It started at 5pm when I ran inside the stadium and saw this:
It was just starting to drizzle. The groundskeepers were just starting to roll out the tarp. The Orioles, who HAD been taking batting practice, were walking off the field. Why was this a big deal? Because the last two times I was at Camden Yards for batting practice, I snagged 22 balls the first day and 25 the second.
Normally, I would’ve raced out to left field to look for balls in the empty seats, but instead I stopped by the dugout to talk to Jeremy Guthrie (whom I’ve gotten to know quite well over the past two seasons). Why was this a big deal? Because a fellow ballhawk named Matt, who had entered the stadium 10 seconds after me, ended up running out there and finding ELEVEN balls!!!!!!!!!!! (That’s one exclamation point per ball.)
My friend Brandon showed up soon after with his fancy camera. Here’s a photo he took of the batting cage being rolled away:
Five minutes later, Ichiro started playing in shallow left field. This is how I wore my Mariners shirt to get his attention:
As he finished throwing, I waved to get his attention…
…and he threw the ball to me. Here I am reaching out for it:
I adore Ichiro. Getting a ball from him was the highlight of my day. It would’ve been the highlight of my month if he hadn’t thrown one to me on 5/10/05 at Yankee Stadium.
Brandon takes amazing photos…like this one…of my reaction to the weather:
(Note the raindrop on the upper right.)
In the photo above, you can see someone on the Mariners playing catch in the background. It was Jack Wilson. He was throwing with the team’s strength and conditioning coordinator. At least that’s who I think it was — and that’s who tossed me the ball when they finished. Here’s the ball in mid-air, heading to me:
See the guy to my right in the tan cargo shorts? That’s another fellow ballhawk named Avi. He’s the one who visited the Camden Club with me the day before.
A few more Mariners came out to play catch. Here’s a photo (taken by Brandon) of Sean White:
In the photo above, the orange seat indicates where Eddie Murray’s 500th career home run landed.
My third ball of the day was thrown by Brandon League, and my fourth ball, pictured below in mid-air, was tossed by Mariners bullpen catcher Jason Phillips:
Even though it was raining, a bunch of Mariners signed autographs. Here I am getting David Aardsma on my ticket…
…and here’s the ticket itself:
As you can see, I got four guys to sign it, and they all (sloppily) wrote their uniform numbers. Aardsma (53) is on the upper right, Jesus Colome (37) is in the middle, Ian Snell (35) is on the left, and Sean White (46) is on the lower right.
Brandon gave me his ticket, and I got John Wetteland to sign it:
Wetteland was talking (to all the fans who were willing to listen) about electro-magnetism and atomic radiation and the big bang theory. And that was just the beginning. It was weird and funny — although he wasn’t trying to be funny. He was being totally serious, which made it funny…to me.
Eventually, when it really started raining hard, I took cover under the overhang of the second deck and pulled out my tickets to have a look. The nearest usher thought I needed help finding my seat, so I explained that I was merely checking out the autographs that I’d gotten. He and a couple other guys gathered around to have a look at them, too:
Brandon photographed everything, including this:
It’s a shot of me giving away one of my baseballs to a little kid — something I try to do at least once or twice at every game.
I headed down to the front row for pre-game throwing…
…and got a ball from Josh Wilson. The following eight-part photo shows the ball from the time it was in his hand until I caught it. You might want to click it for a closer look:
The game was delayed 24 minutes at the start.
And then…look how small the crowd was:
You’d think I would’ve caught 17 foul balls and five home runs, right?
Yeah, not exactly.
And guess what? Ken Griffey Jr. wasn’t in the starting lineup. He was THE reason why I took this little roadtrip in the first place. Things just kept getting worse and worse.
This is where I positioned myself for most right-handed batters:
Over the course of the game, two foul balls landed less than five feet from me. In both cases, I was the closest fan to them — and in both cases, the balls ricocheted wildly off the seats and ended up getting grabbed by other people. If the balls had simply stayed where they landed, these would’ve been easy snags.
NOW do you see why this game was so frustrating?
Well, there’s more…
In the bottom of the fourth inning, Luke Scott connected on the game’s lone home run. I was at the back of the standing-room-only section. The ball was heading right toward me, but falling short, so I raced up toward the wall and reached out at the last second to make the catch. It was THAT close to me. I actually squeezed my glove in anticipation. The ball never touched my glove, however, because the guy standing directly in front of me stuck his bare hands up and deflected it. The ball didn’t hit me in the face — I do have THAT to be thankful for — but instead it bounced directly over my head and rolled back to the exact spot where I’d been standing.
I was doing everything right, but couldn’t catch a break. Not to sound overly dramatic, but in all seriousness, my horrendous luck really made me question things. I can think of several instances where I’ve been angry inside major league stadiums, but this game, by far, left me feeling more frustrated than ever.
After the top of the 6th inning, I got a third-out ball from future Hall of Famer Nick Markakis. He had caught a fly ball hit by Jose Lopez to end the frame, and when he tossed it into the crowd, it got bobbled and then started trickling down the steps. During the mad scramble that ensued, I grabbed the ball out of puddle underneath a seat in the front row. I scraped my knuckles in the process. The whole night sucked.
Griffey pinch hit in the top of the ninth…
…and hit a sacrifice fly to right field — right in my direction, but about 75 feet too short.
After the game, I got my seventh ball of the day from home plate umpire Joe West, but I still felt like crap.
Final score: Orioles 5, Mariners 2. At least I notched another win for my Ballhawk Winning Percentage, which now stands at .850 (8.5 wins and 1.5 losses).
• 7 balls at this game (6 pictured on the right because I gave one away)
• 95 balls in 10 games this season = 9.5 balls per game.
• 639 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 190 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 4,453 total balls
• 31 donors (click here and scroll down to see who has pledged)
• $4.95 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $34.65 raised at this game
• $470.25 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
On September 6th, I had a Watch With Zack game with a 13-year-old Mets fan named Ross. Remember? He broke his one-game record that day by snagging five balls, and he promptly booked another game with me for September 23rd. You might also recall that on September 18th, I posted a blog entry called “Watch With Zack — stats & records.” What I didn’t mention in that entry was that Ross was the one who inadvertently inspired it. He had simply told me, in the days preceding our second game together, that he wanted to break two more records…
1) most balls snagged by a Watch With Zack client in one game
2) most balls combined (my balls plus the client’s balls) in a Watch With Zack game
…so I decided to create a page on my site with all the Watch With Zack numbers. I told Ross that it would be tough, but that we’d definitely try. Both records belonged to a 14-year-old named Joe Faraguna, who brought me to a game on 5/8/09 at Citi Field. Joe had snagged 10 balls that day, and I’d added 12 more of my own. I also told Ross that in order to pile up the numbers, we’d have to split up during batting practice, at least a little bit, so that we could cover more ground and double our opportunities. He was okay with that, and in fact he insisted on it. I started the day with a lifetime total of 4,292 balls; Ross really wanted me to snag at least eight so that he could be there for No. 4,300.
