Tagged: marked balls

10/3/10 at Camden Yards

The last day of the regular season always starts slowly, and this was no exception. When I ran inside the stadium, this was my first look at the field:

1_no_batting_practice_10_03_10.JPG

No batting practice.

Yawn.

But that was to be expected.

Five minutes later, there was at least a sign of life…

2_no_batting_practice_10_03_10.JPG

…and 15 minutes after that, several Tigers began playing catch in left field:

3_tigers_playing_catch.JPG

In the photo above, there’s an arrow pointing to Robbie Weinhardt because he ended up throwing me his ball when he finished.

Then I got his autograph. Here he is signing for another fan…

4_robbie_weinhardt_signing.JPG

…and here he is posing for a photo:

5_robbie_weinhardt_posing.JPG

It was THAT kind of a day — very slow and laid-back.

Lots of Tigers signed autographs. I got six on my ticket:

6_tigers_autographs.jpg

Since their handwriting is even worse than their won-lost record, I’ll tell you their names: Alfredo Figaro, Brad Thomas, Ryan Perry, Daniel Schlereth, Max St. Pierre, and of course Mister Weinhardt.

Not only did I collect a bunch of autographs, but I also signed one for a young fan named Xavier. Here he is holding it up for the camera:

7_autograph_for_xavier.JPG

The Orioles eventually came out and played catch:

8_orioles_playing_catch_10_03_10.JPG

I didn’t snag any baseballs from them, but I did get a couple of autographs. Here’s a photo of Matt Albers signing:

9_matt_albers_signing.JPG

I got him on the back of my ticket, along with Mike Gonzalez’s signature:

10_orioles_autographs.jpg

Just before the singing of the national anthem, I got my second ball of the day (and 299th of the season) from Tigers infielder Scott Sizemore.

Here’s the ball:

11_ball4657.JPG

As I mentioned in my last entry, the Tigers mark their balls on the sweet spot.

My friends Roger and Bassey and my girlfriend Jona showed up at game time. Here they are, chillin’ on the first base side:

12_roger_jona_bassey_during_game.JPG

(That’s Roger on the left and Bassey on the right.)

I really wanted to snag my 300th ball of the season, but rather than go for a 3rd-out ball (which would’ve been fairly easy), I stayed in the outfield and tried to catch a home run instead.

No luck.

Given the fact that this was the final game of the season, and given the fact that the players were likely going to give away some of their equipment after the final out, I made my way to the Tigers’ dugout at the start of the 9th inning.

This was my view:

13_view_in_ninth_inning_10_03_10.JPG

As soon as the Tigers put the finishing touches on their 4-2 victory, I moved down into the front row:

14_zack_behind_dugout_10_03_10.jpg

Here’s what happened next:

15_zack_holding_bat.jpg

It was only the fifth bat I’d ever gotten, and it belonged to Austin Jackson! Are you aware of how awesome Jackson is? This was his first season in the Major Leagues, and he finished with a .293 batting average, 181 hits, 34 doubles, 10 triples, 27 stolen bases, and 103 runs scored. Okay, so he struck out 170 times. Whatever. Austin Jackson is The Man — and the potential rookie of the year. The way I got his bat was simple and unexpected. As the players were filing into the dugout, some guys flung their caps into the crowd, and a few others tossed their batting gloves. During all the chaos, I happened to see a bat get lifted up from below the dugout roof, and I lunged for it. That was it. I grabbed it a split-second before anyone else realized what was going on. As for those batting gloves, I got one of those, too:

16_will_rhymes_batting_glove.jpg

This one belonged to Will Rhymes — not exactly a household name, but give the guy some credit. This was his rookie season, and he batted .304 in 54 games.

After all the Tigers were gone, there was still some action on the Orioles’ side, so I hurried over to their dugout:

17_zack_orioles_dugout.JPG

It was painfully crowded. I couldn’t get any closer than the 3rd row.

In the photo above, those are fans standing on the field. They were picked through some sort of random drawing to receive “game-worn” jerseys from the players. Why is “game-worn” in quotes? Let’s just say that the jerseys were definitely NOT worn during the game that had just been played on the field. Right after the final out, the players disappeared into the clubhouse, where they obviously changed into alternate uniforms before returning 10 minutes later. How do I know this? Because…during the game, several Orioles dove for balls and slid into bases. Their uniforms were D-I-R-T-Y when the game ended and perfectly clean when they returned for the give-away. (Maybe, after changing, the players spent a few minutes in the clubhouse playing backgammon, in which case their clean uniforms would have actually been “game-worn.”) I’m just bitter because I’ve never gotten a jersey. That’s probably what I’ll ask for when I finally catch an important home run that a player wants back. But anyway…

Here’s a closer look at the bat:

18_closeup_of_the_bat.JPG

Adam Jones started signing autographs along the foul line…

19_adam_jones_signing.JPG

…so I ran over and got him on an extra ticket I had from the previous day:

20_adam_jones_autograph.jpg

I thought about getting him on the back of my October 3rd ticket — I liked the idea of getting all my autographs for the day on one ticket — but because he’s so good and has the potential to become a superstar, I had him sign a separate item.

Just as I was getting set to leave the stadium, the groundskeepers appeared in the right field corner and started playing catch:

21_groundskeepers_playing_catch.JPG

I was still stuck at 299 balls for the season, and the playoffs were (and still are) a big question mark, so I thought, “This is my chance.”

(In the photo above, that’s me in the white shirt.)

I asked one of the groundskeepers if I could have a ball when he was finished throwing. He said, “Probably not because this is all we have to play with.”

Ahh. So they were going to play a game on the field. Lucky them…

Well, it just so happened that one of the groundskeepers airmailed his throwing partner. The ball landed in the seats. I ran over and grabbed it. And when the guy started flapping his glove at me, I tossed it back to him, figuring he’d give it to me when he was done. I mean, now he had a reason to give it to me. I had just done him a favor. He owed it to me, in fact. But guess what? He never gave it back. And it gets worse. After he jogged off, one of his buddies taunted me by pretending to throw one to me. Nice. Really nice. (I’m considering placing the Hample Jinx on the entire Orioles grounds crew, but I’m not sure how that would work. I can tell you, though, that I *will* find some way to get revenge.)

I had a long internal debate over whether or not to count that final ball. I mean, I *did* snag it. But then I gave it away. But I normally count balls that I give away. But I give those away voluntarily. GAH!!! Ultimately I decided not to count it. It just seemed cheap. And for what it’s worth, my friend Bassey said, “It’s more poetic to end the season with 299 balls than 300.” But then again, who knows? I might just end up making my way to a playoff game or two.

Here I am with Roger, Jona, and Bassey after the game on Eutaw Street:

22_roger_jona_zack_bassey.JPG

If you look at the pavement in the photo above, you can see that it had just started to rain. Ha-haaa!!! It actually rained pretty hard after that. Take THAT, grounds crew!!! And get ready for more misery in 2011…

SNAGGING STATS:

23_only_two_baseballs.JPG

• 2 balls at this game (pictured on the right)

• 299 balls in 31 games this season = 9.65 balls per game.

• 660 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 203 consecutive games outside New York with at least one ball

• 4,657 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 48 donors (click here to learn more)

• $7.53 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $15.06 raised at this game

• $2,251.47 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

Hold on! This entry isn’t done. I want to show you a few more photos of the bat. First, here it is in its entirety:

24_austin_jackson_bat.JPG

Austin Jackson wears uniform No. 14, so check out the end and knob of the bat:

25_austin_jackson_bat.jpg

Here’s the trademark…

26_austin_jackson_bat.JPG

…and here are some marks/smudges on the barrel that were caused by balls:

27_austin_jackson_bat.JPG

If you want to see all my “bonus items,” click here. You’ll see that I have them organized into three categories: lineup cards, batting gloves, and other equipment.

The End.

(For now…)

10/2/10 at Camden Yards

For the final weekend of the regular season, I drove down to Baltimore with Jona and two other friends. Here we are outside the stadium:

1_roger_bassey_zack_jona.JPG

In the photo above, the gentleman on the left is a teacher named Roger. He and I have known each other for more than a decade, and this wasn’t our first baseball road trip together. He was with me in 2003 when I snagged my 2,000th ball at Olympic Stadium. The guy in the yellow shirt is a writer named Bassey. I met him last year at my writing group. He played high school baseball in Milwaukee and now works for the New York Times.

