Tagged: hit tracker

8/1/08 at Fenway Park

I left New York City at 10:30am, blasted my iPod in the car the whole way up, got stuck in traffic half a dozen times, and finally parked in the garage behind the Green Monster at around 3pm. As soon as I walked down the garage ramp onto Lansdowne Street, a college-aged Red Sox fan walked up to me and asked if I was Zack Hample.

In my previous entry, I had mentioned that I was going to be there, and sure enough, this
guy had seen it. His name is Garo. He’s a semi-regular at Fenway Park. And the first thing he did was show me how to get a sneak peek inside the stadium. Check it out:

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There’s a new restaurant/bar tucked underneath the seats in center field. (The entrance is right on Lansdowne.) This was it. Pretty simple.

behind_the_monster_08_01_08.jpgFenway wasn’t going to open until 5pm, so when the Red Sox started taking batting practice at 4:30, Garo (wearing the red shirt in the photo on the right) and I went to the roof of the garage and camped out for home run balls. Of course nothing came over, so at 4:55 I left empty-handed and ran over to Gate A.

This was another Watch With Zack game–my second of the week and fourth of the season–and my clients still had not arrived at that point. They were from Tallahassee and included two 13-year-olds named Lars and Cody, as well as Lars’ grandmother Jean who had gotten in touch last year after hearing me on NPR. Even though we’d planned this game months in advance, they waited until the last minute to make an appearance. Lars and Cody had the basics–baseball gloves and Red Sox caps–but we didn’t have time to discuss any specific strategies for BP. All I could do was give them each a sheet with the rosters of both the Sox and A’s and tell them to follow me as soon as everyone was allowed in. With 30 seconds to spare, I asked them how many games they’d been to. Lars said he’d been to “one or two” major league games, and as for Cody…this was his first professional game! What a way to start. (Jean said she’d been to about 50 games, going back to the days of the Milwaukee Braves. And by the way, if there’s anyone from Tallahassee who’s reading this, or
even anyone who’d just like to talk baseball in general, Jean would
love to hear from you. Leave a comment and let me know, or email
me and I’ll put you in touch.)

When the stadium opened, several dozen fans got in ahead of us, but we were still the first ones to reach the seats along the left field foul line. Sweeeet!!! I grabbed the corner spot and positioned Lars and Cody about 20 feet apart against the wall in the middle of the section. You can kinda/almost see them leaning out with their gloves in the following photo:

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Here’s a close-up. Cody is the one wearing blue, and Lars is in black:

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Once the A’s took the field, I told Lars and Cody to turn their hats backward so the players wouldn’t see the logo. (I think Cody turned the logo toward me just for the photo and then quickly switched it back.) This simple form of trickery worked for Lars; he used the roster to identify pitcher Lenny DiNardo and then got him to toss up a ball. Cody, on the other hand, wasn’t as lucky. He had a few close calls during BP but didn’t end up with anything to show for it.

As for me…
Two minutes after the stadium had opened, Justin Masterson tossed a ball to a kid ten feet away, but his aim was off and the ball sailed high and landed in a patch of empty seats. There was a mini-scramble for the souvenir, which I ended up snagging as it trickled down the steps…and yes, I felt a bit guilty. Under normal circumstances, I would’ve handed this ball to the kid for whom it was intended. But this day was special. I had my own “kids” to take care of, so I held onto it, and as it turned out Masterson went and got another ball and hooked up the original kid. Everyone was happy.

Before the Sox finished hitting, I got a second ball by using what I refer to as the “half-glove trick.” I didn’t need the rubber band and magic marker. I only needed the string because the ball was just a few feet out from the wall…in a spot where the wall was nice and low…so I let who_the_hell_are_these_guys.jpg
out a bit of string and swung my glove out and knocked the ball closer and then leaned over the wall and grabbed it. Easy.

Despite the fact that I had a green and yellow A’s shirt to match my green and yellow cap, I couldn’t get a single player or coach to toss me a ball. I partially blame myself for not being able to recognize anyone, but seriously…Joey Devine? Dallas Braden? Sean Gallagher? Jerry Blevins? Who the hell ARE these guys?!

I managed to get one more ball during BP. It was a rocket-shot, pulled on one hop a few feet to my left. I wish the fan behind me had been holding a radar gun. I’d say it had to be traveling 80 to 90mph. Maybe even more. According to Hit Tracker, some balls fly off the bat in excess of 120mph, so there’s no telling how fast this one was traveling. I was about 200 feet from home plate, and it couldn’t have taken more than a second to reach me. Anyway, I half-dove and half-lunged over the wall and reached way out and half-snared the ball between my upper palm and the pocket of my glove. Yes…ouch. But I had it and that’s all that mattered. Between the ball that Lars snagged and the three that I got, there was exactly one ball for each of us.

