Tagged: glove trick

8/11/10 at Citi Field

QUESTION: What do you do when you’re craving baseball, but you have a ton of work and a huge family dinner planned?

ANSWER: You go to batting practice and then leave.

That’s what I did yesterday at Citi Field (and yes, I still had to buy a ticket just like everybody else).

Here I am with some of the usual supects before the stadium opened:

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In the photo above, you’re looking at:

1) Greg Barasch, who recently joined the 1,000-ball club.

2) Gary, who has some pretty impressive stats of his own.

3) Brian (aka “puck collector”) who’s not too far behind Gary.

4) Me!

5) Mateo, my Watch With Zack client from 7/27/10 at Citi Field.

6) Mike from Denver. I had just met him through a mutual friend: Robert Harmon of 762 fame.

7) Brian’s father Wayne (aka “father puck”) who’s holding up his copy of the new Sports Illustrated article about me.

When the gates opened at 4:40pm, Brian won the race to the left field seats and narrowly beat me out for the first ball of the day. It was a BP homer that landed in the 3rd row, and he was all over it.

Less than a minute later, I got Elmer Dessens to throw me a ball in left-center field, and moments after that, I got another tossed to me by Mike Pelfrey. That second ball was pretty special:

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As you can see, it had a Citi Field commemorative logo from last year’s inaugural season of the stadium. It’s nice to see that these balls are still floating around. (Here’s what a good one looks like, and while we’re at it, here’s my entire collection of commemorative balls.)

After the seats had filled up a bit, I saw Chris Carter toss a ball to a little kid in straight-away left field — and wouldn’t you know it? The kid dropped it. I wandered closer as Carter jogged over to retrieve the ball, and when he gave it another toss, it happened to sail over the kid’s head and come right to me. I made the easy catch and immediately handed it to him. That was my third ball of the day. (I count balls even if I give them away.)

A bunch of lefties started hitting, so I headed over to the right field side. I wasn’t too optimistic because of the overhang of the second deck…

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…but I gave it a shot anyway. As I headed down to the corner spot near the bullpen, a fan dressed in Rockies gear recognized me and introduced himself as Alex. He reads this blog. He was wearing a glove. And he pointed out a ball that was trapped nearby in a narrow gap behind the outfield wall. Check it out:

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I asked Alex if he was gonna go for it, but he didn’t have a ball-retrieving device, so basically, it was all mine. All I had to do was a) use my glove trick to knock the ball closer and b) not get caught by stadium security.

While I was contemplating my next move, Hisanori Takahashi picked up a ball in right field. Once again, I asked Alex if he wanted to go for it — to call out to Takahashi and ask for it — but he was like, “Nah, that’s all you.”

So…I called out to Takahashi in Japanese, and he threw it to me.

Then I took another peek at the ball in the gap:

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There was a gutter with a small metal flap jutting out at the bottom. I was going to have to be careful not to get my string tangled around it.

Long story short: I knocked the ball closer on the first try and reeled it in without incident.

I thanked Alex for being so generous, and before I took off, we got a photo together:

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Alex is a fan of both the Rockies and Yankees, and he writes a blog called “Purple & Pinstripes.” Here’s the link. Check it out if you get a chance.

At around 5:30pm, I changed into some Rockies gear of my own. Remember when I got that free jersey on 8/26/09 at Coors Field? Well, it was time for the jersey to make its Citi Field debut:

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The jersey didn’t draw as much attention as I’d hoped for, but it certainly didn’t hurt. Once the Rockies started hitting, Ubaldo Jimenez tossed me a ball in left-center, and I later got one in the same spot from Jorge De La Rosa. The latter wasn’t thrown specifically to me. It was tossed high in the air, and when I came down with it, I noticed that there was a really little kid standing nearby, so I handed him the ball.

At one point toward the end of BP, I had another chance to use my glove trick. This time the ball was sitting one foot out from the wall on the warning track in left field. I looked around, wondered if security was watching, and although I didn’t see a direct threat, I decided against going for it. Thirty seconds later, Gary hurried over with his cup trick and began lowering it over the railing. I got my camera out to take a photo of him reeling it in, but instead I ended up with a photo of this:

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Stadium security (wearing maroon) appeared out of nowhere and confiscated the cup trick from Gary (wearing the black Rockies T-shirt). They didn’t give him a warning or anything. They just took it, leaving me to wonder what would have happened if they’d caught me instead. A cup is relatively easy to replace, but a well-worn baseball glove? Not so much.

In case you’ve lost count, I was now up to seven balls for the day. It would’ve been eight, but Gary had actually robbed me of a home run in right field during the Mets’ portion of BP. I’m not complaining — just reporting. He had a better angle on it and reached out right in front of my glove for the catch. You want to know how severely he robbed me? When I squeeze my glove to make the catch, I ended up squeezing his glove in the process. I basically caught his glove as he caught the ball. Lots of people teased me about it — Greg had seen the whole thing play out from right-center — but that’s just how it goes. You can’t win ’em all, and as I often say, what makes it fun is that it’s a competition.

I raced over to the Rockies’ dugout at the end of BP and got two baseballs within a 60-second span. The first was tossed by hitting coach Don Baylor, and the second came from bullpen catcher Mark Strittmatter.

Of the seven balls that I kept, four looked pretty cool:

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Did you notice that the ball on the upper left is lopsided? And that the ball on the bottom right has a crooked logo? I love that kind of stuff.

It was tempting to stay and go for double digits, but quite simply, I *had* to head home.

This was my view of the Jackie Robinson Rotunda on my way out:

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It bothered me that just inside the entrance, Jackie Robinson’s name was covered by a bunch of dirty floor mats, but hey, that’s the Mets for you.

The area outside the stadium was bustling, and let me tell you, it felt weird to be out there right before game time.

I’m not really sure what to say about the following photo other than the fact that I took it before heading to the subway:

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What was that dog looking at, you ask?

See here:

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Poor dog. Dressed up in Mets gear. How humiliating.

The dog’s owner, it should be noted, was making a LOT of money. Just about everyone (including me) put a dollar in the jug.

I took one final photo of Citi Field from the platform of John Rocker’s favorite train:

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And that was it.

SNAGGING STATS:

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• 9 balls at this game (7 pictured on the right because I gave two away)

• 220 balls in 24 games this season = 9.2 balls per game.

• 653 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 355 consecutive Mets home games with at least one ball

• 17 consecutive games at Citi Field with at least two balls

• 4,578 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 45 donors (click here to learn more)

• $6.49 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $58.41 raised at this game

• $1,427.80 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

5/19/10 at Turner Field

The day got off to a great start, and it had nothing to do with baseball: I saw my very first girlfriend for the first time in 14 years, and it wasn’t awkward at all. We met in the lobby of my hotel, went out for a three-hour lunch, and pretty much just caught up and laughed about the past. I was in such a good mood after seeing her that nothing else mattered. Batting practice at Turner Field? Whatever. Baseball was the last thing on my mind — that is, until I walked over to the stadium and met up with my friend Matt Winters:

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(In case you’re new to this blog, I’m the guy on the left.)

That helped get me back into snagging mode. My goal for the day was to get at least six baseballs. That’s what I needed to reach 4,500, and thanks to the dreamlike configuration of the left field stands…

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…I knew it wouldn’t be hard. It was more a question of how than if.

My first two balls of the day were home runs hit by right-handed batters on the Braves. I’m not sure who. All I can tell you is that the first one landed near me in the seats, and I caught the second one on the fly.

That’s when I encountered my first challenge of the day. Another batter hit a homer that happened to land in the gap behind the outfield wall. I figured I’d be able to snag it with my glove trick, but before I could get there, some old guy snagged it with his own funky-looking device. Here he is holding it up:

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It’s a gigantic roll of duct tape — with additional tape inside the center hole to make the ball stick. On the other side (where the guy is holding it), there was a big/clunky object attached to it, presumably to help weigh the whole thing down.

As it turned out, this guy was one of a dozen fans who’d brought devices into the stadium. There were devices everywhere. It was nuts. Some people even dangled them over the wall in anticipation.

Somehow, I managed to beat the competition and use my glove trick to snag my third ball of the day. I handed that one to the nearest kid, and two minutes later, I sprung into glove-trick action once again.

That’s when I encountered (or rather created) another challenge. In my haste to get down to the front row, I rolled my left ankle on the edge of a step, and let me tell you, it hurt like HELL. I felt a sharp twinge on the outside of my foot, and for a moment, I thought I wasn’t gonna be able to walk for the next two weeks. It was one of those “what did I just do to myself” injuries; I knew it was bad, but I wasn’t sure just how bad, so I decided that as long as I could still stand, I might as well proceed down to the front row and try to snag the ball — and yes, I did end up getting it.

My ankle really hurt after that…

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…but the pain was bearable as long as I ran in straight lines and changed direction slowly.

My fifth ball of the day was another home run (not sure who hit it), and the catch itself was anything but routine. I was cutting through the second row to my right. The ball was heading toward a teenaged kid in the front row. It was going to be an easy chest-high catch for him, so I didn’t expect to have a chance. That said, I still stuck my glove out for a potential catch in case he missed it, and at the last second, I jerked my head to the side so that I wouldn’t get drilled in the face by a potential deflection. Well, wouldn’t you know it? The kid somehow managed to miss the ball. I mean, he completely whiffed — didn’t even get any leather on it — and I ended up making a no-look, thigh-high catch while running through the seats on a sprained ankle.

That was the 4,499th ball of my life. The next one was going to be a fairly significant milestone, so I wanted it to be special.

Another home run was hit toward the same kid. I was standing right behind him at the time, and while the ball was in mid-air, I could have easily climbed down into the front row and reached in front of him — but I didn’t want to interfere with his chance at redemption, so I hung back in the second row. This is how it played out:

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The ball smacked the pocket of his glove and jerked his wrist back, but he hung onto it, and everyone cheered and congratulated him.