Anyway, let’s get on with the action…

My first ball of the day was a batting practice homer hit by Adam Jones that landed in the empty seats in straight-away left field. Nothing fancy about it. My second ball, however, was a bit more exciting. Someone on the Orioles (not sure who) launched a homer 30 feet to my right. I bolted through my row and made a leaping back-handed catch at the last second. I didn’t know it at the time, but Jona had reached the left field seats by that point, and she took a beautiful action shot of the ball flying toward my open glove. The ball is hard to see because it’s overlapping the white uniform pants of some players in the background, so I drew a red circle around it. Check it out:

2_zack_catching_ball4645.JPG

Do you see the fan positioned two rows behind me? His name is Ben. He’s a new-but-very-talented ballhawk who recently snagged A-Rod’s 607th career home run. Do you see the fan running over from the next section? His name is Tim, and he, too, is fairly new and highly skilled as a ballhawk.

Ready for a funny photo of all three of us? Look at our ridiculous facial expressions as another home run ball sailed over our heads:

3_funny_faces_on_home_run_ball.jpg

I forget who ended up snagging that ball, but I can tell you that it wasn’t me.

Tim and Ben write a blog together called Baltimore’s Finest, and of course they both have profiles on mygameballs.com. Here’s Tim’s profile, and here’s Ben’s. (And hey, here’s mine. Awesome website. Totally free. Go there immediately and create a profile if you haven’t done so already.)

As for Roger and Bassey…

4_roger_and_bassey_during_bp.JPG

…they weren’t interested in snagging baseballs. They just stayed in one spot and watched the action unfold all around them.

My third ball of the day was a Nolan Reimold homer that landed in the seats and rolled down to the front row. My fourth ball was a ground-rule double, and I have no idea who hit it. I’ve had a tough time this season with ground-rule doubles in Baltimore. The warning track is made of rubber, and the outfield wall is low, so lots of balls have bounced over me. On this one, however, I played it perfectly. Once I determined that the ball was going to land on the track, I backed up a few rows and ended up in the perfect spot to reach up for the easy catch.

When the Tigers took the field, I got Phil Coke to throw me a ball as he walked toward the bullpen. Here I am (wearing dark Tigers gear) about to catch it:

5_zack_catching_ball4648.JPG

My sixth ball was another homer. I ranged a full section to my right for it and made a back-handed catch in traffic:

6_zack_catching_ball4649.jpg

That one felt pretty good — and then I caught another homer on the fly in left-center. Here’s a photo of that ball on its way down:

7_zack_catching_ball4650.JPG

As soon as I caught the ball, I noticed that there was a young boy standing right in front of me. Even though I hadn’t robbed him, I decided to hook him up with the ball, and yes, Jona got a photo of that, too:

8_zack_giving_away_ball4650.JPG

Halfway through the Tigers’ portion of BP, Eddie Bonine tossed me a ball in straight-away left field, and then I caught another homer on the fly in left-center. This was probably my best play of the day. There were people all around, so I climbed up on a seat while the ball was in mid-air and reached far to my left over everyone. In the following photo, the diagonal arrow in the upper right is pointing to the ball, and the vertical arrow down below is pointing at me:

9_zack_catching_ball4652.JPG

Every time I snagged a ball, I tossed it to Jona so she could put it in my backpack. Here I am preparing to toss her another:

10_here_take_this.JPG

Remember when I saw the Tigers at Target Field earlier this season on May 4th and May 5th? The Tigers were using balls during BP that had been marked like this with a thick black magic marker. Well, the Tigers were still using marked balls this past weekend in Baltimore. Some were marked on both the logo and sweet spot, while others were marked only on the sweet spot…like this:

11_marked_ball_from_the_tigers.JPG

(That’s Jona’s hand, by the way. Don’t get the wrong idea.)

Later in the day, I noticed that one of my baseballs had a faint black streak on it:

12_magic_marker_residue.JPG

It occurred to me that the streak was probably the residue (or imprint) from one of those black marks on another ball. Cool, huh? It probably happened while the balls were being pressed together in the BP bucket or an equipment bag. I love stuff like that.

Every batter in the final group of BP was left-handed, so I headed over to the standing-room-only section (aka “The Flag Court”) in right field:

13_zack_heading_into_flag_court.JPG

The sun out there was brutal. Even though I was wearing a cap, I had to use my right hand to shade my eyes:

14_battling_the_sun.JPG

Let me show you what I mean. Here’s a photo that Jona took while standing right behind me:

15_battling_the_sun.JPG

Not only was it tough to see, but every time a ball sailed into the Flag Court, there was an all-out stampede for it:

16_scramble_for_a_ball.JPG

At one point, I completely whiffed on a line-drive homer that pretty much came right to me because I simply couldn’t see the ball. I found myself backing away from it and stabbing awkwardly at a random spot in the air where I thought it was going to end up. I suppose it was worth missing out on it to avoid getting hit in the face, but I still felt like a failure.

Here’s another action shot of a home-run-induced stampede:

17_home_run_sailing_over_flag_court.JPG

This ball ended up sailing completely over the Flag Court and clanging off the grill in Boog’s Barbecue.

I did manage to snag one ball in right field, and I owe it all to Jona and Bassey. The ball bounced into the cross-aisle just next to the Flag Court and came to rest at Jona’s feet. I was about 20 feet away at that point, and because there were other fans nearby, I figured Jona or Bassey would grab the ball. But instead Jona yelled, “Don’t touch it!!” and Bassey used his body to form a mini-barricade (or, as he desribed it, a “containment zone”) around it so that no one else could grab it. I was able to race over and scoop up the ball, and because it hadn’t entered the possession of any other fan, I was able to count it. If Jona or Bassey (or Roger, who was also standing nearby) had picked it up and handed it to me, that would have nullified it. So…big thanks to my friends for bailing me out and helping me reach double digits — that was my 10th ball of the day — when luck/skill seemed to turn against me.

Here are the four of us being silly after BP…

18_bassey_jona_roger_zack_after_bp.JPG

…and here’s a HUGE moth-like creature that was chillin’ nearby on a brick wall:

19_big_ass_moth.jpg

If that thing had flown into my face, I’m quite certain that Roger, Bassey, and Jona would now be deaf because I would have shrieked THAT loud. We all have our weaknesses, and bugs are one of mine. Nature is pretty and all, but I don’t like to get too close to it, if you know what I mean. I live a quarter of a mile from Central Park. That’s good enough.

Shortly before game time, I got Will Rhymes to sign my ticket…

20_will_rhymes_autograph.JPG

…and then I snagged two more baseballs within a 10-second span. The first was thrown by Brandon Inge. Here’s a photo of him just before he let it fly:

21_brandon_inge_tossing_ball4654.JPG

In the photo above, do you see the guy on the field wearing the navy blue athletic gear? Well, I assumed that he was the Tigers’ strength/conditioning coach, so I pulled out my cheat sheet…

22_tigers_orioles_rosters.jpg

…and felt pretty certain that his name was Chris. When all the players headed back to the dugout, there was one ball that was still sitting on the grass near the foul line. This guy happened to pick it up, so I shouted, “CHRIS!!!” as loud as I could, and what do you know? He turned and flung it to me as he jogged off the field.

That was my 12th — and unfortunately last — ball of the day. During the game, I had two really close calls on foul balls behind the plate, and I missed Nick Markakis’s fourth-inning homer by two feet. It was so depressing. I was standing at the back of the Flag Court. The ball was hit exactly in my direction, meaning I was perfectly lined up with it from the moment that it left the bat. I quickly determined that it wasn’t going to reach the back of the section, so I darted forward, hoping to make the catch just behind the wall at the front. Well, the ball landed ON TOP of the wall (where there’s a three-foot-wide metal platform) and skipped back over my head and rolled to the EXACT SPOT where I’d been standing in the first place. I still would’ve had the ball if some bozo eating a pulled pork sandwich hadn’t been standing there. It was terrible. Meanwhile, it seemed as if everyone else I knew was snagging game-used baseballs. Tim somehow got his hands on the only other homer of the night, a blast to straight-away left by Brandon Inge, and Bassey managed to grab a foul ball despite sitting in the middle of a row on the first base side.

