Game time: 7:10pm
Arrival-at-the-stadium time: 1:00pm
Yeah, it was another monster day at Target Field, this time thanks to a certain Twins employee, who gave me (and my girlfriend Jona) a private tour of the stadium. (As I mentioned in my previous entry, this employee wishes to remain anonymous, so let’s just call him Kirby.)
Because the tour began more than four hours before the stadium opened, the concourse was empty…
…and so were the the seats:
Kirby took us inside Hrbek’s bar…
…and pointed out that the ceiling is decorated with every different Twins logo in team history. Then he led us into the uber-fancy Champion’s Club, which is located directly behind home plate. Here it is from the outside:
(That’s Jona in the green jacket and Kirby in the blue shirt.)
This is the reception/entrance area:
(That’s me sitting at the desk-like podium thing.)
Note the “TC” logos all over the place, including the huge one on the floor and the smaller ones on the logs.
This is what I saw when we headed through the back door of the reception area:
Normally, when fans enter the club, an auxiliary wall blocks the service tunnel from view, but in this case, since we were there so early, everything was open.
As we wandered through the tunnel, I saw the Twins Family Lounge…
…and then found myself standing right outside the Twins’ clubhouse:
Tony Oliva walked by. I said hello and shook his hand. Ho-hum. Just your typical three-time batting champion.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get to go inside the clubhouse, but hey, no biggie, at least I got to explore the Champion’s Club. Here’s the first thing I saw when I opened the door:
See those wooden cabinets on the left? This is what was in them:
Yep, the two Twins World Series trophies from 1987 and 1991.
Here’s a four-part photo that shows more of the Champion’s club:
All the food is free there — that is, after you’ve spent your life savings on the tickets — including the candy.
This is how you get from the club to the seats…
…and once you reach the top of the ramp, this is the view of the field:
From that spot, you’re closer to home plate than the pitcher is.
Justin Morneau was doing some sort of TV shoot just to my left. Meanwhile, out in right field, another Twins player (I think it was Kevin Slowey) was working out with a weighted ball:
Kirby took us up to the club level and showed us one of the suites:
Here’s another look at it:
Reminds me of IKEA. Still pretty nice, though. But it’s not how *I* would ever want to watch a baseball game.
One seriously cool thing about the suites is that they’re all connected, you know, sort of like hotel rooms that have conjoining doors. Check it out:
If you rent out one suite, there’s a door that shuts and seals it off from the next one, but if you rent two (or all ten), you can open them up.
(In case you didn’t notice, the suites alternate colors — blue and red, the Twins’ colors.)
Here’s what it looked like when I walked out the back door of the suite:
The next stop on the tour was the Metropolitan Club down the right field line:
(The previous day, I had wandered all over the stadium on my own, but because of my limited access, there was only so much I could see. This tour completely made up for it and filled in all the missing pieces.)
Here’s one photo that I took inside the Metropolitan Club…
…and here’s another:
The club is named after Metropolitan Stadium, the Twins’ home from 1961-1981.
Check out the view of the field from inside the club…
…and from the outside:
Check out this lovely view of the standing room area:
Back inside the club, I took a good look at a display case with some old Metropolitan Stadium memorabilia…
…and then followed Kirby to the nearby (and equally exclusive) Delta Club (aka the “Legends Club”). Here’s the entrance…
…and this is what it looked like on the inside:
The club has a whole area dedicated to Kirby Puckett (not to be confused with Kirby the tour guide):
See the balcony? That’s the suite level. (There’s a difference between the suite level and the club level, although both levels have suites. Don’t ask.) More on that in a bit…
Here’s a four-part photo that shows some different stuff in the Delta club:
TOP LEFT: a fancy-schmancy hallway
TOP RIGHT: a wall with famous Twins play-by-play quotes
BOTTOM LEFT: a bar/lounge with a staircase that leads to the suite level
BOTTOM RIGHT: a deli, located in the concourse
Before we went upstairs, I checked out the seats in front of the press box:
(That cross-aisle, if you can ever get there, is great for game foul balls.)
Here’s the hallway and balcony on the suite level:
The area down below, dedicated to Rod Carew, is part of the Delta/Legends club.
Here’s what the truly fancy suite-level suites look like (as opposed to the slightly-less-fancy club-level suites, which you saw earlier):
Kirby told me that these suites go for “six figures” per season, and that there’s a “five-year commitment” required.
(Ahem, excuse me?!)
Here’s the suite’s outdoor seating area. I’ve drawn arrows pointing to a) a heat lamp and b) a flat-screen TV:
Here’s another section of the suite-level hallway:
(Six figures? Seriously?)
