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:
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):
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…
…and my ninth ball was thrown by Mike McClendon in right-center:
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:
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:
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:
Second, I played for home runs in left field. This was my view during the top of the first inning…
…and this is what it looked like to my left:
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…
…and fourth, I went for 3rd-out balls behind the dugout, where there was VERY little competition:
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…
…and here I am showing the front and back of the shirt:
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:
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:
Here’s the embarrassing-but-cute photo of the day — the “proud mommy” moment after the second game:
(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:
This one has a huge dirt/scuff mark:
This next one appears to have a bat imprint on it that says “Private.” What do you make of that?
Check out this one with a weird green streaky mark:
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:
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.
• 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
• 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
The best thing that happened on my birthday this year was NOT snagging 22 balls at Camden Yards. Not even close. The highlight was receiving the following email from my friend Erik Jabs:
I remember you writing that one day you’d like to take BP on a major league field.
PNC Park is having a season ticket holder batting practice on Tuesday,
Oct 6. It’s a regular BP with the cages and screens and everything.
They also use MLB balls, and you can elect to use players’ game bats.
I’d you’d like to, you’re welcome to be my guest and take BP on that day.
I wrote a little about it last year when my blog was beginning:
Let me know,
Three weeks after I received this email, I flew to Pittsburgh with my mom (who came along just to watch) and my friend Brandon (who took all the photos you’re about to see)…
Here I am walking into PNC Park with Erik and a few of his friends:
This was my reaction after stepping onto the field:
It was nine o’clock in the morning. The sun was bright, but the grass was still wet, and it was only 49 degrees — not ideal conditions to jack one over the fence, but I was hopeful.
There were only about 100 people in our 9am-11am group, and we all gathered in the stands for the welcome speech:
The speaker thanked us for supporting the Pirates in 2009 (You’re welcome!) and explained a few basic things about how our three-group session on the field was going to be run:
Group One would be hitting first…
Group Two would be free to roam anywhere on the field and shag baseballs…
Group Three would start by lining up on the warning track in right field and catching fly balls that were going to be fired from a pitching machine…
I was in Group Three, which meant that all the balls were going to be soggy by the time I stepped into the cage. It also meant that I had to break the rules for a couple minutes and play catch at shortstop:
The rules, it should be noted, were not strictly enforced. Some people from Group Two made a beeline for the right field warning track, while others in Group Three (like me and Erik) wandered all over the place.
Here I am with Erik:
(Erik is 6-foot-4.)
The fly ball machine was positioned on the infield dirt behind first base:
It wasn’t THAT exciting to catch routine 200-foot fly balls fired from a machine, especially when I had to wait in line for five minutes between each one. What WAS exciting was simply being on the field:
Quite simply, it was a dream come true.
Finally, after more than an hour, Group Three was called in to hit. I raced to the front of the line and grabbed an aluminum bat that belonged to one of Erik’s friends. I could’ve used wood — there were more than a dozen players’ bats lying around — but I decided I’d go with metal until I put one out.
Unfortunately, that never happened (and here’s where I make tons of excuses)…
In addition to the balls being damp, I had to hit off a pitching machine that was firing most of the balls shoulder-high. Also, the late-morning sun was shining right in my eyes from straight-away center field. In addition, I only got eight pitches, which included my bunt to start the round as well as another pitch that I took moments later because it was head-high. There were so many people waiting to hit, and the guys feeding the machine were in such a rush to get me out of the cage that they only gave me three seconds between each swing to get ready for the next one. It was like, “Hurry up and have your fun and get the hell out.” (But don’t get me wrong: it WAS fun.)
Here I am taking a mighty cut at one of the only belt-high pitches I saw:
Although, as I mentioned above, I didn’t hit a ball out of the park, I did manage to hit a line drive that bounced onto the warning track. If the ball weren’t damp and heavy, it might’ve gone out, and if I’d swung about an eighth of an inch lower, it definitely would’ve gone out.
After everyone in Group Three got their eight-pitches (no one in any group even came close to hitting one out), we each got to jump back in the cage for a four-pitch lightning round. Brandon wandered out behind the mound and took the following photo of me at the plate:
It was exhilarating to get to take BP on a major league field, and
while it certainly went down as I expected, it wasn’t anything like
what I’d dreamt of so many times. In my own personal FantasyLand, I
have a stadium all to myself. The grass is dry. It’s 82
degrees. Leon Feingold is pitching BP fastballs to me with pearls, and of course I’m hitting the crap out of them.
Former big league pitcher Rick Reuschel was hanging around near the batting cage. He and I talked for a minute and then had our picture taken.
(In my next life, I’m going to be 6-foot-7.)