Here’s Bassey with his ball — the first one he’d ever snagged in his life, including batting practice:

23_bassey_and_his_foul_ball.JPG

Great for Bassey. Great for Tim. But it just added to my frustration. I busted my butt and ran all over the stadium for two hours and didn’t have anything to show for it. That’s right. Two hours. That’s how long the game lasted. The Orioles won, 2-1, behind a strong six-inning performance from Brian Matusz. Mike Gonzalez, Jim Johnson, and Koji Uehara each worked a quick scoreless inning in relief. For the Tigers, Armando Galarraga went the distance and notched a rare complete-game loss. He threw just 91 pitches in eight innings. That’s how to play a game in two hours. (Yankees and Red Sox, are you listening?)

After the final out, I met up with a friend from Baltimore named Adam. You might recognize him from previous blog entries. Here we all are:

24_roger_adam_zack_jona_bassey_postgame.JPG

The five of us went out to dinner at a nearby Chinese restaurant, and then Jona and Roger and Bassey and I went back to our hotel. We were gonna have to be up early-ish the next day for the final game of the regular season.

SNAGGING STATS:

25a_the_11_i_kept_10_02_10.JPG

• 12 balls at this game (11 pictured on the right because I gave one away)

• 297 balls in 30 games this season = 9.9 balls per game.

• 659 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 185 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 202 consecutive games outside New York with at least one ball

• 132 lifetimes games with at least ten balls

• 4,655 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 48 donors (click here to learn more)

• $7.53 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $90.36 raised at this game

• $2,236.41 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

Hey, wait, here’s one more photo. I was playing around with Photoshop and…well, here, just have a look:

25b_the_11_i_kept_10_02_10.jpg

9/29/10 at Citi Field

Citi Field normally opens two and a half hours early, but yesterday was a single-admission doubleheader, so the gates opened just 90 minutes before the first pitch. When I ran inside, I was glad to see that the Brewers were taking batting practice. (Teams sometimes skip BP before doubleheaders.) I hurried out to left field and snagged five balls in a spectacularly short amount of time. The first was a home run that landed in the seats and trickled down into the empty front row:

1_ball4632.JPG

The second was another home run that landed in the seats. The third was thrown by bullpen catcher Marcus Hanel. The fourth and fifth were both homers into the seats. I have no idea who hit them. The balls were raining down faster than I could grab them. It was nuts, and it would’ve been even better had two other home run balls not bounced back onto the field.

Every one of the balls had a magic marker streak drawn onto the sweet spot. Here’s a photo of two of them (with Hanel in the background):

2_marked_balls_from_brewers.JPG

My sixth ball of the day was thrown by Chris Dickerson in left-center field, and my seventh was a ground-rule double hit by Jonathan Lucroy. (Yes, balls occasionally bounce up to the top of that horrendous 16-foot wall in left field.)

Then there was an entire group of lefties, so I raced over to the right field side. My eighth ball was thrown by Jeremy Jeffress in straight-away right…

3_jeremy_jeffress_after_ball4639.JPG

…and my ninth ball was thrown by Mike McClendon in right-center:

4_mike_mcclendon_after_ball4640.JPG

Ready for another lame photo of a guy standing around in the outfield after throwing me a ball? Good. Here’s third base coach Brad Fischer:

5_brad_fischer_after_ball4642.JPG

Right after Fischer tossed me the ball, he threw another one to a kid — or at least he tried. The ball sailed over the kid’s head, took a wacky bounce off a seat, and rolled right to me…so I picked it up and handed it to him. It was one of four balls that I gave away yesterday, and in case you’re wondering, I do count balls that I give away, even in rare situations like this when the ball wasn’t intended for me. That’s just my own way of documenting my collection. There’s actually one more stat-related thing that I should point out: single-admission doubleheaders count as one “game” for me. You might think that’s dumb, but that’s the way I’ve been doing it since 1990.

Anyway, with a couple minutes of BP remaining, I headed to the Brewers’ dugout, where, unfortunately, the only thing I got was this photo of a fan picking his nose:

6_gold_digger.JPG

Stadiums are always empty at the start of single-admission doubleheaders. Yesterday I took advantage of that fact in four ways. First, I seized the rare opportunity to photograph a Citi Field bathroom:

7_citi_field_bathroom.JPG

Second, I played for home runs in left field. This was my view during the top of the first inning…

8_view_from_left_field_09_29_10.JPG

…and this is what it looked like to my left:

9_view_to_my_left_09_29_10.JPG

Of course, during the 18 innings that were played yesterday, not ONE stinkin’ home run landed in the left field seats.

Third, I spent some time going for foul balls on the 3rd base side…

10_empty_seats_doubleheader.JPG

…and fourth, I went for 3rd-out balls behind the dugout, where there was VERY little competition:

11_empty_seats_doubleheader.JPG

I ended up getting a ball from shortstop Luis Cruz after Ruben Tejada grounded into a 4-6 fielder’s choice to end the 3rd inning.

The highlight of my day took place two frames later. Not only did I catch a T-shirt during the “Pepsi T-shirt Launch,” but my mom showed up. Here she is waving to the camera…

12_t_shirt_launch_and_naomi.JPG

…and here I am showing the front and back of the shirt:

13_zack_t_shirt.JPG

This was my mom’s first game at Citi Field. Want to know what other major league stadiums she’s been to? Here’s the official list: The Polo Grounds, the old Yankee Stadium, Shea Stadium, Fenway Park, Veterans Stadium (for David Cone’s 19-strikeout performance), Fulton County Stadium, Bank One Ballpark (later renamed to Chase Field), Comiskey Park (later renamed to U.S. Cellular Field), Citizens Bank Park, and Dodger Stadium. That’s eleven stadiums. Not bad, huh?

Speaking of bad, this is what it has come down to for Mets fans:

14_paper_bags_on_heads.JPG

The Brewers won the first game, 8-7, and my mom and I sat behind the 3rd base dugout for Game 2. I really wanted a 3rd-out ball from Prince Fielder, but it wasn’t meant to be. (I’ll get one from him someday.) There was a lot of competition, and I didn’t snag any other balls from anyone — not from the umps, not from the relievers walking in from the bullpen…nothing. I did, however, get to see Trevor Hoffman nail down his 601st (and perhaps last?) career save as the Brewers took the second game by the score of 3-1. Here’s a photo of Hoffman pitching to Joaquin Arias:

15_trevor_hoffman_601st_save.JPG

Here’s the embarrassing-but-cute photo of the day — the “proud mommy” moment after the second game:

16_naomi_and_zack_09_29_10.JPG

(Wow, did I really just post that for the whole world to see? And Mom, seriously, did you have to look up at me like that? Jeez. I’m embarrassed just thinking about it.)

One last thing — actually five last things — before I post my stats…

Five of my baseballs had marks or stamps or various oddities that are worth sharing. Here’s one with a “practice” stamp in an unusual spot:

17_cool_ball_09_29_10.JPG

This one has a huge dirt/scuff mark:

18_cool_ball_09_29_10.JPG

This next one appears to have a bat imprint on it that says “Private.” What do you make of that?

19_cool_ball_09_29_10.JPG

Check out this one with a weird green streaky mark:

20_cool_ball_09_29_10.JPG

And finally, look at the game-used ball I snagged after the 3rd inning of Game 1. I love the texture of the mud combined with the pores of the cowhide cover:

21_cool_ball_09_29_10.JPG

That’s about it.

I might go to Citi Field tomorrow (depending on the weather), and I’ll definitely be at Camden Yards on Saturday and Sunday. I thought I was done with that place for the season, but damn, I love it too much and just can’t stay away.

SNAGGING STATS:

22_the_eight_i_kept_09_29_10.JPG

• 12 balls at this game (8 pictured on the right because I gave 4 away)

• 285 balls in 29 games this season = 9.83 balls per game.

• 658 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 358 consecutive Mets home games with at least one ball

• 20 consecutive games at Citi Field with at least two balls

• 131 lifetimes games with at least ten balls

• 4,643 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 48 donors (click hereto learn more)

• $7.53 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $90.36 raised at this game

• $2,146.05 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

9/28/10 at Citi Field

New York City was wet. I knew there wasn’t going to be batting practice, but it was still frustrating to run inside Citi Field and see this:

1_no_bp_09_28_10.JPG

At least there was a ball sitting in right field:

2_ball_sitting_in_right_field.JPG

I headed over to that side of the stadium.

Twenty minutes later, Jon Niese signed a few autographs:

3_jon_niese_signing.JPG

Rather than getting him to sign, I asked him (very very extremely politely) to get the ball for me in right field.