Kirby led us up to the upper deck, and then we headed toward the Budweiser Party deck:
Here’s what it looks like up there. The big rectangular thing in the middle of the photo is a fire pit:
(Can you imagine if they had one of these at Yankee Stadium? Red Sox games would be so much more entertaining.)
Here’s the partial view of the field from the third row of seating:
Here I am with Jona:
That was pretty much the end of the tour, but even on the way out, there was interesting stuff to see:
(To the anonymous Twins employee who gave me the tour, thank you SO much. It was one of the most special things I’ve ever done inside a major league stadium.)
It was 3pm. Jona was starving (and bein’ all vegan), so we found a Mexican restaurant where she ordered beans and rice (which somehow had a piece of beef buried in it).
At around 4pm — 90 minutes before the stadium was going to open — we headed over to Gate 34. I could see that the batting cage was set up, and half an hour later, the Twins started hitting:
Ten minutes after that…
…I managed to snag a ball outside the stadium. A left-handed batter on the Twins crushed a home run down the line. The ball cleared the bleachers and was bouncing right toward me across the standing room area. As I reached through the gate to prepare for the easy snag, a young usher hustled over and scooped up the ball. I made such a big fuss about it (in a friendly way) that he ended up tossing it to me — but his throw was off the mark, and the ball clanked off one of the bars and started rolling to my left. He chased after it, then returned and apologized for the bad throw and handed the ball to me.
Once the stadium opened, I went to the corner spot down the left field foul line. Jona hung back in the bleachers so she’d be in a good spot to take photos with her own camera. Here she is…
…and here are some of the photos she took:
I got Jason Berken to toss me my second ball of the day, and then I promptly booted a grounder that was yanked down the line. In my own defense, let me say this: it was a three-hopper, hit hard with a ton of topspin. Not only did I get an in-between hop, but the ball came up on me and deflected off my wrist. (It came up so much that it completely missed my glove.) It was the kind of bad hop that the casual fan wouldn’t notice, but anyone who’s ever played infield knows how tough these balls can be. After I booted it, Will Ohman (who was shagging balls in left field) started making fun of me. I got the last laugh, however, by snagging three ground balls in the next 20 minutes. Here’s a photo that shows me leaning out of the stands for one of them:
On this particular grounder, I leaned WAY out of the stands as soon as the ball was hit. Then, when it ended up hooking back toward me, I didn’t need to reach out with full extension. The day before, I had actually reached past the foul line for a grounder, but Jona wasn’t there to document it.
I ran over to the Orioles’ dugout at the end of BP and called out to Jeremy Guthrie.
“Hey, what’s up, Zack?” he asked.
Very cool. I knew he’d remember me (from all the Orioles games I’d attended last year), but this was the first time he’d actually said my name.
Here I am talking to him:
We chatted for a couple minutes, during which time he asked me if I’d gotten a ball yet.
“Yeah,” I’m all set, I told him, “but thanks for asking.”
He’s awesome. Case closed.
After BP, I posed with my Target Field commemorative balls…
…and met a season ticket holder named Richard (aka “twibnotes”) who’s been reading this blog for quite some time. He and I hung out for half an hour — and then I had to take off and try to snag a pre-game warm-up ball.
Cesar Izturis tossed one to me at the dugout. The following photo shows the ball in mid-air:
As you can see, the stands were packed, but there wasn’t any competition. Everyone else was pretty much sitting down, patiently waiting for the game to start.
It rained during the game for the third straight day, but that didn’t affect my plan. I just stayed out in the standing room area, hoping that a lefty would get a hold of one and pull it down the line. The following photo shows where I was standing:
(I was still wearing my bright orange Ripken shirt.)
This was my view from that spot:
My friend Bob (aka “Big Glove Bob”) came out and found me in the standing room area, and we chatted on and off throughout the game. Another guy who’s been reading this blog also found me. His name is Pete Gasperlin (aka “pgasperlin”), and he’s the founder of the Denard Span fan club on Facebook.
Here’s a photo of Jona with a ball that she’d snagged earlier in the day:
Yes, that’s the right, the young lady grabbed her fourth lifetime baseball during BP when a home run landed in the camera well down the left field line. The Tigers, it should be noted, were using a combination of regular and commemorative balls. Also, in case you’re wondering, in the five Twins games that I’ve attended this season, I have not seen a single Metrodome ball.
As the game reached the middle innings, Jona got really cold (because it was really cold). Pete came to the rescue. He had season tickets that gave him access to the Metropolitan Club, so he took her up there. He and I hung out for a bit after that. Turns out that we’ll both be at Turner Field on May 17th. Weird.
