Tagged: jona

9/14/09 at Camden Yards

I spent my birthday with one of my favorite people in one of my favorite places: with my girlfriend Jona at Camden Yards. The weather was perfect. The tickets were cheap. The crowd was small. I just knew it was going to be a great day.

When the stadium opened for batting practice at 5pm, I raced out to the left field seats, and by the time Jona made it out there with my camera several minutes later, I had already snagged two baseballs. I found the first one sitting in the second row all the way out near the bullpen in left-center field, and Chris Waters threw me the second.

Jona took the following photo as she approached the left field seats. I’m the guy wearing the black t-shirt and tan shorts:

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Moments later, Chad Moeller ripped a deep line drive in my direction. I could tell right away that it had the potential to reach the seats, but I knew that it wasn’t going to reach my spot in the 7th row, so I scooted down the steps, and as the ball approached, I braced myself against the wall at the bottom. The red arrow in the following photo is pointing at the ball:

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I made the easy one-handed catch.

There was lots of room to run in the seats, and I took full advantage:

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Jona took a great sequence of photos as I ran for my fourth ball of the day. I’m not sure who hit it. All I know is that it was a righty on the Orioles, but anyway, the ball was launched half a section to my right, and from the moment it left the bat, I could tell that it was going to land well past the row where I was standing. I immediately turned around (so that my back was facing the field) and raced up the steps:

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Take a look at the other fan (wearing the striped shirt) in the photo above. Do you notice where he’s looking? He’s keeping his eye on the ball. Do you notice where I’m looking? I’m NOT looking at the ball. The following photo shows more of this:

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While the other guy was frozen in place, trapped by the railing and trying to figure out where the ball was going to land, I was focusing on my path to spot where I had already predicted it was going to land. That way I was able to reach the spot as quickly as possible.

Take a look at the guy in the next photo. He’s still looking at the ball, and I’m already cutting through the seats several rows behind him:

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The ball ended up landing in the empty row directly behind me as I kept running through the seats…

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…and I was able to snag it before the other fans got there. That one felt good because I’d done everything right and then got lucky when the ball didn’t ricochet away from me.

Moments later, another Orioles righty hit a home run that was heading toward the first few rows all the way out in left-center. I was more than a dozen rows back at that point, and I was three sections away, but I raced to my left anyway. There were several guys playing shallow in left-center. If the ball had stayed where it landed, they would’ve been all over it, but it ended up taking an unlucky bounce for them…which turned into the luckiest bounce ever for me. The ball hit the railing just inside the fence that separates the seats from the bullpens, and then it ricocheted all the way back into my row. The other guys started running up the steps and climbing over seats, but I was already closing in on it, and I snagged the ball well before they got there. That was my 5th ball of the day, and then I made a leaping catch for a line-drive homer in straight-away left field. In the following photo, I’m *just* about to squeeze my glove around it:

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The snagging gods were clearly helping me celebrate my birthday. Two minutes later, as I was walking back to my normal spot through an empty row in left-center, I heard everyone yell, “Heads up!!!” and before I knew it, I heard a ball smack a seat right near me. I never saw it coming, but when I looked down, the ball was sitting at my feet. This was my reaction after picking it up:

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(The shirt I’m wearing was a birthday present from Jona. Jona’s birthday was the day before mine, and I’ll be blogging about it soon.)

My 8th ball of the day was another line-drive homer. No clue who hit it. I ran to my right as the ball was approaching, and as the fans just in front of me reached up for it, I pulled back (so that if they deflected it, it wouldn’t smack me in the face) and ended up making a very tentative back-handed catch as the ball sailed six inches over all their gloves. Then I ran to my left and caught a ground-rule double (hit by a lefty) that bounced high off the rubberized warning track into the second row. I got whacked in the face by some other guy’s glove as I made the catch. He apologized. It was all good.

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The Rays took the field, and I looked for Dan Wheeler. I hadn’t seen him all year, but I figured he’d still remember me, so when he walked out to left field, I shouted, “Is that my friend Dan Wheeler?!”

He looked up and said, “Hey, Zack!”

Very cool.

Then he asked me where my Rays cap was.

“Hang on,” I said. “I’m about to change into my Rays gear, but don’t tell your teammates. This needs to be our little secret, okay?”

“Okay,” he said with a smile on his face.

Then I ducked down so that I was blocked by the wall in the front row and put on my Rays cap and Rays shirt:

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Then Wheeler came over and talked to me. He asked me how I’d been and what was up. I told him about the new book I’m working on and explained how I’m now snagging baseballs to raise money for charity. I gave him one of my contact cards, and we talked for a few minutes:

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In the photo above, do you see the ball I’m holding? While we were talking, one of the Rays batters hit a deep line drive that bounced right to Wheeler. He grabbed it and said, “Here you go,” and tossed it to me in one motion.

“Thanks so much,” I said, “but you know you didn’t need to do that.”

“I know,” he said, “but I have to give you a ball every time I see you.”

“Well, I’ll be here tomorrow,” I said, “but one ball per series is enough.”

Then a couple homers were hit deep into the seats and Wheeler told me, “You better get back to work.”

I thanked him again and headed off to add to my total.

Now…if you look back at the photo of me talking to Wheeler, you can see that at the back of the left field seats, there’s a concrete wall with even more seats above it. Well…a home run ball ended up bouncing over that wall into the seats up above, and there was an all-out sprint between me and one other guy for it. We both got there at the same time, but then neither of us could find the ball. I scanned the seats like a madman, hoping to spot it, and then I saw it, tucked underneath a seat, and I pounced on it. I didn’t notice until 30 seconds later (when there was a brief lull in the action) that the ball had a huge gash on it. Check it out:

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I’ve snagged two other “gash balls” in the past. Here’s one, and here’s the other.

I got Grant Balfour to toss me my 12th ball of the day, and then I raced out to right-center field and used my glove trick to snag a home run ball that had landed in the gap:

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While I was out there, I got Dioner Navarro to throw me a ball that rolled to the wall in center field. He threw it with curveball spin, and the sun was right in my eyes, but I stuck with it and made the catch. Then, back in left field, Wheeler tossed a ball to some fans who ALL went for it and somehow managed to bobble it back right into my row. It was incredible, and I was able to race to my left and grab it. Wheeler then got another ball and tossed it to the clumsy fans, so everyone was happy. Then I moved way back for a couple of power hitters, and while I was back there, I got Russ Springer to throw me a ball over everyone’s heads down in front. And finally, with just a couple minutes remaining in BP, I caught another home run on the fly.

WOW.

I raced over to the Rays’ dugout just before all the players and coaches cleared the field. Bullpen coach Bobby Ramos threw me my 18th ball of the day. In the following photo, the vertical arrow is pointing at Ramos, and the horizontal arrow is pointing at the ball:

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I *needed* to snag two more balls and reach 20 for the day. I’d already broken my Camden Yards record (17 balls on 9/6/05), but I simply HAD to keep adding to it.

I moved around to the home plate side of the dugout and waved my glove at George Hendrick, the Rays’ first base coach. The arrow in the following photo is pointing to him:

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I didn’t know if he even had a ball, but I figured it wouldn’t hurt to ask. Maybe there was a ball sitting around in the dugout and he could grab it for me? Well, to my surprise/delight, Hendrick HAD a ball and under-handed it to me. Here’s the ball in mid-air…

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…and here it is streaking into my glove:

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Ten seconds later, it occurred to me that this was my 4,257th ball…which meant that I had just passed Pete Rose on the all-time hits list! For those who don’t know, I’ve been comparing my ball total to the all-time hits totals since 2005, so this was a big deal (on a random personal level). I had actually brought a Reds cap with me on this two-day trip to Baltimore. I thought it’d be cool to honor Rose by wearing the cap at the time that I passed him, but the cap was in my hotel. Camden Yards is great for snagging, but I didn’t think it was gonna be THIS great. I figured I’d snag 19 balls in two days combined (assuming there was no rain), but 19 in one day?!

Here I am with Ball No. 4,257:

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Here are the two balls that tied me with Rose and then moved me past him:

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Once all the players and coaches were gone, I took the following photo…

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…and then gave two of the balls away to little kids with gloves who were just entering the stadium with their dads. Naturally, they were all thrilled, and I told the kids that even though they now had baseballs, I wanted them to keep wearing their gloves during the game and try to catch a foul ball. They said they would.

Right before the game started, I went back down to the Rays’ dugout to make an attempt at snagging my 20th ball of the day. Evan Longoria and Reid Brignac came out and started throwing. Longoria was on the home-plate end of the dugout, so I positioned myself near him. Usually, the more experienced player ends up with the ball, but in this case, Brignac was the one who took the ball back toward the dugout. He was 30 feet to my left, and there were a couple other fans standing just on MY left. It wasn’t looking good, but at least the other fans were grown men who did not have baseball gloves. “REID!!!” I shouted, prompting him to look up. I
reid_brignac_2009.jpgwaved my glove and made sure he could see my Rays gear, and then he threw the ball toward me. I nearly had a panic attack because the ball was heading too close to the other fans. I was sure they were going to reach out and rob me, which would have been their right, but they kept their hands at their sides and allowed me to catch it. I asked the guy right next to me why he didn’t go for it. He said that I had been the one to call out for it, and I was the one wearing a glove, so I was the one who deserved it. (I might have to move to Baltimore.) And just like that, I had snagged 20 balls at a single game for just the fifth time in my life.

That’s when my luck ran out. I had several close calls on foul balls during the game, and I also came within 10 feet of snagging Brignac’s 1st major league home run. But everything either went over my head or took an unfortunate ricochet or settled in the hands of a nearby fan. It was very frustrating, but obviously I wasn’t about to start complaining. One happy thought that popped into my head was that I had raised more than $500 for charity at this game alone!

While I was running all over the stadium, Jona split her time between sitting in one place and following me around…and when she DID follow me, she was kind enough to carry my very heavy backpack:

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Don’t let Jona’s expression fool you. On the inside she was thrilled — just thrilled!! — to be carrying my bag.

The stadium, meanwhile, was like a ghost town. Excluding all the rain delays and blowouts that I’ve attended, I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many empty seats:

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It was tempting to go for third-out balls because that would’ve likely helped me pile up the numbers, but I resisted the urge and stuck to my standard Camden game plan. As a result of that plan combined with several bouts of bad luck, I was still stuck on 20 balls when the game ended.

Final score, by the way: Rays 8, Orioles 4. Brignac went 4-for-4 with a homer, two doubles, and three RBIs.

As soon as the final outs (double play) were recorded, I bolted down the steps behind home plate and positioned myself next to the tunnel where the umpires exit. Dale Scott, the home plate ump, handed balls to the few little kids near me and then placed one final ball in my open glove. Then I zig-zagged through the exiting crowd and worked my way into the front row behind the Rays’ dugout. After the first wave of players and coaches left the field, the guys from the bullpen walked in. I shouted at everyone for a ball (and said “happy birthday” to Chad Bradford, who was also born on September 14th), but the only person who even acknowledged my requests was Bobby Ramos. I had taken off my cap before asking him for a ball so he wouldn’t recognize me, and it seemed to work. He didn’t have any baseballs on him, but I saw him get someone’s attention in the dugout. That person tossed Ramos three balls. Ramos then threw the first one to me and gave the other balls to kids.