He said he’d get it for me when he came back out to throw — and then he disappeared into the clubhouse. While he was gone, a groundskeeper retrieved the ball and threw it to another fan. That fan happened to be a teenager named Mateo, whom you might remember as my Watch With Zack client on 7/27/10 at Citi Field. Unfortunately for Mateo, the groundskeeper air-mailed him, and the ball landed in that tunnel that leads to the handicapped section. This was the result:

4_wheelchair_snagger.JPG

As you can see, a gentleman in a wheelchair came up with the ball while Mateo was trapped in the seats up above.

The Mets’ pitchers finally came out and stood around:

5_mets_doing_nothing_09_28_10.JPG

It was a very exciting day.

Niese ended up throwing me a ball after he finished playing catch. Then I moved to the seats in straight-away right and got another from Mets bullpen catcher Dave Racaniello. (This was the 13th ball that “Rac” has given me since 2004; he’s one of the few guys who recognizes me and still adds to my collection.)

I raced up to the second deck and tried to get Manny Acosta’s attention…

6_mets_from_above_09_28_10.JPG

…and failed miserably.

Soon after, Craig Counsell and Lorenzo Cain started playing catch in shallow left field. This is what it looked like when I ran over:

7_counsell_cain_playing_catch.JPG

I got Counsell to throw me the ball, but he launched it ten feet over my head, and it took a series of ridiculous bounces, and Mateo ended up snagging it.

Then something really random happened. Some guy on the Brewers wandered out of the dugout and walked into the handicapped row behind the rolled-up tarp. I had no idea who he was, but he had a hint of gray hair and appeared to be in his 40s, so I figured he had to be a coach. He was wearing a warm-up shirt over his uniform, which had a tiny No. 83 on the back. I looked at my Brewers roster…and…nothing. Anyway, this random Brewer-guy met a female friend, pulled out his iPhone, and asked ME to take a picture. Here I am doing it:

8_zack_photographing_sandy_guerrero.JPG

I still had no idea who the guy was, and I was too embarrassed to ask. I did, however, ask him for a baseball in exchange for my photography efforts, and he said he’d get one for me. I spotted him 20 minutes later in the dugout. He was wearing his regular uniform. His jersey said “GUERRERO 83” on the back. I don’t have an iPhone, so I had to wait until I got home to look him up. I’m almost positive it was Sandy Guerrero — a former minor leaguer who served as the hitting coach this season for the Triple-A Nashville Sounds.

Here’s something else random for you: while I was waiting for Guerrero to come back out with a ball, I started talking to an older fan who was wearing a Yankees jacket. He was at this game for one reason only: to get Willie Randolph to sign a Yankees jersey. Ready to see the jersey? Check this out:

9_signed_yankees_jersey.JPG

(The look on his face must have something to do with being forced to watch the Mets.)

I don’t often get impressed with autographs, but this was rather spectacular. How many of those autographs can you identify?

Shortly before the game started, two more Brewers played catch in shallow left field. Luis Cruz was one of them, and he threw me the ball when he finished. Look at the sweet spot:

10_ball4629_sweet_spot.JPG

It was like that when I caught it. (Marked balls are fairly common and are often much more interesting.) Meanwhile, Guerrero was nowhere in sight, so after the singing of the national anthem, I took off for left field. The seats out there were practically empty. I wanted to catch a home run. That was my official goal for the day. That’s why I voluntarily suffered through a BP-less day at one of my least favorite stadiums.

This was my view in the first inning:

11_view_during_game_09_28_10.JPG

This was my view to the left:

12_view_to_my_left_09_28_10.JPG

I had so much room to run, and of course nothing landed anywhere near me. Nevertheless, I still came very close to a home run, and if not for a swat team of security guards, I would’ve had it. Quite simply, Corey Hart led off the 6th inning with a homer that landed on the right-field side of the batter’s eye. I raced over to the seats in right-center for a closer look. This is where the ball ended up:

13_home_run_ball_out_of_reach.JPG

I could have easily knocked it closer and reached through the bars for it, but the guards wouldn’t let me. They threatened to eject me for *reaching* for it. I can understand not letting fans climb over the railing, but prohibiting fans from REACHING for a ball? Wow. Just wow. I was (and still am) furious about it. There’s absolutely no excuse for being so strict, especially when the team sucks and the weather sucks and it’s September and there are only a few thousand fans in the stadium.

With the Mets trailing, 3-2, I made my way to the 3rd base dugout in the bottom of the 9th inning…

14_bottom_of_the_ninth_09_28_10.JPG

…and was shocked when Ruben Tejada won the game with a two-run double to left-center. Ruben Tejada?! The guy is smaller than I am. He’s 20 years old. He began the night batting .199 — and he ended up going 3-for-4 with a pair of doubles.

Moments after the game ended, I got my fourth ball of the day from home plate umpire Tim Tschida and then saw Guerrero walk out of the dugout with a ball in his hand. It took a minute, but when I finally got his attention, he flipped it to me.

SNAGGING STATS:

15_five_balls_09_28_10.JPG

• 5 balls at this game (pictured on the right)

• 273 balls in 28 games this season = 9.75 balls per game.

• 657 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 357 consecutive Mets home games with at least one ball

• 19 consecutive games at Citi Field with at least two balls

• 4,631 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 48 donors (click here to learn more)

• $7.53 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $37.65 raised at this game

• $2,055.69 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

5/5/10 at Target Field

I was convinced that there wouldn’t be batting practice. The weather was iffy, and the game had an extra early start time (12:10pm). I mean, if ever there was a day for the players to sleep in, this was it. Right?

Well, when I ran inside the stadium, the cage and screens were all set up, and players from both teams were throwing in the outfield:

1_yay_for_batting_practice_05_05_10.JPG

I hurried down to the left field foul line and quickly identified the two Tigers as Brad Thomas and Phil Coke. I was hoping that Thomas wouldn’t end up with the ball because he had thrown one to me the day before. I assumed he’d recognize me, so I was glad when Coke ended up with it instead — and when he did, I asked him for it.

1a_phil_coke_2010.jpg

He walked over to me and said, “You’re the guy with the running count, right?”

(Crap, I was busted. I had to come up with a good answer.)

“Yeah,” I told him, “and you know I’m doing this for charity, right?”

(I wasn’t only doing it for charity. I was doing it for fun, but I figured it wouldn’t hurt to mention that.)

“Yeah, I know,” he said. “I saw the thing about you on TV yesterday.”

(Cool! Now I just had to convince him to give me the ball. Think! Say something! Anything!)

“Well, it would be an honor to get a ball from you,” I said.

D’oh! As soon as the words left my mouth, I felt like an idiot. It was actually true — why wouldn’t I want a ball from a major leaguer who recognized me? — but felt kinda phony. Evidently, however, it wasn’t too phony for Coke because he walked even closer and placed the ball into my open glove.

I raced around the stadium to the right field side…

2_twins_playing_catch_05_05_10.JPG

…and got Carl Pavano to throw me a ball five minutes later. It was commemorative and worn out and beautiful. Have a look:

3_ball4426.jpg

Once the Tigers started taking BP, I ran back to the left field side and grabbed the corner spot along the foul line. This was the view:

4_view_from_corner_spot_05_05_10.JPG

I had decided to go for grounders instead of homers because the left field bleachers were crowded:

5_bleachers_crowded_once_again.JPG

I caught two baseballs during BP (bringing my total on the day to four). The first was tossed by Johnny Damon, and the second was a grounder that a right-handed batter yanked down the line. In between these two snags, some random guy approached me in the stands and introduced himself. He said he’d been reading my blog, and that he enjoyed keeping up with my baseball travels, and that he was a big baseball geek, too, and that he appreciated how much I enjoyed the game. I appreciated his kind words, but didn’t think much of it until he handed me his business card:

6_twins_business_card.jpg

He told me that if I was free the next day, he’d give me a tour of Target Field before it opened. (Stuff like this never happens to me in New York.) He even said I could take photos and blog about it — Twins management gave its stamp of approval — as long as I didn’t use his name. I thanked him profusely, told him I’d give him a call, and then began my own tour.

The previous day, I’d wandered all around the outside of the stadium. Now it was time to explore the inside, and I started behind the 3rd base dugout. Check out the cross-aisle that runs through the stands:

7_target_field_cross_aisle_moat.JPG

Some people have been referring to this as “the moat,” but I don’t think it should be called that. Moats keep people out. Yankee Stadium has a MOAT. Dodger Stadium has a MOAT. But here in Minnesota, fans are allowed to go down to the dugouts until the end of batting practice. Once BP ends, the ushers start checking tickets, but after a few innings, you can pretty much wander wherever you want.