After BP, Cody and Lars and I each got an autograph from Greg Smith…

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Then Jean joined us and we posed with our loot:

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There were a few more snagging opportunities that we passed up…like, for example…when the A’s were playing catch before the game along the left field foul line, the four of us were eating pizza in the fourth row on the opposite side of the stadium. That’s where our seats were. Check out the view:

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This game was Jason Bay’s first as a member of the Red Sox–or the “Bayston Red Sox” as one fan’s T-shirt read–and the ovation he received during his first at-bat gave me goose bumps and jason_bay_welcome.jpg
almost made my eyes a little misty. It was THAT thunderous and heart-warming. I didn’t get the sense that anyone at Fenway missed Manny. He’s behaved so poorly that even I (a longtime Manny supporter with a personal connection to him) have a tough time rooting for him now. On the other hand, Jason Bay is one of those quiet/professional types who consistently puts up solid numbers but gets no respect because he plays in Pittsburgh. I felt so happy for him. After five years of rotting in baseball hell, he was rescued and thrust into a pennant race in front of 37,832 fans who were truly thrilled to have him. With all due respect to the four million-plus fans who’ve been filling up Yankee Stadium each of the past few years, I have to say that the people in New England are without a doubt more passionate about their team than ANY fan base I’ve EVER encountered. There’s no comparison. It’s not even close.

Bay ended up drawing a five-pitch walk in the bottom of the second (you’ve never heard such loud cheers for a walk), moving to third on a J.D. Drew double, and scoring the game’s first run on a sacrifice fly by Jed Lowrie. Tim Wakefield and Justin Duchscherer matched zeros after that, and it looked like the Sox were going to hang on for 1-0 win until Jack Cust (who’s on pace to strike out 205 times this season) hit an opposite field bomb off Hideki Okajima to tie the game at 1-1 in the eighth.

Jean knew a lot about baseball, and in fact, so did Lars and Cody because they’d read my book. I don’t know if they tried to memorize it or what, but I was blown away with the amount of facts and details they remembered. We all wore our gloves, but since there wasn’t much action in the foul ball department, we focused on watching the game. They asked dozens of questions and I explained everything…from the stats on the scoreboard to the Pesky Pole (which was less than 20 feet to our right) to double-play depth…and on and on and on. I had lots of fun, and I’m pretty sure they did as well.

As the game headed into the 10th inning, I was surprised when hardly any fans left the stadium. Six outs later, however, a few seats opened up so I led Jean and Cody and Lars toward home plate…and this is where we settled down:

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With two outs in the bottom of the 11th, I took Lars and Cody to the third base dugout and explained exactly how to get a third-out ball. We were all set to charge toward the front row and yell at whichever A’s player ended up with the ball…when Kevin Youkilis took a called third strike and the catcher rolled it back to the mound.

Five outs later we were back in position, but we didn’t get another shot. Bay hit a towering fly ball high off the Monster for a triple, Drew drew an intentional walk, and Lowrie punched a weak grounder past the left side of the mound that allowed Bay to score the winning run. Final score: Zack 3, Red Sox 2, Athletics 1.

free_seeds_and_gum.jpgLars and Cody and I still went down to the dugout (even though I knew the A’s would be in a foul mood), and it paid off…sort of. We got some gum and seeds from one of the bat boys. He was carrying a few boxes of it, and after I called out and asked him if we could have some, he walked over and held it out and let us grab whatever we wanted. The photo on the right shows what I took. Cody and Lars each got their own stash.

We all lingered inside the stadium as long as possible, then headed outside and I told them where they might be able to get a few more autographs. I didn’t stick around for that, however, and they understood why. It was already well past 11pm, I’d been up since 8:45am, and I had a 211-mile drive ahead of me. Before we parted ways, Jean told me she might send me to a game at Citi Field next season with her son who was born on the day that the Mets won their first World Series…

STATS:

? 3 balls at this game

? 273 balls in 39 games this season = 7 balls per game.

? 535 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

? 9 consecutive Watch With Zack games with at least two balls

? 3,550 total balls

6/20/08 at Coors Field

Does the name Danny Wood sound familiar? It should if you’ve read (and memorized) my last four blog entries, but just in case you’ve forgotten:

1) He’s a season ticket holder at Coors Field.
2) He snags a LOT of baseballs.
3) One of those balls was Barry Bonds’ 698th career home run.

Danny and I had never met until our mutual friend Dan Sauvageau (another bigtime ballhawk) introduced us outside Gate E four days earlier–and and on THIS day, I took a pre-Coors detour to visit his place and check out his baseball collection. Dan had been telling me I had to see it. I couldn’t imagine what the big deal was, but let me just say he was right:

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The photo above doesn’t even BEGIN to capture the magnitude of his collection, so hopefully the following photos will. Here’s another shot of Danny’s collection:

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Every ball in the double-case above was autographed by a Hall of Famer. We’re talking more than 150 balls, and most were signed on the sweet spot. It was truly awesome.

Now…keep in mind that Danny hasn’t caught all these balls himself or gotten them all signed in person. He’s bought lots of stuff on eBay, but still, it was the most incredible collection I’d ever seen.

There were several smaller cases of note. Here’s one that had a variety of All-Star and World Series balls:

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Here’s one with Little League balls and various National League presidents:

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One of his cases featured balls that were falling apart…

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…and another had nothing but baseball boxes from various manufacturers:

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Then there were individual balls that I’d never seen in person and, in some cases, didn’t even know existed. In the photo below, the top two balls are self-explanatory, and as for the bottom two…

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…the ball on the left is from the Negro Leagues, and the ball on the right is an official American League ball from 1927 which oh-by-the-way just happened to be signed on the sweet spot by Babe Ruth.