Jona and I got a photo together on our way out. The ball I’m holding is my 22nd of the day:

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Happy birthday to ME.

SNAGGING STATS:

24_the_twenty_i_kept.jpg• 22 balls at this game (20 pictured here because I gave two away)

• 440 balls in 51 games this season = 8.63 balls per game.

• 620 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 116 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

• 5 lifetime games with at least 20 balls

• 4,260 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $25.26 pledged per ball

• $555.72 raised at this game

• $11,114.40 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

One last thing…

People often ask me how I remember the details of each ball, especially when I snag so many balls in one game. It’s easy: I take notes. Nothing fancy. Just a few words for each ball to trigger my memory later on. Usually I write the notes on the back of my rosters. That’s what I did at this game. Check it out:

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8/17/09 at Citi Field

Jona hadn’t yet been to Citi Field, so she came with me.

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(We’re such dorks.)

Right before the gates opened at 4:40pm, I explained where I planned to enter, which staircase I was going to run up, which direction I was going to turn, and where I was planning to go after that. It all made perfect sense to her, but then we got separated because a) security had to pat her down and b) I ended up running all over the place. Sometimes these things happen.

My first ball of the day was tossed by Mike Pelfrey in left field. Other than the fact that it was a brand new commemorative ball from the final season of Shea Stadium, there wasn’t anything special about it. I was the first one there, so he had no choice but to throw it to me. (I suppose he could’ve just ignored my polite request, but he’s too nice for that.)

Soon after, Jona got a photo of me running for my second ball of the day — a home run hit by Omir Santos that landed in the empty seats in left-center:

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The younger fan trailing behind me is named Alex. I met him once before at Citi Field. He has snagged quite a few balls and he writes a blog about it…and…just so you don’t feel bad for him, you should know that yesterday he beat me out for a loose ball on two separate occasions.

The Santos homer also had the Shea Stadium commemorative logo, but it was special for another reason: it was my 4,191st ball. That’s how many hits Ty Cobb collected in his career. Way back in July 2005, I half-jokingly started comparing my ball total to various players’ career hit totals. Here’s my original blog entry about it. I know it’s much-much-MUCH harder to get a hit in the major leagues than it is to snag a ball in the stands. Like I said, it was mainly a joke. It was just a way for me to have even more fun with numbers and stats and to give myself something tangible to shoot for. At the time, I had a grand total of 2,548 balls, which put me in 76th place on the hits list between George Van Haltren (2,532) and Willie Davis (2,561). I’ve been creeping up the leaderboard ever since, taking aim at the game’s all-time greats, and getting more and more into the whole thing. Yesterday, after snagging the Santos homer, I was finally in a position to pass Ty Cobb and move into second place behind Pete Rose (4,256).

fernando_tatis.jpgEnter Fernando Tatis, the only player in major league history with two grand slams in one inning.

The seats were still fairly empty, so I had plenty of room to run when Tatis lofted a high, deep fly ball toward left-center field. It was heading about 20 or 30 feet to my left, so I bolted through my row, then kept drifting with the ball as it began to descend. I knew I was in the perfect spot — I knew it was going to come right to me — but I sensed that there was another fan moving toward me from the opposite direction who was going to 3_bye_bye_ty.jpgmake an attempt of his own. I wasn’t sure who it was. I was too focused on the ball, so I braced myself and leaned forward at the last second and reached up as high as I could to prevent the other fan from interfering. SMACK!!! The ball landed right in the pocket of my glove. I looked down to see who the other fan was…and it was Alex. Our gloves had bumped gently as we both reached up to make the catch. It played out as if we were infielders who failed to call each other off on a pop-up. In situations like that, it’s usually the taller guy who ends up making the catch. That was the case here, and although it came at Alex’s expense, I was still really happy to have achieved a personal milestone.

The Tatis home run?
Another Shea Stadium commemorative ball.

Moments later, Tatis smoked a deep line drive to my right — a full section to my right. I ran as fast as I could and reached the next staircase, and while I was still on the run, I reached down and across my body with my glove hand and made a back-handed catch over the row of seats in front of me. If I hadn’t caught that ball on the fly, I wouldn’t have gotten it because there were other fans standing nearby. That ball was also commemorative, and so was the next one. I used my glove trick to pluck it off the warning track in straight-away left field. Pelfrey walked over to retrieve the ball as I started lowering my glove, but he was nice enough to stand off to the side and let me get it. Once I started lifting the glove with the ball tucked inside, he moved closer and pretended to hit the glove to make the ball fall out, but like I said, he’s a good guy. He would never pull a Gustavo Chacin.

Here I am with the five balls I’d snagged…

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…but back to the glove trick for a moment. There were two funny things that happened while I was using it. First, when I was about to lower the glove onto the ball, a fan standing 10 feet to my left shouted in a thick New York accent, “Sorry, buddy, dat ain’t gonna work!” and then two seconds later when I started lifting the glove with the ball inside, the same guy said (almost as if it were part of the same sentence), “Okay, nevermind!” It was classic. Moments later, the fan on my right was focusing intently on what I was doing. “That’s just like that guy Zack Hample!” he said, to which I responded matter-of-factly, “I am Zack Hample.”

The Mets finished batting practice 15 minutes early. The field was empty. It was lame. The Giants came out and stretched. There was nothing for me to do except wander over to their dugout:

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I was wearing a white Giants T-shirt at that point, along with a standard black-and-orange Giants cap. It must’ve helped because a Giants ballboy ended up rolling a ball to me across the dugout roof. I ended up giving that ball away to a kid after the game.

Once the Giants started hitting, I ran back to the left field seats and contemplated my next move. Tim Lincecum was standing in left field, more than 100 feet from the outfield wall. I was slowly walking through the half-empty second row. He looked up in my general direction, and I tim_lincecum_2009.jpg
noticed that he was holding a ball, so I jumped up and down and waved my arms to get his attention. For some reason, he then threw the ball right to me…or maybe he wasn’t aiming for me. Who knows? The ball sailed 10 feet over my head and landed in the empty seats several rows behind me. Fans started racing over from both sides as I began climbing directly over the seats. I simply HAD to get that ball. I’d been dying to get one from Lincecum for two years, and this was finally my chance. I was so determined to snag it, and I chased after it so aggressively, that I banged the absolute crap out of my left knee. But…I’m happy to report that I ended up getting the ball, and of course I didn’t injure anyone in the process except myself. I watched Lincecum closely after that and was in awe of his gracefulness. The way he chased fly balls, and even the way he caught throws from the warning track and relayed them toward the bucket — it was a thing of beauty, and I’ll be rooting for him even more than before.

Eventually, after things had slowed way down for me, I moved to the front row, just to take a peek at the warning track in case there was a loose ball sitting there that I hadn’t seen. There were no balls, so I should’ve walked back up the steps and assumed my normal position. But it was so tempting to stay in the front row. The field looked so nice. But I knew it was stupid to stay there. The only way to catch a ball there would’ve been to catch a home run on the fly, and it would’ve had to be hit RIGHT to me because the front row was packed, and the stairs behind me were crowded. Well, wouldn’t you know it, Aaron Rowand ended up hitting a ball RIGHT to me. It would’ve hit me in the head if I hadn’t caught it. That’s how “right to me” it citi_field_sucks.jpgwas. Truly incredible. And then, three minutes later, I caught a home run hit by Juan Uribe in left-center. I was several rows back at that point, and no one else had even seen it coming because there was a man in the front row who was trying to reel in a ball with his cup trick. Everyone was crowding around him to see if it would work…and it did…but unfortunately for the guy (who had his young son with him), he struggled with it for a minute or two, which exposed him to Citi Field’s goons (aka security). There were so many security guards who descended upon our section, you’d’ve thought there was a bomb scare, and half of them easily weighed more than 300 pounds. The biggest, meanest-looking men in New York had deliberately been hired and then sent to intimidate this guy (and, consequently, to leave his young son in tears). It was completely uncalled for. Not only did they confiscate the man’s device, but they wouldn’t even give him a claim check for it, so in other words, he was not even allowed to retrieve it after the game. It was gone. Forever. Just like that. Without a warning. There’s not even any mention of ball-retrieving devices in Citi Field’s rules. Some stadiums allow fans to use such devices. Others don’t but at least have a policy. The Mets (in case it wasn’t already obvious) are doing everything wrong.

Anyway, toward the end of BP, I snagged one more home run ball that landed in the semi-crowded seats in left-center. That was my 10th ball of the day. My lifetime total, at that point, was 4,199. My next ball would bring another mini-milestone.

Alex and I both tried to get Pablo Sandoval to toss up a ball before the game…

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…but Sandoval chose to throw it to three gloveless college-aged women who weren’t even asking for it.

During the game, Jona and I not only sat in a great place to watch the action, but in a perfect spot for me to get a third-out ball. This was our view:

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There were no third-out balls to be had. The Giants players were tossing them every which way. Bengie Molina threw two third-out/strikeout balls toward some Giants’ family members who were sitting about 30 rows back. I’d never seen anything like that.

Jona and I invented our own little game-within-the-game involving the players’ head shots on the Jumbotron. We’d look at each photo and then try to come up with a hypothetical/humorous situation that would’ve prompted the facial expression. Luis Castillo, for example, had a photo in which he looked very serious — almost angry, in which he was glaring at the camera with piercing eyes. I decided that the reason he looked that way must’ve been as follows: He got fed up with all his teammates patting him on the butt whenever he did something good, so he asked them not to do it anymore. He requested high-fives and fist-bumps instead, but they kept touching his heinie, and then one day, after it happened yet again, he just snapped. “Who did that?!” he demanded to know (in Spanish, of course). “I will kill the man who did that!” And then his photo was taken.

Jona came up with a good scenario for the Giants’ starting pitcher, Joe Martinez:

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I didn’t have anything original for him and suggested something that had to do with flatulence. Jona, on the other hand, suggest that Martinez was in a bar and some random guy who didn’t recognize him insisted that he could throw a baseball faster than him. Brilliant.

The Mets lost the game, 10-1, and allowed 18 hits. They only had one extra-base hit of their own, a meaningless eighth-inning double by Daniel Murphy. Giants left fielder Eugenio (pronounced “ay-yoo-HAY-nee-oh”) Velez might be the fastest player in baseball. He hit a gapper to right-center and was sliding into third base before I could blink. I was really into the game and noticed the bold strategic move by Giants manager Bruce Bochy in the top of the sixth inning. The Giants were winning, 3-1, and had runners on 2nd and 3rd with one out. Martinez was on deck, so the Mets intentionally walked Edgar Renteria to get to him. Even though Martinez had only thrown 67 pitches, Bochy chose to pinch hit for him, hoping to put the game out of reach. Nate Schierholtz was called upon and responded by crushing a 380-foot line drive to right-center — a shot that would’ve been a grand slam in most ballparks, but at cavernous Citi Field, it was just a two-run double. Still, that gave the Giants a four-run lead, and then Velez plated Renteria with a sharp ground out to shortstop. It was beautiful baseball.