I headed up the steps and into the field level concourse. Naturally it was packed…

8_target_field_100_level_concourse.JPG

…so it took me a few minutes to make it out to the left field foul pole:

9_behind_the_left_field_foul_pole.JPG

In the photo above, the glassy area on the right is a New Era cap store. The balcony around it is open to everyone. If you want to stand there for the entire game, no one’s gonna stop you.

I kept walking around the field level. Here’s what it looked like at the back of the bleachers in left-center field:

10_overhang_above_bleachers.JPG

You see those low-hanging lights in the photo above? Know what those are? Heat lamps. Great idea. The Twins/architects paid close attention to detail when designing this ballpark. It was truly a pleasure to walk around and take it all in.

Fans were streaming into Gate 3 — the Harmon Killebrew gate:

11_people_streaming_into_gate_3.JPG

Here’s a look at the bullpens and bleachers:

12_target_field_bullpens.JPG

There’s absolutely no chance to use the glove trick behind the ‘pens because the video board juts out too far. (You can see it better two photos above.) In fact, there’s no chance to use the trick in most outfield sections.

Here are the seats in right-center field. Note the flower bed in front and overhang up above:

13_target_field_right_center_seats.JPG

As you can see, it’s impossible to use the glove trick here, too, and if you’re hoping to catch a home run, your only chance is in the front row. I don’t care if the seats are made of real wood; there’s basically no reason to ever set foot in that section.

Here’s what the batter’s eye looks like from there:

14_wandering_inside_target_field.JPG

I decided to walk to the end of the front row and peek over the edge — you know, just to see what the trees looked like from above. This is what I saw:

15_ball4429_in_trees.JPG

Well, how about that? There was a ball sitting 15 feet below me. I looked around. There were no ushers or security guards in sight, so I pulled out my glove, set up the rubber band and Sharpie, and went in for the kill. It took a minute to knock the ball closer, and then I successfully reeled it in…so I take back what I said a minute ago. There IS a reason to set foot in that section, and you just read about it.

I headed out to the standing room area behind the right field foul pole:

16_standing_with_my_back_against_gate_34.JPG

Want to guess who was outside the gate?

Waldo, of course:

17_waldo_hoping_for_a_sweep.JPG

(I wrote about him in my previous entry.)

The Twins had won the first two games of the series, so he was rooting for a sweep.

There was still a lot more for me to see. I knew I wasn’t going to finish wandering before the game started — and I was okay with that. I decided to take my time and walk all around Target Field, and if I missed a few innings, so be it.

I rode an escalator to the upper deck and took a photo of the standing room area from above. Check it out:

18_standing_room_from_above.JPG

See that big brown-ish building on the other side of the standing room area? (It’s a garage.) See the gray-ish translucent thing with random white blotches in front of it? I don’t know what to call it — it probably has an official name — so all I can tell you is that it’s a gigantic piece of art. It’s made out of thousands of shingle-sized metal flaps that wiggle back and forth in the breeze. It’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen, and no, that’s not an exaggeration. The flaps move in unison, like a massive school of fish, creating a hypnotic illusion which, from afar, looks like steam rising and swirling. You have to see it in person. It’s freaky and amazing, and you’ll never forget it.

As the umpires walked out onto the field, I wandered from the right field corner toward the plate and discovered a narrow walkway in front of some windows:

19_target_field_upper_deck_goodness.JPG

Here’s another look at the walkway from the other end:

20_target_field_upper_deck_goodness.JPG

See the guy holding a clipboard on the right? That was the public address announcer! There was a big microphone hanging down near the upper right corner of the window, and as he spoke into it, his voice boomed out across the stadium. HOW COOL that the Twins designed Target Field to give fans such incredible access. They actually made it worthwhile to be in the upper deck. And wait, there’s more…

Directly behind home plate, there was another/longer enclosed area with windows overlooking the field:

21_target_field_upper_deck_goodness.JPG

As you can see in the photo above, there wasn’t a walkway in front, so I had to head around the back of it in the concourse. Here’s a photo of it:

22_target_field_upper_deck_goodness.JPG

It’s called Twins Pub. You don’t need a special ticket to get inside. Anyone can go hang out there to enjoy a beverage and/or escape the cold. Here’s what it looks like on the inside:

23_target_field_upper_deck_goodness.JPG

Ready for the coolest thing of all? This might be my favorite photo from the whole trip. Inside the pub…well, here, take a look:

24_target_field_upper_deck_goodness.JPG

Yes, the Target Field organist was sitting right there for everyone to see.

Wow.

Just wow.

Behind the pub, there was an unusual, elevated walkway that the people sitting high up above the plate had to use to get to their seats:

25_target_field_upper_deck_weirdness.JPG

I headed up there to take a few pics that I later combined to make a panorama:

26_target_field_panorama.jpg

I love how the lights are actually tucked into the roof of the upper deck. I’m telling you, every inch of this stadium is glorious.

Here’s what it looked like at the very back of the upper deck:

27_target_field_upper_deck_last_row.JPG

(Okay, so maybe THAT shouldn’t be classified as “glorious,” but there’s certainly nothing wrong with it.)

Here’s a look at the field from the 3rd base side…

28_target_field_more_wandering.JPG

…and here’s some more upper deck weirdness:

29_target_field_upper_deck_weirdness.JPG

I’m talking about that last elevated row of seats.

Funky, don’t you think?

As I approached the left field corner, I got a nice view of the party decks:

30_target_field_party_decks

I was looking forward to seeing the Budweiser deck at the very top of the building. There was a staircase at the end of the concourse that appeared to lead up there:

31_no_access_to_budweiser_deck.JPG

Unfortunately, it just led to the regular portion of the upper deck, so I had to settle for checking it out from here:

32_budweiser_deck_from_above.JPG

I headed down to the club level…

33_heading_down_to_club_level.JPG

…but couldn’t get past these doors:

34_no_access_to_fancy_club_area.JPG

The left field corner of the club level was open to everyone, so I headed in that direction:

35_general_club_level_area.JPG

The “Captain Morgan deck” was situated at the very end (directly above the New Era store):

36_captain_morgan_party_deck.JPG

(There should be an “Alcoholics Anonymous lounge” to go with it.)

This was where the people who didn’t care about the game seemed to congregate. As you can see in the photo above, only one guy was even bothering to watch the nearest TV, and if you look closely, you can see that he was really just taking a quick break from playing with his phone. Sad. But hey, all these people paid to be in the stadium, so whether or not they were watching the game, they were at least supporting it.

Here’s the view from the deck — no, not of the field, but more importantly, of the stands and beams and concourses behind it:

37_view_from_captain_morgan_deck.JPG

Here’s the view from the top corner of the left field upper deck:

38_very_last_row_of_left_field.JPG

(I really did wander everywhere.)

I loved the combination of metal, concrete, and glass. I loved the angles. I loved the sleek design. But I didn’t love the wind. It was so gusty up there that I was nearly blown off my feet. It was freezing and a bit scary, so I made sure to hold onto the railing whenever I got near the edge. (For once, I was glad to have gained 11 pounds this past off-season.)

This was the view to the left:

39_very_last_row_of_left_field.JPG

Here I am with my five baseballs:

40_zack_upper_deck_05_05_10.JPG

Three of the balls had black magic marker streaks across the logo like this. That’s how the Tigers are marking their balls. (If you want to see all the different types of marked balls that I’ve snagged over the years, click here.)

Here’s what it looked like from the deepest part of the ballpark in left-center:

41_very_very_deep_in_left_center.JPG

There’s a standing room area directly behind the batter’s eye…

42_more_target_field_funkiness.JPG

…but because the wall is so high (shoulder-high if you’re six feet tall) and has a metal drink shelf jutting out, it’s nearly impossible to peer over for balls that might be hiding in the trees below.

The stands in deep right-center were strangely configured. There was some weird railing/platform/standing-room action at the very back:

43_very_very_deep_in_right_center.JPG

I headed down toward the main standing room section in right field…

44_heading_back_to_standing_room.JPG

…and then went back up to the club level on the right field side. There was a sizable area that was open to all fans, which included a model of Target Field and a long hallway with photos of every current major league stadium:

45_3rd_base_side_club_level_stuff.JPG

Finally, at some point more than halfway through the game, I finished wandering and caught up with my friend “Big Glove Bob”:

46_bob_and_zack_05_05_10.JPG

I spent the next few innings hanging out in the standing room area, and then I grabbed a seat behind the 3rd base dugout. Orlando Hudson flied out to Tigers right fielded Ryan Raburn to end the eighth inning, and when Raburn jogged in, he flipped me the ball. That was my sixth of the day, and since there was a little kid standing nearby with a glove, I handed him my lone unmarked/non-commemorative ball from BP. (Yeah, I kept the game-used ball with the Target Field logo and gave him a regular practice ball. So? He didn’t know the difference, and he was thrilled to no end.) Then, with one out remaining in the game, I moved over to the staircase behind the umpires’ exit…

47_umpire_staircase.JPG

…and got my seventh and final ball of the day from Derryl Cousins as he hurried off the field.