Ever heard of “millennium balls”?

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Neither had I.

Are you aware that baseballs used to be covered with horsehide until MLB switched over to cowhide in 1974? Yeah, Danny had balls to mark THAT occasion as well:
first_cowhide_balls.jpg
One cool thing about the balls from the early 1970s is that they were made by different companies:

cowhide_reach_versus_spalding.jpg

American League balls were made by Reach, and National League balls were made by Spalding. (Reach was owned by Spalding, but it’s still cool.)

Rawlings didn’t start making balls for MLB until 1977…the year I was born…HEY!!!

first_rawlings_ball.jpg

Let’s not forget that Bonds homer–number six-ninety-eight:

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Here’s a closer look at the sticker that an authenticator from MLB stuck on the ball…

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…and here’s Danny’s unofficial certificate of authenticity on MLB.com:

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There are dozens of other photographs I could share. I could literally write a different blog entry about his collection every day for a year and still have plenty of stuff left to talk about. It was THAT impressive. But I’ll just leave you with one other pic from Danny’s place.

I had heard that at Coors Field, fans received “Clean Catch” pins from the ushers whenever they caught a foul ball or home run on a fly during a game–but I hadn’t actually seen one. Naturally, Danny had about a dozen, and here it is:

clean_catch_pin.jpg

What a great idea. Seriously…what an excellent way to encourage fans to bring their gloves and be participants. What a shame that neither team in my hometown has the brains/incentive to do this.

As if the tour of his collection weren’t enough, Danny took me out to lunch with his family (at the famous Blake Street Tavern) and we all walked over to the ballpark together.

I took a few photographs of the exterior…

outside_coors_field.jpg

…and posed with my two shirts once we reached the gate:

zack_two_shirts.jpg

As you may already know, I own all 30 major league team caps; visiting teams love to spot their “fans” on the road and reward them with baseballs. In this case, since the Mets were the visiting team, I went one step further and brought a matching shirt–but I didn’t wear it during the game. That’s where the striped shirt came in. My plan (as I mentioned in an entry last week) was to dress like Waldo to make it easier for people to spot me on TV.

Gate E opened at 5pm, and I nearly got hit by a ball as I ran inside. From the concourse behind the left field bleachers, I saw one of the Rockies players looking up as if he were following the flight of a long home run. I paused for a second, expecting the ball to clang off the metal benches down below when all of a sudden, SMACK!!! The ball hit the concourse five feet to my left (about 425 feet from the plate according to Hit Tracker), bounced up and hit a metal support beam above the roof of a concession stand, and ricocheted back toward me. I was totally caught off guard. I wasn’t even wearing my glove…I was carrying it with my right hand, so I lunged forward and knocked the ball down with my left hand (almost like a basketball dribble) to prevent it from bouncing back into the bleachers, and I finally grabbed it.

Moments later, another home run landed near me, this time in the bleachers, and when I ran over and grabbed it off the concrete steps, an usher down below yelled, “Give it to the kid!”

I looked up, and there was indeed a kid nearby, but I
knew he didn’t need any charity. His name was Hunter. I’d signed a baseball for him the day before. He and his dad Don (aka “Rock Pile Ranter” if you read the comments) had front-row access for this game, and sure enough, they ended up snagging a bunch of balls…and you can read about it on Don’s blog.

The Rockies’ portion of BP was slow. I didn’t get any more balls from them. The highlight was seeing Danny trade gloves with Ubaldo Jimenez…

danny_trades_gloves.jpg

…and then use it to catch a home run ball. Unfortunately, it was a ball I easily could’ve caught, but I backed off (because the idea of robbing him on his own turf made me feel guilty) and let him have it, and he thanked me several times.

Anyway, it almost didn’t matter because I got SEVEN balls tossed to me during the Mets’ portion of BP. The first came from Scott Schoeneweis near center field. The second came from coach Guy Conti in left-center. The third came from Ramon Castro near the left field foul pedro_martinez_playing_catch.jpgline. The fourth came from Conti again…it was ridiculous…I didn’t even ask him for it…I was sitting just behind the wall in left-center, minding my own business and labeling the ball from Castro when Conti walked over and grabbed a ball off the warning track and flipped it up without looking at me. The fifth ball came from Marlon Anderson in straight-away left field. The sixth came from Pelfrey, also in left field, and the seventh came from Pedro Martinez in center. It was incredible. There was NO competition, and yet some of the fans behind me were grumbling. One guy (who I’m ashamed to admit was wearing a Mets jersey) shouted angrily, “How many balls do you need?!” and before I had a chance to walk over and respond, he snapped, “Go ahead, say something stupid.”

Too bad he was so rude. I’d been considering giving one of my baseballs to his son, but instead, when batting practice ended, I handed one to a different kid whose father had been minding his own business.