With three outs remaining in the Orioles’ 2-0 victory, I got tired of the standing room area and headed here:
The move paid off. Look what I ended up getting:
Home plate umpire Tony Randazzo tossed me a rubbed-up commemorative ball as he headed off the field, and then Orioles manager Dave Trembley gave me his Twins lineup card. Here’s a better look at it.
Of all the lineup cards I’ve gotten over the years, this is one of my favorites because of Trembley’s notations. Did you notice what he wrote next to Nick Punto’s name? It says, “NOT GOOD RHH .083,” which obviously means that Punto, a switch-hitter, is terrible from the right side. Directly above that, Trembley noted that Alexi Casilla is better against left-handed pitching. And who knew that Jim Thome was 0-for-3 against Will Ohman?
My day of snagging wasn’t done. Orioles reliever Matt Albers threw me my eighth ball of the day when he walked in from the bullpen, and then Alan Dunn, the bullpen coach, tossed me another less than 60 seconds later. (If I hadn’t dropped that stupid grounder during BP, I would’ve hit double digits — something Bob had said would be impossible at this stadium.)
Before heading back to our hotel, Jona and I stopped by Smalley’s 87 Club for one final meal, this time with a gentleman named Albert (and his kids), who had helped two days earlier with the media.
Aside from the lack of game home runs, my time in Minnesota could not have been any better.
• 9 balls at this game (seven pictured on the right because I gave two away)
• 82 balls in 8 games this season = 10.25 balls per game.
• .813 Ballhawk Winning Percentage this season (6.5 wins, 1.5 losses)
• 637 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 188 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 4,440 total balls
• 29 donors (click here to learn more and get involved)
• $3.85 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $34.65 raised at this game
• $315.70 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
Last month I visited the Office of the Commissioner of Major League Baseball and took a bunch of photos for this blog. Remember? Well, after my meeting there, I was invited to visit the MLB Network headquarters in Secaucus, New Jersey — and once again I was allowed to bring my camera.
Here what the outside of the building looks like:
Here’s the view from just inside the glass doors:
(FYI: The MLB Network is not open to the public. You can’t just show up and ask to have a look around. That said, the security guard at the front desk told me that random people drop by every day and try to talk their way inside. But anyway…)
As soon as I arrived, I was escorted down a hallway and through the following doors:
As soon as the doors closed behind me, I ran into two guys who had each played in the Major Leagues for more than a decade: Harold Reynolds and Tony Clark. They just happened to be heading into a meeting and were walking toward me from the opposite direction. They stopped and said hello to the MLB representative who was showing me around, and then I was introduced to them.
“This is Zack Hample.” Pause. “Zack is…” Another pause.
I wasn’t sure if the gentleman from MLB was searching for the right words or if he was simply waiting for me to take the lead, so I jumped in and said, “Basically, I’m the guy who’s caught more baseballs in the stands at major league games than anyone.”
“How many?” asked the 6-foot-7 Clark.
“Well,” I said, “including all the balls I’ve snagged during batting practice, over 4,300.”
Reynolds and Clark were shocked. I thought there was a chance that they didn’t even believe me so I pulled out my wallet and showed them the bathtub photo and told them that this was only one-fifth of my collection.
“You’re a sick man,” said Reynolds with a grin.
“Thank you,” I replied. “I’ll take that as a compliment.” Then I turned to Clark and said, “Now, I don’t want you to take this the wrong way — I don’t want you to feel used or anything — but you actually contributed to my collection by tossing me a ball a few years ago.”
“Where was that?” he asked, so I told him that he’d flipped me a 3rd-out ball while jogging off the field late in a game at Chase Field in 2007. “I got 21 balls that day,” I said. Clark just shook his head and laughed.
He and Reynolds had to make it to their meeting, so we all shook hands and parted ways, and my tour continued in THE main studio:
It was silent in the studio. Most of the lights were off. There were no other people. It was surreal. I couldn’t believe that I was standing there — twenty minutes earlier I’d been riding a dingy bus from the NJ Transit station — and now all of a sudden here I was, getting another behind-the-scenes glimpse at the world of Major League Baseball. I was so excited…so energized…I just wanted to run and around and shriek…but I held it all together and settled for taking a few more photos.
Here’s the side desk:
In the photo above, do you see the staircase in the background? Here’s what it looks like at the top:
Here’s another look at the darkened studio:
Do you see the big MLB logo into the background?
That’s actually the entrance to the studio.