My last two baseballs were perfect, game-rubbed, commemorative balls:

48_commemorative_balls_05_05_10.jpg

Final score: Zack 7, Twins 5, Tigers 4. (This improved my Ballhawk Winning Percentage to .786 — 5.5 wins and 1.5 losses.)

I had no idea what happened in the game until I looked at the box score, and you know what? It doesn’t even matter.

SNAGGING STATS:

49_the_six_i_kept_05_05_10.JPG

• 7 balls at this game (6 pictured on the right because I gave one away)

• 73 balls in 7 games this season = 10.4 balls per game.

• 636 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 4,431 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $3.85 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $26.95 raised at this game

• $281.05 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

After the game, I met Jona at Smalley’s 87 Club. We both had our laptops and used the free WiFi. She had a Boca burger. (Yeesh.) I had the boneless BBQ chicken wings and a side of onion rings. (She’d say “yeesh” to that, so we’re even.) Roy Smalley made a post-game appearance (as he often does) and signed a ticket stub for me:

50_roy_smalley_autograph.jpg

(Are they still called “stubs” even though they no longer get torn?)

5/4/10 at Target Field

I woke up in Cleveland at 5:15am with three hours of sleep. By the time I checked into my hotel in Minnesota, I was so tired that my eyes hurt. I should’ve taken a nap, especially considering that I was going to be on TV later that evening, but I was too excited about Target Field. To hell with sleep. I had to get over there and see it. This was my first look at it:

(Did you notice the HUGE Target logo on the walkway?)

I could tell from afar that the place was gorgeous, and once I got closer, I noticed that the Twins (unlike the Mets) did an amazing job of honoring their past. One of the first things I saw was a long, wall-like display featuring the team’s former stadiums:

Right nearby, there was a fence with pennant-shaped tributes to important players and executives in Twins history…

…and then I saw Gate 29:

That’s kind of a random number for a gate, right? Well, it was named after Hall of Famer Rod Carew, who wore uniform No. 29 for the Twins for 12 seasons. Target Field has five gates, all of which are named after Twins players who’ve had their numbers retired. Genius.

I walked clockwise around the outside of the stadium. Here’s the team store…

…and here are some of the many team-related banners:

Nice, huh?

FYI, there are service ramps behind those long wooden boards. If you look closely at them, you can see a door on the lower left that swings open.

Check out the view through Gate 14 (named after Kent Hrbek):

It was one o’clock. First pitch was scheduled for 7:10pm. That’s why there weren’t many people around.

This is what I saw when I walked past Gate 14 and turned the corner:

The fence on the left was lined with poster-sized replica Topps baseball cards of Twins players, past and present. Brilliant.

At the far end of the walkway, I passed a Light Rail station…

…and turned another corner:

Here’s another sneak peek inside the stadium through Gate 6 (named after Tony Oliva):

I felt very welcomed, indeed.

I kept walking. Here’s more of what I saw:

I passed some artwork (officially known as the “5th Street Panels at Target Field”) on the far end of the building:

This piece in particular is called “A History of Minnesota Baseball.”

I risked my life to take the following photo:

Okay, not really, but I *was* standing awfully close to the train tracks.

(Gate 3, which you can see in the photo above, is named after Harmon Killebrew. I later learned that on Opening Day, Killebrew stood just inside the gate and greeted fans as they entered. That’s how to run a major league organization.)

Here’s where it gets weird. I’d been walking around the stadium without any problems. Everything was beautiful and clean and simple. But when I passed Gate 3, this is what I saw:

What the–???

Where was I supposed to walk? Into the tunnel? Was it even possible to walk all the way around the outside of the stadium? I crossed the street on the left side and headed onto a narrow walkway. I had no idea where I was going. There were no signs. There was nothing but a pair of unmarked glass doors:

Just when I was was preparing to retrace my steps and head back toward Gate 3, two guys walked by and gave me directions. They said I had to enter the doors and walk through a long hallway and follow the signs and head upstairs…and…what? I was so confused, but they seemed convincing, so I did what they said.

This is what it looked like just inside the doors:

Was this a trick or a scam? Perhaps a hidden-camera TV show? Should I have been concerned for my safety?

I walked quite a ways down the hallway and eventually saw this:

What was the Target Plaza? Was that connected to Target Field? Ohmygod, what was going on? I hadn’t researched the stadium beforehand. I intentionally showed up knowing as little as possible so I could explore and discover things.

There were escalators at the far end of the hallway:

I headed up to the second level and saw this:

Uh…was I supposed to go up to the 3rd level?

It looked like there was a little sign on the door, so I walked over for a closer look. This is what it said:

Hooray! Thank you! Finally, there were clear directions that applied to what *I* hoped to find. Target Field, through the doors. Right?

Umm, not so fast…

This is what I saw when I opened the door:

WHAT THE HELL?!?!?!

I figured the sign had to be right, so I walked across the garage and encountered another set of doors. This is what I saw on the other side:

Phew!!

I walked past the Kirby Puckett statue. This is what was on the right:

Now we’re talking.

Gate 34…the right field gate…just behind the standing room area. I hurried over for a peek inside:

Oh yeah.

The giant “gold” glove was sitting nearby on the right:

Just how big is it? Here’s my backpack:

I still had a little more exploring to do, so I continued heading around the stadium:

Is that a slick design or what?

In the photo above, do you see the fan wearing red sleeves? More on him in a bit, but first, I have to show you even more Twins history that was on display. Check this out:

You know what those things on the fence are?

Twins rosters:

There was a roster from every single season since the franchise moved to Minneapolis.

Even the team store was exquisite:

Back outside, I walked right past Justin Verlander and two of his teammates:

One fan approached Verlander and asked for an autograph.

“Not today,” said the Tigers ace.

(Ballplayers are so friendly nowadays.)

Okay, remember the guy wearing red? His name is Greg Dryden, but he’s known simply as “Waldo.” He’s the No. 1 ballhawk in Minnesota. He used to sit in the front row in left-center at the Metrodome, and he always wore a helmet. That was his thing. I’d been hearing stories about him for years — some good, some bad. Everyone I knew who visited the Dome had something to say about the guy, and here he was. I knew it was him because the back of his jersey said “WALDO 13,” so I walked over and introduced myself, and as it turned out, he had heard lots of stories about me, too. Here we are:

I knew that we were only going to have a few minutes to chat, so I asked him the basic questions about how many baseballs he’d snagged over the years. He told me that he only kept count one season and ended up with 352. (He was a season ticket holder and attended all 81 of the Twins’ home games.) He said that was probably a typical season for him and that he’d been ballhawking regularly since 1999.

“So you’ve probably gotten over 3,000 balls?” I asked.

He shrugged and said, “Yeah, I guess.”

“How many game home runs?”

“I don’t know,” he said, “probably 40 or 50…and I’ve gotten about 20 ground-rule doubles.”

Not too shabby.

At 2pm, two attractive women (who looked to be in their mid-20s) started walking right toward us. Waldo’s jaw literally dropped, and when they got closer, one of them asked me, “Are you Zack?”

“Catherine?” I asked.

She welcomed me to Minnesota and introduced me to her twin sister, Laura-Leigh. Then, as the three of us headed off together, I turned toward Waldo and shouted, “I’ll see you back here in an hour!” The look on his face was priceless.

The ladies led me to a nearby mall called Butler Square. Here’s the main entrance:

See the arrow in the photo above? There’s a restaurant in the mall called Smalley’s 87 Club:

That’s where we went. It’s named after former major league All-Star Roy Smalley, who played nine of his 13 seasons with the Twins. Now get this…

1) Roy Smalley just happens to be their father.

2) Roy Smalley is the president of Pitch In For Baseball.

3) Roy Smalley is a commentator on FSN North.