Toward the end of the Braves’ portion of BP, a ball cleared the wall and landed in front of the visitors’ bullpen down the left field line. It sat there for a minute, so I ran over to the seats in foul territory, thinking that I might be able to snag it with my glove trick. Once I got there, I realized that the ball was trapped underneath a bench. There was no way for me to reach it, and even if it had been sitting right below me, there wouldn’t have been time. A security guard was about to retrieve it. Here he is with the ball in his hand:

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There were several other fans asking for it, so he decided to give it away in the fairest way possible: he asked when everyone’s birthday was. As soon as I said “September fourteenth,” he tossed me the ball.

“When’s your birthday?” I asked.

“September twelfth,” he replied.

“Cool, thanks so much,” I said, and then I asked, “Can I take a picture of the ball with you in the background?”

Either he didn’t hear me or he simply ignored me because he promptly exited the bullpen and began walking toward the infield. Meanwhile, I wanted to fully document my 4,500th ball, so I “chased” after him:


(It wasn’t exactly a high-speed chase.)

In the photo above, he had stopped walking for a moment to shout something to another guard in the bullpen, and then moments later, he continued marching ahead. I pulled out my camera, and this was the only photo I got:

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Meh. A little blurry. But at least it captured the “excitement” of the moment. (It’s fun to put “random” words in quotes. I should “do” this more often.)

Here’s a better photo of the ball itself:

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Now that my milestone was out of the way, my goal was to snag four more balls and reach double digits.

When the Braves cleared the field, I headed over toward their dugout on the first base side, and I wasn’t allowed past this point:

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If you look closely at the photo above, you can kinda see that the arrow is pointing to an extra chair in the front row — a little folding chair with slats on the back. That’s how stadium security marks its arbitrary cut-off line; if you don’t have a ticket for the seats beyond that point, you can’t go there, even during batting practice. Matt and I had tickets in the 3rd row behind the 3rd base dugout, and yet we weren’t allowed anywhere near the 1st base dugout. It’s such a bad policy — so thoroughly asinine and misguided and anti-fan — but what could I do? I had to stay there and SHOUT REALLY LOUD to get Terry Pendleton’s attention. He was standing all the way over near the home-plate end of the dugout. I didn’t think he’d even look up, but to my surprise, he finally turned and threw a ball all the way to me. (Take THAT, stadium security!!)

I headed over to the left field foul line when the Reds started throwing…

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…and didn’t get a single ball there. What’s up with that? I was decked out in Reds gear and still got ignored by all the players. Good thing there were a few batters hitting bombs to left-center field — and get this, they were left-handed. Although I’m not sure who was in the cage, I’m pretty certain it was Joey Votto and Jay Bruce. (Maybe Laynce Nix, too?) My eighth and ninth balls of the day were homers that landed in the seats. Here I am scrambling for one of them:

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This was my view straight ahead:

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See that kid in the front row with the arrow pointing to him? He was standing there because I told him to. Two minutes earlier, he had asked me a for a ball, and I said, “Don’t ask ME. Ask the players. Stand in the front row, and when a ball rolls near you, ask them politely for it.”

This was the view to my right:

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See the man with the arrow pointing to him? He overheard my exchange with the kid and asked me, “How many balls do you have?”

He seemed friendly — I’m usually pretty good at determining when someone is asking me just for the purpose of starting an argument — so I told him.

“Nine?!” he asked. “Do you think that’s fair?!”

“Well,” I said calmly, “considering that I give away a lot of balls to kids and also do this to raise money for charity, yeah, actually I do think it’s fair.”

The guy was speechless. He just nodded and walked back over to his spot…however…when I caught my 10th ball of the day less than a minute later — another homer by one of the Reds’ lefties — he was not too happy about it.

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The kid in the front row turned around and started begging me all over again for a ball. I pointed at the field and told him, “You should be focusing on the players, not on me.” And guess what happened soon after? Arthur Rhodes tossed a ball to the kid, who was so excited that he ran back and showed me.

“Now see?” I asked. “Wasn’t that better than getting a ball from me?”

“YES!!!” he shouted with a huge smile on his face.

I looked over at the man who’d been giving me a hard time, and I shrugged. He was still stewing. And then, five minutes later, I used my glove trick to snag a ball from the gap and gave that one away to another kid. I don’t even think the man saw that, and I don’t care.

That was my 11th ball of the day, and batting practice was almost done, so I ran (gingerly) to the 3rd base dugout. None of the players or coaches gave me a ball, but some random equipment-manager-type-guy was dumping all the balls from the bucket into a zippered bag. I got his attention and convinced him to toss one to me, and man, it was a beauty. Here are two different photos of it:

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Not only was there a big/diagonal/striped/green mark on it, and not only was the word “practice” stamped in a bizarre spot, but the logo was stamped too low. See how the word “commissioner” overlaps the stitch holes? I once snagged a ball with the logo stamped too high, and I also once snagged one with the logo stamped crookedly, but these are just a few examples out of thousands of balls, so you can see how rare it is.

I wandered for a bit after BP…

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…and made it back to the dugout just in time for the national anthem:

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Is that an amazing sight or what? I’ve never seen groundskeepers keep the hose on their shoulders during the playing of the song.

Reds third base coach Mark Berry tossed me a ball after the second inning, and in the bottom of the third, I headed up the steps to meet a 13-year-old kid from Atlanta named Evan. He’d been reading this blog for years, but we’d never met in person, and now finally, for the first time, we were at the same game together. I was planning to head over to the tunnels behind the plate and play for foul balls, but because he and his dad met me in the cross-aisle behind the dugout, I lingered there for a couple minutes to chat. Well, as luck would have it, while were were all standing around, Brian McCann fouled off a pitch from Aaron Harang and sent the ball flying 20 feet to my left. I took off after it (what sprained ankle?) and watched helplessly as it landed in a staircase just behind me. Thankfully, there was no one there, and the ball didn’t take a crazy bounce. Instead, it trickled down into the aisle, where I was able to grab it. Ha-HAAAA!!! The whole thing never would’ve happened if not for Evan, so he gets the unofficial assist. Here we are together:


Evan has snagged approximately 300 balls. (He doesn’t have an exact count, but he owns 295 and has given a few away.) That’s an impressive number at any age, let alone 13. When I turned 13, I had a lifetime total of four baseballs. He and I hung out after that, first behind the plate, then with Matt behind the dugout, but there were no more balls to be snagged.

The game itself was very entertaining. Braves starter Kenshin Kawakami, who began the night with an 0-6 record and a 5.79 ERA, pitched six scoreless innings and left with a 4-0 lead. Unfortunately for him, his countryman, Takashi Saito, gave up three runs in the top of the eighth, and then Billy Wagner surrendered a solo shot in the ninth to pinch hitter Chris Heisey. With the score tied, 4-4, in the the bottom of the ninth, Martin Prado hit a two-out single, and Jason Heyward plated him with a line-drive double into the right-field corner.

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Game over. Final score: Braves 5, Reds 4.

Heyward finished 3-for-5 with two doubles, a triple, and two runs scored. This guy is the real deal. He has unbelievably quick bat speed and a beautiful swing. He’s 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds, and he’s 20 years old! He has blazing speed, too, and he seems pretty solid in the field. I won’t pronounce him a future Hall of Famer just yet, but I’d be shocked if he doesn’t end up having a very good/long major league career. Wagner, by the way, two months shy of his 39th birthday, was consistently hitting 98mph on the gun. (I’ve never felt so athletically inadequate, but damn, these guys were fun to watch.)

After the game, I said goodbye to Evan (who got the lineup cards), then met a guy named Glenn Dunlap (who runs a company called Big League Tours), and caught up with another friend named Matt (who you might remember from 5/17/10 at Turner Field).

On my way out of the stadium, I took a photo of the empty seats…

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…and walked past the Braves Museum and Hall of Fame…

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…which was now closed.

Oh well.

I’m not a museum person anyway. (I’m more of a doer than a looker.)

Five minutes later, this is what I was doing just outside Turner Field:

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No, I wasn’t bowing down to my baseballs as part of a religious ritual; I had my camera in my hands, and I was trying to angle it just right in order to take one last photo. Keep reading past the stats to see how it turned out…

SNAGGING STATS:

• 14 balls at this game (12 pictured below because I gave two away)

• 150 balls in 14 games this season = 10.7 balls per game.

• 643 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 138 lifetime game balls (125 foul balls, 12 home runs, and one ground-rule double; this does NOT include game-used balls that get tossed into the crowd)

• 126 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

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

• 4,508 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 34 donors (click here and scroll down to see the complete list)

• $5.20 pledged per ball (if you add up all 34 pledges)

• $72.80 raised at this game

• $780.00 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

Bye, Turner Field. Thanks for being so awesome. I’m gonna miss you…

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5/17/10 at Turner Field

This was my first game at Turner Field in ten years, and I was pretty excited:

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The crowd was going to be fairly small. The gates were going to open two and a half hours early. The configuration of the left field seats was going to be ideal. And in my previous four games at this stadium (two in 1999 and two in 2000), I’d averaged 9.5 balls per game.

I wasn’t merely hoping to have a big day. I was expecting it. But first, I had some exploring to do outside the stadium.

This is what I saw when I walked to the top of the steps:

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That big area is called Monument Grove.

I walked over to the gate in deep left-center field and took a peek through the metal bars:

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Nice.

Two photos above, you can see a blueish wall in the distance. Here’s a closer look at it:

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In case you can’t read it, the words on top say, “THE LONGEST CONTINUOUSLY OPERATING FRANCHISE IN MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL.” (I was not aware of that fact.) Underneath it, there were years and logos and names of all the Braves’ former cities and teams: Boston Red Stockings (starting in 1871), Boston Red Caps, Boston Beaneaters, Boston Doves, Boston Rustlers, Boston Braves, Boston Bees, Boston Braves (again), Milwaukee Braves, and finally the current Atlanta Braves. It wasn’t nearly as snazzy as any of the Twins shrines that I saw on May 4th at Target Field, but it was still cool to see the Braves honoring their past.