I made sure not to give away any of the three baseballs in the following photo:

three_balls_during_batting_practice.jpg

As you can see, I got two commemorative balls. The one on the left was thrown by Castro, and it happened to be the 900th ball I’ve snagged outside of New York. The ball in the middle was thrown by Pelfrey, and it’s just cool. I love how worn out it is. The ball on the right (not commemorative but still cool) was thrown by Pedro.

Okay, so the seven balls that the Mets threw to me gave me nine for the day, and I managed to snag one more. Remember the aggressive fan who had shoved me while going for a ball three days earlier? Well, he was back in his usual spot, and I made a point of standing right behind him and shutting him down. Toward the end of BP, one of the Mets righties lifted a deep fly ball in our direction. I judged it perfectly and jumped as high as I could at the last second…and although I didn’t catch it cleanly, I successfully prevented this other guy from catching it. Our gloves made contact, and the ball plopped down into the aisle, and I snatched it before he knew what was happening. I’m proud to say that he did not snag ONE ball since The Shove.

Anyway…
Throughout the week, Danny had been telling me that he knew one of the guys who worked the manual, out-of-town scoreboard in right field (?!?!) and he kept offering to arrange a visit for me. This was the day that I finally took him up on it…so after BP ended, Danny made a phone call and sent me on my way. It was as simple as that. I exited the tunnel at the bottom of the left field pavilion, turned right, and walked through the “secret” concourse:

scoreboard1_secret_concourse.jpg

After walking for a couple minutes and not really knowing who or what to look for (and hoping that I wasn’t going to be arrested), a woman stuck her head out of one of the black doors on the right and called me over by name.

Nice.

HER name is Beverly Coleman. She works for the Rockies in the “Business Operations” department. (You can find her on this list of Rockies front office employees.) Her husband is the guy that works the scoreboard.

Beverly led me down into a party area…

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…and we headed toward an unmarked door…

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…and climbed some steep/narrow steps…

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…and before I knew it I was standing behind the scoreboard, witnessing an update in progress:

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Then things calmed down a bit, and I met her husband, David Holt:

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David gave me a quick tour and told me I was welcome to take as many photos as I wanted and share them on my blog.

This was my view of the field through one of the small holes in the wooden boards…

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…and this was the view through one of the grated windows (which was damaged by a ball):

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Did you notice the ball in the photo above? It’s tucked into a little nook in the wall on the upper right. Here’s a closeup:

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I was in heaven:

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David introduced me to a guy named Jim Park who was monitoring every game on a laptop:

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Here’s a closer look at Jim’s work space:

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At least once per minute, Jim shouted some sort of update–a score change, an inning change, or a pitching change–and David went to work:

scoreboard13_david_at_work.jpg

He showed me how to make sure that the boards were facing the right way. Quite simply, the front (which faced the field) had big letters…

s
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…and the back had small letters:

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If the board was right-side-up in the back, that meant it was facing the proper way in the front. Easy…I had it…and David let me make some updates:

scoreboard16_zack_making_update.jpg

Seventeen years ago, I got to work the electronic portion of the scoreboard at Fenway Park for an inning during a game…but I did it from the press level high in the grandstand behind home plate…so this experience at Coors Field was a first. Unbelievable. I still can’t get over it.

…and it got better.

Beverly, being a front office employee, had received a 2007 National League Championship ring and gave me all the time I needed to photograph it. Note her last name (Coleman) on the side:

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I actually didn’t have much more time. The game was about to begin, and although I probably could’ve stayed longer, I really wanted to get back to left field and unleash my Waldo Essence.

David removed one of the boards so I could reach out and take a few more photos before I left. Check this out. You can see the shadow of my hand and camera:

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I made it back to the left field pavilion just before the first pitch, then pulled out my big glove and let Emily (Dan’s four-year-old daughter) try it on:

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I didn’t bring the big glove to help me snag extra balls. I just brought it to help me stand out even more on TV.

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I was so psyched to be sitting in the wide aisle in straight-away left field. Even though I didn’t have much room on my right…

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I had a ton of space on my left:

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In the top of the second inning, Carlos Beltran led off with a single and Carlos Delgado followed with a deep drive to my left. I jumped out of my seat, raced through the aisle, and watched helplessly as the ball sailed 15 feet over my head.

So much for that.

There were two other home runs in the game, both of which were hit in the first few innings and went to right field, so I had to find other forms of entertainment:

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Final score: Mets 7, Rockies 2.

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STATS:

? 10 balls at this game

? 210 balls in 27 games this season = 7.8 balls per game.

? 83 lifetime games with 10 or more balls

? 28 lifetime games outside NYC with 10 or more balls

? 18 different stadiums with at least one game with 10 or more balls

? 523 consecutive games with at least one ball

? 126 consecutive games outside NYC with at least one ball

? 905 lifetime balls outside NYC

? 3,487 total balls

6/8/08 at Dolphin Stadium

I didn’t think there’d be batting practice. This was a dreaded “day game after a night game,” and on top of that the night game hadn’t ended until 10:41pm, so I was overjoyed when I ran into the stadium and saw this:

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A few Marlins pitchers were playing catch in the right field corner, and when they finished several others came out. It was perfect. There was a steady flow of snagging opportunities. If the entire pitching staff had been throwing at the same time, I probably would’ve only gotten one ball because all the guys would’ve seen me catch it. Instead, I got one tossed by Mark marlins_throwing.jpg
Hendrickson, then another five minutes later by Logan Kensing, then another five minutes after that by Ricky Nolasco. Nolasco’s throw sailed to the left and fell two feet wide of my glove as I leaned over the railing. Fortunately, the ball landed in a folded up seat in the wheelchair aisle in front of the railing, and I was able to reach down with my bare hand and grab it.