1) a friend of Erik’s
2) a Pirates season ticket holder
3) the owner of the metal bat I’d used
4) a member of the Ballhawk League
5) a good ballplayer
6) a great guy
As you can see in the photo above, Nick brought his copy of Watching Baseball Smarter for me to sign…which I did…with an extra big smile because it was the most worn-out/well-appreciated copy of the book that I’d ever seen. Nick told me he’d read it several times and underlined his favorite parts, which turned out to be half the stuff in it. Check out this two-page spread in the “Umpires” chapter:
The whole book looked like that.
It was lunchtime. Our two-hour session on the field had ended.
We entertained ourselves at the speed-pitch booth:
In the photo above, that’s me on the left, Nick on the right, and Nick’s younger brother Bryan in the middle. Bryan (who’s just 16 years old) threw the fastest pitch of the day at 73mph.
Then it was time to eat:
And then we wandered back down to the field:
Thanks to a not-so-secret loophole in the system, we all got to head back onto the field. Here I am, waiting for my turn to hit:
See the batting glove I’m wearing in the photo above? On this fine day in Pittsburgh, I decided to use Jeromy Burnitz’s batting gloves — the ones he tossed to me in 2004 at Shea Stadium. (Here’s my whole collection of batting gloves, in case you care.)
There were a dozen helmets lying around next to the cage…
…and none of them fit.
These were some of the bats:
I took my eight swings with Nick’s metal bat…
…and finished up with Jose Bautista’s wood bat. No homers. But I hit some deep fly balls and got a compliment from former Pirate John Wehner. Here I am with him:
Wehner said that even HE wouldn’t have been able to hit a home run with such bad balls. (I wish I had a photo of the balls, but since I don’t, let me just say this: the worst ball that you could possibly catch during BP at a major league game would be better than any ball I was invited to hit at PNC Park.) He might’ve just been saying that to make me feel better…but then again, he did only hit four career homers in the big leagues…but no, it was nice to hear.
Brandon and I wandered out to the bullpens. Here I am on the mound:
Here I am on the bench:
Here’s a sign that was on the wall out there:
Here I am clowning around on the warning track (robbing a…double?) with Bryan looking on:
Brandon and my mom and I were going to have to leave for the airport soon, so I spent my remaining time catching fly balls from the pitching machine.
Here I am getting ready to catch one:
Here I am losing my footing on another:
(We were not allowed to wear spikes or cleats.)
I failed to catch that particular ball and ended up like this:
Here’s one final photo of me and mom before we headed out:
The Pittsburgh Pirates are awesome for letting their season ticket holders take over the field for a day. By comparison, the New York Mets “rewarded” their season ticket holders by letting
them run the bases (for 20 seconds) after the final game of the season.
I have to end this entry with a BIG thank you to Erik for giving me the opportunity to do this. Check out his blog. He should have an entry up about it soon. Also…thanks to Brandon for taking all the photos.
ANSWER: I was there with my mom.
This game ended up being the Phillies’ 35th sellout of the season, and we hadn’t bought tickets in advance, so when we arrived at the ticket windows nearly four hours before game time, the best we could buy were obstructed-view seats behind the right field foul pole in the upper deck.
We never went up there.
By 3:45pm, we were waiting outside the Ashburn Alley gate in left field, and by four o’clock I got my first “Are you Zack Hample?” of the day.
It was a guy named Ethan who’d been reading this blog for years and leaving comments as “dodgerdude.” This was the first time we’d ever met in person. He was there with his friend Paul, and my mom took a picture of the three of us. (Ethan is on the right.)
The Phillies started hitting less than a minute later, and another ball ended up rolling to the same spot. By this point Taguchi wasn’t anywhere in sight. There weren’t any players nearby, for that matter, so once again I began the process of flinging my glove out and knocking the ball closer. Jeff also had a glove trick and asked if he could try to get the ball even though I had already started making my attempt.
“Sure,” I said, “we’ll just have a good ol’ fashioned battle for it.”
From the time that I knocked the ball closer to the time that I raised my glove back up to set up the rubber band and magic marker, Jeff had several opportunities to lower his glove right over the ball and snag it. But for whatever reason his trick failed. His rubber band was probably too tight or too loose, so I ended up getting the ball to stick inside my glove. As I was raising it back up for the final time, another ball flew out of nowhere and slammed the padded wall below. I looked up. Shane Victorino. Who else? Thankfully his aim was off, and he was still too far away to run over and grab my glove, so I was able to lift it the rest of the way and pull out my second ball of the day. (I’m not mad at Victorino. I think he was just being playful. Of course if he’d actually prevented me from getting that ball, I would’ve unleashed the Hample Jinx on his Hawaiian you-know-what.)
