The day got off to a great start, and it had nothing to do with baseball: I saw my very first girlfriend for the first time in 14 years, and it wasn’t awkward at all. We met in the lobby of my hotel, went out for a three-hour lunch, and pretty much just caught up and laughed about the past. I was in such a good mood after seeing her that nothing else mattered. Batting practice at Turner Field? Whatever. Baseball was the last thing on my mind — that is, until I walked over to the stadium and met up with my friend Matt Winters:
(In case you’re new to this blog, I’m the guy on the left.)
That helped get me back into snagging mode. My goal for the day was to get at least six baseballs. That’s what I needed to reach 4,500, and thanks to the dreamlike configuration of the left field stands…
…I knew it wouldn’t be hard. It was more a question of how than if.
My first two balls of the day were home runs hit by right-handed batters on the Braves. I’m not sure who. All I can tell you is that the first one landed near me in the seats, and I caught the second one on the fly.
That’s when I encountered my first challenge of the day. Another batter hit a homer that happened to land in the gap behind the outfield wall. I figured I’d be able to snag it with my glove trick, but before I could get there, some old guy snagged it with his own funky-looking device. Here he is holding it up:
It’s a gigantic roll of duct tape — with additional tape inside the center hole to make the ball stick. On the other side (where the guy is holding it), there was a big/clunky object attached to it, presumably to help weigh the whole thing down.
As it turned out, this guy was one of a dozen fans who’d brought devices into the stadium. There were devices everywhere. It was nuts. Some people even dangled them over the wall in anticipation.
Somehow, I managed to beat the competition and use my glove trick to snag my third ball of the day. I handed that one to the nearest kid, and two minutes later, I sprung into glove-trick action once again.
That’s when I encountered (or rather created) another challenge. In my haste to get down to the front row, I rolled my left ankle on the edge of a step, and let me tell you, it hurt like HELL. I felt a sharp twinge on the outside of my foot, and for a moment, I thought I wasn’t gonna be able to walk for the next two weeks. It was one of those “what did I just do to myself” injuries; I knew it was bad, but I wasn’t sure just how bad, so I decided that as long as I could still stand, I might as well proceed down to the front row and try to snag the ball — and yes, I did end up getting it.
My ankle really hurt after that…
…but the pain was bearable as long as I ran in straight lines and changed direction slowly.
My fifth ball of the day was another home run (not sure who hit it), and the catch itself was anything but routine. I was cutting through the second row to my right. The ball was heading toward a teenaged kid in the front row. It was going to be an easy chest-high catch for him, so I didn’t expect to have a chance. That said, I still stuck my glove out for a potential catch in case he missed it, and at the last second, I jerked my head to the side so that I wouldn’t get drilled in the face by a potential deflection. Well, wouldn’t you know it? The kid somehow managed to miss the ball. I mean, he completely whiffed — didn’t even get any leather on it — and I ended up making a no-look, thigh-high catch while running through the seats on a sprained ankle.
That was the 4,499th ball of my life. The next one was going to be a fairly significant milestone, so I wanted it to be special.
Another home run was hit toward the same kid. I was standing right behind him at the time, and while the ball was in mid-air, I could have easily climbed down into the front row and reached in front of him — but I didn’t want to interfere with his chance at redemption, so I hung back in the second row. This is how it played out:
The ball smacked the pocket of his glove and jerked his wrist back, but he hung onto it, and everyone cheered and congratulated him.
Toward the end of the Braves’ portion of BP, a ball cleared the wall and landed in front of the visitors’ bullpen down the left field line. It sat there for a minute, so I ran over to the seats in foul territory, thinking that I might be able to snag it with my glove trick. Once I got there, I realized that the ball was trapped underneath a bench. There was no way for me to reach it, and even if it had been sitting right below me, there wouldn’t have been time. A security guard was about to retrieve it. Here he is with the ball in his hand:
There were several other fans asking for it, so he decided to give it away in the fairest way possible: he asked when everyone’s birthday was. As soon as I said “September fourteenth,” he tossed me the ball.
“When’s your birthday?” I asked.
“September twelfth,” he replied.
“Cool, thanks so much,” I said, and then I asked, “Can I take a picture of the ball with you in the background?”
Either he didn’t hear me or he simply ignored me because he promptly exited the bullpen and began walking toward the infield. Meanwhile, I wanted to fully document my 4,500th ball, so I “chased” after him:
(It wasn’t exactly a high-speed chase.)
