Tagged: jumping for joy

5/17/10 at Turner Field

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

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

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

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

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That big area is called Monument Grove.

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

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Nice.

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

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

Here’s the center field gate…

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

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

Here’s another look from further down the street…

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

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

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

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…and rounded yet another corner:

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That’s more like it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Glove trick heaven!

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

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

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Cha-ching!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHAT?!?!

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

“Are you kidding me?!” I yelled.

“Theesa fo’ my keeeids!” she insisted.

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

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

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

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

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

Check out the ball:

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

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

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(“We talkin’ about PRAC-tice!“)

The left field seats got pretty crowded…

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

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

Dayum!

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

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

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

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

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

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Yes, Howie actually photographed his TV.

Kevin asked me two main questions:

1) How do you catch so many baseballs?

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

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

Here I am with Kevin after the interview:

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

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

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

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

Now…

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


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

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

1) Go to the Mets’ dugout.

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

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

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

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

So that was it.

My day ended with 19 balls.

(Yeah, I know, poor me.)

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

Before heading out, I caught up with Pete…

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

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

SNAGGING STATS:

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

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

• 641 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 124 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

• 4,477 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

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

• $94.05 raised at this game

• $589.05 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

Taking batting practice at PNC Park

The best thing that happened on my birthday this year was NOT snagging 22 balls at Camden Yards. Not even close. The highlight was receiving the following email from my friend Erik Jabs:

Zack,
I remember you writing that one day you’d like to take BP on a major league field.

PNC Park is having a season ticket holder batting practice on Tuesday,
Oct 6. It’s a regular BP with the cages and screens and everything.
They also use MLB balls, and you can elect to use players’ game bats.

I’d you’d like to, you’re welcome to be my guest and take BP on that day.

I wrote a little about it last year when my blog was beginning:
http://countingbaseballs.mlblogs.com/archives/2008/09/92408_pnc_park_season_ticket_h.html

Let me know,
Erik

Three weeks after I received this email, I flew to Pittsburgh with my mom (who came along just to watch) and my friend Brandon (who took all the photos you’re about to see)…

Here I am walking into PNC Park with Erik and a few of his friends:

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This was my reaction after stepping onto the field:

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It was nine o’clock in the morning. The sun was bright, but the grass was still wet, and it was only 49 degrees — not ideal conditions to jack one over the fence, but I was hopeful.

There were only about 100 people in our 9am-11am group, and we all gathered in the stands for the welcome speech:

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The speaker thanked us for supporting the Pirates in 2009 (You’re welcome!) and explained a few basic things about how our three-group session on the field was going to be run:

Group One would be hitting first…

Group Two would be free to roam anywhere on the field and shag baseballs…

Group Three would start by lining up on the warning track in right field and catching fly balls that were going to be fired from a pitching machine…

I was in Group Three, which meant that all the balls were going to be soggy by the time I stepped into the cage. It also meant that I had to break the rules for a couple minutes and play catch at shortstop:

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The rules, it should be noted, were not strictly enforced. Some people from Group Two made a beeline for the right field warning track, while others in Group Three (like me and Erik) wandered all over the place.

Here I am with Erik:

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(Erik is 6-foot-4.)

The fly ball machine was positioned on the infield dirt behind first base:

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It wasn’t THAT exciting to catch routine 200-foot fly balls fired from a machine, especially when I had to wait in line for five minutes between each one. What WAS exciting was simply being on the field:

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Quite simply, it was a dream come true.

Finally, after more than an hour, Group Three was called in to hit. I raced to the front of the line and grabbed an aluminum bat that belonged to one of Erik’s friends. I could’ve used wood — there were more than a dozen players’ bats lying around — but I decided I’d go with metal until I put one out.

Unfortunately, that never happened (and here’s where I make tons of excuses)…

In addition to the balls being damp, I had to hit off a pitching machine that was firing most of the balls shoulder-high. Also, the late-morning sun was shining right in my eyes from straight-away center field. In addition, I only got eight pitches, which included my bunt to start the round as well as another pitch that I took moments later because it was head-high. There were so many people waiting to hit, and the guys feeding the machine were in such a rush to get me out of the cage that they only gave me three seconds between each swing to get ready for the next one. It was like, “Hurry up and have your fun and get the hell out.” (But don’t get me wrong: it WAS fun.)