A little while later, I botched my chance at snagging ball No. 3, although it was a difficult chance that surely would NOT have been scored an error if there were an official scorer for snagging. Here’s what happened. Pat Burrell launched a home run over my head. The ball landed in an empty row, ricocheted back toward my row, clipped the back of a seat, popped up in the air but flew away from me on an angle as I was just arriving. In the split-second that the ball was in the air right in front of me, I took a swipe at it with my bare hand, but unfortunately the ball hit the tip of my fingers and deflected over the seats below and started trickling down the steps. I was trapped in the middle of the row, and I knew I was done. VERY frustrating.
To make matters worse, the left field seats were as crowded as I’d ever seen them. (You can see my mom in the photo on the right. She’s wearing sunglasses and looking at me.) Granted, it wasn’t nearly as packed as the short porch gets at Yankee Stadium, but by this ballpark’s standards, it was highly unpleasant. Finally, toward the end of the Phillies’ portion of BP, a right-handed batter (no idea who) hit a home run in my direction. I was standing on a crowded staircase. I judged the ball perfectly. I shuffled down a couple steps as the ball began its descent, and at the last second I reached up and made the catch above half a dozen other hands. My mom was sitting a few feet away and had a great view. That felt good.
I took her out to right-center field when the rest of the stadium opened at 5:35pm, and as soon as we got there, I saw a ball roll to the wall in left-center so I raced back. I snagged that one with the glove trick, then got Ke
vin Gregg to toss me another in straight-away left field, then got Arthur Rhodes to toss me my sixth ball of the day in left-center. I was wearing
an aqua-colored Marlins T-shirt to go with my aqua-colored Marlins cap, and it was definitely paying off.
Back in right-center field, I crossed paths with Jeff (here we are in the pic on the left) and caught another home run in front of my mom. (Might’ve been hit by Mike Jacobs. Might’ve been Jeremy Hermida. Whatever.) Then I got Alfredo Amezaga to throw me a ball by asking in Spanish, and when Renyel Pinto ended up with a ball in his glove several minutes later, I shouted, “Para mi madre!” which means “for my mother” and got him to toss that one as well. I made sure to be the one to make the catch–I couldn’t have counted it in my collection if my mom had caught it–and then made a big production of handing the ball to her because I could see both Pinto and Amezaga staring at me.
Toward the end of BP, I tried to use my glove trick for a ball that was several feet out from the wall in the bullpen, but before I had chance to reel it in, a security guard marched down the steps and made me stop. I told him I was trying to get it for a little kid (which was true), and he still wouldn’t let me get it. Not only that…he cut the string off my glove and then marched back up the steps as if he was proud of himself for accomplishing something. Normally I keep extra string with me, but I didn’t have any this time. I just forgot it. No big deal. Batting practice ended several minutes later, and before I left the seats, I reached into my backpack and pulled out a ball for the kid. He had a glove. He’d been trying unsuccessfully for the previous 45 minutes to get a ball. I thought he deserved one. It’s as simple as that.
Right before the game, I snuck down to the Marlins’ dugout and got my 10th ball of the day tossed by Hanley Ramirez. Sweet!! I’d been hoping to get to add him to my list for years.
My mom and I grabbed a couple empty seats on the third base side. Nice view. (The stairs were on my left.) And as you can see in the photo below, the Phillies “fans” were really into the game:
When the Marlins took a 4-0 lead in the 7th inning, lots of “fans” left the stadium and my mom and I moved two sections to the right. This was the view:
When Rhodes fanned pinch hitter Greg Dobbs to end the 8th inning, catcher John Baker
forgot how many outs there were and jumped up in preparation to throw the ball around the horn. Rhodes got his attention, but Baker still appeared confused, so Rhodes got the ball from him, and since I was already in the front row at this point, I got him to toss it to me on his way in. It was the second ball of the day that he’d given to me.
“Did anybody get that one?” asked my mom when I returned to our seats.
I opened my glove and showed her the ball, and she couldn’t believe it. (Believe it, lady!)
We both had a great time at the game. Obviously it was nice to spend 12 hours together (including our time in the car), but it was more than that. She got to see me in action and get a real glimpse into my world. I got to teach her a few things about baseball and share my passion. The weather was perfect. We ate hot dogs and peanuts while secretly rooting against the Phillies, who ended up losing, 8-2. It was just perfect.
After the game, I bolted back down to the dugout and got a ball from Marlins 1st base/infield coach Andy Fox. I think it was the infield warm-up ball. How else could it have gotten so beat up. Check it out. Is this NOT a thing of beauty?
? 12 balls at this game
? 140 balls in 14 lifetime games at Citizen Bank Park = 10 balls per game.
? 85 lifetime games with 10 or more balls
? 30 lifetime games outside NYC with 10 or more balls
? 536 consecutive games with at least one ball
? 129 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
? 3,562 total balls