After the game, I squeezed into the front row behind the Giants’ dugout…

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…and unexcitingly got my 4,200nd lifetime ball tossed by this guy:

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Does anyone know who this is? Here’s a closer look at him…

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…and here’s a shot of me with the milestone ball:

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Yes, it was another Shea Stadium commemorative ball. I heard (although I didn’t see it) that someone snagged a 2008 World Series ball during the Mets’ portion of BP, and of course there are some Citi Field balls and 2008 Yankee Stadium balls floating around as well. So, if you can stand seeing the Mets play in an overrated/overpriced new stadium with unreasonably strict security guards, you might come out of it with a few special baseballs.

SNAGGING STATS:

13_the_ten_i_kept_08_17_09.jpg• 11 balls at this game (10 pictured here because I gave one away; the ball at the top is No. 4,200)

• 380 balls in 43 games this season = 8.84 balls per game.

• 612 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 346 consecutive Mets games with at least one ball

• 8 consecutive games at Citi Field with at least nine balls

• 114 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

• 4,200 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 118 donors (click here to learn more and make a pledge)

• $24.75 pledged per ball

• $272.25 raised at this game

• $9,405.00 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

7/17/09 at Yankee Stadium

When Yankee Stadium was getting ready to open yesterday at 4pm, there were at least 1,000 fans waiting to get in at Gate 6 alone. The fans (myself and Jona included) had formed mini-lines in front of the dozens of guards and doors. For some reason, however, only TWO of these doors were opened, causing 10 minutes’ worth of congestion while everyone was forced to head to that one spot from various directions. Look at this mess:

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I truly don’t understand it.

To make matters worse, I felt a few raindrops as soon as I forced my way inside, but thankfully the grounds crew left the batting cage in place. Batting practice hadn’t yet started so I headed toward the Yankees’ dugout, picked a spot behind that horrendous partition, got the attention of hitting coach Kevin Long, and got him to throw me a ball. Here I am reaching for it (with a red arrow pointing to the ball):

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I was hoping that the ball would have a commemorative logo…and it did…but it wasn’t the one I wanted.

Check it out:

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I’d already gotten a bunch of these Metrodome balls earlier in the season. (Here’s a better one.) What I really wanted was a ball with the new Yankee Stadium logo. I’d only snagged one of those all season (on May 21st) and it ended up getting water-stained because of a terrible mishap. Quite simply, I needed another.

Nevertheless, I was still glad to have the Metrodome ball because a) any commemorative ball is cool and b) it was my 300th ball of the season. Here I am posing with it:

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Finally, at around 4:25pm, the Yankees started taking BP. I headed to right field and briefly had the last few rows to myself:

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Five minutes later, the whole section was packed and I had to fight (not literally, although that wouldn’t be a stretch at Yankee Stadium) for both of the balls I caught out there. The first was a home run by Hideki Matsui with another Metrodome logo, and the second was a regular ball hit by Nick Swisher. Here I am catching one of the balls:

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The photo above might make it look like I’m trampling that poor woman, but that wasn’t the case at all. At Yankee Stadium, there’s a good amount of space between rows, so I was able to step carefully in front of her and reach up at the last second. She’s not flinching because of me; she’s flinching because she was scared of the ball and didn’t see it coming. Even though it wouldn’t have hit her, she thanked me on three separate occasions for saving her life. You 5b_zack_signing_ball.jpg
know whose life I *did* save? Jona’s. As you can kinda tell based on the photo above, she was sitting two rows directly behind the spot where I reached up.

After the catches, several fans recognized me and asked me to sign their baseballs and to pose in photos with them. I obliged their requests only when right-handed batters were in the cage.

I moved to left field when the Tigers started hitting, and it was nearly a total waste. The only ball I snagged during their entire portion of BP was a fungo that sailed over an outfielder’s head and landed in the third row. And, of course, since the Tigers are too cheap to use real major league balls, this is what I found myself holding:

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YUCK!!!

(In case you’re wondering, this ball counts in my collection because it was used by major league players in a major league stadium.)

Last season, at the Red Sox home opener, the Tigers were using Pacific Coast League balls. What kind of garbage balls will they be using next year?

At the end of BP, I noticed that there was a ball sitting in the corner of the left field bullpen:

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I’d been planning to take Jona for a scenic tour of the stadium, but once I saw that ball, I had to stay and wait until someone came and got it. While I was standing around, I saw a teenaged kid hurdling seats and running toward me.

“OH MY GOD!!!” he shouted. “ZACK HAMPLE!!! ZACK HAMPLE!!!!!!!!!!!

At first I thought he was making fun of me with sarcastic enthusiasm, but he turned out to be totally serious. He was just…excited to see me, apparently. His name is Jon Herbstman. (We’d met once before on 7/8/08 at Yankee Stadium.) Here we are:

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Fifteen minutes later, a groundskeeper wandered into the bullpen, and Jona got a real action shot of him handing me the ball:

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It was another International League ball, and yes, it counts. As long as another fan doesn’t give me a ball, it counts, and would you believe that that actually happened yesterday? One of the guys who’d been waiting for my autograph snagged a home run ball that I would’ve gotten had he not been standing there. He obviously felt guilty about getting in my way (it was my own stupid fault for having misjudged it) so he scooped it up and flung it to me in one motion.

“I don’t want this,” I said as I tossed it back to him, “but thanks.”

I’ve probably had 10 to 20 fans randomly try to give me balls over the years. I’ve never accepted a single one, although I now realize I should’ve taken them, NOT counted them in my collection, and used them for my own BP in Central Park.

Shortly before the game started, I got Adam Everett to toss his warm-up ball to me over the partition. (That was my sixth ball of the day.) The four-part photo below, starting on the top left and then going clockwise, shows how it all played out. The arrows in the final three photos are pointing to the ball in mid-air:

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This ball had the regular MLB logo.

My goal during the game was simple: Hang out behind the Tigers’ dugout and try to get a 3rd-out ball tossed to me over the partition. Having seen the Tigers for four games in April, I remembered that their first baseman, Miguel Cabrera, had a habit of tossing balls deep into the crowd. I felt good about my chances. All I needed was a third out to be a ground out.

It didn’t take long. With two outs in the bottom of the first, Tigers starter Lucas French induced Jorge Posada to roll one over to 3rd baseman Brandon Inge. I crept down the steps as Inge fired the ball to first base and waited for Cabrera to jog in.

He tossed me the ball!!!

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But it turned out to be a regular ball. GAH!!! Cabrera, as some first basemen have started doing, pulled a little switcheroo and threw me the infield warm-up ball.

It was a major letdown.

But at least the game itself was entertaining. The highlight was the 57-minute rain delay in the bottom of the eighth because it chased away 90 percent of the “fans.”

Here’s a photo I took during the delay when everyone was hiding under the overhangs and in the main part of the concourse:

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The way-too-narrow center field concourse was eerily quiet:

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I love having a stadium to myself, or at least feeling like I do, especially when that stadium is typically packed beyond belief.

I was in left field when A-Rod came up in the bottom of the 8th. If EVER there was a time when he should’ve hit a home run in my general vicinity, this was it. I had empty rows on both sides of me. No one else was wearing a glove. Blah blah. But of course he struck out to cap his 0-for-5 performance.

Mariano Rivera pitched the ninth:

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He allowed a one-out double to Placido Polanco, then retired the next two batters on two pitches. He’s so good. And classy. It pains me that he’s on the Yankees because I’m forced to root for them whenever he’s in the game.

Final score: Yankees 5, Tigers 3.

During the game, I had used Jona’s iPhone to look up the box score. I learned that Tim Tschida was the home plate umpire. After the final out, I moved one section to my left, to the approximate spot where he’d be exiting the field. I was still trapped behind the partition, so I shouted “MISTER TSCHIDA!!!” as loud as I possibly could. To my surprise, he actually looked up, at which point I took off my black, MLB umpires’ cap (thank you very much) and 13a_i_heart_tim_tschida.jpgwaved it at him. Was I going to be able to get him to pull one of the Yankee Stadium commemorative balls out of his pouch and chuck it to me over half a dozen rows of fans from more than 50 feet away? It seemed unlikely, but I went for it and continued shouting my request. While walking toward the exit, he pulled one out and under-handed it to me (!!!) but it drifted to the right, and I leaned way out over a side railing to try to make the back-handed catch, and I watched helplessly as it sailed less than a foot past my outstretched glove. NO!!! I looked back at the field, figuring he’d be gone, but he was still there…and he was watching! He had seen some other fan get the ball, so he pulled out another. At this point all the other fans realized what was going on, and they all crowded toward me, so I climbed up on a little concrete ledge just behind the partition and waved my arms. Tschida flung the second ball toward me. It was heading in the right direction, but it was sailing too high, so I waited until the last second and then jumped up off the ledge and made the catch and landed right in the middle of a big puddle in the drainage-challenged front row. Water splashed everywhere, mostly on me, and I was over-JOYED. I was holding a game-rubbed commemorative ball:

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As soon as I caught it, a little kid three rows back started chanting, “Give it to the kid! Give it to the kid.”

“I don’t think so,” I told him, then headed up the steps and handed one of my regular baseballs to a different kid who happened to be walking past with his dad (and with an empty glove on his left hand) at that exact moment.

SNAGGING STATS:

15_the_seven_i_kept_07_17_09.jpg• 8 balls at this game (7 pictured here because I gave one away)

• 4 different types of balls at this game (might be a world record)

• 307 balls in 35 games this season = 8.77 balls per game.

• 604 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 133 consecutive Yankee games with at least one ball

• 4 consecutive games at the new Yankee Stadium with at least four balls

• 4,127 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $24.59 pledged per ball

• $196.72 raised at this game

• $7,549.13 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

6/18/09 at Kauffman Stadium

Another day with Jona at my new favorite stadium…

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The weather was perfect–no complaints there–but I wanted to kick someone when I ran inside and saw this:

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The Royals weren’t taking batting practice, and they clearly weren’t in any rush to start:

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It really killed me. I pretty much had the whole stadium to myself, and I could feel my opportunities slipping away.

Finally at about 4:45pm–fifteen excruciating minutes after the gates had opened–the first batter stepped into the cage, and it didn’t take long before I got on the board. Kyle Farnsworth was shagging in right-center, and as soon as he fielded a ball, I shouted for it.

The following four-part photo (starting on the top left and going clockwise) shows what happened next. The three vertical arrows are pointing to the ball in mid-air:

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Yeah, that’s right. The damn thing sailed over my head, and since I was trapped against that railing in the middle of the walkway, I couldn’t move. If I’d been able to run to the back of the walkway, I probably would’ve been able to make a leaping catch, like an outfielder robbing a home run, but instead I could only watch the ball splash into the fountain.

No problem.

I whipped out my trusty water-retrieval-device…

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…and fished out the ball before it had a chance to sink. (The photo above is blurry because it’s a screen shot from a low-quality video. The video itself isn’t worth sharing because the ball was never in view. It floated right below me and hugged the concrete wall, and Jona wasn’t able to see it from her angle. The fan in the background is named Garrett. I wrote about him in my previous entry, and you’ll be hearing a lot more about him in this one. Also, FYI, the water is a bit murky, but since it’s only a few feet deep, you *can* see balls that sink to the bottom, but those balls seemed to be cleared out daily.)