I would’ve had five balls by that point if not for another baseball collector named Jordan–a college kid who lives in Florida, reads this blog regularly, and has been leaving sporadic comments since 2005 under the name “hockeyguy1011.” Jordan (who recently caught 10 balls in one game at Dolphin Stadium) had already snagged two, and if not for me, HE would’ve had five. He let me get the first one from Hendrickson, so I let him get the next ball from Matt Lindstrom. Then I got the ball from Kensing and let him go to the dugout where he had no competition and got one tossed by hitting coach Jim Presley.

Once BP started, Jordan went to straight-away right field, and I camped out in right-center. He was on one side of the tunnel, and I was on the other. We each had our space, and we both did well. I used the glove trick to snag my fourth ball and got scolded/threatened by security. Nice job, ownership. Open your ugly stadium later than almost every other stadium, prohibit all 17 of your fans from bringing backpacks and food inside, and then institute a stupid, arbitrary rule during batting practice to prevent people from snagging a few extra baseballs so you can sell them for $25 apiece at the souvenir stands. Really…nice job.

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At least Andy Fox was nice. I got him to hit me a fungo from about 150 feet away, and it was basically right on the money. The ball was heading right at me but fell a couple rows short. Rather than diving or lunging for it and risking an injury, I held back because I was 20 rows from the field, and with the exception of a couple fans in the first two rows, the seats all around me were TOTALLY empty. Well, wouldn’t you know it…the ball hit the back of a seat and ricocheted back toward the field and kept bouncing and bouncing further away from me, first off the seats, then off the steps, until it had traveled all the way back down to the front row where some lucky kid gloved it. I asked for another try and Fox threw his arms up in disgust. I really thought I was out of luck, but he ended up tossing me another ball after I’d moved back down to the front row. I got my sixth ball thrown by Pierre Arsenault, the Marlins “bullpen coordinator,” after another fan mistook him for Steve Foster, the “bullpen coach.”

That was it for BP. It started late and ended early, but I was glad that it even happened at all. It’s interesting that the Marlins were the ones taking BP. Normally the home team bats first and finishes about an hour and a half before game time. The Reds must’ve told the Marlins well ahead of time that they weren’t going to hit so that the Marlins would be able to sleep late and still get their cuts.

As for the Reds, their entire pitching staff had been warming up in the left field corner, but by the time I ran over…

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…only two guys were still throwing. Bill Bray, the lefty, tossed me the ball when he was done, perhaps because I was wearing a generic red T-shirt to go with my Reds cap.

jordan_zack.jpgI crossed paths with Jordan. He’d snagged five balls. His younger brother Jake hadn’t snagged any and didn’t seem to care…and took our picture.

My eighth ball of the day was tossed by Marlins catcher Matt Treanor along the right field foul line about 15 minutes before game time. There were a few other fans nearby. None of them had gloves or even bothered asking for the ball. It was one of the easiest snags of my life. Treanor had looked around briefly before tossing it to me, presumably to spot someone younger and/or cuter, but there just weren’t any options.

About ten minutes before game time, I moved behind the 3rd base dugout so I could take a pic of the right field seats:

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That’s where I’d soon be heading because Ken Griffey Jr., still stuck on 599 career home runs, was going to be batting third in the top of the top of the 1st inning.

Before I headed out there, I stopped at the Marlins’ dugout to try to get a ball from Hanley Ramirez who had started throwing with Jorge Cantu. I wasn’t allowed to enter the first eight rows of blue seats, so I had to hang back, and when Ramirez finished, I asked him in Spanish and waved my arms. Perfect strategy. I got his attention. He crouched down low and made eye contact with me and fired the ball sidearm in my direction, and then, out of nowhere, another fan who was sitting in the third row stuck his glove in the air and intercepted the ball. Props to that guy for having such quick reflexes, but DAMN!!!

Anyway, there was a more important ball to be snagged, and when I settled into my seat for the first pitch of the game, this was my view:

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Ryan Tucker, the Marlins starter, was making his major league debut, and Jerry Hairston greeted him by hitting the second pitch down the right field line for a double. Jay Bruce, who entered the game batting .457, struck out on five pitches, and before I knew it, Mister Griffey was pacing toward the batters box.

Now, if you think I was sitting too far back, take a look at the image below. It’s a “scatter plot” from Hit Tracker that shows where all the home runs this season at Dolphin Stadium have landed:

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Now take a look at Griffey’s scatter plot from 2008:

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And his scatter plot from 2007:

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I’d been studying these scatter plots extensively on my flight from New York City and determined that a) Griffey still has 400-foot power and b) if I stayed relatively close to the foul line, I could sit 15 or even 20 rows back and still be well within his range.