In the photo above, he had stopped walking for a moment to shout something to another guard in the bullpen, and then moments later, he continued marching ahead. I pulled out my camera, and this was the only photo I got:
Meh. A little blurry. But at least it captured the “excitement” of the moment. (It’s fun to put “random” words in quotes. I should “do” this more often.)
Here’s a better photo of the ball itself:
Now that my milestone was out of the way, my goal was to snag four more balls and reach double digits.
When the Braves cleared the field, I headed over toward their dugout on the first base side, and I wasn’t allowed past this point:
If you look closely at the photo above, you can kinda see that the arrow is pointing to an extra chair in the front row — a little folding chair with slats on the back. That’s how stadium security marks its arbitrary cut-off line; if you don’t have a ticket for the seats beyond that point, you can’t go there, even during batting practice. Matt and I had tickets in the 3rd row behind the 3rd base dugout, and yet we weren’t allowed anywhere near the 1st base dugout. It’s such a bad policy — so thoroughly asinine and misguided and anti-fan — but what could I do? I had to stay there and SHOUT REALLY LOUD to get Terry Pendleton’s attention. He was standing all the way over near the home-plate end of the dugout. I didn’t think he’d even look up, but to my surprise, he finally turned and threw a ball all the way to me. (Take THAT, stadium security!!)
I headed over to the left field foul line when the Reds started throwing…
…and didn’t get a single ball there. What’s up with that? I was decked out in Reds gear and still got ignored by all the players. Good thing there were a few batters hitting bombs to left-center field — and get this, they were left-handed. Although I’m not sure who was in the cage, I’m pretty certain it was Joey Votto and Jay Bruce. (Maybe Laynce Nix, too?) My eighth and ninth balls of the day were homers that landed in the seats. Here I am scrambling for one of them:
This was my view straight ahead:
See that kid in the front row with the arrow pointing to him? He was standing there because I told him to. Two minutes earlier, he had asked me a for a ball, and I said, “Don’t ask ME. Ask the players. Stand in the front row, and when a ball rolls near you, ask them politely for it.”
This was the view to my right:
See the man with the arrow pointing to him? He overheard my exchange with the kid and asked me, “How many balls do you have?”
He seemed friendly — I’m usually pretty good at determining when someone is asking me just for the purpose of starting an argument — so I told him.
“Nine?!” he asked. “Do you think that’s fair?!”
“Well,” I said calmly, “considering that I give away a lot of balls to kids and also do this to raise money for charity, yeah, actually I do think it’s fair.”
The guy was speechless. He just nodded and walked back over to his spot…however…when I caught my 10th ball of the day less than a minute later — another homer by one of the Reds’ lefties — he was not too happy about it.
The kid in the front row turned around and started begging me all over again for a ball. I pointed at the field and told him, “You should be focusing on the players, not on me.” And guess what happened soon after? Arthur Rhodes tossed a ball to the kid, who was so excited that he ran back and showed me.
“Now see?” I asked. “Wasn’t that better than getting a ball from me?”
“YES!!!” he shouted with a huge smile on his face.
I looked over at the man who’d been giving me a hard time, and I shrugged. He was still stewing. And then, five minutes later, I used my glove trick to snag a ball from the gap and gave that one away to another kid. I don’t even think the man saw that, and I don’t care.
That was my 11th ball of the day, and batting practice was almost done, so I ran (gingerly) to the 3rd base dugout. None of the players or coaches gave me a ball, but some random equipment-manager-type-guy was dumping all the balls from the bucket into a zippered bag. I got his attention and convinced him to toss one to me, and man, it was a beauty. Here are two different photos of it:
Not only was there a big/diagonal/striped/green mark on it, and not only was the word “practice” stamped in a bizarre spot, but the logo was stamped too low. See how the word “commissioner” overlaps the stitch holes? I once snagged a ball with the logo stamped too high, and I also once snagged one with the logo stamped crookedly, but these are just a few examples out of thousands of balls, so you can see how rare it is.
I wandered for a bit after BP…
…and made it back to the dugout just in time for the national anthem:
Is that an amazing sight or what? I’ve never seen groundskeepers keep the hose on their shoulders during the playing of the song.