I was in such a rush at this point to run over toward the bullpen and try to get Roman Colon to throw me another ball that I neglected to pose with the one I’d just snagged. Why is that a big deal? Because that first ball had extended my consecutive games streak to 600–a streak dating back to September 10, 1993, during which I’ve snagged at least one ball at every single game I’ve attended.

Oh well. I got caught up in the moment. What can I say? At least I got Colon to show me some love. Here’s a photo that shows the ball in mid-air:

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Perhaps I should’ve drawn a red arrow pointing to myself. In case it’s not clear, I’m standing just to the right of the fan in the red shirt.

It’s obvious why the Royals are struggling: their pitchers suck. Farnsworth had airmailed me and Colon’s throw fell three feet short. Luckily it traveled just far enough that I was able to reach over the railing and make a back-handed catch:

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I used the glove trick to snag my third ball of the day off the warning track in left field. Yeah, security had told me twice the previous day not to do it anymore, but this was a brand new day. Maybe the rules had changed overnight, and even if they hadn’t, I didn’t have anything to lose. This was my last game at Kauffman Stadium. I was done with all my TV interviews. I was going to be flying back home to New York City the next day. If I got ejected, so be it.

In the following photo, you can see me going for the ball. The vertical arrow on the left is pointing to a man who was leaning over the wall to see the balls below because he, too, had a device. The other arrow is pointing to the kid who caught that random ball flying through the air:

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Even while I was doing my thing, there were still lots of other balls to go around. Keep that in mind as you continue reading. I don’t want you to think that my snagging prevented other people from getting balls. That wasn’t the case at all. I missed out on countless balls because they were tossed to kids, and that’s how it should be.

Coco Crisp hooked me up with my fourth ball of the day in left-center field, and then I used the glove trick to pull two balls out of the gap behind the center field wall. Here’s a close-up photo of the first ball in my glove…

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…and here’s a shot of the second one, taken by Jona from the other end of the gap:

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Both of those balls were BP homers by Billy Butler, but whatever. Do you see all the other balls that were sitting down in that gap? GAHHH!!! It was maddening to see them and not be able to reach them. The photo above doesn’t even show all the balls that were down there. There were like…twice as many. It was insane. They’d been there for two days, and I’d asked several different ushers about them.

How often do the balls get cleared out?
Who actually goes and retrieves them?
What would happen if I jumped down in there?

No one had a definitive answer. One usher said that the groundskeepers probably retrieve the balls, but he wasn’t sure. It was strange, and it had me thinking, although I didn’t really know what to think. There was still one more ball down in there that I could reach with my glove trick, so I started going for it, and that’s when security shut me down. The guard didn’t threaten me or confiscate my glove or eject me. He simply made a polite request that I stop. He even apologized and insisted that the order had come from his supervisor. How could I argue with that? It was frustrating, of course, but at least I’d gotten to use the trick three times on this final day.

As I began untangling the string, the kid standing next to me inspected my glove…

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…and then asked me for a ball. That annoyed me. First of all, he didn’t even have a glove (which indicated that he wasn’t serious about snagging), and secondly, as a general rule, I never give balls to people who ask. The way I see it, other fans should focus on getting balls from the players and not from…other fans, especially during BP when there are tons of opportunities. Therefore, I politely told the kid that I was not going to give him a ball. Instead I gave him a few pointers to help him snag one on his own, and wouldn’t you know it, less than two minutes later he grabbed a home run ball that landed near him in the seats. I congratulated him and then saw him snag FOUR more balls after that!

Once the Diamondbacks started hitting, I changed into my red D’backs shirt and got Eric Byrnes to toss me my seventh ball of the day in center field. In the following photo, you can see the ball in mid-air against the dark green batter’s eye:

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A minute after I got the ball from Byrnes, I saw Tom Gordon walking toward a couple balls on the warning track in right field, so I sprinted around behind the batter’s eye and hurried down to the lower level of the Pepsi Party Porch, and I got him to toss one of the balls to me. Then, back in left field, a home run landed in the fountain. It was time once again for the water device. The four-part photo below shows me getting it ready and swinging it out…

…and here I am reeling it in:

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That gave me nine balls on the day, and it didn’t take long for me to reach double digits. Some righty on the D’backs (no idea who) launched a deep line drive toward the seats in left-center. 13a_ledge_that_ball4077_bounced_on.jpgI
bolted through the empty walkway behind the four rows of seats and watched the ball take a series of unlikely bounces. It’s hard to describe exactly what happened so I took a photo later on (which you can see here on the right) to help illustrate this story. Do you see the concrete ridge that extends perpendicular from behind the walkway into the fountain? Somehow, this home run ball ricocheted out of the seats, landed on the ridge (which is only about a foot wide), caromed off the back wall of the fountain, landed back on the ridge, took a couple small bounces, and squeezed back through the railing into the walkway. It wouldn’t have mattered if the ball had fallen into the water because I still would’ve snagged it. In fact, I was kind of disappointed that I didn’t get to use the water device, but it’s probably just as well that the ball stayed dry. Anyway, yeah, crazy bounces, and I grabbed it.

It was a challenge to keep up with my notes…

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…but I had to find moments here and there to keep a list of how I was snagging all my baseballs. Otherwise, I never would’ve remembered. (In the photo above, the guy wearing the long black pants is the one who gave me a hard time about the glove trick the day before. Watch out for him if you plan on using a device at Kauffman Stadium.)

About 10 minutes later, I caught two homers on the fly in the walkway behind the “102” sign in straight-away left field. I’m not sure who hit the first one, but I know that Byrnes hit the second. I caught them back-to-back within a 30-second span, and it had the whole section buzzing, but really there was nothing to it. Both balls came RIGHT to me, and okay, the seats were a bit crowded by that point, but so what? It really doesn’t get any easier than that.

14a_clay_zavada.jpgAt the end of my previous entry, I mentioned that I saw Diamondbacks pitcher Clay Zavada in Denny’s after the game. Remember? Well, I’d been hoping to get a ball from him for three reasons. First, his last name begins with a zee, which we all know is the best letter. Second, he has an awesome moustache. And third, after reading that New York Times article about him, I became an instant fan. The only trouble is, he’s not the most outgoing person. Over the previous two days, my few ball requests directed his way went ignored, but on this third day, I had an angle. I waited until he was about to pick up a ball in left field, then raced down to the front row and yelled, “Clay!! I saw you in Denny’s last night but didn’t want to bother you!! Any chance you could hook me up with a ball, please?!”

He ignored me, so I waited for him to chase down another ball and then I shouted something similar. It worked. He turned right around and spotted me and flipped it up, and let me tell you, it felt great to have gotten inside his head for a moment.

Toward the end of BP, I had another noteworthy interaction with a Diamondbacks pitcher. This time it was Esmerling Vasquez. At one point, a bit earlier in the day, I’d asked him for a ball in Spanish. He turned around and smiled but didn’t throw me the ball, so I responded with a crude but common curse in Spanish. As soon as he heard that, he whirled back around and looked at me and dropped his jaw in an exaggerated manner as if to say, “I can’t believe you just said that, and I hope you’re joking.” I immediately smiled and made a gesture to indicate that I was only messing around, and he seemed to appreciate my playful attitude. Later on, when 15_esmerling_vasquez.jpgthe D’backs were close to wrapping up BP, Vasquez jogged over to the warning track in left-center to retrieve a ball. I walked down the steps and got his attention and asked him for it in English.

“In Spanish,” he said so softly that I had to make sure I understood.

“You want me to ask you for the ball in Spanish?”

He nodded, so I made a dramatic request with lots of prayer-like gestures and a few English words sprinkled in. It went something along the lines of: “Por favor, senor, da me la pelota. Solamente una pelota and then I will callate.” The English translation of that ridiculousness is: “Please, Sir, give me the ball. Only one ball and then I will shut up.” That’s pretty much all I know how to say in Spanish. (Well, that and a lot of bad words, courtesy of an all-Dominican baseball camp staff that coached me for three full summers in the early 1990s.) But it worked. Vasquez smiled big and tossed me the ball–my 14th of the day–and that was it for batting practice.

Just before the D’backs left the field, I gave my heavy backpack to Jona and raced to the 3rd base dugout and got some equipment guy to toss me a ball as he was dumping all the balls from the basket to the ball bag. Hot damn. I’d snagged 13 balls at my first game of the series, 14 balls at my second game, and now 15 balls at my last game. BEST. STADIUM. EVER. And finally, it was time to explore it. I’d heard all about the $250 million renovation. I wanted to see what all the fuss was about.

Just as my stadium tour was about to get underway, I ran into Garrett and asked him if he wanted to wander with me. It was 40 minutes ’til game time. There wasn’t anything else to do, so he came along. We started by walking into the spacious tunnel that leads to the dugout concourse…

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…and I was very impressed with what I saw at the other end:

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I just felt bad that such a nice stadium was so poorly attended, but hey, from a ballhawking perspective, the low attendance was great.

Garrett and I walked through the main concourse behind home plate…

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…and headed up to the upper deck. Gorgeous! Look at the concourse:

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The whole stadium was clean and spacious, and there was lots of natural light, and best of all it was understated, unlike a certain new ballpark–ahem, in the Bronx–that’s sickeningly grandiose.

We climbed up the steps to the top row of the upper deck, and I took a few photos to make a panorama:

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Below are four more photos of the upper deck…

TOP LEFT: The huge “tunnel” that leads from the concourse to the seats. Brilliant stadium design. That’s all I can say about that. No other upper deck, as far as I know, has anything like it. People tend to appreciate light and air and space to move around. Kauffman Stadium delivers it. TOP RIGHT: The open-air portion of the concourse along the RF foul line. There’s nothing wrong with simplicity. BOTTOM RIGHT: The front row. Nice. More simplicity. There’s no reason for an upper deck to have two or three different tiers of seating. BOTTOM LEFT: A chain-link fence at the back of the seats. One word: quaint. All the architects out there can take their fancy facades and shove ’em. I prefer watching baseball in ballparks, not palaces or malls or museums:

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I couldn’t stop raving about Kauffman Stadium. Garrett got a kick out of that.

We headed down to the main concourse…

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…and made our way around the outfield. Here’s the view from the top of the fountains in right field:

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The outfield concourse has an inner and an outer area. (Another great use of space.) The following photo was taken between the two…

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…and when I walked into the outer area, I couldn’t believe how much stuff was back there. The following SIX-part photo shows it all, starting on the top left and then going clockwise: 1) A concert stage. 2) Miniature golf. 3) A playground and carousel. 4) Batting cages. 5) A baserunning challenge. 6) A small baseball field.

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I loved these kid-friendly attractions because they weren’t in the way. You know what I mean? They were essentially hidden at a far edge of the stadium. I’d been at The New K for two days and didn’t even know that any of that stuff was there, so my point is: it doesn’t interfere with the baseball experience. It’s just there in case people want to go and check it out, but if you’re a true baseball fan and you’re glued to the game and you don’t want to be bothered with anything else, it’s not in your face. Most of the games back there cost a bit of money to play. You have to buy tokens. I’m not even sure where you’d buy them or how much they cost. I didn’t have time to investigate. The game was almost set to begin, so I hurried over to the 3rd base dugout and stopped along the way to take a photo of the cross-aisle that runs through the field level seats:

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Anyone can walk through this aisle at any time. It doesn’t matter where your ticketed seat is.