Here’s the center field gate…

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…and this is what it looked like when I rounded the corner of the stadium:

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Meh. Nothing wrong with it, but not particularly memorable.

Here’s another look from further down the street…

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…and this is what it looked like after I rounded another corner:

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Pretty standard stuff, I guess. The street on that side of the stadium was so green and hilly that it didn’t even feel like a stadium. Check it out:

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I resisted the urge to try to talk my way in as I passed the media entrance…

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…and rounded yet another corner:

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That’s more like it.

Two-thirds of the way down the street, a bunch of autograph collectors were waiting for the Mets players to arrive:

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See the guy standing on the right with the red ESPN shirt? His name is Pete Gasperlin (aka “pgasperlin” in the comments). I had met him on 5/6/10 at Target Field. He’s a huge Twins fan. He’s the founder of the Denard Span fan club on Facebook. And he’s the guy who took my girlfriend Jona into the Metropolitan Club when she needed a break from the 40-degree drizzle. Yesterday, while I was talking to him, Jose Reyes, Johan Santana, and Oliver Perez were dropped off right in front of us. There were a dozen people begging for their autographs, including one guy (as you can see above) who was wearing a REYES jersey. It would have taken the players a minute or two to sign for everyone, but instead, they headed inside without even looking up or waving. It was pathetic. (David Wright, by the way, had stopped to sign on his way in shortly before I got there. Pete showed me a card that he’d gotten autographed.)

Here’s what the stadium looked like just beyond the autograph collectors…

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…and this is what it looked like when I rounded the final corner:

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I was back to where I’d started, and I still had some time to spare, so I headed into the parking lot in order to get a look at Turner Field from afar:

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Then I walked even further (about a quarter of a mile) and checked out the remnants of Fulton County Stadium:

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Fulton County was the home of the Braves from 1966-1996. I was there for one game in 1992 and snagged one ball. It was thrown by a (now totally obscure) player on the Padres named Guillermo Velasquez. I remember it well. It was rainy. There wasn’t BP. I was in the left field corner with my family. I didn’t have a Padres cap. I was 15 years old at the time. And…what else can I say? The whole thing was lucky and feels like it happened in a previous life.

In the photo above, do you see the little random piece of wall on the little random patch of grass? Let me take you closer and show you what that is:

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It’s the spot where Hank Aaron’s 715th career home run landed. (At the time, Babe Ruth held the record with 714, so this was a big big big big BIG big big deal. And of course it was more than just the numbers. There was the whole issue of race, too. Big deal. Very big.) Very cool to be standing so close to where such a major piece of history went down.

After that, I headed back to Turner Field and claimed at a spot just outside the gates:

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The photo above was taken by Pete. The guy sitting on the right was the first person I had seen while wandering around the stadium earlier. He had stopped me and asked, “Are you Zack Hample?” Most people who recognize me are like, “Hey, aren’t you that guy from YouTube,” but this dude actually knew my name. (If I’m remembering correctly, his name is Matt.)

Five minutes before the gates opened, this was the line behind me:

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When I ran inside and headed down to the front row in left-center, I was rather excited to see this:

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Glove trick heaven!

Even more important, perhaps, was the fact that the seats extended all the way from the foul pole to the batter’s eye. In other words, I was going to be able to position myself in all sorts of different spots based on who was batting and where the crowd was clustered.

My friend Pete unintentionally got the assist on my first ball of the day. It was a ground-rule double that kinda handcuffed him in the front row, and when it dropped down into the gap, I was all over it. Then I caught a home run on the fly, hit by a right-handed batter on the Braves that I couldn’t identify. Nothing fancy about it. It was pretty much hit right to me. All I had to do was drift a few feet to my right and reach up for the easy, one-handed grab. Two minutes later, I saw a ball drop into the gap in right-center, so I ran over there. I reeled that one in and then discovered another ball in the gap, just a few feet to my left:

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Cha-ching!

The problem with the section in right-center is that it’s really far from home plate. Check out the view:

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The batters basically have to hit the ball 400 feet just to reach the seats, and because the front row is always crowded, you’re talking 410 to 420 in order for them to reach a spot where you’ll have some room to run.

I ran back to left field and snagged a ground-rule double that bounced into the seats near the foul pole. I was proud of myself for this one because the ball had been hit really high, and I was all the way over in straight-away left field. I knew that it wasn’t going to clear the wall on the fly, but instead of giving up on it, I kept running in case it bounced over. Two years ago, I wouldn’t have made that play. I wasn’t as good at judging fly balls, and didn’t have The Vision. I don’t know what’s happening, but my instincts are suddenly improving. I can feel it. It’s awesome.

I ran all the way to the seats in straight-away right field (it takes an effort to get there; the path is anything but direct) and caught a home run hit by Melky Cabrera. I had to move a full section to my right for it, and when I looked back up for the ball, I found myself staring right into the sun — so I felt good about that snag as well.

The gap in right field is partially blocked by the backside of the LED board:

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It’s still possible to use the glove trick there, but balls don’t drop down too often.

When the Braves finished their portion of BP, I raced over to the seats behind their dugout — and was told by various ushers that I wasn’t allowed down there.

WHAT?!?!

Seriously, what kind of Citi-esque nonsense was that? Braves hitting coach Terry Pendleton was throwing ball after ball into the crowd, and since I was already halfway down into the seats, I started yelling to get his attention. He threw a ball to a nearby female usher, presumably for me, and when she dropped it and it started rolling toward me, she yelled at me to get away from her ball. Then, after she “ran” over and grabbed it, Pendleton threw her another, which she kept.

“Are you kidding me?!” I yelled.

“Theesa fo’ my keeeids!” she insisted.

“Are you really competing with me for baseballs,” I asked, “and kicking me out of your section an hour and a half before game time?”

That IS, in fact, what was happening. As this usher was guiding me up the steps, however, I managed to get Pendleton’s attention, and he threw me my seventh ball of the day (which I caught right in front of her face).

Unbelievable. Does anyone have Ted Turner’s phone number? I need to have a word with him.

When the Mets took the field, I was once again prohibited from entering the seats behind their dugout — or even next to their dugout. The closest I could get was shallow left field!

I got a ball tossed to me in the left field corner by one of the trainer-type-strength-and-conditioning-coach dudes. Then I moved to straight-away left and fished a home run ball out of the gap. (That was my ninth ball of the day, and there was some competition from other fans with devices.) Less than a minute later, I caught a homer on the fly. I’m not sure who hit it. All I can tell you is that I was in the third row, and there was a guy around my age in the second row. When the ball went up, he misjudged it and moved back. This enabled me to carefully slip past him and drift down to the front row, where I leaned over the railing and made the catch.

Check out the ball:

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It was a Citi Field commemorative ball. I’d snagged a bunch of these last year, but it was still great to get another. Commemorative balls are sacred to me — even the ones like this with poorly designed logos.

The Braves had been using standard balls with the word “practice” printed under the MLB logo; the Mets were using balls that had “practice” stamped sloppily on the sweet spot. Check it out:

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(“We talkin’ about PRAC-tice!“)

The left field seats got pretty crowded…

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…but that didn’t stop me. I snagged a David Wright homer that landed near me in the seats and then ran over to right field for the next group of hitters. It was either Jose Reyes or Luis Castillo — I just wasn’t paying close enough attention — but whoever it was hit a home run right to me. I mean right to me. I could sense that someone was running toward me in the row below me, so I reached up with two hands to brace for a potential collision. The ball cleared this other guy’s glove by three inches, and then he tripped and fell headfirst over his row. (Yes, I caught the ball.) Don’t feel bad for him. He was in his 20s and looked/acted like he belonged in the mosh pit at a punk rock show. Thirty seconds later, I saw him scramble for another ball and grab it right in front of a little kid, who looked pretty devastated. The kid’s father tried to plead with the guy to turn the ball over, and when he refused, I tapped the kid on the shoulder and handed him the one I’d just caught. The kid (as you might imagine) was thrilled, his father thanked me for a solid minute, and I got a bunch of high-fives from other fans.

Back in left field, I went on a mini-snagging rampage during the closing minutes of BP. Pedro Feliciano threw me my 13th ball of the day. Then I used my glove trick (No. 14). Then I grabbed a home run in the seats that some grown-ups bobbled (No. 15). And then used my trick again for a home run ball that landed in the gap (No. 16). I managed to get down to the Mets’ dugout at the end of BP, and as all the players and coaches were clearing the field, I got Howard Johnson to toss me No. 17.

Dayum!

I’d been planning to go for homers during the game, but now that I was so close to 20, I decided to stay behind the dugout and pad my numbers. For some reason, the Mets never came out for pre-game throwing, so that cost me an important opportunity, but there was still the chance to get a third-out ball. This was my view early in the game:

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Yunel Escobar grounded out to Mets first baseman Ike Davis to end the second inning. Davis jogged in and tossed me the ball. Pretty simple. The ball, it should be noted, had the Citi Field commemorative logo on it, which means it wasn’t the actual ball that had been used during the game; Davis had obviously kept the gamer and tossed me his infield warm-up ball instead.

As I jogged up the steps, I happened to see Kevin Burkhardt, the Mets’ sideline reporter, sitting at the back of the section with his SNY microphone. I had gotten to know him a bit over the past few seasons, and once I started snagging baseballs for charity last year, I’d been asking him if he’d interview me about it someday. Long story short: the interview finally took place last night during the bottom of the 4th inning.

The whole thing only lasted a couple minutes, but I think it went pretty well. Here’s a screen shot (courtesy of SNY) before the interview started. It shows Kevin pointing out the camera that was going to be filming us:

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Here’s another screen shot (courtesy of my friend Howie) during the interview itself.

