century look and modern look. I like it.”

So there you have it, and if anyone knows about the 19th century…well, my dad isn’t THAT old, but he was born in 1926.

As for batting practice, there was a little more competition than usual because three guys from my blog–Greg, Gary, and Donnie–were all there. Between the four of us, we basically had left field covered, and yet we still managed to stay out of each other’s way for the most part.

My first ball was thrown by Livan Hernandez in left-center field, and my second ball was a Gary Sheffield homer that rattled around in the seats and caused an all-out scramble. I happened to beat out a guy named Tony for that one. Tony recognized me from this blog, and soon after he asked if we could take a picture together:

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My dad and I both had cameras, and he followed me around during BP and snapped a bunch of pics.

My third ball was tossed by pitcher Sean Green in right-center, and then my dad got a photo of me shortly before I snagged ball No. 4. Jose Reyes hit a home run that landed in the Mets’ bullpen, and after waiting patiently at the side railing for about five minutes…

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…I got Mike Pelfrey to toss it up.

The Braves took the field (so I changed into my Braves gear) and used my glove trick to pluck two balls off the warning track in left field. Here I am going for the second one:

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Omar Infante threw me my 7th ball of the day. I had to lean WAY over the railing for that one, which was a bit scary considering the wall in left field is like half a mile high.

My eighth and final ball of BP was a home run hit by a righty on the Braves. It bounced off some fans’ hands, plopped down into the front row, and I snatched it as other people were about to reach for it. As soon as I looked up, I noticed that there was a little girl standing right in front of me–with a glove!!–so I asked her if she’d gotten a ball yet, and when she said no, I handed it over. Even though I was decked out in Braves gear, everyone in the section cheered like hell, which was nice, and then I explained that I’m not even a Braves fan.

It might sound like BP was hoppin’ but it actually wasn’t that great. I was out of position a few times and missed one or two homers. There were a couple balls sitting against the outfield wall at one point that I somehow didn’t see, so I lost some glove trick opportunities. There was a homer that I jumped as high as I possibly could for, only to have it tip off the VERY end of my glove. I even ran out to right field for about 20 minutes and got nothing there. So…there were dead periods and frustrating moments and stupid mistakes, and yet I *still* came away with eight balls. That just goes to show that any ballpark that opens two and a half hours early is gonna be pretty good.

Greg and Donnie and Gary each got a bunch of balls. Donnie has his own blog, so you can read about his snagging there, and as for the other two guys, I’ll let them leave comments here with the details of how they did…if they want.

For the rest of the day, everywhere I went…there they were. Pre-game throwing? See below. That’s Greg in the orange/gray jacket and Gary with the yellow shirt:

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It turned out that no one got the pre-game ball (because Jordan Schafer needs a lesson on how to be fan-friendly).

I wandered with my dad for the first inning, and then we grabbed a couple seats behind the Braves’ dugout. This was our view:

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In the middle of the 2nd inning, Braves 1st base coach Glenn Hubbard tossed me the infield warmup ball. Then, after Johan Santana grounded out to end the bottom of the 3rd, Kotchman tossed me the actual game-used ball on his way in. (That one was commemorative.) There was one other fan who made an attempt to catch that ball, and it happened to be a kid with a glove. I asked him if he’d already gotten a ball, and to my surprise he said yes…so I kept it. If he had said no, I would’ve pulled out a non-commemorative BP ball from my backpack and handed that one to him. Anyway, just like that, on what felt like a decent-but-not-all-that-great-snagging-day, I still ended up with double digits.

The great part was simply being with my dad and sharing this experience. The man is FUN, and as an 83-year-old who can move (and even jog) all over the place, he’s a true inspiration, hopefully not just to me but to us all.

SNAGGING STATS:

12_the_nine_balls_i_kept.jpg• 10 balls at this game (nine pictured here because I gave one away)

• 169 balls in 21 games this season = 8.05 balls per game.

• 590 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 472 consecutive games in New York with at least one ball

• 342 consecutive Mets games with at least one ball

• 3,989 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $20.70 pledged per ball

• $207.00 raised at this game

• $3,498.30 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

I kinda rushed through this entry a bit. Perhaps you could tell. I’m super-busy, in part because I’m going back to Citi Field tonight…because I’m going to be filmed for a segment on FLYP, which is an “online rich media magazine.” I’m now 11 balls away from 4,000, and I’m still planning to snag the milestone at Dodger Stadium on May 18th. (FLYP is gonna try to have someone film me there as well.) When I said in my last entry that I was considering going to Philly and Yankee Stadium this week, I didn’t mean that I was actually planning to be at all those games. I *want* to snag No. 4,000 at Dodger Stadium, so if I have another typical snagging performance at Citi Field tonight, then I simply won’t attend any other games this week.Finally, I suppose I should mention that the Mets lost, 8-3, ending their seven-game winning streak. Santana suffered the loss despite NOT allowing an earned run, so he’s now 4-2 with a National League-leading 0.78 earned run average. Stats can be so silly at times.