Finally, September 23rd arrived. I left my place in Manhattan at 3:10pm, took the No. 7 train to Citi Field, and met Ross and his parents less than an hour later outside the Jackie Robinson Rotunda. Ross and I reviewed some last-minute strategies and put on our game faces:
Once the gates opened at 4:40pm, it was showtime.
By the time I got to the top of the escalator, Ross was only halfway up. (That’s no diss on him; I just happen to be pretty quick.) If he were younger or if he’d never been to Citi Field before, I would’ve slowed down and led him out toward the left field seats, but since I knew he could find his way out there and since I knew that he wanted me to snag as many balls as possible, I ran ahead and reached the seats 30 seconds before him. I had the whole stadium to myself, and this is what I saw:
Someone on the Mets was about to pick up the first of FIVE baseballs lying in the outfield. I ran through the front row toward left-center and identified the player as Brian Schneider.
“Brian,” I called out politely as I tried to catch my breath, “is there any chance that you could toss a ball up to me, please?”
Schneider immediately obliged and then threw the remaining four balls back toward the bucket. That’s when Ross arrived. There were still a few more balls sitting on the field near the foul pole, one of which was within reach thanks to my glove trick. Ross was prepared with a glove trick of his own, but he’d never actually used it at a game, and since this ball was several feet out from the wall and needed to be knocked closer, he let me go for it.
It was too easy. The day was barely two minutes old, and I already had two baseballs.
A few minutes later, several lefties started hitting, so I told Ross that we should head over to the right field side. He followed me out to the deep section in right-center, and when we got there, I noticed that two balls had rolled onto the warning track in the right field corner.
“Those balls are definitely gonna get tossed up,” I told him. “You wanna head over there on your own and see if you can get one?”
“Sure,” he said.
Ross had his cell phone, and I had mine. If we got separated, we’d just call each other, but it was pretty clear where we were each going to be.
Less than a minute later, Ross was down in the seats near the foul pole, lowering his glove on a string:
Seconds later, I saw Ross pull up his glove before it got anywhere near the ball. I found out later that he had suffered a rubber band mishap, but it didn’t end up making a difference. Josh Thole walked over and retrieved the ball and tossed it up to him. Here’s a photo of the ball in mid-air:
I wasn’t paying attention to the batter at that point. I had my eyes (and camera) on Ross, and since I was standing approximately 420 feet from home plate, I didn’t expect anyone to hit a ball that would reach the seats.
I expected wrong.
All of a sudden, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed that a Mets player was running back toward my section. I looked over and saw that it was Sean Green. He was looking up as if he were tracking a deep fly ball, and then…DOINK!!! The ball fell out of the sky, landed on the warning track, and bounced over a gloveless woman in the front row. I darted through the third row and scooped it up before she even moved.
Then I looked back over at Ross and saw that he was getting another ball tossed to him by Thole. What the hell?! Once he caught it, Ross looked over at me and waved his arms frantically. I figured he was either excited or having a seizure — hopefully the former — and he then ran over to tell me what had happened.
You ready for it?
THIS is what happened:
Ross had snagged a commemorative ball from the 2008 All-Star Game! (Here’s a closer look at this type of ball.) What had happened was…Thole originally tossed him a commemorative Citi Field ball, but Ross already had a few of those at home. Soon after, another ball rolled out near the foul pole, and Ross noticed that it was an All-Star ball, so he asked Thole if he could trade the Citi Field ball and have that one instead. Very clever.
As soon as Ross finished telling the story, he leaned over the bullpen railing and asked Mets pitching coach Dan Warthen for a ball. Warthen denied the request, but Sandy Alomar Jr. walked over and tossed up two balls — one for Ross and another for a younger kid who’d been standing nearby. Here’s Ross with his second ball of the day…
…which had the Citi Field commemorative logo.
Green jogged over to retrieve a ball off the warning track. Ross hurried down to the front row and asked him for it. I moved into the second row behind Ross with my glove on my left hand and my camera in my right. My only intention was to get a photo of Ross catching the ball if Green tossed it up. Well, Green DID toss it, but it sailed a bit too high. Ross still probably would’ve caught it if not for the grown man who scooted over and tried to reach up in front of him. As it turned out, the ball sailed over both of them and came right to me, so I stuck out my glove and made the catch. It was another All-Star ball. I offered it to Ross, but he didn’t want it. He didn’t want any of my baseballs. The only balls he wanted were the ones he snagged on his own.
Back in left field, I got Ken Takahashi to toss me my fifth ball of the day and then scrambled for a Nick Evans homer that landed in the mostly empty seats. Ross, meanwhile, was doing pretty well for himself. He got Nelson Figueroa to throw him a ball and then got his fourth of the day from (we think) Takahashi. Here’s a double-photo of Ross with each of those balls. As you can see, he was rather excited after the first one…
…because it had the old Yankee Stadium commemorative logo. Ross had never snagged one of those, and he didn’t think he ever would, so yeah, he was pumped.
By the time the Braves took the field for BP, we felt like we were in pretty good shape to challenge Joe’s Watch With Zack records, but then things slowed way down, and to make matters worse, there was a scary accident in the process. Someone on the Braves got hit by a ball near second base, prompting the trainer to rush over toward the growing huddle of players:
I hadn’t seen it (there’s a lot to look at during BP), so I had no idea who it was or where the player had gotten hit. I learned later that it was Martin Prado who got nailed, and thankfully (painful as it obviously was) the ball had hit him just below the left knee. It was serious enough that Prado had to miss the game and for an article to be written about it on MLB.com.
Batting practice resumed five minutes later, and since the Braves pitchers were about to wrap up their throwing, I moved over to the left field foul line. Ross was still in fair territory, and he had changed into his Braves gear:
I shouted his name and got his attention and tried to wave him over, but he wanted to stay where he was. Two minutes later, I convinced Manny Acosta to throw me a ball (by asking for it in Spanish), and saw several other fans near me get balls thrown to them as well.
That gave me seven balls on the day. My next ball was going to be No. 4,300, and it took about ten minutes before I had another chance. Yunel Escobar was in the cage and ripped a deep line drive to my left. I bolted through an empty row and then determined that the ball was going to fall a bit short so I climbed over the row in front of me. The ball was approaching. I was now in the third row. Two fans in the front row reached up for it. I flinched (not wanting to take a deflection to the face) while keeping my glove in the spot where I thought the ball was going to end up, and I heard the ball tip off their hands, and then a split second later, I felt the ball smack into the pocket of my glove. HA! It was just like catching a foul tip, and just like that, I had reached the milestone. Here’s a photo of ball No. 4,300:
You know what Ross said after I caught it? Nothing. He was in right field, getting his fifth ball of the day from David Ross. (D’oh!) But when he returned to the left field seats, he was glad to learn that I’d caught it.