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Yes, Howie actually photographed his TV.

Kevin asked me two main questions:

1) How do you catch so many baseballs?

2) Can you tell me what you’re doing for charity?

It was great to get to give a plug on-air for Pitch In For Baseball. Big thanks to the Mets for letting me do it. (The Braves, as I mentioned three days ago on Twitter, denied my media/charity request.)

Here I am with Kevin after the interview:

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I still have yet to see a tape of it, but according to Howie, when Eric Hinske homered the following inning (to a spot where I wouldn’t have been anyway), the Mets announcers mentioned me.

Gary Cohen said, “Zack did not get the ball,” to which Ron Darling replied, “He’s probably negotiating for it.”

I spent the rest of the game chasing nonexistent foul balls behind the plate. This was my view for right-handed batters:

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There’s a cross-aisle that runs through the entire field level, so it’s easy to run left and right. The only problem is that the protective screen is rather tall, so balls have to loop back over it — something that doesn’t happen too often.

Now…

If you’ve been reading the comments on this blog, you may have noticed a bunch over the years from someone known as “lsthrasher04” and later “braves04.” The person who’s been leaving those comments lives in Atlanta. His name is Matt. We’d been in touch for a long time, but we’d never met in person until yesterday. I saw him briefly during BP, but I was so busy running all over the place that we barely had a chance to catch up. Late in the game, he came and found me, and we finally had a photo taken together. Here we are:


Matt had kindly given me some pointers about Turner Field in recent weeks. I returned the favor last night by signing his copy of Watching Baseball Smarter.

By the time the 9th inning rolled around, I still needed two more balls to reach 20. My plan, since the Mets were winning, 3-2, was as follows:

1) Go to the Mets’ dugout.

2) Get a ball from home plate umpire Ed Rapuano.

3) Get another ball from the Mets as they walk off the field.

4) If that fails, get a ball from the relievers when they walk in from the bullpen.

Good plan, right? It gave me three chances to snag two balls. Well, Rapuano took care of the first one, but then the Mets let me down. None of them tossed a ball into the crowd as they headed back in — and get this: the relievers never walked across the field. They must’ve headed from the bullpen to the clubhouse through the underground concourse.

So that was it.

My day ended with 19 balls.

(Yeah, I know, poor me.)

The Mets held on for a 3-2 win, so my Ballhawk Winning Percentage improved to what would be a major league best: .792 (9.5 wins and 2.5 losses).

Before heading out, I caught up with Pete…

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…who generously gave me a new Braves cap. (My old one, circa 1992, was crinkly and fugly and being held together at the back with duct tape.)

Good times. Good people. Good baseball. Can’t wait for the next two games here. I’m hoping to snag 23 more and hit 4,500…

SNAGGING STATS:

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• 19 balls at this game (18 pictured on the right because I gave one away)

• 119 balls in 12 games this season = 9.9 balls per game.

• 641 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 124 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

• 4,477 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 31 donors (click here and scroll down to see who has pledged)

• $4.95 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $94.05 raised at this game

• $589.05 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

5/5/10 at Target Field

I was convinced that there wouldn’t be batting practice. The weather was iffy, and the game had an extra early start time (12:10pm). I mean, if ever there was a day for the players to sleep in, this was it. Right?

Well, when I ran inside the stadium, the cage and screens were all set up, and players from both teams were throwing in the outfield:

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I hurried down to the left field foul line and quickly identified the two Tigers as Brad Thomas and Phil Coke. I was hoping that Thomas wouldn’t end up with the ball because he had thrown one to me the day before. I assumed he’d recognize me, so I was glad when Coke ended up with it instead — and when he did, I asked him for it.

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He walked over to me and said, “You’re the guy with the running count, right?”

(Crap, I was busted. I had to come up with a good answer.)

“Yeah,” I told him, “and you know I’m doing this for charity, right?”

(I wasn’t only doing it for charity. I was doing it for fun, but I figured it wouldn’t hurt to mention that.)

“Yeah, I know,” he said. “I saw the thing about you on TV yesterday.”

(Cool! Now I just had to convince him to give me the ball. Think! Say something! Anything!)

“Well, it would be an honor to get a ball from you,” I said.

D’oh! As soon as the words left my mouth, I felt like an idiot. It was actually true — why wouldn’t I want a ball from a major leaguer who recognized me? — but felt kinda phony. Evidently, however, it wasn’t too phony for Coke because he walked even closer and placed the ball into my open glove.

I raced around the stadium to the right field side…

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…and got Carl Pavano to throw me a ball five minutes later. It was commemorative and worn out and beautiful. Have a look:

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Once the Tigers started taking BP, I ran back to the left field side and grabbed the corner spot along the foul line. This was the view:

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I had decided to go for grounders instead of homers because the left field bleachers were crowded:

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I caught two baseballs during BP (bringing my total on the day to four). The first was tossed by Johnny Damon, and the second was a grounder that a right-handed batter yanked down the line. In between these two snags, some random guy approached me in the stands and introduced himself. He said he’d been reading my blog, and that he enjoyed keeping up with my baseball travels, and that he was a big baseball geek, too, and that he appreciated how much I enjoyed the game. I appreciated his kind words, but didn’t think much of it until he handed me his business card:

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He told me that if I was free the next day, he’d give me a tour of Target Field before it opened. (Stuff like this never happens to me in New York.) He even said I could take photos and blog about it — Twins management gave its stamp of approval — as long as I didn’t use his name. I thanked him profusely, told him I’d give him a call, and then began my own tour.

The previous day, I’d wandered all around the outside of the stadium. Now it was time to explore the inside, and I started behind the 3rd base dugout. Check out the cross-aisle that runs through the stands:

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Some people have been referring to this as “the moat,” but I don’t think it should be called that. Moats keep people out. Yankee Stadium has a MOAT. Dodger Stadium has a MOAT. But here in Minnesota, fans are allowed to go down to the dugouts until the end of batting practice. Once BP ends, the ushers start checking tickets, but after a few innings, you can pretty much wander wherever you want.

I headed up the steps and into the field level concourse. Naturally it was packed…

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…so it took me a few minutes to make it out to the left field foul pole:

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In the photo above, the glassy area on the right is a New Era cap store. The balcony around it is open to everyone. If you want to stand there for the entire game, no one’s gonna stop you.

I kept walking around the field level. Here’s what it looked like at the back of the bleachers in left-center field:

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You see those low-hanging lights in the photo above? Know what those are? Heat lamps. Great idea. The Twins/architects paid close attention to detail when designing this ballpark. It was truly a pleasure to walk around and take it all in.

Fans were streaming into Gate 3 — the Harmon Killebrew gate:

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Here’s a look at the bullpens and bleachers:

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There’s absolutely no chance to use the glove trick behind the ‘pens because the video board juts out too far. (You can see it better two photos above.) In fact, there’s no chance to use the trick in most outfield sections.

Here are the seats in right-center field. Note the flower bed in front and overhang up above:

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As you can see, it’s impossible to use the glove trick here, too, and if you’re hoping to catch a home run, your only chance is in the front row. I don’t care if the seats are made of real wood; there’s basically no reason to ever set foot in that section.

Here’s what the batter’s eye looks like from there:

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I decided to walk to the end of the front row and peek over the edge — you know, just to see what the trees looked like from above. This is what I saw:

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Well, how about that? There was a ball sitting 15 feet below me. I looked around. There were no ushers or security guards in sight, so I pulled out my glove, set up the rubber band and Sharpie, and went in for the kill. It took a minute to knock the ball closer, and then I successfully reeled it in…so I take back what I said a minute ago. There IS a reason to set foot in that section, and you just read about it.

I headed out to the standing room area behind the right field foul pole:

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Want to guess who was outside the gate?

Waldo, of course:

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(I wrote about him in my previous entry.)

The Twins had won the first two games of the series, so he was rooting for a sweep.

There was still a lot more for me to see. I knew I wasn’t going to finish wandering before the game started — and I was okay with that. I decided to take my time and walk all around Target Field, and if I missed a few innings, so be it.

I rode an escalator to the upper deck and took a photo of the standing room area from above. Check it out:

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See that big brown-ish building on the other side of the standing room area? (It’s a garage.) See the gray-ish translucent thing with random white blotches in front of it? I don’t know what to call it — it probably has an official name — so all I can tell you is that it’s a gigantic piece of art. It’s made out of thousands of shingle-sized metal flaps that wiggle back and forth in the breeze. It’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen, and no, that’s not an exaggeration. The flaps move in unison, like a massive school of fish, creating a hypnotic illusion which, from afar, looks like steam rising and swirling. You have to see it in person. It’s freaky and amazing, and you’ll never forget it.

As the umpires walked out onto the field, I wandered from the right field corner toward the plate and discovered a narrow walkway in front of some windows:

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Here’s another look at the walkway from the other end:

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See the guy holding a clipboard on the right? That was the public address announcer! There was a big microphone hanging down near the upper right corner of the window, and as he spoke into it, his voice boomed out across the stadium. HOW COOL that the Twins designed Target Field to give fans such incredible access. They actually made it worthwhile to be in the upper deck. And wait, there’s more…

Directly behind home plate, there was another/longer enclosed area with windows overlooking the field:

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As you can see in the photo above, there wasn’t a walkway in front, so I had to head around the back of it in the concourse. Here’s a photo of it:

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It’s called Twins Pub. You don’t need a special ticket to get inside. Anyone can go hang out there to enjoy a beverage and/or escape the cold. Here’s what it looks like on the inside:

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Ready for the coolest thing of all? This might be my favorite photo from the whole trip. Inside the pub…well, here, take a look:

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Yes, the Target Field organist was sitting right there for everyone to see.

Wow.

Just wow.