See where I’m going with this? In case you’re new to this blog, I’ve been raising money for the last two two seasons for Pitch In For Baseball — a charity that provides baseball equipment to needy kids all over the world. Roy was planning to interview me live on the Twins’ pre-game show about it, and he was at the restaurant. Here I am with him and his daughters:

(Catherine is on the left, just above my red-and-white Pitch In For Baseball cap, and by the way, I should mention that both plates of food were mine: chicken strips and a caesar salad. The food there is great.)

We all hung out for a couple hours, during which time Roy let me play with his 1987 World Series ring:

Here’s the ring with Roy in the background…

…and here are two close-up shots of it:

(His championship ring is slightly cooler than mine.)

My lack of sleep was killing me, but I was so happy that it didn’t even matter.

By the time I made it back to the Target Field Plaza (that’s the official name of the area outside Gate 34), there were quite a few people milling about:

At 5pm (half an hour before the stadium opened), look who showed up and found me:

It was my girlfriend, Jona.

As I’d mentioned the day before on Twitter, there was a chance that she wasn’t gonna be able to make it to Minnesota, but everything ended up working out, and here she was.

Remember the small crowd waiting outside the gate on 5/1/10 at Progressive Field? If not, click here to see what I’m talking about. Here’s the difference between Cleveland and Minneapolis. Ready? Take a deep breath and brace yourself:

Holy mother of GOD!!! And don’t forget that this was just one of five gates. My biggest gripe about the stadium is that it doesn’t open earlier. I think it’s a real slap in the face to the fans that they can’t even get inside early enough to watch the Twins take batting practice. Every team should open its stadium two and a half hours early. Not just for season ticket holders. Not just on weekends. Always. For everyone. Forever. And especially when it’s the first season of a new stadium and the crowds are extra large. Seriously, Twins: duh.

Shortly before the stadium opened, I learned that FSN’s cameras were going to be filming me from afar during BP. I wasn’t going to be miked up. They didn’t need any audio. They just wanted some B-roll footage that they could later use during my interview with Roy. Catherine (who helped set up the interview) told me to call the producer as soon as I ran into the stadium. She said I needed to let him know where I was so he’d be able to make sure that the cameras were following me — and if I ran to another section, I was supposed to give him another call.

You know what I did instead? I handed my phone to Jona, who offered to make the phone calls for me.

I was so stressed and tired, and at 5:30pm it was time to roll. I raced inside and peeked at the right field seats and quickly decided to head for the left field bleachers. Jona chased after me and called the producer.

“Where do I tell him we are?!” she shouted.

“Ohboy,” I mumbled loud enough for her to hear me, then yelled, “Tell him I’m running behind the batter’s eye!”

It was nuts, and yet Jona somehow managed to take photos while all of this was happening. Here I am in the bleachers:

The bleachers were awful. Too steep. Too crowded. Too many railings. Tucked underneath an overhang. And because of the flower bed down in front, there was absolutely no chance to use the glove trick:

If someone asked me to design a miserable section for catching home run balls, I probably would’ve come up with this. Oh…and the sun was in everyone’s eyes, too.

The bleachers got crowded pretty fast:

Things were NOT looking good.

At one point, I had a chance to catch a home run ball:

(In case you can’t tell, I’m wearing the dark blue jacket with a Tigers shirt.)

Here’s that same moment captured by an FSN camera:

Want to see how it ended?

Here:

Yeah, the short guy in the front row jumped up and caught the ball two feet in front of my glove. Then, five minutes, later, I got robbed once again by a guy who reached out and made a bare-handed grab as I was cutting through the second row:

The reason why I wasn’t looking at the ball is that I didn’t want to take a deflection in the face. That’s what happened to me on 4/22/08 at Champion Stadium, and it wasn’t pretty.

My overall assessment:

My friend Bob (aka “Big Glove Bob” in the comments section) made an appearance in the bleachers:

He had kindly picked me up at the airport that morning, and he’d given me lots of tips on Target Field and Minneapolis in the previous weeks. It was great hanging out with him — this was the first day that we had ever met in person — and I foolishly neglected to get a photo with him. (Random coincidence: he was interviewed on TV that day, too.)

I was getting desperate. I still didn’t have a ball. I was worried about my streak. And I was embarrassed to be putting on such a lousy ballhawking display for the cameras, which were evidently capturing my every move.

After what felt like an eternity, I finally got Tigers reliever Brad Thomas to throw me a ball. He was in left-center field. I was standing near the slanted railing next to the bullpens. His throw fell short. I nearly had a panic attack. I reached way out — full extension — and caught the ball in the tip of my glove. It was a true snow-cone. Here’s an FSN screen shot…

…and here I am pointing at Thomas as if to say, “You’re the man. Thank you.”

I was so relieved at that point. My streak was alive, and I had snagged a ball in my 47th different major league stadium. Here I am with the ball:

I wasn’t sure what type of balls the Tigers were going to be using during BP; in 2008 they used Pacific Coast League balls and in 2009 they used International League balls. As you can see in the photo above, the ball that Thomas threw me was an official major league ball, but check out the logo:

The Tigers had marked it. Many other teams have done the same thing over the years, but never on the logo itself.

My phone rang. Jona handed it to me. I answered it. It was Roy. He asked me to swing by the FSN set down the left field line, and since BP was such a colossal waste of time, I didn’t mind sacrificing a few minutes of it to go check in with him:

He asked me to be back there by 6:25pm. The pre-game show was going to start at 6:30. I was going to be interviewed during the second segment, and I needed to get miked up…so for the time being, I was free to run around a bit more and try to snag a few additional baseballs. Unfortunately, there weren’t any more to be snagged — at least not during BP. The bleachers were dead, and when I ran over to the Tigers’ dugout at the end of BP, I didn’t get anything there. The look on my face tells the whole story:

I had snagged ONE pathetic baseball during batting practice. I was sweaty and exhausted…

…and I wanted to go back to Cleveland.

It was time to head over to the FSN set, so I cut through the seats with Jona. I stopped along the way to photograph a fugitive hot dog:

Here’s what it looked like from my perspective:

Remember the random sausage I photographed on 4/27/09 at Miller Park? Yeah, I don’t know what to say. It’s just one of those things that needs to be documented.

I made it to the FSN area as Roy and his fellow commentators were finishing up the first segment:

He and I caught up for a moment during the commercial break…

…and headed into the left field bleachers:

(Roy is adjusting his ear piece in the photo above, and if you look closely, you can see The Ring on his right hand.)

See those two women sitting behind us? When we walked into the bleachers, the blonde one said to Roy, “You look like you’re famous.”

“Umm, that’s because he IS famous,” I said.

“Oh,” she said, half-excited and half-embarrassed, “should I know your name?”

I turned toward Roy and said, “Would you like me to to be your spokesperson?”

“Smalley,” he said to the women. “I used to play for the Twins.”

The women were like, “Smalley…Smalley…oh! Yeah!” but they had no idea who he was.

The interview itself went pretty well…I think. Here’s a photo that Jona took while it was in progress:

We were being filmed by the camera behind home plate in the upper deck.

The interview flew by — they always do — but I got to talk about Pitch In For Baseball. That was the most important thing, and I ended up getting a few new pledges as a result.

I still have yet to see the interview itself, but I did manage to get a screen shot. Here’s what it looked like to the folks watching on TV, and for the record, I did NOT write the text that appeared below my name:

The interview ended just in time for me to make it down to the front row along the left field foul line for pre-game throwing:

I ended up getting a ball from Scott Sizemore, and then less than 60 seconds later, because there wasn’t anyone else competing with me, I got another from Adam Everett. That made me feel a little better, but of course the FSN cameras weren’t on me anymore, so as far as the general public in Minnesota was concerned, I was just some random putz who happened to catch ONE ball during batting practice and then talked about some charity thing.

I spent most of the game in the standing room area down the right field line. Here’s that section from above. The red “X” marks the spot where I was standing:

Here’s what my view from that spot looked like:

Yeah, it was rainy and nasty and cold — about what I expected.

Here’s a photo from the back of the standing room area, with my back against the inside of Gate 34:

(I can’t explain that random box, so don’t ask.)

Waldo was on the outside looking in:

He’s “protesting” Twins management because he feels he got screwed over on his season tickets. Long story. Go to Target Field and ask him about it. But anyway, as part of his protest, he’s refusing to enter Target Field this year. He also wants to catch the first home run that either flies or (more likely) bounces out of Target Field, so in that sense, his spot just outside Gate 34 is actually ideal. Personally, I would go crazy if I had to spend even one game outside a stadium with such slim odds at snagging a homer, but he seems content (relatively speaking) out there, and he doesn’t seem to be hurting anyone, so I say hey, why not?