Then we both experienced some bad luck. Omar Infante threw me a ball which fell short, and he didn’t bother to retrieve it and give me another chance. Moments later, Buddy Carlyle did the same thing to Ross, who at least got another shot when the ball was thrown back up, but he got robbed by another fan who reached out and caught it right in front of him. Ross should’ve had seven balls at that point. In addition to the five he’d snagged, there was the Carlyle fiasco as well as the overthrow in right-center field by Sean Green — and then things got worse. Ross and I raced to the Braves’ dugout at the end of BP. A few other fans got balls tossed to them, but as for us? Nothing. It looked like we were done snagging for the time being, so we stood around and contemplated our next move. Ross was in the front row, staring off aimlessly into space, and I was right behind him in the second row. We had a few feet of space on either side of us, but there were other fans nearby…and then, without warning, a ball came flying up toward us from down below. WHAT?! I glanced at Ross while the ball was still high above us and noticed that he didn’t see it, so I shouted his name, but instead of looking up, he turned around and looked at me. NO!!! I wanted him to catch it, but he still didn’t see it, and I knew that if I let the ball drop into the seats, the other fans would’ve been all over it, so at the very last second, I stuck out my glove and made a waist-high catch. Ross was totally bummed out when he realized what had happened. He wasn’t mad at me. He knew I’d done the right thing by catching it. He was upset at himself for not paying attention, and while he was beating himself up mentally, another ball came flying up out of nowhere. The two balls were thrown five seconds apart, and the same thing happened with the second one. He never even saw it, so I made a very reluctant and last-second catch before it had a chance to hit the plastic seats and ricochet to another fan. There was nothing either of us could do. I had to catch the balls, and since they had entered my possession first, he couldn’t count them and didn’t want them. He was still stuck at five balls, while I had stumbled into double digits. It was just one of those things. Sometimes you get all the breaks, and other times it seems like the snagging gods hate you. This was Ross’s reaction:
The photo above was not staged. Ross was truly distraught. He could have — and really should have — snagged nine balls by that point and been on the verge of breaking Joe’s record, but instead, he still had a long way to go. Another thing about the photo above: the man with the beard is Ross’s father Steve, and the woman in the green sweater is his mother Cindy. They tried to console him, but it was no use. He felt bad, and that was that.
One thing that cheered up Ross a little was that my friend Leon Feingold (a former minor league pitcher) showed up at game time and sat with us behind the Braves’ dugout and gave a brief pitching lesson. Here’s a photo of Leon, making the ball look tiny in his hand:
Even as the innings ticked by, Ross was determined to find SOME way to snag five more balls, but the opportunities were dwindling, and he had some competition. Here’s a photo of Ross from behind. See the fan sitting across the staircase in the red shirt?
That was Clif (aka “goislanders4” in the comments), a former Watch With Zack client who had become quite an experienced baseball-snagger. (You might remember Clif from 9/25/07 at Shea Stadium and 7/28/08 at Yankee Stadium and 8/19/08 at Citizens Bank Park.)
Both Ross and Clif were in the perfect spot to get a 3rd-out ball tossed up by the Braves, and after every inning, both of them rushed down the steps to the front row:
(Check out that guy in the gray shirt on the right. Dear Lord. He has a lot to learn about snagging.)
In the bottom of the fourth inning, with one out and the bases loaded, Luis Castillo grounded into a 4-6-3 double play. Ross was standing at the edge of the dugout before first baseman Adam LaRoche even caught the throw. Clif, for some reason (perhaps it was professional courtesy or maybe he was just trying a different strategy) stayed a few rows back, and as a result, Ross received an uncontested toss from LaRoche. Cha-ching! It was his sixth ball of the day, and he was still determined to snag four more. We considered all the possibilities and came up with the following:
1) another 3rd-out ball from a different player
2) an infield warm-up ball
3) a foul ball
4) a toss-up from the 3rd base coach
5) a game-ending ball (if the Braves hung on for the win)
6) an umpire ball
7) a bullpen ball
There were still some hypothetical opportunities, but it wasn’t meant to be. Glenn Hubbard was stingy with the warm-up balls. The remaining 3rd-out balls got tossed all over the place. No foul balls came anywhere near us. The ump gave all his balls away to little kids. The relievers tossed their balls into the crowd near the bullpen. The endgame was a complete disaster, and neither of us snagged another ball.
Still, Ross had managed to break his one-game record by snagging six balls, and he DID actually break a Watch With Zack record: most different types of balls snagged by a client in one day — four, to be exact. He’d snagged two Citi Field balls, two old Yankee Stadium balls, a 2008 All-Star Game ball, and a standard Selig ball. Here I am with Ross after the game (which the Braves won, 5-2):
Here’s a close-up shot of Ross that shows the various baseballs that he’d snagged:
Ross was still bummed about not reaching double digits, and I knew there was no point in trying to cheer him up. I’d been in his shoes many times, so I just told him that it was a good sign that he could have a “bad” day and still end up with half a dozen balls — that it showed he was ready to break out and hit double digits very soon.
One last thing…
While Ross managed to snag four different types of balls, I got lucky and managed to one-up him by snagging five. My first three were Citi Field balls. My fourth ball (the Sean Green overthrow) was an All-Star ball. My fifth (from Ken Takahashi) for some reason was a training ball. My sixth (the Nick Evens homer) was an old Yankee Stadium ball, and my final four were standard Selig balls. I gave away one of those four to a little girl sitting behind the dugout late in the game. Brian McCann had tossed a 3rd-out ball half a dozen rows deep, and some absolute JERK — a grown man no less — ran through an empty row and dove/stumbled for the ball and caught it right in front of this girl’s mother and then crashed down in the seats and nearly landed on top of the girl. The whole section booed him, and I thought there was going to be some kind of riot because he absolutely refused to give up the ball. I was in the middle of the section at that point, having inched toward the area where I figured McCann was going to throw it, so as soon as I saw what happened, I raced back to my seat (where Leon was guarding my backpack) and pulled out a ball and ran back over to the little girl and handed it to her.
• 482 balls in 54 games this season = 8.93 balls per game.
• 623 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 485 consecutive games in New York with at least one ball
• 350 consecutive Mets games with at least one ball
• 118 lifetime games with at least 10 balls
• 21 consecutive Watch With Zack games with at least two balls
• 4,302 total balls
• 126 donors (click here and scroll down for the complete list)
• $25.26 pledged per ball
• $252.60 raised at this game
• $12,175.32 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
The day got off to a GREAT start…
Camden Yards opened at 5pm. I was the first one in, of course, and when I ran out to the left field seats, I found a ball sitting in the front row in foul territory:
As soon as I reached the foul pole and looked to my right, I discovered another ball…
…and when I headed out toward left-center field, I saw this:
Amazing. And then things got better.