Reds third base coach Mark Berry tossed me a ball after the second inning, and in the bottom of the third, I headed up the steps to meet a 13-year-old kid from Atlanta named Evan. He’d been reading this blog for years, but we’d never met in person, and now finally, for the first time, we were at the same game together. I was planning to head over to the tunnels behind the plate and play for foul balls, but because he and his dad met me in the cross-aisle behind the dugout, I lingered there for a couple minutes to chat. Well, as luck would have it, while were were all standing around, Brian McCann fouled off a pitch from Aaron Harang and sent the ball flying 20 feet to my left. I took off after it (what sprained ankle?) and watched helplessly as it landed in a staircase just behind me. Thankfully, there was no one there, and the ball didn’t take a crazy bounce. Instead, it trickled down into the aisle, where I was able to grab it. Ha-HAAAA!!! The whole thing never would’ve happened if not for Evan, so he gets the unofficial assist. Here we are together:
Evan has snagged approximately 300 balls. (He doesn’t have an exact count, but he owns 295 and has given a few away.) That’s an impressive number at any age, let alone 13. When I turned 13, I had a lifetime total of four baseballs. He and I hung out after that, first behind the plate, then with Matt behind the dugout, but there were no more balls to be snagged.
The game itself was very entertaining. Braves starter Kenshin Kawakami, who began the night with an 0-6 record and a 5.79 ERA, pitched six scoreless innings and left with a 4-0 lead. Unfortunately for him, his countryman, Takashi Saito, gave up three runs in the top of the eighth, and then Billy Wagner surrendered a solo shot in the ninth to pinch hitter Chris Heisey. With the score tied, 4-4, in the the bottom of the ninth, Martin Prado hit a two-out single, and Jason Heyward plated him with a line-drive double into the right-field corner.
Game over. Final score: Braves 5, Reds 4.
Heyward finished 3-for-5 with two doubles, a triple, and two runs scored. This guy is the real deal. He has unbelievably quick bat speed and a beautiful swing. He’s 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds, and he’s 20 years old! He has blazing speed, too, and he seems pretty solid in the field. I won’t pronounce him a future Hall of Famer just yet, but I’d be shocked if he doesn’t end up having a very good/long major league career. Wagner, by the way, two months shy of his 39th birthday, was consistently hitting 98mph on the gun. (I’ve never felt so athletically inadequate, but damn, these guys were fun to watch.)
After the game, I said goodbye to Evan (who got the lineup cards), then met a guy named Glenn Dunlap (who runs a company called Big League Tours), and caught up with another friend named Matt (who you might remember from 5/17/10 at Turner Field).
On my way out of the stadium, I took a photo of the empty seats…
…and walked past the Braves Museum and Hall of Fame…
…which was now closed.
I’m not a museum person anyway. (I’m more of a doer than a looker.)
Five minutes later, this is what I was doing just outside Turner Field:
No, I wasn’t bowing down to my baseballs as part of a religious ritual; I had my camera in my hands, and I was trying to angle it just right in order to take one last photo. Keep reading past the stats to see how it turned out…
• 14 balls at this game (12 pictured below because I gave two away)
• 150 balls in 14 games this season = 10.7 balls per game.
• 643 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 194 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 138 lifetime game balls (125 foul balls, 12 home runs, and one ground-rule double; this does NOT include game-used balls that get tossed into the crowd)
• 126 lifetime games with at least 10 balls
• 60 lifetime games outside of New York with at least 10 balls
• 4,508 total balls
• 34 donors (click here and scroll down to see the complete list)
• $5.20 pledged per ball (if you add up all 34 pledges)
• $72.80 raised at this game
• $780.00 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
Bye, Turner Field. Thanks for being so awesome. I’m gonna miss you…
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
The last time I’d attended a game in Anaheim, the home team was known as the “California Angels” and the No. 1 song in America was “Waterfalls” by TLC.
Yeah, it was good to be back…
I made the trip from San Diego with my friend Brandon and his friend Sean. We arrived half an hour before the parking lot opened, so they offered to deal with the car while I walked in and wandered around the stadium with my camera. In the four-part pic below, starting on the top left and going clockwise, you can see a) the entrance to the parking lot, b) what it looked like as I started walking toward the stadium, c) the home plate gate from afar, and d) the rich vegetation on the way to right field:
Here’s another four-part pic which shows a) the right field gate, b) a peek through the gate, c) the Angels’ offices, and d) something random and weird that was connected to one side of the stadium.