The stadium is so pretty and simple and laid-back. I was in heaven.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get a ball tossed to me after the pre-game throwing (I picked the wrong end of the dugout), so I headed to the outfield just in time for the first pitch. I was dying to catch a game home run, and it seemed that my chances here were as good as they’d ever be at any game in any stadium. Look how much room I had out in left field in the top of the first inning:

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(Normally the ushers don’t let people stand in that walkway during the game, but they made an exception for me.)

Look how much room I had in right field in the bottom of the first:

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OH MY GOD!!! This stadium was built for ballhawks. The only problem was that there was SO much room to run that I ended up running nonstop and got completely sweaty. Embarrassingly sweaty. Just like the day before. Check it out:

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I didn’t realize until I saw the photo above that I was still wearing my D’backs cap. I didn’t want to offend the locals (not that anyone cared what I was wearing) so I gave it to Jona and got my Royals cap back from her. Here she is after we switched caps–this is where she sat during the game:

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Did you notice all the balls sitting in the gap behind her? Here, have a closer look:

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AAAAAAHHHHHH!!!!!!

What in the world was going to happen to all those balls?

In the top of the sixth inning, I was hanging out on the RF porch with my new friend, Bob Buck, when Gerardo Parra lined a home run into the bullpen. Naturally I ran over to see what was going to happen to that ball, and to my surprise, no one bothered to pick it up. It just sat on the ground, right in the middle of the bullpen, as various players and employees walked back and forth:

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It’s like they were all trying to tease me. The ball sat there for a full inning! I couldn’t leave, and I was worried about missing other opportunities elsewhere.

Finally I shouted at the Royals’ bullpen catcher and got him to toss it up, but he flung it lazily and didn’t really AIM for me, and as a result, the ball sailed five feet to my left. Bob was standing to my left at the time, and he managed to get a hand on it, but there were a bunch of other people also reaching for it, and they all bobbled it, and the ball dropped right down into the aisle at our feet, but I WAS BLOCKED and couldn’t reach it. I’m sure there are some people who would’ve just plowed everyone over in order to grab that ball, but that’s not my style. All I could do was stand there helplessly and watch some gloveless fan snatch it. That really hurt.

In between innings, Bob asked me to sign a ball, and then his wife Kathi took a photo of us:

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(Two questions: Do you like my farmer’s tan? And…on a scale of 1 to 10, how much does Bob look like Alec Baldwin?)

In the top of the eighth inning, Eric Byrnes hit a home run into the D’backs bullpen down the LF line. When I ran over to see where it went, an usher told me it had rolled right into the bathroom. Another fan started shouting at Jon Rauch for the ball. Rauch was the closest one to the bathroom, so what did he do? He got up and closed the bathroom door and sat back down. What a guy.

My frustration was mounting. I’d been putting up huge numbers in BP, and I was doing EVERYthing it took to put myself in the perfect position to catch a game home run, but it just wasn’t happening. There was a grand total of three homers hit during this series: none the first day, one the second day (which I nearly snagged even though it landed a full section over from where I’d been standing), and two on this third day, both of which landed in the bullpens. Unreal.

In the middle of the ninth inning, just after I’d changed back into my D’backs gear, an usher came running over and told me that a ball had just landed in the fountain. WHAT?! I hadn’t seen a ball land there. Was he messing with me? I knew that the ball wouldn’t float long, so I didn’t question him. I just ran over and took a look…and sure enough, there was a ball bobbing in the water. I pulled out my device, flung it out, and reeled in the ball on the first shot. Here I am with it:

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It was my 16th ball of the day, and I learned later that it was Parra’s warm-up ball. He had thrown it to some fans but his aim was way off and the ball sailed all the way over the section and landed in the water. Bad for the other fans. Good for me. At that point, I was thinking that I still had a chance to get few more balls. Maybe three more? Maybe even FOUR more? Whoa…it occurred to me that I had an outside shot at reaching 20. I’d only snagged that many three times before, so this was a big deal. I wasn’t sure if it was possible, though. Since the D’backs were going to win the game, and since the umpires exit the field on the third base side of the dugout, I figured I could get a ball from the home plate umpire (that would be No. 17), then race back to the home plate end of the dugout and get a ball from one of the players or coaches (that would be No. 18). Maybe I could get one a couple minutes later from the guys coming in from the bullpen? That would be 19. And then…get this…out in that center field gap, there were two balls that were reachable with the glove trick–one on the left side of the gap and another on the right side. I wasn’t sure if I could get away with using the trick after the game ended, but it was something I’d been considering all night. I figured I’d have to wait until security was gone, or wait ’til they weren’t looking…but this was a major league stadium. Someone is ALWAYS looking. (I learned that the hard way on 9/2/08 at Dodger Stadium.) I was getting ahead of myself. First things first. I got into position near the dugout and waited impatiently for the game to end. Final score: Diamondbacks 12, Royals 5. (The Royals are
35_dale_scott.jpgabsolutely terrible, BTW. They have a glorious stadium, but most of their starters wouldn’t even be on the Yankees roster. I don’t like the Yankees. I’m just sayin’. It was like watching college baseball. The defense was indecisive and clumsy. But I digress.) I wasn’t sure who the home plate umpire was. (I learned later it was Dale Scott.) Jona had my bag, and she was waiting for me in the outfield…and in my bag was a complete MLB umpire roster. Damn! And then, to make matters worse, three kids ran down to the spot where the umps were going to walk off the field. I watched as the ump handed balls to all the kids, and then I said, “Hey, Blue, how about a ball for a big kid?” He looked up at me, took one last ball out of his pouch, and flipped it into my glove. Yes!

I raced to the other end of the dugout, just as I had planned, and right after I got there, someone on the team (I think it was Rauch) flung a ball well over my head and deep into the section. Crap. I turned around to see who it had been thrown to, only to realize that the seats were empty! I was trapped in the middle of a row, so I had to climb over the seats. There was one other guy on the aisle who was also running for the ball, and he beat me there easily. That deflated me. Now, even if I somehow managed to get both of those balls out of the gap (which seemed highly unlikely), I’d still fall short of 20.

Hmm…

I headed back through the cross-aisle toward the outfield. A security guard stopped me and told me I had to leave. I told him that I need to meet up with my friends in left-center field, and it was true. Jona, of course, had my backpack, and Garrett was out there too, along with Bob and Kathi. They all wanted to see how this was gonna play out.

My eyes lit up when I approached the left field bullpen. For some reason, the Diamondbacks had left TWO balls sitting on the mound, right below the overhang of the front row of the seats, but how was I going to use the glove trick and not get caught? A groundskeeper appeared out of nowhere and started walking toward the balls. There were a few little kids standing right near me, so I was pretty sure I was screwed. No way the guy was gonna toss one to me. I just knew it, and sure enough, the first ball was tossed up to the kid on my right. Somehow…miraculously…the ball fell short and bounced off a railing and trickled along a little concrete ledge, right toward me, on the center field side of the bullpen. That’s where I was standing. It’s kind of hard to describe, but anyway, I lunged over the railing, and scooped up the ball in the tip of my glove and immediately handed it to the kid. I don’t think I even took it out of my glove. I just reached over and opened the glove and let the kid reach into the pocket and grab it. Even though the ball wasn’t intended for me, and even though I didn’t end up keeping it, it still counted. It was my 18th ball of the day. After that happy twist of fate, I really felt like I had a chance, and then another miracle happened: the groundskeeper left the second ball sitting there. The other fans had asked him for it, but he said he couldn’t give it away (sure), so most of them left. It was just me and Jona and Bob and Garrett and Kathi and a couple other people who were still lingering. I moved over to the front row of the overhang and quickly unleashed my glove trick. Way off in center field, I could see a yellow-shirted security guard walking toward me.

“Form a wall!” I yelled at my friends as my glove dangled 15 feet below. “Form a wall and block his view!”

Jona and Bob both moved to the side edge of the bullpen, and they both took photos of me as I went for the ball. In both of the photos below, you can see that I wasn’t even looking down at the ball. Instead I was looking off to the side to keep an eye on the security guard…

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…and I managed to pull up the ball when he was less than 50 feet away. Phew! I had my 19th ball of the day. Just one more! I quickly coiled up the string and used my body to shield the glove so the guard wouldn’t even see it, and then he walked us all up the steps to the main concourse in deep left field. Once we all reached the top, the guard just walked off. He didn’t tell us we had to leave. (He just assumed that we would, I suppose.) So we found a bench and sat down and contemplated the next move.

There were still a FEW other fans milling about at that point. Mostly, though, there were just concession workers and seat cleaners passing back and forth. No one stopped to ask us who we were or what we were still doing in the stadium. No one told us to leave. At one point, we noticed a security camera mounted high across the concourse. That made us a bit nervous, but no one ever came out to confront us.

Deep breath…

I grabbed an extra Sharpie from my backpack just in case, then left my bag with my friends in the concourse and began my solo mission. I had to go alone. One person was less likely to be seen/caught than five, so they waited, out of sight, as I walked briskly down the steps, proceeded through the walkway behind the seats and headed to the edge of the gap on the left field side of the batter’s eye. I was there. No security in sight. So far, so good. It was showtime…like playing golf. No competition. Just me versus the course. I struggled for a couple minutes with the first ball. Not good. It was a few feet too far out for me to have a straight shot down, and it was also trapped up against a small rock. Still, I couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t able to get the ball to stick inside the glove. This was the absolute WORST time for a malfunction. I’d used the trick hundreds of times. Why was it giving me a problem now? I had no choice but to raise the glove back up and readjust the rubber band. Maybe it was too loose? That had to be it, so I took a look, and nearly had a panic attack. The rubber band had broken and was dangling off the glove! It’s a good thing it hadn’t fallen into the gap because I stupidly hadn’t brought an extra one with me down into the seats. I had half a dozen bands in my backpack, but as I mentioned, the bag was
36a_rubber_band_fixed.jpgwith my friends in the concourse. I thought about hurrying back up there, getting a new band, then going back down into the seats, but that seemed insane. It’s like I would’ve been ASKING to get caught, so I took the band and tied the broken ends together. It was my only shot. And then I lowered the glove back down into the gap. Well, it took another minute or so, but then I got the ball to stick inside my glove! Twenty balls (with twenty exclamation points)!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I thought about just getting the hell out of there at that point, but that one last ball was too tempting, so I headed up the few steps, walked quickly behind the batter’s eye, and headed down beside the right field edge of the gap. There it was, my potential 21st ball of the day, sitting there, looking up at me, waiting to be rescued. I hoped that the rubber band would hold…and it did…but once again, the ball was a few feet too far out from the wall, and in my attempt to knock it closer, the Sharpie fell out of my glove. Extra Sharpie! Thank God I’d brought it.