Behind the pub, there was an unusual, elevated walkway that the people sitting high up above the plate had to use to get to their seats:

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I headed up there to take a few pics that I later combined to make a panorama:

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I love how the lights are actually tucked into the roof of the upper deck. I’m telling you, every inch of this stadium is glorious.

Here’s what it looked like at the very back of the upper deck:

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(Okay, so maybe THAT shouldn’t be classified as “glorious,” but there’s certainly nothing wrong with it.)

Here’s a look at the field from the 3rd base side…

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…and here’s some more upper deck weirdness:

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I’m talking about that last elevated row of seats.

Funky, don’t you think?

As I approached the left field corner, I got a nice view of the party decks:

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I was looking forward to seeing the Budweiser deck at the very top of the building. There was a staircase at the end of the concourse that appeared to lead up there:

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Unfortunately, it just led to the regular portion of the upper deck, so I had to settle for checking it out from here:

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I headed down to the club level…

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…but couldn’t get past these doors:

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The left field corner of the club level was open to everyone, so I headed in that direction:

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The “Captain Morgan deck” was situated at the very end (directly above the New Era store):

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(There should be an “Alcoholics Anonymous lounge” to go with it.)

This was where the people who didn’t care about the game seemed to congregate. As you can see in the photo above, only one guy was even bothering to watch the nearest TV, and if you look closely, you can see that he was really just taking a quick break from playing with his phone. Sad. But hey, all these people paid to be in the stadium, so whether or not they were watching the game, they were at least supporting it.

Here’s the view from the deck — no, not of the field, but more importantly, of the stands and beams and concourses behind it:

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Here’s the view from the top corner of the left field upper deck:

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(I really did wander everywhere.)

I loved the combination of metal, concrete, and glass. I loved the angles. I loved the sleek design. But I didn’t love the wind. It was so gusty up there that I was nearly blown off my feet. It was freezing and a bit scary, so I made sure to hold onto the railing whenever I got near the edge. (For once, I was glad to have gained 11 pounds this past off-season.)

This was the view to the left:

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Here I am with my five baseballs:

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Three of the balls had black magic marker streaks across the logo like this. That’s how the Tigers are marking their balls. (If you want to see all the different types of marked balls that I’ve snagged over the years, click here.)

Here’s what it looked like from the deepest part of the ballpark in left-center:

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There’s a standing room area directly behind the batter’s eye…

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…but because the wall is so high (shoulder-high if you’re six feet tall) and has a metal drink shelf jutting out, it’s nearly impossible to peer over for balls that might be hiding in the trees below.

The stands in deep right-center were strangely configured. There was some weird railing/platform/standing-room action at the very back:

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I headed down toward the main standing room section in right field…

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…and then went back up to the club level on the right field side. There was a sizable area that was open to all fans, which included a model of Target Field and a long hallway with photos of every current major league stadium:

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Finally, at some point more than halfway through the game, I finished wandering and caught up with my friend “Big Glove Bob”:

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I spent the next few innings hanging out in the standing room area, and then I grabbed a seat behind the 3rd base dugout. Orlando Hudson flied out to Tigers right fielded Ryan Raburn to end the eighth inning, and when Raburn jogged in, he flipped me the ball. That was my sixth of the day, and since there was a little kid standing nearby with a glove, I handed him my lone unmarked/non-commemorative ball from BP. (Yeah, I kept the game-used ball with the Target Field logo and gave him a regular practice ball. So? He didn’t know the difference, and he was thrilled to no end.) Then, with one out remaining in the game, I moved over to the staircase behind the umpires’ exit…

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…and got my seventh and final ball of the day from Derryl Cousins as he hurried off the field.

My last two baseballs were perfect, game-rubbed, commemorative balls:

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Final score: Zack 7, Twins 5, Tigers 4. (This improved my Ballhawk Winning Percentage to .786 — 5.5 wins and 1.5 losses.)

I had no idea what happened in the game until I looked at the box score, and you know what? It doesn’t even matter.

SNAGGING STATS:

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• 7 balls at this game (6 pictured on the right because I gave one away)

• 73 balls in 7 games this season = 10.4 balls per game.

• 636 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 4,431 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 29 donors (click here and scroll down to see who has pledged)

• $3.85 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $26.95 raised at this game

• $281.05 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

After the game, I met Jona at Smalley’s 87 Club. We both had our laptops and used the free WiFi. She had a Boca burger. (Yeesh.) I had the boneless BBQ chicken wings and a side of onion rings. (She’d say “yeesh” to that, so we’re even.) Roy Smalley made a post-game appearance (as he often does) and signed a ticket stub for me:

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(Are they still called “stubs” even though they no longer get torn?)

5/1/10 at Progressive Field

The last time I visited this stadium, it was called Jacobs Field, the Indians were in first place, and every seat was sold out for the season. That was 1998. Let’s just say that things have changed.

Yesterday, before I headed over to Progressive Field, I met up with two ballhawks from Pittsburgh named Nick and Bryan Pelescak. (Yes, they’re brothers, and I first met them last fall when I got to take BP on the field at PNC Park.) It was only 2pm. They’d just checked out of their hotel, and they had lots of time to kill, so they wandered around the outside of the stadium with me while I took photos. One of the first things I saw was the view through the gate behind the “Home Run Porch” in left field:

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This was a beautiful sight. It had been raining two hours earlier, yet the batting cage was now set up for BP.

We kept walking…

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…and I took a ton of photos. Here are two more.

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Whenever I visit a new stadium, I always walk around the outside of it and go nuts with my camera. Yeah, I’d been here before, but it had been so long that I did all my exploring/documenting from scratch.

Here’s a shot of Gate C — the gate that opens first. It’s located in deeeeep right-center:

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Do you see the person standing at the gate? That was another Pittsburgh ballhawk named Erik Jabs. (He’s the guy who founded the Ballhawk League.) I knew that he and Nick and Bryan were going to be at this game, and although I was looking forward to hanging out with them, their presence meant that I’d have to face some serious competition.

Erik stayed at Gate C and watched our bags. Nick and Bryan and I kept wandering. Here’s a four-part photo that shows what it looked like as we walked from the right field edge of the stadium around toward home plate:

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Here I am across the street from Progressive Field, imitating the building-sized LeBron James poster way off in the distance:

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In the four-part photo below, the pic on the upper right shows the stadium’s “toothbrush lights.” The pic on the lower right shows my old (circa 1992) Indians cap next to a long overdue replacement.

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(Don’t worry, I took that sticker off the bill as soon as I took the photo. People who leave those things on their caps — that’s one thing I’ll never understand.)

Here I am with Nick (who’s fielding an imaginary grounder), Erik (who’s reaching out for the backhand), and Bryan (who’s tracking a fly ball) outside Gate C:

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Yeah, it’s a ridiculously dorky photo (and I look fat), but whatever. Good times, I tell you. (The photo was taken by a guy named Chad from Canton, Ohio. He and I were in touch about a year ago, and when he heard that I was going to be at this game, he decided to make the trip to hey in person. We ended up crossing paths throughout the day and sitting together on and off during the game. Cool dude.)

Want to see the line of fans waiting to get inside the stadium for BP? Yes, of course, you do, but first, I want you to think about how crowded it gets at some places, like Fenway Park and Citi Field. Are you ready? Okay, here we go. I took the following photo THREE minutes before Gate C opened:

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Right before we all ran inside, we made a little bet. I’m not sure if it could be called a “friendly wager” because there was a little bit of money involved. Erik, Bryan, Nick, and I decided that at the end of batting practice, the guy who snagged the most baseballs would receive one dollar from each of the other three people.

The good thing about Progressive Field is that it opens two and a half hours early for night games. The bad thing is that fans are confined to the right field seats for the first hour and a half! So, basically, by the time the entire stadium opens, it’s 6pm, and there’s only 15 or 20 minutes left of batting practice. Bleh. I will say, though, that the right field seats are pretty good. There’s lots of room to run. Check it out:

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In the photo above, Nick is on the left, Bryan is down in the front row, and Erik is standing one section further away, with his hand on his head. The reason why we were all clustered in right-center is that there were a bunch of righties batting. We figured that if any of them were gonna go oppo, it was going to happen closer to the center field edge of the section. (BTW, that concrete platform down in front is great for preventing fan interference, but it sucks for snagging baseballs. It makes it impossible to use the glove trick, and if you’re not careful, home run balls will bounce up off it and hit you in the face.)

Erik snagged a ball fairly quickly, and then Bryan got one as well. Things weren’t looking good for me, but then something unusual happened. Jensen Lewis fielded a ball, and when everyone started asking for it, he turned and fired it into the upper deck. The ball then bounced down into the second deck, and I ended up getting a seat cleaner to toss it down to me. Here’s the ball, and you can see the guy in the background:

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Here’s another look at the right field seats after it started getting a bit more crowded:

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Erik and Bryan each had three balls, while Nick and I were stuck at one apiece. I was sure that I was going to lose the bet — and I was okay with it. At least I was having fun.

I snagged two more balls within a matter of minutes. I got Chris Perez to throw the first one after I told him I was “going deep” and started running up the steps. Then I caught a Russell Branyan homer on the fly more than 15 rows back. Maybe even 20 rows. Everyone was crowding the front (as usual) so I played deep, figuring that he’d be able to reach me.

I was still a couple balls behind when the Twins took the field and started playing catch:

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I was hoping to snag a Target Field commemorative ball, but I wasn’t freaking out about it. This was the first of five Twins games that I was going to see in the next week, so I assumed I’d get one eventually.

The Twins started hitting. A ball rolled onto the warning track right below me. I had to climb on a seat in order to look down and see it, but the logo was facing away from me. In other words, I had no idea what type of ball it was. Jesse Crain walked over and picked it up. I asked him politely for it, and he tossed it my way. Here’s a photo of THAT ball:

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Niiiiiiiiiiiiiiice!

(You can see Crain in the photo above. He’s walking toward another ball on the warning track in right-center.)