Here I am inside the logo:
This is where most of the video editing takes place:
Here’s another area where that work is also done:
Do you remember the autographed walls in my behind-the-scenes entry from my recent appearance on “The Tonight Show”? The MLB Network also has an area of autographs, except it’s waaay cooler because all the autographs were written by baseball players. Here’s a photo of the walls:
How many of the autographs can you identify?
Here’s another photo…
Here’s my favorite:
In my opinion, one of the best things about the MLB Network is that there’s a huge studio called MLB Park. Basically, it’s a small replica of a field where the analysts are often filmed recreating plays and teaching fundamentals. Check it out:
Look how realistic the dugouts are:
Here’s a view of the outfield wall and the scoreboard and the bleachers:
While I was wandering around with my camera, most of the lights in MLB Park were abruptly shut off, and a very large camera was wheeled across the infield, just in front off the mound. The network was getting ready to tape a segment in there, so I had to head out, but first I crouched down behind the plate (outside pitch to Albert Pujols) and took one final photo:
And there you have it.
I’ll admit that I was a bit slow to tune in when the MLB Network first launched on January 1st — I didn’t even know that I had it as part of my Time Warner cable package — but I’ve been watching it religiously since the All-Star break. If you’re not sure if you have the network in your home, click here and type your zip code into the “channel locator.”
There was rain in the forecast.
I didn’t really want to go to the game.
But my friend Brandon was visiting from San Diego.
He wanted to check out the new stadium.
So we went.
Thankfully, when we ran inside at 4pm, we saw that the field was set up for batting practice. Unfortunately, as I predicted, the Yankees didn’t start hitting until 4:40, so there was a lot of time to kill. This is how we spent a portion of it:
That’s right. We were shown on the Jumbotron, and as you can see in the photo above, Brandon was ready with his camera.
Brandon is always ready, it seems.
Here’s another shot he took — probably my favorite photo of the day — during the lull before BP got underway. It shows me walking through an empty row of seats:
Brandon had forgotten to bring his baseball glove, so I lent him one before we left my place. Big mistake. He ended up using it to rob me of a home run during the first round of BP, and then he rubbed it in my face for the next 15 minutes.
I had a few close calls early on, but nothing was working out in my favor, and for a while, I was concerned about getting shut out. The sky was already dark gray, and I knew that BP could get wiped out at any moment.
Eventually, after about 25 minutes of BP, some lefty on the Yankees (not sure who) launched a home run 30 feet to my right. I immediately took off running through an empty row and caught it back-handed, reaching high over my head at the far end of the section. Here’s a photo of me walking back toward Brandon with the ball in my right hand:
The Yankees stopped hitting at 5:10pm. (Fabulous.) There was more time to kill, so I changed into my Royals gear and headed over to the left field foul line. Five minutes later, the Royals came out and started throwing, and when Willie Bloomquist finished up, I got him to toss me his ball. In the following photo, the red arrow is pointing to the ball streaking toward me:
By the time the Royals started hitting, there were a few raindrops falling.
Three minutes later?
The rain intensified and batting practice was done.
As the players and coaches cleared the field, I raced to the seats behind the 3rd base dugout and arrived just in time to get some random equipment guy to throw me a ball. That made me feel a little better, but I was still disappointed.
The following two-part photo shows everything that happened for the next three hours:
Right before the game started, Yuniesky Betancourt and Alberto Callaspo began playing catch in front of the 3rd base dugout. I worked my way as close to them as possible and got Callaspo to throw me the ball when they finished. In the following photo (which Brandon took from several sections over), the horizontal arrow is pointing at Callaspo, the arrow pointing up shows the ball in mid-air, and the arrow pointing down shows me getting ready to catch it:
That was my fourth ball of the day. Not terrible for a game at Yankee Stadium with only 30 minutes of BP instead of 90.
The rain, I must admit, ended up working in my favor because it chased lots of people away. I’d decided to sit out in right field during the game (regardless of the weather) so now that I had some empty seats to work with, I was excited at the possibilities.
I wasn’t excited enough, however, to smile in the following photo:
Brandon made me pose for it as we headed to our seats, and he insisted that I include it in this entry.