I didn’t know it at the time, but Bob had crept out of the upper concourse, just far enough that he could see me way off in the distance, going for this ball. This was his view:

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Did you see me in the photo above? Here’s a closer look:

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After another minute (during which I must’ve cursed about 20 times), I managed to snag the ball. Woo! Twenty-one!

Upon my return to the concourse, I posed with balls No. 20 and 21 and felt invincible:

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I needed a moment to recover…to just sit there and label my last two balls…to add to my long list of notes…to think about what I wanted to do next. There weren’t any other fans in the ballpark, but there were still a few employees walking around. After a few minutes, we saw an entire group of people in yellow shirts walking out the gate in right field. It was the security guards! They were all leaving!

What to do…

I was thinking about those balls in the gap. There were still ELEVEN balls down in there, and it occurred to me that I might be able to get away with climbing down in there and grabbing them and then running like hell. Meanwhile, it was getting late. Bob and Kathi had to take off, so we said our goodbyes, and then it was just three of us: me, Jona, and the 17-year-old Garrett.

For the past two days, I’d been talking about climbing down into the gap, but it was more of a fantasy than a reality. I had to do TV interviews, and I didn’t want to jeopardize that by getting in trouble, but like I said before, this was my last day. My last night. There was nothing to lose. Well…if I got arrested and thrown in jail, that wouldn’t have been good, but it’s not like I’d be running out onto the field or vandalizing any property. It was just about the balls. And about the charity. And about doing something daring. And about breaking my one-game record! I had managed to snag 28 balls in one day on 4/10/08 at Nationals Park. I didn’t think that record would ever be broken, but now I actually had a chance to do it…and not just squeeze past it by a hair, but actually surpass the 30-ball plateau. If I climbed down into the gap and grabbed all the balls and managed to get away with it, would my record be tainted? Would it have an asterisk? I wasn’t sure, but I knew for a fact that several legendary ballhawks on the west coast, like T.C. and Lee Wilson, had snuck down after games into the gaps behind the outfield walls and grabbed actual game home run balls that they counted in their totals. And I know that some of the all-time great ballhawks in Chicago, especially Moe Mullins, used to climb down into restricted areas of Wrigley Field to do the same thing. I thought about all the balls I’d snagged that I didn’t count for various reasons, and I thought about all the balls that security had prevented me from snagging over the years. I thought about the guard at Shea Stadium, back in the mid-1990s, who would stand on the field, right in front of me in foul territory during BP, and kick the foul grounders away before I had a chance to reach over and scoop them up. I thought about the on-field guard at Yankee Stadium who once jumped up and swatted a ball out of mid-air that a player had thrown to me, simply because he didn’t like me and didn’t want me to catch it. I thought about every single injustice that I had ever experienced inside a major league stadium, and I thought, “Here’s my chance to make up for it.”

But wait, how was I actually going to pull it off? Would I go alone? Would Jona and/or Garrett come with me? Would I need help climbing back out of the gap? How would I carry all the balls? Would I take my backpack? Would I have to climb out with that heavy thing on my back? What about labeling the balls? Would I actually stop and mark each one as I grabbed them? Or would I put them into different pockets and pouches and try to remember which one was which? If I actually managed to climb down there and grab the balls and escape without getting caught, would I then talk about it on my blog? Could I get in trouble after the fact? I had reasons to go for it. I had reasons to chicken out. I had an endless array of questions and–

“I really wish you would just do it already,” said Jona.

Okay.

I was GOING to do it. I made up my mind. Now I just had to make some quick decisions about how it would all go down. First of all, I decided to turn my shirt inside out. That Mario logo was way too eye-catching. Secondly, we all decided that the three of us would go back down into the seats together. Garrett would toss my backpack down to me after I climbed into the gap and then he’d meet me on the other end and I’d toss it back up. Jona would follow us and film the whole thing. I didn’t know what I would ever do with the footage, but I knew it had to be documented. As for the issue of labeling the balls, I decided that I had to sacrifice that part of my process–that I just had to throw the balls in my bag as quickly as possible and get the hell out, but I knew I had to keep the last ball separate. I needed to know which ball was THE final ball…the record-establishing ball.

And just like that, we were off.

The following images are all screen shots from Jona’s video.

Here I am with Garrett, heading through the walkway at the back of the LF seats. The ground was wet because the fountains were overflowing, presumably on purpose as a way to clean the section:

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Here we are heading down the steps next to the gap:

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Then I climbed down into the gap:

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Garrett tossed me my backpack, and I reached up to catch it:

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I hurried to the middle of the gap and picked up the first ball:

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Fist pump:

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Every time I grabbed a ball, I kept counting: twenty-two, twenty-three, twenty-four, twenty-five, twenty-six, twenty-seven, twenty-eight, twenty-nine! Then thirty. I decided to stick that one in my right front pocket. Then thirty-one. That went in my left front pocket. And finally thirty-two. That went in my back right pocket. If I’d remembered, I could’ve grabbed the Sharpie that had fallen out of my glove 20 minutes earlier, but my mind was elsewhere.

Here I am climbing out of the gap:

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There were metal beams on back of the outfield wall, so I stepped on those and hoisted myself up without Garrett’s help. Ahh, to be young and fit! I normally take it for granted, but now I finally appreciated it and realized that when I’m 90 years old, similar shenanigans will be much more difficult.

Jona headed up the steps and hurried behind the batter’s eye to catch up with us…

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…and then we walked through the upper porch in right field…

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…and headed up the steps…

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…and ran like hell through the concourse…

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…and made our way out the open gate…

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…and walked around to the back of the stadium:

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We did it!

I had snagged THIRTY-TWO baseballs!

This was my reaction:

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Here I am with Garrett and the 32nd ball:

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My God.

I hope I don’t get busted for blogging about this after the fact. In my defense, I was doing it for charity, and also, the way I see it, I did the Royals a service. Not only did I risk my own life, free of charge, to climb down in there and clean out the balls so that one of their employees wouldn’t have to do it, but I’ve simultaneously encouraged baseball fans all over the world to visit Kauffman Stadium. No joke. I’ve gotten at least a dozen emails this week from people who’ve told me that after reading my blog entries and seeing my photos of the place, they’re dying to go there.

Don’t you love my logic?

Two of the balls from the gap caught my eye. First (pictured below on the left), there was my 30th ball of the day, which had a really cool series of streak-like markings on it, and second, there was a ball (one of the eight that I didn’t label, pictured below on the right) that was rubbed up and un-scuffed, just as a game-used ball would be:

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So the question is: Is it possible that I grabbed a game home run ball and don’t even know it? When I first entered Kauffman Stadium on Tuesday, June 16th, there were already half a dozen balls in the gap. Who knows how long they’d been there? Why couldn’t a game home run have landed there? Does anyone know if any players hit homers to dead center field in the days before June 16th? It would be interesting to know, and if the answer is yes, I might need to recruit a forensic scientist to determine if there are woody fibers on the ball that match the fibers on that player’s bat.

My 32nd and final ball of the day was not interesting in comparison to the two pictured above, but obviously it was the most meaningful, and I had to find a special way to photograph it. At first, this was the best I could come up with…

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…but then Garrett had an idea. He told me and Jona to get in his car, and he drove around to the other side of the stadium. It was well past midnight by this point. He had to be at work at 6am. Jona and I were exhausted and starving. I was tempted to take a few quick pics of the ball and go back to the hotel, but when I mentioned the option of using the balls to actually spell out the number 32 (aka “balligraphy”), Garrett convinced me to do it.

Here I am, setting them all up in the middle of the road…

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…and here’s the fruit of my labor (and of Jona’s patience):

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Cool.

In case you’re wondering, the three balls on the right are in Ziploc bags because those were the balls I fished out of the fountain. They were soaked to the core, so I kept them sealed until I could properly dry them out. And of course there are only 31 balls in the photo because I gave one away.

Thursday, June 18, 2009: wow…

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SNAGGING STATS:

• 32 balls at this game

58_kauffman_stadium_snagging_notes.jpg• 59 balls in three games this week at Kauffman Stadium = 19.67 balls per game. (My notes for all these balls are pictured on the right.)

• 279 balls in 31 games this season = 9 balls per game.

• 600 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 107 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

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

• 4 lifetime games with at least 20 balls (all of which, surprise-surprise, were outside of New York)

• 4,099 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $24.16 pledged per ball

• $773.12 raised at this game!

• $6,740.64 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

A few final thoughts…

1) It occurred to me that I probably would’ve snagged more than 35 balls if I’d been going for foul balls and third-out balls all night, but I did what I had to do. I was in a home run haven, and I stuck to my game plan, never even contemplating my one-game record until the very end.

2) It also occurred to me that this is the first time I’ve ever out-snagged my age. You follow? I’m thirty-one years old, and I managed to snag thirty-two balls. I’d have to say it’s pretty rare for anyone to out-snag their age. Think about it. How likely is it that a five-year-old could snag six balls? Not very. How likely is it for anyone to snag 15 or 20 balls? Or 30? Again, not likely. I’d say the only people who have a real shot at out-snagging their age are probably young teenagers. By the time someone is 13 years old, he (or she) is just getting big enough and athletic enough and strategic enough to be able to make some good plays and outsmart the competition. Have YOU ever out-snagged your age? I think we might have a new category here–something ultra-rare, like hitting for the cycle. I wonder if I’ll ever do it again.

3) This blog entry, for those keeping score at home, is 7,714 words and has 83 photographs (if you count the collage pics separately). These too, are records.

The End.

6/17/09 at Kauffman Stadium

I expect to snag at least 10 balls at every game. I talked about that in my previous entry, remember? I also said that something has to go wrong in order for me not to snag that many.

Well, yesterday, something nearly went horribly wrong at the start of the day, and then I had to deal with two unexpected challenges soon after.

Speaking of the start of the day, here I am outside the left field gate:

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The stadium opened at 4:30pm–two hours and 40 minutes before game time–and soon after I ran inside, I nearly sprained/broke my ankle. What happened was…I stepped onto a little concrete ridge on the upper concourse, not realizing that it WAS a ridge. I thought it was a platform that extended out at that height, so when I took a step forward, my right foot rolled off the edge, and as a matter of instinct, I gave with it and nearly fell down in the process. The right side of my ankle hurt a little bit right after, and I was scared out of my mind. It seemed to be okay, but I wasn’t sure if there was going to be a delayed reaction of pain, or if it was going to get worse as I kept running around.

Jona was with me (she’s the one who took all these photos) and she told me to “be careful” and “take it easy,” but those are phrases that mean nothing to me when I’m inside a major league stadium–especially one as awesome as the New K–so I just started doing my thing and running all over the place as if nothing was wrong. Somehow, thankfully, the slight pain in my ankle actually went away.

I started off by running out to left-center and peeking over the outfield wall to see if there were any balls on the warning track:

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Nope. Nothing. And I should probably mention the first of my two challenges: the Royals hadn’t started hitting yet. The previous day, when I ran inside, batting practice was already in progress, but this time the place was dead.

That turned out to be a good thing.

I headed over to the lower level of the Pepsi Party Porch in right field…

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…and ended up playing catch with Kyle Farnsworth for more than five minutes! I’m not exaggerating. I just asked him straight-up if he wanted to play catch, and he tossed me the ball he was holding. Then, after I caught it, he held up his glove to indicate that he wanted me to throw it back. (Normally, when I ask guys to play catch, they’ll toss me the ball and then just let me keep it right away.)