Here I am taking a mighty cut at one of the only belt-high pitches I saw:

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Although, as I mentioned above, I didn’t hit a ball out of the park, I did manage to hit a line drive that bounced onto the warning track. If the ball weren’t damp and heavy, it might’ve gone out, and if I’d swung about an eighth of an inch lower, it definitely would’ve gone out.

After everyone in Group Three got their eight-pitches (no one in any group even came close to hitting one out), we each got to jump back in the cage for a four-pitch lightning round. Brandon wandered out behind the mound and took the following photo of me at the plate:

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Same result:
Damp balls.
Too high.
Good swings.
Totally rushed.
Decent contact.
No homers.
Major frustration.

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It was exhilarating to get to take BP on a major league field, and
while it certainly went down as I expected, it wasn’t anything like
what I’d dreamt of so many times. In my own personal FantasyLand, I
have a stadium all to myself. The grass is dry. It’s 82
degrees. Leon Feingold is pitching BP fastballs to me with pearls, and of course I’m hitting the crap out of them.

Former big league pitcher Rick Reuschel was hanging around near the batting cage. He and I talked for a minute and then had our picture taken.

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(In my next life, I’m going to be 6-foot-7.)

Here I am with a gentleman named Nick Pelescak: 

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Nick is:

1) a friend of Erik’s
2) a Pirates season ticket holder
3) the owner of the metal bat I’d used
4) a member of the Ballhawk League
5) a good ballplayer
6) a great guy

As you can see in the photo above, Nick brought his copy of Watching Baseball Smarter for me to sign…which I did…with an extra big smile because it was the most worn-out/well-appreciated copy of the book that I’d ever seen. Nick told me he’d read it several times and underlined his favorite parts, which turned out to be half the stuff in it. Check out this two-page spread in the “Umpires” chapter:

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The whole book looked like that.

It was lunchtime. Our two-hour session on the field had ended.

We entertained ourselves at the speed-pitch booth:

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In the photo above, that’s me on the left, Nick on the right, and Nick’s younger brother Bryan in the middle. Bryan (who’s just 16 years old) threw the fastest pitch of the day at 73mph.

Then it was time to eat:

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And then we wandered back down to the field:

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Thanks to a not-so-secret loophole in the system, we all got to head back onto the field. Here I am, waiting for my turn to hit:

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See the batting glove I’m wearing in the photo above? On this fine day in Pittsburgh, I decided to use Jeromy Burnitz’s batting gloves — the ones he tossed to me in 2004 at Shea Stadium. (Here’s my whole collection of batting gloves, in case you care.)

There were a dozen helmets lying around next to the cage…

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…and none of them fit.

These were some of the bats:

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I took my eight swings with Nick’s metal bat…

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…and finished up with Jose Bautista’s wood bat. No homers. But I hit some deep fly balls and got a compliment from former Pirate John Wehner. Here I am with him:

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Wehner said that even HE wouldn’t have been able to hit a home run with such bad balls. (I wish I had a photo of the balls, but since I don’t, let me just say this: the worst ball that you could possibly catch during BP at a major league game would be better than any ball I was invited to hit at PNC Park.) He might’ve just been saying that to make me feel better…but then again, he did only hit four career homers in the big leagues…but no, it was nice to hear.

Brandon and I wandered out to the bullpens. Here I am on the mound:

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Here I am on the bench:

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Here’s a sign that was on the wall out there:

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Here I am clowning around on the warning track (robbing a…double?) with Bryan looking on:

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Brandon and my mom and I were going to have to leave for the airport soon, so I spent my remaining time catching fly balls from the pitching machine.

Here I am getting ready to catch one:

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Here I am losing my footing on another:

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(We were not allowed to wear spikes or cleats.)

I failed to catch that particular ball and ended up like this:

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Good times!

Here’s one final photo of me and mom before we headed out:

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The Pittsburgh Pirates are awesome for letting their season ticket holders take over the field for a day. By comparison, the New York Mets “rewarded” their season ticket holders by letting
them run the bases (for 20 seconds) after the final game of the season.

I have to end this entry with a BIG thank you to Erik for giving me the opportunity to do this. Check out his blog. He should have an entry up about it soon. Also…thanks to Brandon for taking all the photos.

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