In addition, most fans were crowding the first few rows behind the outfield wall. It’s human nature to sit as close to the action as possible, but when it comes to snagging baseballs, that’s usually not the best place to be. I stayed far back because of the empty seats on both sides. When Griffey stepped into the batters box, this was the view to my right:

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And this was the view to my left:

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I wasn’t thrilled about the railing, but it was the best I could do, and I was so determined to catch The Ball that I might just’ve run right through it.

Anyway, as easy as it would’ve been to catch The Ball, I still needed Griffey to actually hit it. He took the first pitch for ball one and fouled off the second offering. Two more balls sent the count to 3-1, and then the Marlins chickened out and had the rookie pitcher intentionally walk him. I wanted to cry.

The right field seats grew slightly more crowded as the game progressed, but it still would’ve been pretty easy to catch The Ball. Unfortunately, Griffey drew a four-pitch walk in the third and grounded into a fielder’s choice in the fifth. He was removed for a pinch hitter in the eighth, and guess what? That hitter, Corey Patterson, launched a home run to right field.

marlins_baseball.jpgWhen Griffey wasn’t batting, I hung out behind home plate. The seats were embarrassingly empty. I almost felt guilty about all the foul balls I was going to snag.

But nothing came my way.

Unbelievable.

As for the game, the Reds took a 1-0 lead in the second inning on a two-out RBI single by Aaron Harang. The Marlins answered with a run in the third, a run in the fourth, four runs in the fifth and three more in the sixth. Ramirez hit two homers to left field, and Patterson capped the scoring with his solo homer in the eighth. Final score: Marlins 9, Reds 2.

Look how empty the stadium was in the ninth inning:

empty_seats_ninth_inning.jpg

The attendance was listed at 12,444. That number, for those who don’t know, represents the number of tickets sold, not the number of fans who actually pass through the turnstiles. How many fans were actually IN the stadium? I’m not good at estimating, but I doubt there were more than 3,000.

I’m hoping for an even smaller crowd tonight. It’ll be my last game here. There’s a 50 percent chance of rain (as there probably always is in Miami), but it’s sunny right now (at 1:48pm). Wherever you are, do a little BP dance for me, and if you believe in God, say a Griffey prayer while you’re at it.

STATS:

mystery_autograph.jpg? 1 autograph at this game (Can anyone guess who?)

? 8 balls at this game

? 161 balls in 21 games this season = 7.7 balls per game.

? 517 consecutive games with at least one ball

? 120 consecutive games outside NYC with at least one ball

? 856 lifetime balls outside NYC

? 3,438 total balls

5/23/08 at Yankee Stadium

When I arrived at Yankee Stadium at 4pm, I learned that the entire upper deck was sold out and that the cheapest ticket available was $95. Since I never buy tickets ahead of time, my normal course of action would’ve been to curse my way back to the subway and go home, but on this fine day, a friend of mine had an extra ticket and I got in for less than 20 bucks.

brian_greg.jpgBut wait…
Before the stadium opened, I ran into a couple of fellow snaggers outside Gate 6. One of them was Greg (aka “gregorybarasch” for those of you read the comments), and the other was Brian (wearing orange; aka “puckcollector”). Brian already had a ticket, but Greg didn’t. He was there with his father, and when they found out how much it was going to cost to get in, they left. As you can see in this photo, Greg and Brian each had a sheet with the rosters and face pics of both teams. I didn’t. It would’ve taken me half an hour to prepare one, and I didn’t think it was worth it for a game at Yankee Stadium which is always so crowded and noisy that it’s nearly impossible to interact with the players. Anyway, Greg generously gave me his sheet before he took off.

When the gates opened at 5pm, Brian and I ran inside at full speed. Initially, he had a head start because of his position behind the barricade, but somehow he got held up for a couple seconds. Did security look in his bag a little longer than mine? Was the guy who scanned his ticket a little slower? Did the ladies giving away the All-Star Game caps take their time with him? I don’t know, but whatever happened, it made a huge difference. I was just a few steps ahead of Brian as we raced through the tunnel that leads to the seats, and AS we rounded the corner and got our first look at the field, a lefty on the Yankees lofted a fly ball down the right field line that bounced off the warning track and plunked gently in the seats near the foul pole. I was all over it and felt incredibly relieved. The day before, it took me more than an hour to snag my first ball, and I was scared that my streak was going to end.

I think Brian’s family was trying to distract me. At one point, Brian told me that his sister had texted a message with my name it in to the text message board, and that I should look for it. What?! I didn’t even know there WAS a text message board.