Here’s a photo of Farnsworth throwing the ball to me…

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…and here I am firing it back:

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I didn’t have much room to work with; after every throw I had to make sure not to follow through all the way so that my hand wouldn’t whack the metal railing.

I managed to avoid getting hurt, and all I can say about the whole thing is…it was amazing. Jona switched her camera to movie mode and got several minutes’ worth of video. When I have more time (perhaps this coming weekend), I might put it on YouTube. I don’t know yet, but anyway, I’ve played catch from the stands on many occasions, and the only time that rivals this one was the Heath Bell Experience on 9/29/05 at Shea Stadium. THAT was awesome because Bell was shouting playfully at me and crouching down and calling balls and strikes, and there was a small audience of fans that gathered near me in the seats…but this throwing session with Farnsworth was great because it was calm. Once we started, he and I never talked. We were just two guys throwing the ball back and forth. Nothing needed to be said. Baseball was our common, silent language.

As I expected, we stopped throwing as soon as BP started and of course he let me keep the ball.

I headed to the upper level of the Porch and got Luke Hochevar to throw me a ball:

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His aim, however, was off and the ball sailed over my head and landed in the fountains. No big deal. I just pulled out my little water-retrieval-device and reeled it in.

The four-part photo below (starting on the top left and then going clockwise) shows how it all went down:

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Someone left a comment on my previous entry and asked if it’s possible to reach over the railing and grab baseballs out of the water. As you can see in the photos above, the answer is no…although at one point, over in left field, a fan climbed over the railing and sprawled out on that green/gray concrete ledge, and he grabbed a couple balls out of the water before I had a chance to snag them with my device. Security wasn’t around when he did that. That’s how he got away with it. I don’t recommend climbing over. I talked to a few different ushers who said that fans who go in the water are punished just like fans who run on the field: a night in jail and a $1,500 fine. It’s not worth it for a BP ball, but for a walk-off grand slam? I’d consider it.

Back to the Hochevar ball…

After I reeled it in, I put it in a Ziploc bag so it wouldn’t soak everything else in my backpack:

8_ball4055_ziploc_bag.jpg

See the plastic shopping bag in the photo above? First of all, it’s a Fairway bag. Best food market ever. There’s one right near me in NYC on Broadway and 74th Street. Secondly, I brought it with me to the stadium so that I could keep the device from leaking all over my backpack as well. Water management is key.

My ankle was totally fine, and I ran nonstop all over the place:

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Back in left field, I got Coco Crisp to toss me my third ball of the day. You can see it in mid-air in the following photo:

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Just a few minutes later, Ron Mahay tossed me Ball No. 4, and then I headed back to right field to use my glove trick.

Remember those two challenges I talked about earlier in this entry? The second challenge was security. There was one guard in particular who wasn’t too fond of the trick, and he hurried out to the Porch while my glove was dangling:

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At some stadiums, like AT&T Park, fans are allowed to bring all kinds of crazy contraptions inside, and security doesn’t care AT ALL if people pluck balls right off the field. I realize, however, that not every owner/stadium/city is as cool as San Francisco. If security doesn’t want fans to take balls off the field, fine. I still don’t think it’s “stealing” but whatever. They have a right to draw the line somewhere, so I wasn’t too upset (or surprised) when the guard came over and made me stop. What DID make me mad was when he stopped me from using the trick five minutes later for a ball in the gap in dead center field. There’s nothing in that gap. You know those seven balls that were there the day before? They were STILL there. No one goes back there. There’s no camera. No equipment. Nothing. I strongly feel that fans should at least be allowed to retrieve balls from gaps like this. The guard’s explanation? He didn’t want ME to lower my glove on a string because it would encourage other fans to do it too.

Well, guess what. I have news for that guard: his job is about to get way more stressful. Not only did FSN film me using the glove trick the previous day, and not only did they broadcast that footage for the whole world (okay, maybe just Missouri) to see, but there’s also this wonderful invention called the internet. And then there’s this blog. And then there’s a whole blog entry I wrote a few years ago that shows people exactly how to use the glove trick. Want to see how to do it? Click here. Then take your glove trick to Kauffman Stadium and wreak havoc and tell ’em Zack sent you. (You might need to specify that it was Zack Hample and not Zack Greinke. He’s still the more famous Zack, but I’m working on it.)

The outfield seemed worthless to me at that point, and I seriously thought my day was going to end with a grand total of six balls, so once the rest of the stadium opened at 5:30pm, I headed to the Royals’ dugout on the 1st base side:

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The Royals were about to finish their portion of BP. I thought I might be able to get someone to toss me a ball on the way in. (In the photo above, do you see the other fan walking through the seats with the white Greinke jersey and the blue backpack? His name is Garrett. More on him in a bit.) What I didn’t consider was finding a ball in the seats:

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Did you notice how sweaty I was?

I felt great after finding that ball and then I got Roman Colon to toss me my 6th of the day a couple minutes later:

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After that, I changed into my Diamondbacks gear, headed out to left field, and snagged two more balls within the next ten minutes or so. The first was tossed by Chad Qualls near the foul pole, and the second was a Mark Reynolds homer that landed in the last row in straight-away left field and then conveniently plopped right down at my feet. There were a bunch of other fans out there at that point, so it’s a good thing the ball didn’t ricochet elsewhere.

Then I heard Jona shouting frantically to get my attention. I was way over near the batter’s eye, and there was a ball that had landed in the fountain. I don’t know how I missed it. It must’ve been thrown because I was paying close attention to the hitters.

I ran over to the ball, knowing that it might sink at any second…

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…and then I lowered my device into the water…

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…and got it!

Moments later, another ball landed in the water (it was a home run and I don’t know who hit it), and I fished that one out as well.

Hoo-haaaa!!! Just like that, I had reached double digits.

Toward the end of BP, Blaine Boyer tossed me a ball in left-center…

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…and then I used my water gadget to fish another ball out of the fountain. It was a home run that I absolutely would’ve caught on the fly, but some guy (who had no business even thinking about catching it) bumped into me at the last second, and the ball deflected off my glove as a result.

That gave me 12 balls.

Garrett, who had recognized me the day before from YouTube, asked me to sign his scorebook, and then we took a photo together:

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Cool guy.

As soon as BP ended, I hurried to the restaurant at the upper concourse in right field and met up with a few guys from the FSN crew. It was time for my pre-game interview. I was drenched in sweat, so I changed into my Royals shirt and hoped that the camera wouldn’t see the embarrassing sweat stain on my butt:

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The sweat stain actually went all the way around my waist, several inches below my belt, but the shirt was just long enough to cover it. You have no idea how hot and humid it was, and how much running I’d been doing during BP. I think I drank three 20-ounce bottles of water during BP, and I never had to use the bathroom. My body just absorbed all that water and sweated out the rest.

The photo above, by the way, was taken as I was being led to the interview location on the left field side. The guy walking next to me (in the black shirt and light tan pants) is named Nate Bukaty. He’s the one who interviewed me. Here we are, right before we went live, down in the camera well next to the bullpen:

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Here’s a photo that Jona took during the brief interview itself:

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I was so amped up at that point (from running around for two hours and snagging a dozen balls and playing catch with a major leaguer and being reprimanded by stadium security) that I ended up being all jittery in the interview. It also didn’t help that I was told right beforehand that the whole interview was only going to last 90 seconds. There was so much I wanted to cover. I wanted to talk about how I’m snagging baseballs for charity, and I wanted to mention my books, especially Watching Baseball Smarter. At the time, I just thought I was being all energetic and fun, but now that I’ve had a chance to watch the tape, I really don’t like how I came off. In fact, I’m downright embarrassed by my performance. I just needed to stand still and slow the HELL down, and I’ve been interviewed enough by now that I should’ve had the presence of mind to take a deep breath and step back from it all for a moment and just…collect myself.

Oh well. The other interview I did during the third inning went better. But before that one took place, I signed a few more autographs…

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…and got Diamondbacks coach Glenn Sherlock to toss me a ball along the left field foul line:

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(No red arrows in the photo above. You can figure out what’s happening.)

I ran back and forth from right field to left during the first two innings, and of course there weren’t any home runs hit.

Then it was time to make my way over for my in-game interview. For some reason, the TV announcers (Ryan Lefebvre and Frank White…yes, THE Frank White) weren’t doing the game from up in the booth. Instead, they were set up on the Pepsi Party Porch near the right field bullpen:

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It’s really a shame. I was looking forward to getting a media credential and then wandering all over the stadium as soon as my interview was done, but because all of my interviews took place in the stands, there were no credentials to be had. Still, it was a total thrill to get to be interviewed during the game. I can’t count the number of in-game interviews I’ve seen where some lucky stiff gets to put on a headset and stand between the announcers and talk about his charity or whatever. Now, for the first time in my life, *I* was going to be that stiff. HA! And unlike all the other stiffs, I was actually going to be fun. I just knew it.

Here’s a look at the announcers from above…

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…and here’s a view from the side:

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That’s Frank White shielding his eyes from the sun. He won eight Gold Glove Awards. Wow.

Here’s a shot that Jona took of me from above, right before I went on the air…

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…and here I am, being interviewed during the actual game. DAMN it was fun:

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I was told that I was only gonna be interviewed during the top of the third inning, and of course, just my luck, the invincible Zack Greinke was pitching. I was sure he was gonna mow down the D’backs one-two-three, and that I’d be told to take a hike as soon as FSN went to a commercial break.

My prediction was half-right: Greinke DID retire the side in order…BUT…two good things happened:

1) Felipe Lopez had an eight-pitch at-bat to lead off, and Justin Upton worked a full count two batters later. So…the three outs took a bit longer than usual.

2) As the third out was being recorded, and as my heart was sinking faster than a baseball in the fountain, Lefebvre said ON THE AIR that I would be sticking around for another half-inning. That came as a total surprise, and I was ecstatic.

It gave me a chance to be a human being and discuss ballhawking without having to rush through my talking points. During the interview, I could hear some producer’s voice in my ear. He was making occasional comments and suggestions to all of us. At one point, he told Lefebvre what to ask me, and another time, he pointed out the fact that I’d been turning my back to Mister Frank White. We were in a commercial break at that point, so I turned and faced White and put my arm around him and offered a sincere apology and told him that since his partner was asking all the questions, I had just been facing him out of instinct. White wasn’t offended, and we laughed about it, and then during the bottom of the inning, I made sure to look at both guys as I told my various stories. Another thing that I did during my interview was…whenever the ball was put into play (or when someone struck out), I had to stop talking and give Lefebvre a chance to do the play-by-play. No one told me to do this. I wasn’t coached at all for this interview. I just did that because I’ve seen enough interviews to know that’s how it’s done.

Here’s another photo taken during the interview:

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Lefebvre and I were both wearing our gloves. White didn’t need one.

“Mine are all made out of gold anyway,” he said. (Awesome.)

The bottom of the third saw five men come to the plate (yay) but two of them hit the first pitch (boo). So…it wasn’t THAT long of an inning, but at least I had a little extra time to do my thing.