My fifth ball of the day was rather odd…in terms of how I got it. During the first hour of BP, several balls landed in the empty seats along the right field foul line. I was hoping that they’d all still be there when the rest of the stadium opened, but unfortunately, a cop wandered down into the section and retrieved them all. For some reason (perhaps because I held up my glove), he threw one of them to me from about 100 feet away. The Twins’ bullpen was positioned between us. It was quite a toss, and it was right on the money.

Speaking of money, I was in good shape with the bet after getting Ron Mahay to give me my sixth ball of the day. Erik and Nick and Bryan all had solid numbers at that point, but I had taken the lead — and then I got another Target Field ball from Pat Neshek. Nothing fancy about it. Someone hit the ball onto the track. I ran down to the front row. He flipped it up, and I reached higher than everyone else around me. I was really happy to finally get one from him after having read his truly awesome blog on and off for a few years. (To prove how much I like his blog, check out my favorite links on my web site.)

Finally, when the rest of the stadium opened, I decided to go to the left field bleachers. On the way, I stopped and peeked over the edge of the Indians’ bullpen in right-center, and wouldn’t you know it? There was a ball sitting all the way at the back, waiting for me. I neglected to photograph it, but wait…here’s a photo that I had taken earlier in the day. It shows a different ball sitting in nearly the same spot:

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I had enough string for the glove trick — that wasn’t the problem — but the chest-high railing made it impossible to lean over. See how it angles back? I had to pull one of those plastic chairs over and stand on it. An elderly usher watched me and didn’t say a word. The whole thing took a couple minutes, and when I was done, I got a nice round of applause from the dozen or so fans who were also looking on.

That was my eighth ball of the day. Double digits? Keep reading…

I ran to the bleachers and got Jon Rauch to throw me No. 9. Here he is down below:

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The bleachers are quite steep, as you can see in the following photo:

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It’s hard to maneuver up and down the benches, but in straight-away left field, there’s a cross-aisle at the front that provides plenty of room to run laterally. You’ll see a photo of it later…

During the last round of BP, I caught two Delmon Young homers on the fly. The first was a nice lazy fly ball. The second was a laser that required me to reach slightly over the low railing down in front.

I had eleven balls, three of which had the word practice stamped underneath the MLB logo:

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(The balls are not actually yellow. They’re nice-n-white, but I was forced to photograph them in my hotel room, which has terrible lighting.)

As soon as batting practice ended, Erik, Nick, and Bryan entered Heritage Park

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…and headed down to the lower level to look for baseballs hidden in the trees:

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They didn’t find any, which meant it was time to settle the bet. Erik had seven balls. (He finished the night with eight, and you can read all the details on his blog.) Bryan had snagged five, and Nick (who also has a blog) had four. Excellent numbers all around. I just happened to come out on top, and this was the result:

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Erik decided to hold all his baseballs while he handed over the dollar, just to prove that he hadn’t gotten blown out.

It turned out that we’d each gotten at least one Target Field ball:

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Now, to make a long story a little less long…

When we were taking these photos in Heritage Park, all my baseballs were on the ground right behind me, not more than five feet away. I’d taken them out of my backpack, and I then placed the bag on top of them, you know, to (mostly) shield them from the few other fans who were milling about, looking at the plaques, etc. I didn’t think much about these people. It was quiet. It was Cleveland. There was no need to act all paranoid and New-Yorker-ish, so I turned my back for a few moments here and there, and when I started putting all the balls back into my bag, I noticed that there was one missing. Which ball? My best Target Field ball, of course — the one that Jesse Crain had tossed to me. I thought one of my fellow ballhawks was playing a joke, but they assured me repeatedly that they had nothing to do with it, and that’s when it hit me that someone else, in fact, had stolen one of my commemorative balls. Unbelievable.

Anyway, life goes on.

Shortly before the game started, I got Justin Morneau to sign the front of my ticket and Denard Span to sign the back:

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I tried for a pre-game warm-up ball behind the Twins’ dugout, but came up empty. Then I moved toward the back of the section and got Nick to take the following photo of me:

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Nothing special about it. I just wanted a decent photo of myself inside the stadium.

As for the game, I decided to go for nothing but home runs. To hell with foul balls and third-out balls. There was room to run in the outfield, and I intended to take full advantage. I wanted to be in the standing room area (aka “the Home Run Porch”) down the left field line, but Nick was there all night, and I didn’t want to get in his way, so I spent most of my time running back and forth for righties and lefties from the bleachers in straight-away left to the stands in right-center. Here’s what it looked like from the tunnel in left field:

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The usher was nice and let me stand there. Every usher was nice. No one ever harassed me or asked for my ticket. I was free to roam, and that’s how it should be, especially at a stadium where a Saturday night game draws just 13,832 fans.

When I moved to the front of the tunnel, this is what it looked like to the right:

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Is that awesome or what?! (The lady sitting closest to me doesn’t appear to be all that excited about it.) Of course, there weren’t any home runs hit there while I was there. I was in right-center field when Justin Morneau was batting, and he ended up hitting a home run that landed less than ten feet from where I’d been standing all night for righties. My home run curse continues. It’s official. Last year was pretty much a disaster in terms of game home runs, and things are not looking good early in 2010.

This is what it looks like under the left field bleachers:

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And this is the greatest rally cap I’ve ever seen:

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That was an Indians cap, FYI, and it obviously worked because the Tribe scored two runs in the bottom of the eighth inning to tie the game at 4-4, and then they won it in the 11th.

The final score was 5-4, which means my Ballhawk Winning Percentage remained perfect.

Nick and Bryan left early — it’s a two-hour drive back to Pittsburgh — so we didn’t get to say goodbye, but Erik stuck around, and we walked out together. No telling when I’ll see these guys again, but hopefully it won’t be long.

SNAGGING STATS:

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• 11 balls at this game (10 pictured on the right because one was stolen)

• 34 balls in 3 games this season = 11.3 balls per game.

• 632 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 122 lifetime games with at least ten balls

• 56 lifetime games outside of New York with at least ten balls

• 22 different stadiums with at least one game with 10 or more balls

• 4,392 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 24 donors (click hereto see what this is all about)

• $2.86 pledged per ball

• $31.46 raised at this game

• $97.24 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

2009 World Series — Game 5

On a personal level, the best thing about Game 5 of the 2009 World Series was getting a free ticket. The worst thing was that I had to watch the Phillies and Yankees. To put it lightly, I don’t care for either team. I thought about wearing all Mets gear (as a way of staging my own mini-protest), but ultimately I decided to dress like this:

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It was my way of messing with fans of both teams without getting laughed at. As I made my way around the stadium, I noticed people staring and pointing. One guy asked if he could get a photo with me. His friend asked if I was bipolar.

It was only 2:30pm — more than five hours before the first pitch — so I had time to get food (don’t order pasta or the turkey burger at McFadden’s) and take a bunch of photos…

Here’s a look at the street that runs from the 3rd base gate to the Ashburn Alley gate in left field:

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One word: HOOPLA.

The whole place had a carnival-like atmosphere…

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…and yet as I walked around, I noticed that I wasn’t really feeling it. It didn’t feel like the World Series. It just felt like any other game, except colder. I was hoping to snag at least eight balls in order to maintain an average of nine balls per game for the entire season, and of course I wanted to get my hands on a commemorative game-used ball with the 2009 World Series logo, but I felt no sense of urgency. I don’t know why — maybe because it’d been so long since my last game that I’d fallen out of SnagMode — but I felt rather Zen about the whole thing. Ultimately, I just wanted to snag one ball and see a good game.

The TV crews were out in full force…

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…and there were other media as well. A classic rock radio station was broadcasting from a tent, and as I walked by, the female DJ waved me over.

“I gotta talk to you for a minute,” she said, reaching for a microphone.

Sure enough, she asked me about the clothes I was wearing.

I explained that I didn’t like either team.

“You hate everybody!” she joked, and then she asked me why I was even AT the game.

“Because I got a free ticket,” I said.

“How’d you manage that?” she asked.

I told her about my books and my baseball collection and mentioned that there’s a ticket company called First Hand Tickets that recently “sponsored” me…and that I got the ticket from them. She was pretty intrigued by the whole story and kept asking me questions. I couldn’t believe how long the interview was lasting, but once it was over, she told me that it was being taped and that her editor was going to trim it down and air part of it later. Oh well. Still cool.

Before I headed off, she got one of her assistants to take the following photo of us:

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As for First Hand Tickets…basically, what it all comes down to is that StubHub isn’t the only option. StubHub is so big that it’s tough (in my experience) to get personal attention, but with
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First Hand Tickets, you can actually call up and speak to real human beings who can help you get what you need. They even help put together flight and hotel packages, so check out their site and give them a call. The head of the company — a really nice guy named Warren — said he’ll offer discounts to people who ask for him and mention my name. So yeah. Keep these guys in mind.

Anyway, by the time the gates were getting ready to open, the sun was setting…

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…and by the time I ran inside and snagged the first November ball of my life, it was already dark:

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It was thrown by Phillies pitcher Kyle Kendrick, and as you can see, it was a regular MLB ball. It’d be really cool if teams used World Series balls during BP before World Series games. I don’t see what the big deal is. I suppose MLB figures they’ll end up selling more World Series balls (at thirty bucks a pop) if they’re harder to get a hold of, but if that’s their logic, then I must respectfully disagree. If there were even a few World Series balls floating around during BP, fans would go nuts to try to catch every single ball. More people would show up early (which would lead to extra concession sales for the home team), and for every fan who managed to catch a World Series ball, there’d be 20 other fans standing right nearby, asking to have a look at it. Those people would be more inclined to buy the balls if they actually saw them being used — and if they felt like they were THIS close to actually catching one. Plus…Home Run Derby balls are used during BP prior to the Derby itself, so obviously it can be done.