When I made it back to the home plate gate, Brandon (wearing the shades) and Sean were there…
…and for the record, Brandon’s only an inch taller than me. It’s just the angle. But anyway, we were among the first fans to get on line (or “in line” as they preferred), and there was a pretty decent crowd by the time the stadium opened:
Thankfully, most of the fans went to the Angels’ side (on the 3rd base side) while others hung out near the foul poles. I bolted to the seats in straight-away right field and got off to a good start. In the four-part pic below, I’m a) trying to avoid the guy wearing the white shirt because he clearly knew what he was doing, b) enjoying the fact that I still pretty much had the section to myself, c) holding up my first ball of the day–a home run by Mark Teixeira that landed in the seats–while wearing a ridiculous-and-yet-somehow-almost-cool pair of MySpace sunglasses that Brandon had given to me and d) about to catch my second ball, which was thrown by Joe Saunders. (Brandon, by the way, works as a videographer for both MySpace and the Red Jumpsuit Apparatus. Someday he’s gonna make a video of me snagging baseballs, but for now it’s all about the still photography.)
Here are four more pics in which I’m a) changing into my Rangers costume, b) jumping and catching a ball thrown by Josh Hamilton, c) climbing over seats in an unsuccessful attempt to snag a tape-measure blast, and d) using two hands (because I thought I was about to get jostled by the fans behind me) in preparation for a home run that I ended up catching on the fly. I have no idea who hit it.
That home run was actually my sixth ball of the day. My fourth was tossed by Kameron Loe (after a rude fan tried to prevent him from giving it to me by saying that I’d just been wearing an Angels hat), and the fifth was a home run that was dropped by a gloveless man and rolled down a couple steps right to me.
Brandon and Sean had both brought their gloves, but Sean didn’t snag a thing. Any guesses why?
Brandon, meanwhile, managed to catch a home run that sailed 10 feet over my head, and he made quite a nice play on it. The ball was sinking fast as it approached him so he gracefully reached over a row of seats and made a knee-high, back-handed grab–all this while holding his fancy camera in his right hand. Here he is with the ball:
My seventh ball of the day was thrown by Joaquin Benoit. It fell a bit short of the front row, and I nearly bobbled it back onto the field when several other fans (rightfully) tried to reach in front of me and snatch it.
This brings us to the dreaded eight-ball.
I was standing about a dozen rows back when a left-handed batter tattooed a ball over my head. It landed in an empty row and skipped up high in the air back toward me. At first I thought I was going to have an easy catch, but then as the ball continued its mini-arc in my direction, I realized it was drifting a little too far toward the field. I turned sideways so that my glove hand was closer to the field. (My back was now facing the RF foul pole.) The ball was sailing back over my head, but still appeared to be staying within my reach, so I braced myself and began leaning out for it. I reached farther…and farther…and the ball was coming closer…just a little bit farther…I knew I could reach it…and as I reached out an extra few inches at the last second and made the catch, I lost my balance and toppled over sideways onto the row of seats below.
I held onto the ball–that’s the good news–but unfortunately I slammed the left side of my rib cage against an armrest. My whole left side was instantly throbbing after that, and as soon as I was helped up, a pair of ushers rushed down the steps and asked if I was okay.
“I’ll be okay,” I said, fully aware that I’d be feeling the pain for days, if not weeks.
“Do you want some ice?” one of them asked.
“I’d need a whole body suit of ice,” I said, and since there were still more balls to be snagged, I declined their offer to take me to the first-aid room.
I was in serious pain, though. It hurt when I breathed. It hurt when I sat down. It hurt when I ran. And it killed when I laughed. It still hurts. A lot. Even right now, five days after the fact, as I’m sitting here writing this, it still hurts. Worse than ever. I feel it every time I take a breath. I feel it every time I move…or don’t move. It’s bad. I don’t know how to describe the pain other than saying it’s like I have the most intense cramp of my life. It sucks. And it was all my fault. But hey, maybe it was worth it because the ball, I later discovered, was the 1,000th I’d ever snagged outside of New York City.
As batting practice was coming to a close, I ran (ouch) to the the Rangers’ dugout and got a ball tossed to me by “special assignment coach” Johnny Narron. (Apparently transferring the BP balls from the basket to the bag is a special assignment.) Little did I know that Brandon had followed me and was taking photos from the concourse. Here I am getting the ball…
…and here I am wincing in pain as I headed up the steps:
In the photo above, the guy on my right wearing the black pants and blue shirt is an expert autograph collector named Sammy Wu (who you might remember from 8/6/08 at Shea Stadium). Check out the autograph he’d gotten earlier in the day:
I also got an autograph, but it wasn’t THAT impressive. Milton Bradley signed my ticket. Here it is:
I desperately wanted to reach double digits. I was one ball away, and I got my chance when Brandon Boggs and Chris Davis started playing catch in very shallow right field:
Davis ended up with the ball, tucked it into his glove, and walked over to a small group of women in the front row about 50 feet toward the foul pole. I kept pace with him by walking through the seats, and we both arrived at the same time.