Jona and I sat in a few different places throughout the game. Here’s one…

…and here’s another:

I thought it was going to be really tough to move around, but a) there were empty seats to be found and b) the ushers were really laid-back.

After the bottom of the 8th inning, I got Miguel Cabrera to throw me a ball as he jogged off the field:

Although it had a commemorative Target Field logo, I knew it wasn’t the actual third-out ball that’d been used in the game because it was kinda beat up.

In the photo above, do you see the kid on my right, reaching up with both hands? It was a girl who was probably about 10 years old. Even though she didn’t have a glove, I just felt that giving her a ball was the right thing to do, so I pulled out a regular/non-marked/non-commemorative ball from my backpack and handed it over. I ended up sitting next to her and her father for the last half-inning, and they thanked me about a dozen times.

The Twins won the game, 4-3, on a run-scoring wild pitch in the bottom of the ninth. That made a winner of starter Nick Blackburn, who went the distance. It also meant that I notched a rare “tie” in the Ballhawk Winning Percentage category. My record moved to 4.5 wins and 1.5 losses, so my percentage is .750, second only to the Rays, who lead all of baseball with a .759 mark.

Jona was freezing her you-know-what off, but I was not in any rush to leave. (Sorry, baby.) I took more photos of basically everything around me, including the beautiful MLB logo atop the visitors’ dugout:

And then I had to stick around and watch the FSN crew do their on-field analysis of the game-ending wild pitch:

1 = Tim Laudner

2 = Bert Blyleven

3 = Roy Smalley

Very cool to see former players using the field itself as a teaching instrument. That’s how it should be.

SNAGGING STATS:

• 4 balls at this game (3 pictured on the right because I gave one away; the middle ball has an insert which shows the sweet spot)

• 66 balls in 6 games this season = 11 balls per game.

• 635 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 47 different major league stadiums with at least one ball

• 4,424 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 29 donors

• $3.85 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $15.40 raised at this game

• $254.10 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

One last thing…

I just discovered that someone with Minnesota Public Radio wrote a short article about me — and about this actual blog entry. Here’s the link to it, and here’s a screen shot of the piece:

2009 NLDS — Game 2

This wasn’t just another game. Not only was it the National League Division Series — Cardinals vs. Dodgers — but there was something extra special about it for me: it was the day before my appearance on “The Tonight Show With Conan O’Brien” and I was going to be filmed by a roving camera crew.

Half an hour before the gates opened, I headed to the Top Deck and picked up my media credential:

1_tonight_show_media_credential.jpg

I headed down to the left field pavilion and met up with the crew along the way. Here I am explaining my various T-shirts to the camera:

2_zack_showing_different_shirts.jpg

Once inside the stadium, my job was simple: snag as many balls as possible so that there’d be some exciting footage for the show.

In the photo below (taken by my girlfriend Jona), I’m the guy wearing the “RAMIREZ 99” shirt:

3_zack_LF_pavilion_10_08_09.jpg

There wasn’t much action early on — I had a couple close calls — so I spent most of my time explaining things to the camera.

Finally, after 15 minutes of nothingness, Manny Ramirez launched a home run over my head and I raced up the steps:

4_zack_running_for_ball4346.jpg

There was an all-out scramble for the ball as it rattled around underneath the benches, and I managed to come up with it. Huge relief. Up until that point, I felt like I was personally letting down Conan — like I was a ballhawk fraud who’d made preposterous claims and then failed to back them up.

Several minutes later, I caught a ground-rule double behind the left field wall…and that was it for the Dodgers’ portion of BP. Not good. I’d been hoping to pad my numbers early on before it got crowded, but at least both of the balls had a Dodgertown stamp on the sweet spot. (If you want to see my complete collection of stamped/marked balls, click here.)

Because of my media credential, I was able to exit the pavilion and re-enter the main part of the stadium. My plan? To get some balls from the Cardinals on the right field side. First, of course, I changed into my bright red Cardinals gear, and even though my Dodgers shirt was poking out underneath, I was able to convince Ryan Franklin to toss me a ball. If you look closely at the photo below, you can barely see the edge of the ball as it disappeared into the pocket of my glove:

5_zack_catching_ball4348.jpg

Soon after, Matt Pagnozzi threw me my fourth ball of the day. Here I am preparing for the easy two-handed catch:

6_zack_catching_ball4349.jpg

I headed to the right field pavilion after that and snagged a home run that ricocheted down into the gap behind the wall. (I’m not sure who hit it.) Then, when Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday started taking their cuts, I raced back around to the left field side and positioned myself deep in the cross-aisle, more than 400 feet from home plate. Holiday hit two consecutive bombs that reached the aisle. I bolted to my right for the first one, but it sailed over my head and was promptly snatched by another fan. The second homer came closer to me, and I was able to climb over a few benches and reach out over the bullpen for a back-handed catch. The whole section booed me because of my clothing, so I lifted up my Cardinals shirt and revealed my Dodger Blue underneath. Some people laughed, some people cheered, some people continued booing, and some people were like, “Huh?” It was pretty funny.

I played the staircases for the rest of BP…

…but nothing else came my way.

Right before the game started, I headed back into the main part of the stadium and got Mark DeRosa to toss me his warm-up ball behind the 1st base dugout.

Then Slash performed the national anthem…

8_slash_national_anthem.jpg

…and I headed back outside the stadium once again. It was time to change into my Waldo shirt:

9_zack_changing_into_waldo_shirt.jpg

In my previous entry I mentioned I was going to wear it, not because it’s sexy but because I knew it’d be easier for people to spot me in the crowd. The only problem was…I was never IN the crowd. I spent the first few innings halfway down a staircase behind the left field wall, and then when security told me I couldn’t stand there, I moved to the very bottom. That really sucked because it meant I couldn’t even see the game. All I could do was look up at the sky and hope that I’d be able to see the baseballs coming toward me. In the bottom of the 4th, I came *really* close to snagging Andre Ethier’s home run, but it took a bad bounce after it cleared the wall and ricocheted right to the ONE other guy who’d raced down a different staircase. That also really sucked, but at least I got to hang out with Manny:

 

The guy in the photo above is named Jose (aka “Mannywood” and “Jose Being Manny” and he told me that he sometimes refers to himself as “The Mexican Zack Hample”). You can see more photos of him on MySpace and MyGameBalls.com. He’s a super-cool guy, and he always hangs out in the left field pavilion.

The game itself was DAMN exciting, but it didn’t end the way I wanted. With two outs in the bottom of the 9th and the Dodgers trailing, 2-1, James Loney hit a line drive right at Holliday in left field. All Holliday had to do was catch it, and the game would’ve been over. The Cardinals would’ve evened up the series at one game apiece. But Holliday failed to make the catch. He said later that he never even saw the ball, and I believe him. As he charged in toward it, it nailed him in the stomach. Casey Blake then drew a nine-pitch walk and Ronnie Belliard followed by ripping the first pitch he saw into center field for a game-tying single. Everyone in the stadium was going nuts, but for different reasons; the other 51,818 fans were simply cheering on their beloved Dodgers. I, however, was ecstatic because it meant the game might go into extra innings, which meant I might get another chance to catch a home run. Russell Martin walked to load the bases, and then Mark Loretta ruined everything with a game-winning single.

Final score: Dodgers 3, Cardinals 2.

After the game, the camera crew got a final shot of me holding up all seven of my baseballs. Once they took off, I gave away two of the balls to kids and then got a friend to take my picture with Jona:

11_zack_and_jona_10_08_09.jpg

Good times. Playoff baseball is intense.

SNAGGING STATS:

12_the_five_i_kept_10_08_09.jpg• 7 balls at this game (five pictured here because I gave two away)

• 3 ticket stubs collected at this game (pictured below the balls)

• 532 balls in 59 games this season = 9.02 balls per game.

• 628 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

13_tickets_10_08_09.jpg• 11 consecutive post-season games with at least one ball

• 4,352 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 126 donors (click here to make a pledge…or just to learn more)

• $25.26 pledged per ball

• $176.82 raised at this game

• $13,438.32 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

One last thing…

The best article EVER written about me was published yesterday on ESPN.com. Here’s the graphic that was originally up on the site…

14_espn_artwork.jpg

…and here’s the article itself.

Next game for me?
Who knows…