At one point, during the first few minutes of BP, Phillies fans were ganging up on the few Yankee fans. One guy who was decked out in Yankee gear got (intentionally) slammed from behind while reaching up to catch a home run. This caused him to drop the ball, and when he tried to scramble for it in between two rows of seats, the Phillies fan (who was absolutely huge) dove on top of him with crushing force. It was perhaps the most blatant case of aggression and violence that I’d *ever* seen at a game. But you know what? Any non-Yankee fan in the Bronx is likely to be treated just as badly, if not worse. I’ve seen Yankee fans rip opposing teams’ caps off fans’ heads and light them on fire. In conclusion: “Yankee and Philly fans, I now pronounce you man and wife.”

Now…did you notice how empty the stands were in the photo above? It didn’t stay that way for long. By the time the Yankees took the field, I still only had one ball, and the seats were packed:

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I just wasn’t on my game. In addition to the TWO tossed balls that had tipped off my glove (longer arms would’ve helped), I wasn’t judging home runs well, and I think it was partly due to the fact that the balls weren’t carrying. Everything was falling short — no surprise there — and I was slow to make the adjustment. Once I turned my attention to the glove trick, however, things started picking up. There was a ball that rolled onto the warning track near the left field
alfredo_aceves_2009.jpgfoul pole, and as I was trying to reel it in, Alfredo Aceves walked over and stuffed it in my glove. Then, in straight-away left field, I had a chance to use the trick to reel in another — and get this: even though I was wearing my Yankee gear at that point, there was a female Yankee fan in the front row who was incredibly rude to me. Basically, she was taking up two spots against the railing, and she refused to let me in because she wanted the ball for herself. (She was about 25 years old, looked like she was 45, needed a meal more than she needed a ball, and wasn’t wearing a glove.) She made such a big fuss about not letting me into the front row that the two Phillies fans to her right moved over to make some space for me. (Thank you, Philadelphia. You’re not so bad after all.) Once I climbed into the front row, the woman told me that if I got the ball, I had to give it to her since she’d let me in. (I ignored her at that point.) Moments later, as I was starting to lower my glove over the wall, she said, “Ohmygod, you are so embarrassing. Can you go away?” My response went as follows: “Lady, there are 45,000 other seats in this stadium. If you have a problem with me, you can move to any one of them.” While everyone else was cheering for me, the woman was talking trash and cursing. I just tuned it out, went about my business, snagged the ball, and headed back up the steps.

Five minutes later, while still wearing my Yankee gear, a Phillies fan was kind enough to hold my legs while I reached way out and across the flower bed to reel in another ball with the glove trick — my fourth ball overall. Granted, this fan recognized me from YouTube and then proceeded to ask for the ball (I gave him my rally towel instead — estimated eBay value: $20), but it was still a nice gesture on his part.

Batting practice ended two minutes later, and on my way out of the section, I found a ticket lying on the ground. Half an hour later, while walking through the field level concourse, I found another. Check this out:

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See the ticket for Section 130? Do you know where that is?! Take a look at the Citizens Bank Park seating chart below:

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That’s right…the game hadn’t even started, and for the rest of the night, I was guaranteed to have full access to the seats behind the Yankee dugout. This was a big deal because my actual seat was up here:

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I was officially supposed to be in the “right field bleacher deck,” or some kind of nonsense like that, but there was no way that I was going up there. I didn’t know where I’d end up — I was expecting to have a standing-room-only ticket — but I knew I wasn’t going to any section where it was physically impossible to catch a ball. If I had to, I’d stand in the concourse all night and wait until a foul ball or home run started flying in my direction and then bolt down the steps. The problem with sneaking anywhere was that there simply weren’t empty seats.

But wait…hang on…I’m getting ahead of myself. Just after Alanis Morissette sang the national anthem, Derek Jeter came out and started playing catch in front of the dugout (probably to derek_jeter_2009.jpgshow off for her and/or to ask for her phone number). I used my “Section 130” ticket to get past the ushers, and then I waltzed right down to the front row. Almost every seat was full at that point, but there was one opening in the middle of the section right behind the dugout. It just so happened that this open space was at the outfield end of the dugout, where Jeter was likely to return with the ball. Another happy coincidence: my Yankee shirt said “JETER 2” on the back, so I slipped my arms out through the sleeves and turned the shirt around so that I was wearing his name on my chest. I poked my arms back out, grabbed my camera, positioned my backpack in just the right spot so that it wouldn’t get trampled…and before I knew it, Jeter was finishing up. I didn’t have time to take a photo. All I could do was wave my glove and shout his name and try to make sure that he could see my shirt. He was walking right to me with the ball in his hand. Could it be?! I’d never gotten a ball from him and always wanted one. Even though he played for the Yankees, he was one of my all-time favorite players — one of only two guys (Mariano Rivera being the other) who can actually make me root FOR the Yankees. He kept walking closer. I shouted my head off. He looked to the left, then to the right. Was there a more worthy recipient? A pretty young woman or a cute little kid? No! Jeter took another step and then flipped the ball right to me. The fans on either side reached for it, but they had no chance. I dove forward and caught the ball (pictured on the left) in my glove with full extension, and I belly flopped on the dugout roof. Oh. My. God. DEREK JETER!!! And as a bonus, this ball broke my own personal single-game World Series record of four balls, which I achieved last year at Game 4.

That made my night, week, month, and…I don’t want to say year, because there were quite a few highlights, but man, I was so excited after that. I almost couldn’t tell if it had really happened. I’d been having a lot of snagging dreams lately, and they all felt so real at the time.

As for the game, fun fun fun. Cliff Lee gave up a run in the top of the first, but the Phillies answered with three runs in the bottom of the frame and three more in the third. Chase Utley hit two homers, tying Reggie Jackson’s record for the most home runs hit by one player in a World Series. Unfortunately, I was halfway across the stadium for both of those homers, just chillin’ in foul territory. If I felt like I had a chance to catch a homer, then I would’ve been in the outfield seats, but there’s no cross-aisle at Citizens Bank Park. There’s no way to run left or right. There were no empty seats out there. I wouldn’t have been allowed to stand on any of the staircases, and even if I were, and even if a ball came right to me, there’s no guarantee that I would’ve caught it because the crowd was in a snagging frenzy, even with foul balls. People were pushing and shoving like mad.

In the top of the ninth inning, with the Phillies clinging to an 8-5 lead, this was my view from the back of Section 130:

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Then, after Jeter bounced into a run-scoring double play, this was my new spot:

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There was a pocket of empty seats down at the front.

Perfect!

I couldn’t sneak all the way down while the game was in progress, but I had my post-game route planned out: down the steps, through the second row, into front row, all the way to the right. That was as close as I could get to the spot where the umpires would be walking off the field. Home plate ump Dana DeMuth had tossed me two post-game balls in the past — both at PETCO Park, incidentally — but those came during the regular season. Would his generosity possibly extend into the World Series?!

The answer had to wait as Johnny Damon smoked a single to center. Mark Teixiera came up next and promptly fell behind in the count, 0-2. I was ready to pounce. I wasn’t sure if any other fans were thinking what I was thinking, so I need to move fast. Teixiera took a ball to bring the count to 1-2. My heart was pounding. I was afraid he’d hit a two-run homer and tie the game. I didn’t want extra innings. I wanted the Phillies to win, and I wanted them to win NOW. Next pitch? Strike three! Ballgame over. Final score: Phillies 8, Yankees 6. I raced down the steps, did some fancy footwork, and reached the corner spot JUST in front of another guy who’d been rushing there too. The rest was up to Mister DeMuth. As he began walking toward me, it was so noisy that I could barely hear myself screaming his name. Somehow, though, he must have heard me because this was the result:

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Hell yeah.

It’s hard to tell in the photo above, but the ball was actually quite rubbed up with mud. The photo below (which shows all six balls that I snagged) will give you a better idea of what the ball really looks like. And here’s the best look of all.

SNAGGING STATS:

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• 6 balls at this game (the Jeter ball is in the middle of the bottom row)

• 538 balls in 60 games this season = 8.97 balls per game.

• 629 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 12 consecutive post-season games with at least one ball

• 5 consecutive World Series games with at least one ball

• 4,358 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $25.45 pledged per ball

• $152.70 raised at this game

• $13,692.10 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

The charity has already received thousands of dollars’ worth of donations. (Click here and look at the scrolling box on the upper right to see who has officially contributed.) If you’ve made a pledge but haven’t yet sent in the funds, now’s a great time to do it. I’m not free to attend Game 6, and I’m not even going to try to attend Game 7, so this effectively concludes my season. For instructions on how to pay, click here.

9/30/09 at Nationals Park

This was the Nationals’ final home game of 2009 — a 4:35pm start — and my friend Brandon was there with his fancy camera…

When we first ran into the stadium at 2:05pm, all the Nationals players were stretching in right field, yet batting practice WAS taking place. There was some type of bonus round of BP for Nationals employees, and as you can imagine, most of them were terrible hitters. One guy, however, was good enough to reach the warning track, even with the crappy training balls that were being used, and I ended up getting two them tossed to me. The first came from a ballboy near the foul pole, and the second came from a coach named Jose Martinez who was shagging in straight-away left field. In the following photo, the horizontal arrow is pointing to me as I reached out to catch my second ball, and the vertical arrow is pointing to Martinez:

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My third ball of the day was a ground-rule double — hit by the random/talented employee — that barely cleared the railing and landed in the third row. There was only one other fan who was close enough to go for it, but he didn’t move until the ball was already in the seats, so I was able to beat him to it.

Without any warning or any break in the action, Adam Dunn stepped into the cage so I raced over to the right field seats. Moments later, a ball rolled onto the warning track in right-center, and I convinced a different random employee to toss it up. Brandon was still in left field at that point, but he had his camera aimed at me and got the following photo of the ball in mid-air:

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In this photo (which you can click for a closer look), the arrow pointing up shows the ball, and the arrow pointing down shows me. The guy who tossed it was moving to his left at the time, so it looks as if the ball is heading toward the other fan in the front row, but I assure you that’s not the case.