During the next ten minutes (or so), I caught four home runs on the fly. I don’t know who hit any of them, but I can tell you that the last one impressed Jeremy Guthrie. He was shagging out in left field, just shy of the warning track, and had a perfect view.
Here’s how it played out (and FYI, all the photos of me were taken by my girlfriend Jona)…
As the home run was approaching, I drifted into the middle of a row to get in line with it, and then I realized that it was going to carry a few feet too far, so I stepped up onto a seat:
At the very last second, I jumped up FROM the seat and made the catch high over my head, reaching back all the way. The following photo shows me at the peak of my jump with the ball already in my glove:
Do you see the guy right in front of me with the dark blue shirt? He’s always out in the left field seats at Camden Yards, and Guthrie got all over him.
“Dude, you got posterized!!!” shouted Guthrie, who then reenacted the fan’s failed attempt to catch the ball:
That other fan happens to be a nice guy and a talented ballhawk. I forget his name (because I just suck with names sometimes) but we’ve snagged together a bunch of times. He robbed me of a few homers earlier in the season, and this time I got the better of him. It happens.
Guthrie and I talked for a few minutes after that. He asked me how things were going with the charity, and I told him that this was probably the last Orioles game I’d be attending this season.
I ended up catching so many home runs during BP that I now can’t remember any of the details. It was truly insane. The following four-part photo shows me catching (or rather, ABOUT to catch) four different homers. In the bottom two photos, I’m wearing a dark blue Rays shirt:
Everything was going my way. I happened to be in the right spot almost every time. Was it luck? Or skill? I suppose it was a combination of the two, but I really can’t explain it beyond that. I’d never experienced a batting practice like this in my life. Even the previous game (at which I finished BP with 17 balls and ended up with 22 by the end of the night) wasn’t this good.
Naturally, over the course of BP, there were some highs and lows and lulls.
There was running:
There was pain:
(The running needed work.)
And there was friendship:
You know how you’ll run into a person several times over the course of a few months or years, and you never really connect or get to know them, but you can tell that it’s someone you could potentially be great friends with, and then eventually it all clicks into place and you finally have a solid conversation with them? Well, last night was THAT night for me and the guy pictured above in the orange shirt. His name is Adam. He’s a regular at Camden Yards, and he reads this blog.
Back to snagging…
For those keeping score at home (including Alan Schuster, who is kind enough to update my MyGameBalls.com profile for me), here’s a rundown of all the balls I got during the first 45 minutes:
1) easter egg
2) easter egg
3) easter egg
4) easter egg
5) Orioles homer; caught on the fly
6) Orioles homer; caught on the fly
7) Orioles homer; caught on the fly
8) Orioles homer; caught on the fly (“posterized”)
9) Orioles homer; grabbed it after it bounced
10) Orioles homer; caught on the fly
11) thrown by an unknown lefty pitcher on the Rays
12) B.J. Upton homer; caught on the fly
13) Rays homer; caught on the fly
14) Pat Burrell homer; caught on the fly
It was around this time that I realized I had a chance to snag 20 balls for a second consecutive game. Could it be done?!
Matt Garza threw me a ball from about 120 feet away. The ball was falling short, so I leaned waaaaay out and down below the left field wall to try to catch it…
…but it tipped off the end of the my glove and settled on the warning track. Grant Balfour walked over and picked it up. I was afraid he’d recognize me from the previous day (when he gave me a ball during BP), and perhaps he did, but either way, I convinced him to toss it up.
Then I caught another home run on the fly in heavy traffic. One guy’s glove was RIGHT in my face, but I managed to hold on.
Then Tom Foley, the Rays’ third base coach, was walking through the outfield with a ball in one hand a fungo bat in the other.
“Coach!” I yelled, “Hit me a fungo!”
He looked up and threw me the ball instead. I was about five rows back, and the ball was falling short, so I climbed over a row while the ball was in mid-air and then reached way down over the next row to make a lunging catch.
Then a young kid behind me bobbled a home run ball, which I was able to snatch on one bounce. I immediately turned around and handed it to him. It was my 18th ball of the day.
Without warning, a ball smacked down into the seats one section to my right. I couldn’t tell where it had come from. I’d been watching the batter the whole time, and he hadn’t hit anything that reached the seats. Then I realized that Foley was standing on the foul line just behind 3rd base. He was hitting deep fungos toward left field so that the pitchers (who had nothing better to do) could try to rob home runs. The next fungo fell several feet short of the wall, and I lunged way out for it…
…but I got robbed by Brian Shouse. In the photo above, you can see the ball streaking into his black glove. You can also see Lance Cormier’s glove flying 30 feet in the air. He had thrown it up to try to hit the ball. (If I were a manager, I wouldn’t let my players goof around like that unless we had already clinched a playoff berth.)
Then I got my revenge. I think it was Balfour who tried to catch the next fungo, but the ball cleared the wall by three feet, and I was all over it:
That was my 19th ball of the day!
And then I had my chance to snag No. 20. There was a home run hit half a section to my left, so I drifted over and made a leaping catch at the last second, right next to a man who’d been whining about all the balls I was catching (even though he’d already snagged quite a few balls himself). He also accused me of never giving balls to kids (even though I’d just given one to a kid two minutes earlier). In the following photo, you can see this clown standing behind me in the light blue shirt. As for me, this was my reaction after catching the ball and reaching TWENTY for the second straight day:
Foley was still hitting fungos. One more of them reached the seats, and I caught it.
There was one final home run ball hit to me during BP. Here I am tracking it:
Here I am reaching up to make the catch:
See the guy with the long hair and goatee? He must’ve weighed about 250 pounds, and then…
He slammed into me and nearly sent me tumbling headfirst over the railing, but guess what? I held onto the ball.
“AND ONE!!!” I yelled with a smile, indicating that he had fouled me.
Everyone else in the section laughed.
I had snagged 22 balls, including 11 home runs on the fly. Both of those totals were BP records for me.
Six of the 22 balls had interesting markings, smudges, scuffs, and grass stains:
In the six-part photo above, the ball on the top left has a small bat imprint on it. I’m pretty sure the imprinted word (which appears here in reverse) is “SELECT.” This is the ball that Balfour tossed to me after Garza’s throw fell short. The ball on the lower right was my 20th of the day.