“Yeah, right over there,” said Brian, pointing to the thin electronic board along the Loge facade across the stadium. Sure enough, there was a loop of text messages, sent in by the fans, that rotated every few seconds. For the first two minutes, my favorite was “i luv u robbinson cano” but that one soon got trumped by the following:

text_message.jpg

This was by far the highlight of batting practice. I managed to snag one more ball with my glove trick, only after Brian failed to pluck it off the warning track with his. I tried to let him get it. I hung back a bit and lowered my glove slowly, but Brian rigged his rubber band too tight and couldn’t get the ball to go inside the glove. Normally, this wouldn’t have been a problem. He just would’ve raised the glove back up, loosened the band, and then lowered it for the easy snag. But in this situation, there wasn’t time to mess around. Another kid (or should I say “brat”) with a cup trick quickly crashed the scene and started going for the ball. I didn’t mind not getting the ball if Brian got it, but there was no way I was going to let this other kid poach our prize. There are many rivalries in baseball–Mets/Phillies, Mets/Yankees, Yankees/Red Sox, A’s/Giants–but none is bigger than that between the glove-tricks and cup-tricks. Even this fall’s McCain/Obama showdown will pale in comparison. You have to understand…I could NOT allow this ball–a commemorative ball no less–to be stolen by the enemy, so I made a full-fledged attempt to snag it. My string got tangled briefly with Brian’s, but he worked with me to free it, and I was able to get the ball to stick inside my glove. As I raised my contraption with the ball tucked snugly inside, the other kid swung his cup from side to side and hit my glove in an attempt to knock the ball out. I swear…these punks with the cups better watch out. One of these days, I’m gonna pull out a pair of scissors and start snipping some string.

Brian managed to get a ball tossed to him by Ross Ohlendorf, and that was it for batting practice. The right field seats should have officially been declared a disaster area. Look at this photo:

Thumbnail image for horrendously_crowded1.jpg

I took this photo from the aisle behind the right field wall, or at least what was left of it. How the hell is one supposed to run for a ball or make eye contact with any of the players? Yankee Stadium is THE worst place to snag in the major leagues. I don’t care what anyone says. You’re wrong if you disagree. I don’t want to hear about how hard it is to get to the dugouts at Dodger Stadium or how crowded the foul lines become at Wrigley Field. Those stadiums are like Sesame Street compared to the House that Ruthless Built.

Left field was just as bad. I ran over there (took about five minutes to get from RF to LF) after Ichiro took his cuts, and this was my fabulous view for the rest of the BP:

horrendously_crowded2.jpg

At one point, I carefully worked my way into the front row to see if I had a chance to use the glove trick. So much for that.
A rather large Yankee fan in that row was eating a cheeseburger and drinking an equally large cup of soda. Although he had no desire to snag a baseball, he intentionally blocked me from passing in front of him, and he refused to let me through even after I politely said “excuse me.” I just needed to lean over a little bit to get a better look at the ball…

“You drop my soda,” he snapped, “and I’ll drop YOU.”

“Thanks for asking nicely,” I said.

“You’re welcome,” he answered with fake charm.

I was so angry that I nearly went home. Right then. Right in the middle of batting practice. I came THIS close to storming right out through the tunnel and getting on the No. 4 train. I had no desire to be inside that disgusting mecca of rage and pompous entitlement. But I stayed. I don’t know why. I guess I was afraid that this would be the night when A-Rod would hit a home run to my spot in left field…and I also wanted to see if I could sneak down to the seats behind the Yankees’ dugout and get Jeter or A-Rod to toss me their warm-up balls after the national anthem. I decided that if I got kicked out, I’d go home.

national_anthem.jpg
Long story short: it took half an hour, but I made it. Jeter tossed his ball over my head to a guy my age with a button-down shirt and no glove, and A-Rod tossed his to a teenage girl five feet to my right.

I started the game in right field. Ichiro was due to bat first, and I thought it would’ve been pretty cool to catch one of his home runs. But no. He took three called strikes, and I immediately began my trek around the stadium to the left field side. Brian was out there. We both wanted to catch an A-Rod homer, but A-Rod struck out to end the first inning. Moments later, the security supervisor walked over to Brian (who had grabbed an empty seat 10 feet to my right) and asked to see his ticket and told him he had to leave the section. Brian, being a friendly young lad, walked over to say farewell (and to vent his frustrations). This was the worst thing he could’ve done. It didn’t occur to him that he was still being watched by the supervisor, so when he started interacting with me, it revealed the fact that I didn’t belong there either. I once made the same mistake at Shea Stadium and unintentionally got a friend kicked out as well. No harm done. Nobody went to jail. This is how we learn.

In any case, the supervisor didn’t say anything to me at the time, but I knew something was up because he kept looking at me whenever he walked by. I was a marked man, but as long as I wasn’t getting kicked out, I decided to stay. I could’ve gone back to right field for Ichiro’s second at-bat, but I just had a feeling about left field. Two lefties were pitching: Erik Bedard and Andy Pettitte. Most of the batters were right-handed. It was a fairly warm evening. The ball would be carrying. The wide aisle in front of me was emptier than usual. I had a feeling that someone was going to hit a home run in my direction, and even if it wasn’t A-Rod, it was going to be fun to catch it. I kept thinking about the likelihood of catching a home run, and more I considered it, the more obvious it seemed that it was going to happen. It was only 318 feet to the foul pole. I was sitting fairly close to the foul line, so it was probably 330 to the wall directly in front of me. Then there were about 10 rows of seats in front of the aisle. Add another two feet per row? So I figured I was, at most, about 350 to 360 feet from home plate. That’s not far. I reasoned that a righty wouldn’t even have to hit a ball that well to reach me. Three hundred fifty feet was a routine fly ball to the center fielder. All the batter had to do was hit a routine fly ball and swing a little too soon and pull it down the line. Why didn’t this happen all the time?