Marquis Grissom tossed me my fifth ball of the day in straight-away right field, and then 10 seconds later, he saw me catch a Dunn homer on the fly. I was standing on the staircase, six rows back. The ball came right to me. I made a two-handed catch. It was embarrassingly easy, and by the way, every single one of these balls was a training ball.

adam_dunn_2009.jpgMy seventh ball of the day was thrown by Marco Estrada, and my eighth was another Dunn homer. I had to run about 15 feet to my right for it, and then as the ball was descending, I climbed back over a row (in the middle of the section) and reached over my head to make a back-handed catch. A gloveless man behind me complained that I’d already gotten a ball. I responded by offering to give him the one I’d just caught, but he didn’t want it.

“Give it to a kid instead,” he said.

You have no idea how much I do for kids,” I replied, but the guy clearly wasn’t interested in anything I had to say, so I let it go and moved on and continued to put on a snagging clinic.

(For the record, there was only one other kid in the section, and he’d already gotten a ball. It was one of those days where the players were being generous. Basically, everyone who asked for a ball got one.)

Saul Rivera threw me ball No. 9, and he did it as if he were turning a double play. He had Victor Garate throw him the ball, and as he caught it he made an imaginary pivot (as if he were a second baseman) and then fired it in my direction.

I looked at the clock. It was only 2:24pm. The stadium had been open for 19 minutes. Oh my God. I wasn’t just thinking about reaching the 20-ball plateau; I was thinking about what it would take to snag 30 and possibly even break my one-game record of 32. Meanwhile, Brandon finally made it out to the right field seats and got a cool shot of me catching my 10th ball of the day:

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It was thrown by Livan Hernandez from the foul line, and as you can see in the photo above, there weren’t a whole lot of kids in the stands. Even the guy in the red jacket got a ball thrown to him. I’m telling you…there were PLENTY of balls to go around, and as a result, I was truly heading for the game of my life.

But guess what happened next…

Here, let me show you:

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That’s right. It wasn’t even raining, and the grounds crew decided to (leisurely) roll out the tarp.

Unbelievable.

The good news is that there were several balls sitting in the left field bullpen, and I was able to use my glove trick to reel in one of them. The following three-part photo (which you absolutely HAVE to click) shows how it played out:

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The ball was sitting underneath the overhang, so I had to swing my glove out and back in order to knock the ball out into the open. As you can see in the photo on the left, the the string angled back at the bottom of the Harris Teeter ad. The photo in the middle shows two important things (in addition to the ball itself): 1) my awesome farmer’s tan and 2) the glove being being propped open by the Sharpie. The photo on the right shows me reaching for the ball. I’m always paranoid that the ball will fall out at the last second, but it rarely does. The key is not to panic — not to rush — while raising the glove. I just try to keep lifting it up steadily.

In the middle photo up above, do you see the man in the light gray vest jacket? While I was carefully lifting up my glove, he said, “Excuse me, but your last name isn’t Hample by any chance, is it?”

I told him it was, and he told me that he owned a copy of my second book (Watching Baseball Smarter) and that his eight-year-old son loved it and that they actually had it with them and that they’d been hoping to get it signed…so of course I signed it as soon as I was done using my glove trick, and then I posed for a photo with his son. When I changed into my Mets gear soon after, three other kids recognized me and asked me to sign their baseballs. Here’s the autograph session in progress…

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…and here we are with the balls:

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Five minutes later, several Mets players and coaches walked out to the bullpen and tossed the remaining balls into the crowd. I got one of them from Sandy Alomar Jr.

Then it started raining, and for some reason, someone in the bullpen tossed a ball into left field. The arrow in the following photo is pointing to it:

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I found out later that the ball had been used by Pat Misch during his bullpen session, and that when it started raining, it slipped out of his hand and sailed high above the catcher and hit a railing and ricocheted sideways all the way onto the field. Of course I wouldn’t be telling this story if I hadn’t ended up snagging it. Randy Niemann eventually tossed it to me while walking in from the bullpen:

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Abe Lincoln was not impressed:

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It got sunny again by 4pm, and with the game set to start on time, I headed to the seats near the Mets’ bullpen. There was lots of activity out there. It just seemed like the place to be. Bullpen catcher Dave Racaniello was warming up Tim Redding in left field. Omir Santos was playing catch with Alomar on the warning track. Several relievers were standing around with baseballs in their hands. Ken Takahashi tossed a ball to the kid on my right. Then Brian Stokes (who has recently gotten to know me) spotted me and tossed me the ball that he was holding. Here I am reaching out for it:

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In the photo above, Stokes is the guy who’s standing still and cradling his glove against his chest.

Another thing about the photo above…

On the left side, you can barely see a catcher sitting down. He’s mostly chopped out of the picture, but just above the red flowers and the green edge of the outfield wall, you can see his black shin guard curling up over his knee. Right? Well, that was Santos, and when he headed into the bullpen one minute later, I leaned over the side railing and asked him for his ball in Spanish:

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This was the result:

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He flipped it up directly from his glove. It was my 15th ball of day. It had a Citi Field commemorative logo on it. Yay.

Josh Thole and Nelson Figueroa started signing autographs along the 3rd base line, so I headed over there and got them both. Thole signed my September 30th ticket, and Figueroa signed one from the previous day. Here I am after getting Thole…

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…and here are the autographs themselves:

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Right after the national anthem, David Wright tossed me his warm-up ball at the dugout:

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I was tempted to stay behind the dugout and go for 3rd-out balls — I only needed four more balls to reach 20 — but the temptation to catch a home run was even greater, so I headed back out to left field. Here’s where I sat:

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I had empty rows on both sides. There were very few fans with gloves. The circumstances were ideal. But of course nothing came anywhere near me.

Halfway through the game, when Nationals starter John Lannan came to bat, I noticed a statistical oddity on the scoreboard. Can you spot it? I’ll tell you what it is after the photo:

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His on-base percentage was higher than his slugging percentage, which means that over the course of the season, he’d collected more walks (two) than extra bases via hits (one).

In the middle of the 7th inning, I got my 17th ball of the day from a Mets reliever in the bullpen, and I’m ashamed to admit that I couldn’t identify him. I think it was either Tobi Stoner or Lance Broadway, but I’ll never know for sure.

In the bottom of the 9th inning, Brandon and I moved to the third row behind the Nationals’ dugout. This was our view:

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Francisco Rodriguez was pitching. The Mets had a 4-2 lead. The left side of my brain (or maybe it was the right) figured he’d nail down the save. The right side of my brain (or maybe it was the left) figured he’d blow the game. Either way, I was convinced that the Nationals’ dugout was the place to be. As I mentioned at the top of this entry, it was the Nats’ final home game of the season; I thought the players might be extra generous and throw some bonus items into the crowd.

Alberto Gonzalez led off the bottom of the 9th with an infield single. Then Mike Morse was called upon to pinch hit and took a called first strike. The second pitch was a 55-footer. Omir Santos blocked it and handed it to Kerwin Danley, the home plate umpire. Danley inspected it and handed it to the ballboy, who’d jogged out with a supply of fresh baseballs. As the ballboy returned to the dugout with the scuffed ball, I simply stood up and made eye contact with him and flapped my glove, and he tossed it to me. (HA!!!) Four pitches later, Morse ripped a ground ball single up the middle. Willie Harris followed with a sacrifice bunt and Elijah Dukes walked on a full count to justin_maxwell_2009.jpgload the bases. Ryan Zimmerman came up next and struck out on three pitches. There were two outs. The Mets were still winning, 4-2. The bases were still loaded, and then Adam Dunn walked on another full count. This forced in a run and trimmed the Mets’ lead to 4-3. Justin Maxwell, who had entered the game as a pinch runner in the 8th inning and remained in center field as a defensive replacement, stepped up to the plate. He took the first pitch for a ball and then watched the next two pitches zip by for called strikes. The fourth pitch was a ball. The count was even at 2-2. Then he fouled off the fifth pitch and took the sixth to bring the count to 3-2. Everyone in the stadium knew that Rodriguez was going to throw a fastball; the right-handed Maxwell, however, was so geeked up that he swung too soon and yanked a monstrous drive over the 3rd base dugout. On the next pitch — another 3-2 fastball — he swung too late and lifted a foul pop-up into the seats on the 1st base side. It was the most exciting at-bat I had ever seen in my life, and on the following pitch — the 9th pitch of the battle — Maxwell’s timing was perfect. He centered the ball and launched it into the flower bed in left field for a walk-off grand slam:

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Final score: Nationals 7, Mets 4.

Wow.

After all the celebrating and shaving-creaming was done, the Nationals DID toss a bunch of stuff into the crowd. They must’ve thrown 100 T-shirts (leftovers from the T-shirt launch) and two dozen balls. One player (not sure who) threw his batting gloves over the dugout. Incredibly, I didn’t get any of it. Not one damn thing. It was quite a letdown, but obviously I was still happy about the overall outcome of the day — that is, until Brandon and I made it back outside and walked to the parking lot. I’ll show you what I’m talking about after the stats…

SNAGGING STATS:

23_the_seventeen_i_kept_09_30_09.jpg• 18 balls at this game (17 pictured here because I gave one away after the game)

• 523 balls in 57 games this season = 9.18 balls per game.

• 626 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 120 lifetime games with at least ten balls

• 4,343 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $25.26 pledged per ball

• $454.68 raised at this game

• $13,210.98 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

As I was saying, the parking lot…

When I parked my parents’ gray Volvo there earlier in the day, it was in perfect condition, and when I returned eight hours later, it looked like this:

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That’s me in the photo above, crouching down to assess the damage while holding a cell phone up to my ear and telling my dad about it.

Someday — SOME day — I’m going to attend a game at Nationals Park and have everything go smoothly…