After batting practice, I raced to the 3rd base dugout and got my 23rd ball of the day tossed by Rays bullpen coach Bobby Ramos. (This ball broke my single-game Camden Yards record of 22, which I had set the day before.) Then, right before the game started, I got No. 24 from Evan Longoria. He was using the ball to play catch with Willy Aybar, and when they finished, he threw it to me as a knuckleball. It was such a great day that even Jona got a ball after BP. I was in the front row behind the Rays’ dugout, and she was half a dozen rows back with my camera. I asked George Hendrick, the Rays’ first base coach, for the ball, but he scanned the seats and spotted her and tossed it her way instead. D’oh! (I need an uglier girlfriend.)
I spent the game in the standing-room-only section in right field. Here’s a photo of me walking toward Jona during an inning break:
I stayed out there for all the left-handed batters.
This is where I positioned myself for the righties:
I did lots of running all night, even with my battered right ankle which by this point was stinging and badly bruised. But it was worth it. This was a good foul ball spot. I had empty rows on both sides. But, unfortunately, nothing came close.
Back in right field, there was some action in the bottom of the 7th inning. Luke Scott led off and smoked a 2-0 pitch deep and to my right. The ball was clearly going to land in the seats and NOT in the standing-room-only section, but I took off and ran for it anyway. There were so many empty seats that anything seemed possible.
The following photo is a screen shot that I took from MLB.com. The red arrow is pointing to me:
Miraculously, the ball bounced all the way into the narrow walkway at the back of the section. As it began rattling around, there were two other guys closing in on it from the opposite direction, and I was sure, for an instant, that they were going to get there first…but then the ball hit the edge of one of those brick pillars and ricocheted in MY direction. The ball was heading right for my knee, and it nearly got past me. I barely had time to react as I bent down to simply try to stop it from getting away:
And then, suddenly, I felt the ball in my right hand. Just like that! It bounced RIGHT into my hand. I kind of trapped it up against the wall and against my leg. I couldn’t believe it, but I *did* in fact have sole possession of the ball.
This was my reaction:
It was my 9th career game home run ball (toss-ups excluded). I feel like that’s an embarrassingly low number, but in my own defense, I *have* snagged 124 foul balls and one ground-rule double.
It’s tough to catch balls in the standing-room-only section. The view from the back looks like this…
…so you can’t even see the ball until it’s a third of the way to you.
The following photo shows where I ran to grab the Luke Scott home run ball:
See what I mean? There’s not that much space back there.
Here’s the home run ball itself…
…and here’s the video highlight on MLB.com. I hope it works. I always have trouble with streaming video on my laptop. If there’s anyone reading this who either taped the game or can somehow pull this clip off the internet and convert it into an .AVI or .MOV format, please let me know. I’d love to upload the clip to this page on my web site, which lists all of my game home runs.
Okay, so this seems like the best day ever, right? Well, unfortunately, I pissed it all away with one inexcusable error. In the bottom of the 8th, Matt Wieters hit a deep home run that was heading toward the center-field side of the standing-room-only section. I bolted about 40 feet to my right and, to put it simply (because it’s too painful to relive the details), I should’ve caught the ball and didn’t. Epic fail. No excuses. I was (and still am) stunned and humiliated, and I just hope that I get the chance to redeem myself someday. The few people who witnessed (or heard about) my meltdown tried to comfort me with words of wisdom. The worst thing that anyone said was, “Think how boring life would be if you were perfect.” (That asinine gem came from a female usher who then hugged me.) The best thing anyone said was, “Hey, it happened to Luis Castillo.” (That came from my friend Leon Feingold.) Ultimately, nothing will cheer me up. I’ll just have to get over it, in my own way, at my own pace, and focus better from this moment on…
• 465 balls in 52 games this season = 8.94 balls per game.
• 621 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 178 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 117 lifetime games with at least 10 balls
• 6 lifetime games with at least 20 balls
• 9 lifetime game home runs
• 4 different stadiums with at least one game home run (Old Yankee, Shea, PETCO, and Camden)
• 4,285 total balls
• 1 gut-wrenching mistake
• 126 donors (it’s not too late to make a pledge)
• $25.26 pledged per ball
• $631.50 raised at this game
• $11,745.90 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
I check Google News every morning. Moments ago, when the headlines appeared on my screen, my reaction was “OHHHHH NOOOOOOOOOOO!!!” (I’m alone in my apartment, and yes, I shouted out loud.) This is what I saw:
I already have a flight and hotel booked for the Tigers’ first series of the season. They’re playing in Toronto from April 6-9. Gary Sheffield has 499 career home runs. The entire purpose of my trip WAS going to be to make an attempt at catching No. 500. Sure, I’ll still be able to raise money for charity, but this absolutely sucks. I can’t say I didn’t see it coming, though. Two months before Spring Training started, my incredibly wise friend Brad said he thought Sheffield might end up getting released, and we’ve been monitoring his performance ever since. Crap, crap, crap. NOW what?
Evan (age 16) and Hailey (four years younger) had each snagged a commemorative ball at Shea. Now they were hoping to accomplish the same thing at a sold-out Yankees-Red Sox game.
As I’ve mentioned in previous entries, the bleachers at Yankee Stadium are a) awesome for snagging baseballs during batting practice and b) completely separated from the rest of the ballpark. You can’t enter the bleachers without a bleacher ticket, and once you’re there, you can’t leave.
That said, Evan and I had two tickets apiece–one for the bleachers and another for the main part of the stadium, where we were planning to meet Mark and Hailey after BP. Well before the gates had opened, I gave Mark detailed instructions on how to reach the corner spot in the right field grandstand as quickly as possible. That whole area was going to be insanely crowded; it was essential that he and Hailey get there first and hold their ground.
Evan and I were first in line at the bleacher entrance. When we finally got to run inside, not only did we have the whole place to ourselves for 30 seconds, but we had a great view of Mark and Hailey running in and claiming the corner spot.
Evan claimed a spot against the railing in right-center field, so I gave him some space and positioned myself one section closer to the foul pole. That’s when I got the first ball of the day–I’m not saying “my” first ball because it was literally THE first ball that entered the stands. It was thrown by Jose Veras. I had asked him in Spanish. He put some serious velocity on it. I had to jump two inches to make the catch, and when I opened my glove and noticed that the ball was commemorative I felt a bit guilty. That feeling, however, half-disappeared a few minutes later when Veras tossed another commemorative ball to Hailey.
I used my glove trick to snag my second ball from the gap between the outfield wall and the bleachers. It was a home run by Derek Jeter that landed there, and as soon as I reeled it in, all my guilt returned. Evan (for some reason) hadn’t brought the materials for HIS glove trick, and I realized I could have let him snag that ball with mine. I wasn’t too concerned, though, because it was still early, but I grew increasingly anxious as the remaining minutes of the Yankees’ portion of BP ticked away. Would the Red Sox be using commemorative balls that belonged to the Evil Empire? Doubtful.