The Mariners, meanwhile, sandwiched three singles between three strikeouts in the top of the second and took a 1-0 lead.

Hideki Matsui opened the bottom of the inning with a single to center, and Jason Giambi followed with a walk. That’s when Shelley Duncan stepped into the batter’s box with a grand total of zero home runs and a .182 batting average. The fans sitting behind me started debating whether or not he should bunt, at which point I started having a bunch of thoughts that went something like this: Does this guy even know how to bunt? If he could, it would certainly help the team. Runners on second and third with one out? For Robinson Cano? That would be pretty good for the Yankees. Okay, I hope he doesn’t bunt. I hope he swings away and hits into a double play. Well, if he wants to hit a home run to me instead, that’d be cool. I could accept that even though it’d give the Yankees the lead. Alright, Shelley, go ahead, hit the ball to me. Fine.

And that’s exactly what he did. After a called first strike, Bedard threw a cutter down and in, and Duncan dropped his bat on it and lifted a high fly ball in my direction. I was out of my seat in no time, standing in the aisle, watching the ball, half-disbelieving that this was actually about to happen and half-annoyed that it was going to be THAT easy. The ball had the perfect arc. I judged it perfectly. I knew from the second it left the bat that it was coming right to me, and as the ball began its descent, I became hyperaware of everyone around me. The only challenge was going to be making sure that no one else reached in front of me. I sensed that there was an older man, about my height, without a glove, on my left, who was also tracking the flight of the ball, but not quite as well as me. From the moment the ball left the bat, I could have held up my glove like a target, and I wouldn’t have had to move it more than a few inches. That’s how perfectly I judged it. The other fan, whom I realized would be my only competition, seemed to have an idea of where the ball would land, perhaps within an area of several feet. But I was in THE spot. My feet were planted, and I didn’t reach up too soon. I didn’t want to reveal the exact spot where the ball would be coming down, so I waited and waited as the ball floated slowly toward me. It hung up in the air for what felt like two minutes, and finally, at the last second, I reached up above the other man’s hands and caught it effortlessly in the pocket of my glove. It was one of the easiest home run catches of my life. It was so easy that I felt guilty. I was ashamed to take any credit for catching such an easy ball. The stadium roared, and I walked quietly back to my seat. It’s such a cliché to celebrate a snag. Everyone does that. But how many zack_catches_duncan_homer2.jpg
times do you see a fan catch a home run ball and react like he has instead picked a piece of lint off his shirt? That’s what I did initially. I thought I’d stand out more by not reacting, and perhaps I did stand out to the people in my section, but then I quickly realized that this wasn’t the best way to get on TV. I was in my hometown ballpark. Lots of friends were probably watching, so I felt I should do something that would make the cameras focus on me. That’s when I held up the ball. Nothing fancy. Just enough to be seen.

It turned out that YES never never showed me, but FSN did. My friend Michael Fierman (aka “tswechtenberg”) happened to tape the game and he emailed me the clip later that night. CLICK HERE to watch it.

shelley_duncan_home_run_ball.jpg
As soon as I returned to my seat, the security supervisor walked over and said, “Okay, you got your ball. Now you gotta go.”

I was so annoyed. I didn’t even WANT a stupid Shelley Duncan home run ball. I was there for one reason only: to catch an A-Rod homer, and now I’d blown my chance by catching this other ball. I tried to get the supervisor to let me stay. I gave him every excuse. I even told him about my first book. But it was no use. I was officially banned from the section…so I went back to the right field seats and stayed there for the rest of the night. I had considered hanging out behind the plate and simply going for a second game ball, but I figured I should attempt to catch a second home run. THAT would’ve been cool, but it wasn’t meant to be. The Duncan homer was the lone longball of the game, and I must say that it did feel pretty great to have caught it, especially when I saw the Jumbotron during his subsequent at-bats:

shelley_duncan_jumbotron.jpg

The Mariners trimmed the lead to 3-2 in the top of the third, but the Yankees answered with two runs in the fourth and eight more in the fifth. Final score: 13-2.

STATS:

? 3 balls at this game

? 106 balls in 13 games this season = 8.2 balls per game.

? 509 consecutive games with at least one ball

? 113 consecutive games at Yankee Stadium with at least one ball

? 4 game balls in 13 games this season = 1 game ball every 3.3 games.

? 115 lifetime game balls

? 4 lifetime game home runs (not counting Mel Hall’s home run in 1992 which bounced back onto the field and got tossed up to me by Von Hayes)

? 3,383 total balls

BONUS STATS — DUNCAN’S HOME RUN (courtesy of Hit Tracker):

? distance: 349 feet

? apex: 114 feet

? speed off bat: 100.1 mph

? angle off bat: 40.7 degrees

shelley_duncan_scatter_plot.jpg