Here I am with Lefebvre and White after the interview:

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No, I didn’t ask for White’s autograph. I probably could’ve had him sign all 12 of my balls during the commercial break, but I just didn’t care. I’ve become less and less interested in autographs. It was the experience the mattered. I got to shake his hand three times. Yes, I counted. Yes, I have since washed my hand. And yes, I meant to say “12 of my balls” and not 13; I forgot to mention that after the pre-game interview, I gave away one of the balls to a man in a wheelchair. Normally I only give balls to kids, but this guy was wearing a glove, and he had a leg missing. I couldn’t NOT give him a ball.

For the rest of the game, I kept running back and forth for potential home run balls. Jona sat next to the batter’s eye and held my backpack:

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Mark Reynolds was the only guy who went deep. I should’ve gotten the ball but I was playing him too far toward left-center and he hit it to straight-away left. The ball didn’t reach the walkway. It landed in the second row, so it would’ve been tough, but I still feel like I should’ve had it. And that was the only action for me during the game.

Greinke was very hittable. He struck out nine guys in 6 2/3 innings, but he allowed six runs–four earned–on eight hits and two walks. Not great, but his ERA is still dazzling at 1.96.

Final score: Diamondbacks 12, Royals 5.

I raced to the D’backs dugout with two outs in the bottom of the ninth and:

1) Got coach Jeff Motuzas to toss me my 14th ball of the day

and…

2) Found a crumpled up dollar on the ground as I headed up the steps.

An hour after the game ended, I was in a Denny’s restaurant near the stadium with Jona, and who walked in? Clay Zavada.


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The end. Gotta run back to Kauffman for my third and final game. I’ll get those interviews up on my site at some point soon so everyone can see them. (I’d put them on YouTube, but MLB would take them down for copyright infringement. Duh. I need to have a word with Mister Selig about that…)

SNAGGING STATS:

• 14 balls at this game

• 247 balls in 30 games this season = 8.23 balls per game.

• 599 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 106 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

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

• 4,067 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $24.16 pledged per ball

• $338.24 raised at this game

• $5,967.52 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

6/11/09 at Camden Yards

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

That pretty much sums it up.

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

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…and the next three were home run balls.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why?!

WHY?!

WHY?!

WHY?!

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

This was the result:

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

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

This was the dreary scene on Eutaw Street:

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

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

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

This was the view in left:

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Nothing special, right?

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

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Did any home runs land there?

No, of course not.

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

You know what DID happen?

More rain:

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

Back to the game…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SNAGGING STATS:

• 7 balls at this game

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

• 597 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

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

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• 30 lifetime game balls outside of New York

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

• 4,040 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $24.06 pledged per ball

• $168.42 raised at this game

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

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

6/10/09 at Camden Yards

QUESTION: Who took all the photos in my previous entry?

ANSWER: Jona.

Here we are outside the stadium, waiting for the gates to open:

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You remember Jona, right? Just last year, there was Pittsburgh and Ireland and the pyramid of baseballs (which she helped build) and so much more.

Are we still together? What’s our official status? Don’t ask. All you need to know (or rather all I’m gonna say) is that we’ve been spending time together. I’m so bad at being vague. This is good practice.

Anyway…baseball…yes, finally, for the first time in three weeks, I was at a game with batting practice. I’d been having THE worst luck with weather, so it felt great to finally have a chance to put up some big numbers.

On my way out to the seats in straight-away left field (during which time three different ushers told me to stop running), I found a ball sitting in the front row:

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Is that a beautiful sight or what?

A minute later, Jona made her way out there and started taking photos:

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You might think my pink shirt is dumb (okay, it is), but you have to admit that it makes it easy to spot me.

Here’s a cool shot that shows me and several Orioles running for a ball:

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I didn’t get that one, but several minutes later, Jona took a photo of me hurdling the seats for a home run ball that I *did* end up snagging:

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I beat out one other guy for the ball. Here we are lunging for it:

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I have no idea who hit that ball, and I don’t know who hit the next one either. I do know that it was my 200th ball of the season, and of course I remember having caught it on the fly. Here’s a photo that shows me tracking it:

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Did you notice the Orioles player watching me in the background?

The left-handed hitting Felix Pie (pronounced “pee-AY”) stepped into the cage, and I figured he was going to start by trying to hit some balls to the opposite field…and I figured there was a chance that he’d slice a few into foul territory, or at least down the line…and I was right.

In the four-part photo below, starting on the top left and then going clockwise, you can see a red arrow pointing to a ball bouncing toward me. The fourth photo (on the lower left) shows me reaching all the way down and grabbing it off the rubberized warning track:

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(Don’t forget…you can click all these photos for a closer look.)

As I was returning to the seats in fair territory, I snagged two more home run balls within a 20-second span. The first ball landed in some empty seats and skipped up high enough in the air that I was able to run over and catch it before it took another crazy bounce. (I found out later, while updating my stats, that this was the 3,700th ball I’ve snagged since my consecutive games streak began in 1993.) The second ball landed in the middle of an empty row, and I ran over and grabbed it about 10 feet away from the nearest fan.

That gave me six balls on the day, and I snagged No. 7 by cutting through a row in left-center and catching a ground-rule double.

After that, Seattle took the field so I changed into my Mariners gear and convinced Bruce Hines, the team’s 3rd base coach, to throw me a ball. In the following photo, I’m wearing the “ICHIRO 51” shirt, and you can see Hines just behind my right hand, getting ready to toss the ball:

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I ran back into foul territory and grabbed ball No. 9 off the warning track. It had trickled to Miguel Batista, who was playing catch, and instead of picking it up and firing it toward the bucket, he had gently kicked it behind him. (I wonder if he would’ve done that if he knew I was at this game.)

Ichiro and Russell Branyan and Ken Griffey Jr. all started hitting, so I raced over to the standing-room-only section in right field. It was surprisingly crowded, and since I’d actually missed the first round of swings (for a reason I won’t mention), I only ended up catching two homers out there…BUT…I made a nice play on both of them, especially the first. I’m pretty sure Ichiro hit it. The ball was heading right toward me, and as it was about to land, there were a few other guys drifting to camp under it. I stayed about five feet behind the spot where I knew it was going to land, then crept up at the last second and timed my leap perfectly. I was like an outfielder robbing a home run, except I was moving forward instead of backward…and for a moment, while I was in mid-air, it felt like I was flying above the competition…and I reached up and made the catch above several other hands and gloves. It felt sooooo good. Then, less than a minute later, I caught another one that almost hit one of the flag poles on the way down. The nicest thing about that play is that I judged it perfectly. At least a dozen other guys were running around cluelessly, thinking the ball was going to land at the front of the section as it began descending toward us. I, however, hung back and picked the spot where it was going to land, and I reached up for the easy catch at the last second as everyone was just starting to run back toward me. Heh.

In all fairness, I should admit that I misjudged one ball horribly a bit earlier in the day, and then of course I got a bunch of unlucky ricochets on others, so even though it might seem (from what I’m writing) like I’m the luckiest and most athletic human being of all-time, that’s not exactly the case.

Back in left field, I used my glove trick to snag my 12th ball of the day (I gave that one away to a kid after BP) and soon caught another homer on the fly in a highly congested patch of seats.

Jason Vargas tossed me my 14th ball, and it was a good snag for two reasons:

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1) The ball had an interesting streak-like marking on the logo. You can see a photo of it on the right. Any theories on how the ball would’ve ended up looking like this?

2) I had to make a nice play on it. I was standing in the front row. Vargas kind of flipped/side-armed the ball in my direction, and I could tell from the moment it left his hand that it was going to sail over my head. Keep in mind that this was a simple toss that never went more than 20 feet in the air. It wasn’t like a home run, where I have several seconds to take my eye off the ball, move to a different spot in the seats, and then look back up and make the catch. No no. This was all split-second. I looked down VERY quickly, hopped over the front row of seats, looked back up, found the ball in mid-air as it was about five feet away from landing, and lunged far back behind the 2nd row to make a back-handed catch.

At the very end of BP, I raced over to the Mariners’ dugout and got my 15th ball tossed by hitting coach Alan Cockrell. Not bad.

Guess who I ran into after that. (Okay, yes, I’d been running into him all day.)

Nick Yohanek, aka “The Happy Youngster.”

Here we are at the dugout. I don’t blame him for not putting his arm around me. Never mind the pink shirt I was wearing earlier. Look how sweaty I was at this point:

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Just before the game started, Jose Lopez (pictured below) played catch with Adrian Beltre in front of the dugout:

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Beltre ended up throwing me the ball. That gave me SIXTEEN balls for the day, and I was really tempted to keep playing the dugouts and trying to get foul balls. It would’ve been awesome to have a 20-ball performance, but the standing-room-only section in right field was too
great to ignore. Not only was I hoping to catch a Griffey home run (that’s basically why I decided to make this trip) but I also wanted to catch Matt Wieters’ first major league homer. And besides, I’m now finally trying to be more home-run conscious in general; if I have to give up a few less meaningful balls as a result, so be it.

During the game, this was my view from the back of the standing-room-only section:

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Because I couldn’t see the batter from where I was standing, Jona stayed at the front and played the role of “spotter.” She gave me subtle hand signals each time the pitcher was releasing the ball. It was very helpful because I was able to know exactly when a home run might’ve started flying my way, but because I’ve had AWFUL home run luck this season, nothing was hit anywhere near me. Still, it was fun to hang out in that section and know that at least I had a great chance of catching one.

Here’s a look at the section from the side:

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See the little kid in the “GRIFFEY 24” jersey? That’s Tim–the son of Todd (aka “cookandsonbats” in the comments section) whom I met on 6/3/09 at Nationals Park.

Wieters came up with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, and I stayed put. I never would’ve forgiven myself if I’d left the section just before he hit a bomb right to where I’d been standing all night. But there was no bomb to be caught. The future of the Orioles’ franchise struck out swinging to end the game.

Final score: Mariners 4, Orioles 1.

SNAGGING STATS:

15_the_15_balls_i_kept.jpg• 16 balls at this game (15 of which are pictured here because I gave one away)

• 213 balls in 27 games this season = 7.89 balls per game.

• 596 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 104 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

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

• 4,033 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $24.06 pledged per ball

• $384.96 raised at this game!

• $5,124.78 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

One final unrelated note: I’ve had some major problems with my email this week. (I think it’s because the atrocious internet situation at my lame and overrated hotel here in Baltimore screwed me up.) I might have lost a few emails in the process, so if you’ve written to me recently and you don’t hear back from me by…let’s say…June 18th, go ahead and email me again. Sometimes I take a week to answer emails anyway, but in this case…yeah, if you’re waiting for a reply, just be patient and then give another shout. And also, if you’ve emailed me to get snagging advice about a certain stadium, all I can tell you is: read my blog. If I’ve blogged about a particular stadium, you’ll find everything there, and if I haven’t blogged about it, that means I haven’t been there since at least 2004 and I probably don’t remember too much about the place anyway. I get too many emails in general, especially ones like this, to answer everyone personally. I’m really sorry. It’s nothing personal. I’ll still try to write back to everyone, but if I write something brief, please understand why.