Did Hailey feel guilty when she snagged a second commemorative ball? Equally doubtful. It had fallen short after being thrown to her by a Yankee, landed in the gap between the bleachers and the grandstand, and gotten tossed up by a police officer who retrieved it.
With 20 minutes remaining before the Sox were going to take the field, I got extremely lucky and snagged my third ball of the day. Brian Bruney had tossed it to a woman in the front row who somehow managed to drop it and let it trickle behind her into the aisle where I was standing. No one else even saw the ball. Even the woman herself hadn’t seen it roll behind her, so no one else was reaching for it. It was the easiest and most undeserved ball ever, and of course it was commemorative. The woman, whom I’d met several weeks earlier (and who was very friendly), immediately turned around and asked for it. She said it had been thrown to her, and everyone else agreed. What did I do next? I asked Evan if he wanted it, and when he said “no” (because he hadn’t snagged it himself), I handed it to the woman. I hardly ever give away commemorative balls (because it gives me a sinking feeling in my gut), but in this case it was clearly the right thing to do.
The Yankees were beginning their final round of BP, and Evan still didn’t have a commemorative ball. He’d come extremely close to snagging an A-Rod homer (and later came close to two other balls), but got a dreadfully unlucky bounce and had to watch it ricochet all the way back onto the field. I felt responsible and awful. The bleachers were more crowded than ever because of the Red Sox, and for some reason there just weren’t any other balls dropping into the gap…but then, by some miracle, with five minutes remaining in the Yankees’ portion of BP, a ball fell short of the wall in right-center and landed there. Ohmygod. This was our chance, and yet we didn’t know if the ball was even commemorative because it was lying logo-side-down. Meanwhile, Evan told me he’d practiced using his glove trick at home but had never tried using it at a game…so I stretched my rubber band over my glove, then propped it open with a blue Sharpie, and handed it to him. I held the end of the string in case he lost his grip, but he had it under control and I talked him through it. He didn’t realize he had to aim for the ball with the tip of the glove, and it was hard for him to even see the ball because of a hanging net that’s two feet out from the wall. He finally managed to get the ball to stick inside the glove, but because I hadn’t put the rubber band on tight enough, the ball slipped out after he’d raised the glove one foot. The good news is that no one else had a ball-retrieving device. The better news is that security didn’t notice us. And the best news was that the ball had rolled onto its side, and we could see the edge of a commemorative logo.
I yanked the glove back up, tightened the rubber band, and handed it back to Evan. Then I reached down as far as I could and grabbed the netting and pulled it back so he could get a better view of the ball. (I realize this might be hard to visualize.) The entire operation took a minute after that. I was shouting instructions and encouragement (for example “jiggle the glove a little bit so the ball goes inside!”) and eventually he got it. I was afraid someone else would reach over the railing and snatch the ball away from him as he was raising the glove, but no one did, and he HAD it. The ball was nearly brand new. The logo was perfect.
He hurried over to the foul-pole end of the bleachers and called out to his father and sister to show them the ball. I followed close behind and took the following photograph as he was holding it up:
Did you notice Mark and Hailey’s reaction? If you look closely (and please forgive the lousy image quality), you can see that he’s yelling/cheering and she’s giving a thumbs-up:
After the Red Sox took the field, Evan didn’t snag any other balls, and I only managed to get one more. It was a home run to right-center by David Ortiz. I was standing at the railing. The ball landed half a dozen rows back and got bobbled into the tunnel, prompting a wave of fans to race after it. I happened to break through to the front of the pack, and I reached down and scooped the ball into my glove while on the run.
After BP, I took a photo of Evan leaning over the gap with his ball, and then I caught up with Hailey in the concourse and took a photo of her with the three–yes, THREE–balls she’d snagged.
Her final ball was tossed by Justin Masterson, and she told me that all the fans around her were complaining that she’d gotten so many. (Too bad, people. Learn to show up earlier.)
During the game, as you might imagine, security was extremely tight and the crowd was enormous. There weren’t any empty seats to be had until the sixth inning, when the hometown crowd realized that the Yankees weren’t going to overcome a 7-3 deficit.
Mark stayed in his seat for most of the game while I ran around with Evan and Hailey. In the four-part photo below (starting on the top left and going clockwise), we were a) waiting for home run balls in the tunnel in right field, b) camping out in left field when A-Rod came up with a chance to hit a game-tying grand slam, c) checking out shirts in the team store, and d) enjoying a better view late in the game.
Evan and I were able to get some ticket stubs from people as they were leaving the game–tickets for the seats behind the dugouts. He got one on the Yankees’ side, which he gave to me. I got two on Boston’s side, which I gave to him and Hailey.
Two minutes after Jonathan Papelbon recorded the final out for his 34th save, I got Damaso Marte to throw me a commemorative ball on his way in from the bullpen. Evan and Hailey, I learned five minutes later, unfortunately didn’t get anything.
Final score: Red Sox 7, Zack 5, Hailey 3, Yankees 3, Evan 1.
Just before we were all about to get kicked out of the stadium by security (you’re not allowed to linger after the game at Yankee Stadium like you can everywhere else), Evan and Hailey and I all started pulling out our baseballs for a group photo.
What happened next was distressing: Evan couldn’t find his ball.
We all emptied our bags and pockets, and his ball was literally NOWHERE to be found. We started looking under the seats, and within two minutes, the nearest security guard was demanding that we head for the exit. (He suggested that we check the lost-and-found. Thanks, genius.) We couldn’t figure out what had happened…but it was official. Evan had lost the ball. I’m amazed that he took it as well as he did. If it were me, I would’ve screamed and cried and cursed and carried on like a baby. Evan, as disappointed as he was, realized that there wasn’t anything he could do about it and stayed calm. I offered him one of my commemorative balls, and he wouldn’t take it until I insisted about four times. I still had three commemorative balls at that point and gave him a choice of two: the ball from Veras or the ball from Marte, which he ultimately selected after inspecting both logos for quite some time. We were in the concourse, and since security wasn’t yet hassling us about vacating THAT spot, we decided to turn the “hand-over” into an official ceremony. Here’s the silly photographic documentation:
(You know you like my farmer’s tan.) I think I might have successfully convinced him that owning an actual “Zack Hample baseball” was nearly as cool as owning one that he’d snagged on his own…and then we all headed for the subway.
In case you were wondering, the reason why I didn’t give him a choice of all three commemorative balls was that one of them had a special marking that I wanted to take home and photograph (and keep). It was the Derek Jeter home run ball, which had a faint imprint of the MLB logo from another ball. Check it out:
My theory is that another ball was pressing hard against this one in the BP bucket or basket…or even in a ball bag…and that the logo was slightly imprinted onto this one.
Here’s a photo of the imprinted ball next to another ball, which will hopefully illustrate my point:
And finally, here’s one more photo which I took earlier in the day when Tim Wakefield was warming up in the bullpen. It’s just a cool shot that should be shared for all to see:
? 5 balls at this game
? 353 balls in 50 games this season = 7.06 balls per game.
? 546 consecutive games with at least one ball
? 122 consecutive games at Yankee Stadium with at least one ball
? 12 consecutive Watch With Zack games with at least two balls
? 3,630 total balls
The story of the day was Ken Griffey Jr.’s 600th career home run. He hit it. I didn’t catch it. I was five feet away from it. It hurts. A lot.
After missing out on SUCH an important ball, I literally didn’t know what to do with myself. It felt pointless to go back to chasing foul balls, and right now I’d rather not be spending any mental energy writing about it, but life goes on and I suppose the story ought to be told so I guess I’ll start from the beginning…
I arrived at Gate H at 4:40pm, nearly an hour before Dolphin Stadium was scheduled to open, and I wasn’t the first person there. There was one other guy, and it turned out to be someone who reads this blog. His name is Andy (aka “munkittr” for those of you who read the comments). He lives in Tampa, has season tickets at Tropicana Field, and when he found out I was going to be at this game, he hopped in his car and made the four-hour drive. (Perhaps the fact that Griffey was still at 599 had something to do with his decision to come.)
This was the first time we’d met in person, and we talked nonstop for the next 50 minutes. At one point when Andy was discussing all the games he attends, another man who had joined our conversation said, “I bet you’re single.”
“Actually I’m married,” said Andy. “Very happily married.”
I was happy to see The Stereotype shot down once again–and even happier when I ran inside the stadium and saw that batting practice was already in progress. I headed to the furthest section in right-center field where the orange seats meet the blue tarp. The security guard who was stationed there had seen me snag eight balls over the previous three days, but that didn’t stop him from tossing me another.
“You weren’t saving this for a little kid?” I asked.
“You were the first one here,” he said.
Do balls from security guards count in my collection? Absolutely. Over the years, countless guards at Shea and Yankee Stadium have gone out of their way to prevent me from getting balls. I’ve been ejected from games for breaking rules that security supervisors made up on the spot, just for me, just because I was “catching too many balls,” so on the rare occasions that a guard actually shows me some love…yeah, you bet it counts. As for this guard at Dolphin Stadium, several other balls landed on the tarp and he gave them to whoever was smart (or lucky) enough to be standing nearby. Simple as that. Sometimes it was a kid. Sometimes it was an adult. There was no favoritism or attitude, and I appreciated it.
My second ball of the day was tossed by Marlins pitcher Logan Kensing. He had thrown one to me the day before and I thought for sure that he’d recognize me and give this one to someone else. Luckily, though, when it had rolled to the wall, I was the first one to ask him for it and he flipped it up without hesitating.
Ten minutes later, the Reds replaced the Marlins and I caught a Jay Bruce home run. Totally easy. I was on the stairs and had empty seats on both sides. Bruce lifted a deep drive to my left, and I drifted through the seats and reached up for an uncontested one-handed catch.
Ball No. 4 was a ground-rule double that was hit by a righty. It might’ve been Brandon Phillips. I’m not sure, and it doesn’t matter. The ball bounced off the rubberized warning track, barely cleared the outfield wall, skimmed over half a dozen empty rows, and nestled into my waiting glove.
Ball No. 5 was tossed by pitcher Gary Majewski toward a couple little kids, but his aim was off and the ball sailed three inches over their helplessly outstretched gloves. The ball rolled right to me through the empty second row, and I immediately handed it over to one of the kids (whose father thanked me profusely).
Ball No. 6 was thrown by outfielder Corey Patterson, and then with about 10 minutes remaining in BP, I ran around the stadium to the left field side. Look how empty it was:
Of course I didn’t get a ball out there because every Reds player ignored me, and then when I ran to the dugout at the very end of BP, Billy Hatcher tossed me a ball and missed.
Andy and I met up five minutes later (he snagged a few balls in straight-away right field and I’ll let him share the details) and headed to the right field foul line. After we failed to get Mike Rabelo to throw us his warm-up ball, we decided to get someone to take our picture, and THAT, my friends, is when my camera died. I’m not talking about a dead battery. I’m talking about a message on the LCD screen that said, “Lens error, restart camera.” I knew the camera wasn’t going to last much longer. It was missing a few teeny screws, and the whole frame was a bit loose. The screen had a tiny crack in it. The “zoom” lever was slightly jammed…and the fact that I wasn’t allowed to bring my backpack into the stadium didn’t help. It meant I had to keep my camera in that flimsy (and overpriced) drawstring bag that I was forced to buy on the first day. It meant that the camera was in the same pouch as all my baseballs, my markers, pens, cell phone, wallet, glove, and hats. It got smacked around much more than it should’ve, and it died as a result. No doubt about it.
“Watch what’s gonna happen,” I told Andy. “I’m gonna catch Griffey’s 600th homer and get to meet him in the clubhouse after the game, and I won’t be able to have my picture taken.”
I just KNEW something big was going to happen. I felt it. I was sure of it. That’s my luck. That’s my life.
Andy and I parted ways. He headed to the right field seats to get in position for Griffey, and I went to the Marlins’ dugout. Hanley Ramirez finished his pre-game throwing by flipping the ball to a little kid in the front row. One minute later, Dan Uggla finished playing catch with Cody Ross and tossed the ball toward two gloveless, middle-aged men who were sitting 10 feet to my left in the row behind me. They both stood up and reached for it and bobbled it–no wait…that’s too kind…they butchered it–and it dropped into the row in front of them…MY row, which just so happened to be empty. Before they had a chance to lean over their fancy seats, I darted through the row and gloved the ball.
It was 7:08pm. The game was going to be starting in two minutes, so I raced up the steps and sprinted through the concourse (apologies to the beer vendor I nearly took out) and made it to the right field seats with less than a minute to spare. I’d purchased a ticket in (what I felt was) the perfect spot–the same spot I’d picked for each of the previous three days, and on each of those days, there’d been at least one security guard checking tickets in every tunnel. But on THIS day? No security in sight. I can’t explain it, but perhaps if the penny-pinching Marlins had hired a little extra security, they wouldn’t be facing this mess. Meanwhile, the seats were still pretty empty, but I was concerned that there might be a few extra opportunists in my way.
Jerry Hairston led off the game with an infield single.
Most of the fans in the section were crammed into the first 10 or 12 rows. The half dozen rows behind them were partially empty, but I need more than “partial” room to maneuver. I picked a seat in the 21st row–kind of far back, yes, but still within range (as I showed in my previous entry with diagrams from Hit Tracker).
A few fans moved into the row on my left, so I moved down two rows as Jay Bruce stepped into the box. I needed a whole row to myself. The odds that The Ball would be hit with the proper distance were far greater than the odds that it would be hit in the perfect direction. In other words, I was on the end of my row so I could run up or (more likely) down the steps, but that option was soon ruined when two fat men with gloves stood up and moved RIGHT into the middle of the steps five feet in front of me.
Jay Bruce took a called strike three, and Griffey walked toward the plate.
That’s when I noticed that a tallish man with a glove had moved into the far end of the row on my left. All the seats between us were empty, and I remember thinking, “If the ball is hit to my left, that guy is gonna get in my way.”
Mark Hendrickson, the Marlins’ starter, quickly fell behind Griffey 3-0. Everyone in the section was booing. No one wanted to see Griffey walk again, and I was more relieved than anyone when he swung and missed at the next pitch.
The count was 3-1, and I was thinking that he was going to get a great pitch to hit, and that THIS might be it…and then…WHOOSH!!! Griffey unleashed a beautiful, effortless swing and sent the ball flying EXACTLY in my direction. At least that’s how it appeared at the instant it left the bat. But line drives tend to hook, and this was certainly more of a line drive than a fly ball. I paused for a split second, half-expecting that this was going to happen, but also half-disbelieving it. COULD IT REALLY BE THIS EASY?!?! I drifted through the empty row and never took my eye off the ball. I moved with it, just I had moved with hundreds of BP home runs in the past, and as the ball began its final descent, I realized that I was blocked by a couple fans who had somehow slipped into my row. NOOOOO!!!!! I knew I was boxed out as the ball kept hooking, and at the last second, when it was about 30 feet above the seats, it barely nicked the bottom of a support cable, causing its trajectory to fall off slightly. I was too stunned to react, and like I said, I somehow got boxed out and beat to the spot, and the ball disappeared into a pile of people at my feet…or so it seemed. I heard one guy at the bottom of the pile screaming, “I GOT IT!!! I GOT IT!!! I GOT IT!!!” and security surrounded us. Then another guy–THE guy with the glove who’d been standing at the end of my row–said calmly, “I have the ball. I have it…I have the ball,” and a whole new group of security guards surrounded HIM. He was clutching his glove against his chest. I assumed he had The Ball tucked inside, but I never saw it. He was also saying that his bag had gotten caught on a seat and was buried at the bottom of the pile. Security told him to stay put, and while several of the guards stayed with him, a few others worked slowly to get people off of each other, at which point, I just wanted to get the hell out of there, so I climbed over the middle of the rows and got myself out of the section as quickly as possible. I was still stunned and at this point too devastated to even think, and for most of the next hour, I didn’t know how I could even go on living. I’m telling you, it was THAT bad.
Andy had been sitting a couple sections over and caught up with me in the concourse. He bought me a chocolate ice cream cone and walked me toward the seats behind home plate before he headed back to the outfield. I ate the cone and made some phone calls and didn’t bother putting on my glove. I was a mess (and for the record, no, I wasn’t crying). I just wanted to go back to New York City, but my flight wasn’t until the following afternoon. There really wasn’t anything else to do but sit there and sulk. It was better, I figured, to sulk at a major league baseball game than to sulk in my hotel room. So I sat there. And finished the ice cream. And cursed way too loud when Griffey came up again and hit a foul ball RIGHT to the spot where I’d been standing for lefties the day before. They say luck has a way of evening things out, but it didn’t work like that yesterday. It felt like the universe was against me.
I suppose I could feel proud to have picked the spot where the home run would land, and to have been so close to it, but I don’t feel that way. That just makes it hurt even more. I wish Griffey had just hit the damn thing to right-center field instead (or better yet onto the tarp where security could’ve retrieved it and given it back to him). If it had landed four sections away, I wouldn’t have anything to be upset about. All I could say would be, “Oh well, there was nothing I could do. At least I was in the building and got to witness it.” But as things stand, I keep replaying the scene in my mind and thinking about what I could’ve done differently. What if I raced to the spot where the ball was going to land as SOON as it left the bat? Would I have been able to box out the other fans? I just didn’t react with enough urgency. I drifted with the ball too slowly. Or did I? Maybe I really did move fast, and it only feels slow because I didn’t get it, or because I’m a perfectionist and always feel like I could do better. I don’t know. I felt awful, and I still feel awful, and I will always feel awful. That’s just how it is. Unless you’re from the future and know for certain that I’m going to catch A-Rod’s 800th homer, there’s nothing anyone can say to make me feel better. I have to live with this for the rest of my life. It could be worse, though. It’s not like I let the ball clang off the heel of my glove. THAT would be awful. But still, I don’t feel like I took full advantage of the situation. I wonder what would happen if I could relive that moment dozens of times, like Bill Murray in “Groundhog Day,” and take different routes to the ball. I guess that’d be too easy, but I can’t help thinking like that.
Well, I finally started going for foul balls again around the third inning, and it paid off (big whoop) because I got one that Bruce hit in the top of the fifth. It was a high pop-up that the fans in the first row of the club level dropped into my tunnel. Another guy standing next to me was closer to the ball when it fell, but somehow he failed to snatch it and he kicked it around, and the second it rolled toward me, I grabbed it. Why couldn’t that have happened with No. 600? Why couldn’t Griffey have swung a tenth of a second later? There are 600 ‘why’s, and they’re all eating at me right now.
Paul Bako hit two homers and knocked in five runs. Brandon Phillips also went deep for the Reds who cruised to a 9-4 victory. Oh, and I got an autograph during the game. There was a former player sitting in my section, and he signed a day-old ticket for me on his way out. That’s your only clue. Take a look and try to guess who it is:
The first person who leaves a comment (not an email) with the correct answer will get a prize: a ticket from the “Griffey 600” game.
After the final out, I made it down to the front row behind the Reds’ dugout and got two balls tossed to me within 30 seconds. The first came from Mark Berry, the third base coach, as a direct result of my wearing a Reds cap (he said so) and the second came from Hatcher after I told him that he’d missed me before. Then, as I walked up the steps to head to the concourse, a friendly security guard who’d seen me chasing foul balls throughout the series (and apparently hadn’t seen me get the one from Bruce) pulled a “practice” ball out of his pocket and handed it to me. Does it count in my collection? I guess so. Is it cheap? Definitely. But whatever. I was entitled to a little charity after what I’d just gone through.
• 11 balls at this game
• 172 balls in 22 games this season = 7.8 balls per game.
• 82 lifetime games with 10 or more balls
• 27 lifetime games outside NYC with 10 or more balls
• 17 different stadiums with at least one game with 10 or more balls
• 518 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 121 consecutive games outside NYC with at least one ball
• 867 lifetime balls outside NYC
• 24 lifetime game balls outside NYC
• 3,449 total balls
• 32 ticket stubs collected at this game (one of which will be mailed to the winner of the Mystery Autograph Contest)