“Chris,” I said almost apologetically, “is there any chance that you could possible spare that ball? Please?”
He looked up and gave a subtle nod, so I stood and waited while he signed a few autographs and posed for a photograph with his female fans. He finished 30 seconds later, took a few steps away from the wall, and flipped me the ball. SWEET!!! Double digits for the third game in a row! I celebrated by giving away one of my BP balls to a nearby kid.
I knew I wasn’t going to snag too many more after that. This was my only game in Los Angeles of Anaheim, so I was prepared to sacrifice a few innings (and therefore a few potential balls) in order to wander all over the stadium and take photos. I wanted to be in the upper deck before it got dark. That was a must. But since the game started at 6:05pm (an hour earlier than usual), I had an inning to spare and spent it in the seats behind the Rangers’ dugout. Hank Blalock was playing first base. I’d always liked him. I was glad to have a chance to get to add him to my list, and it seemed like I was in the perfect spot to get a third-out ball from him as he came off the field. This was my view:
Mark Teixeira ended the first inning by flying out to left fielder Marlon Byrd, who jogged in and tossed the ball one section to my right.
I called Brandon. He and Sean were sitting in their assigned seats (who DOES that?) along the right field foul line. Brandon wanted to wander with me. Sean wanted to sit and watch the game. I told Brandon I was going to stay behind the dugout for one more inning, and that no matter what happened I’d head over and find him after that.
Vladimir Guerrero led off the bottom of the second with a groundout to first base, and Torii Hunter followed with a single through the left side of the infield. Juan Rivera came up next and bounced into a 1-6-4-3 double play; pitcher Scott Feldman deflected the ball to shortstop Michael Young who flipped it to Ramon Vazquez who stepped on second and fired the ball to Blalock. Before Blalock even caught the ball, I was crouching at the bottom of the stairs. As he jogged off the field, I stood up and started shouting, and since it was still early in the game, I had no competition. Blalock had no choice but to throw the ball to me, and I reached out for the easy catch.
I met up with Brandon, took a few notes on a piece of scrap paper about how I snagged that ball, and then labeled the ball itself:
Finally, the in-game wandering and photo-taking was underway.
In the four-part pic below, you can see a) an usher guarding the tunnel that leads from the lowest concourse to the field level seats, b) the upper deck concourse, c) the view from the corner of the upper deck in right field, and d) the right field seats and “Budweiser Patio.”
Before we headed toward home plate, Brandon made me pose for a photo:
Then he got a real action shot–of me hitting a beach ball:
Brandon and I headed to the left field corner of the upper deck…
…and the wandering continued. In the four-part pic below, you’re looking at a) the field from the corner of the upper deck, b) the view from the ramps as we headed down to the field level, c) the same view as the first pic except from the field level, and d) the horribly-positioned bullpens:
The bullpens are horribly positioned in terms of snagging (because they waste home run real estate in straight-away left field) but they’re great in terms of spying on the players. There are a few rows of seats that wrap around the center-field end of the visitors’ bullpen. I went down there, and this is what I saw:
See the player sitting on the right? That’s Frank Francisco. Can you tell what he was doing? He was entertaining himself (and annoying the fans) by flicking pumpkin seeds over the fence and into the stands. When he finally saw me taking pictures, he flicked a whole bunch at me (one at a time), including two which I ate after they made it through the fence. Soooo funny. I even got to chat with him a little bit.
Then, realizing it was the sixth inning and that the Angels were winning, 4-3, I made my way toward the seats behind their dugout. That’s when Brandon peeled off and caught up with Sean so I was on my own as I a) walked behind the rock form-A-tion in center field, b) passed through the bar in deep right-center, c) snuck a quick peek at the seats behind first base, and d) headed through a desolate concourse toward the first-aid room.
I was in serious pain, so I got some ice and Ibuprofen and was, for the time being, back in business.
I met up with Sammy behind the dugout, and we watched as Francisco Rodriguez mowed down the Rangers for his 53rd save.
• 11 balls at this game
• 396 balls in 53 games this season = 7.5 balls per game.
• 549 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 135 consecutive games outside NYC with at least one ball
• 88 lifetime games with at least 10 balls
• 33 lifetime games outside NYC with at least 10 balls
• 19 different stadiums with at least one game with 10 or more balls
• 5 lifetime trips to the First Aid room
• 3,673 total balls