This was our view during the game:
I nearly caught Ramiro Pena’s first major league home run in the bottom of the fifth inning. It was hit RIGHT in my direction, and I couldn’t believe my eyes. I jumped up and held my ground on the staircase, 100 percent sure that it was going to sail right to me in the fifth row, but then it died a bit (perhaps because the air was cold and damp) so I began to drift down the stairs, but then I got blocked by a cotton candy vendor at the last second, and it was over. The ball bounced off the bare hands of a man in the front row, and I still would’ve had it if it’d deflected back instead of sideways. It was frustrating, to say the least, but I didn’t blame myself. Watch any major league outfielder react to a fly ball hit right at him and he’ll do the same thing: he’ll hold his ground for a moment and THEN start drifting once he determines where it’s going to land, so whatever. The guy who ended up snagging that ball graciously tossed it into the bullpen when the relievers asked for it. In exchange, they tossed back another ball, and get this…it wasn’t signed, and it wasn’t even commemorative. It was just a standard Selig ball, and when the guy got it, he wasn’t too happy. To his credit, he stayed calm and simply asked the guys in the bullpen to autograph it. Once he got the go-ahead, he tossed the ball back, and it was returned to him five minutes later with the autographs of EVERYONE who was out there — at least a dozen guys — including Mariano Rivera. Very cool.
Anyway, the reason why I’m not throwing a fit right now (while writing this) is because of what happened a couple innings later. It was the bottom of the seventh. The Yankees, already winning 4-2, loaded the bases with nobody out against Royals starter Luke Hochevar. Robinson Cano stepped to the plate, and I told Brandon that I was going to catch a grand slam. I was already sitting one row behind him so that I’d have as much room as possible to run. My row had about 10 empty seats to my right, and the row behind me was almost totally empty. I had my whole route planned in case Cano happened to launch one to my right: I was going to start running and then climb back over a row (while the ball was in mid-air) and then keep running toward the far end of the section, or as far as I needed to go. And that’s exactly what happened. Cano turned on an 0-1 pitch and lifted a high, deep fly ball to my right. As soon as it left the bat, I knew that it was going to be a home run, and I knew that I had a chance to get near it…wherever it happened to land. I didn’t bother looking up at the ball at first. I just kept my head down and focused on not bumping into anyone or anything. As I approached the far end of the section, my hat got knocked off as I looked up for the ball:
You can see the hat falling in the photo above. See the pole that’s covering the letter “o” in the word “York” on the red advertisement? My hat is right below the bottom of that pole, but anyway, I panicked when the ball sailed directly over my head toward a fan standing near the back of the section. Here I am, turning to watch the ball as it touched down:
I couldn’t believe what happened next. I found myself standing all alone on the staircase as the other fan dropped the ball…and then the ball started bouncing right back down the steps toward me.
I truly couldn’t believe it as it was happening. I bent down to scoop up my first grand slam ball ever…
…and once I had it in my possession, the celebration was underway:
Here I am going nuts…
…and here I am running over to give Brandon (or someone) a high-five:
I must’ve given more than 20 high-fives (and fist-bumps). It was truly insane.
Then I went back and grabbed my hat.
Awe and disbelief:
I was soooooo happy. Snagging a grand slam had been one of my lifelong goals, and now, finally, after two decades of going to games, I had finally done it. I called my parents. I called my girlfriend. I called a couple other people. I would’ve called everyone I knew if there were more time.
For the rest of the game, I kept asking Brandon the same two questions:
1) “Did that really happen?”
2) “Was that really a grand slam?”
The Yankees ended up winning the game, 8-2.
For Cano, it was his 25th home run of the season and 87th of his career. But here’s the cool stat: it was his 202nd hit of the season. I know that’s not a round number or a milestone or anything like that. I just like that fact that he has more than 200 hits and that I not only got one of them, but I got one AFTER hit No. 200.
After the game, I posed with the ball on the staircase where I’d snagged it:
I posed with the ball about 50 more times after that (outside the stadium, on the subway, etc.) but I won’t torture you with all those pics.
(I still can’t believe it.)
• 487 balls in 55 games this season = 8.85 balls per game.
• 624 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 486 consecutive games in New York with at least one ball
• 136 consecutive Yankee games with at least one ball
• 10 lifetime game home runs (not counting toss-ups from outfielders)
• 5 different stadiums with at least one game home run (Old Yankee, Shea, PETCO, Camden, and New Yankee)
• 4,307 total balls
• 126 donors (click here and scroll down for the complete list)
• $25.26 pledged per ball
• $126.30 raised at this game
• $12,301.62 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
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:
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:
I made the easy one-handed catch.
There was lots of room to run in the seats, and I took full advantage:
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:
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:
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:
The ball ended up landing in the empty row directly behind me as I kept running through the seats…
…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:
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:
(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.
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!”
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:
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:
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:
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:
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.
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:
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:
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…
…and here it is streaking into my glove:
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:
Here are the two balls that tied me with Rose and then moved me past him:
Once all the players and coaches were gone, I took the following photo…
…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
waved 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:
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:
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:
Happy birthday to ME.
• 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
• 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: