Tagged: move in the fences

9/23/09 at Citi Field

On September 6th, I had a Watch With Zack game with a 13-year-old Mets fan named Ross. Remember? He broke his one-game record that day by snagging five balls, and he promptly booked another game with me for September 23rd. You might also recall that on September 18th, I posted a blog entry called “Watch With Zack — stats & records.” What I didn’t mention in that entry was that Ross was the one who inadvertently inspired it. He had simply told me, in the guinness_world_records.jpgdays preceding our second game together, that he wanted to break two more records…

1) most balls snagged by a Watch With Zack client in one game

2) most balls combined (my balls plus the client’s balls) in a Watch With Zack game

…so I decided to create a page on my site with all the Watch With Zack numbers. I told Ross that it would be tough, but that we’d definitely try. Both records belonged to a 14-year-old named Joe Faraguna, who brought me to a game on 5/8/09 at Citi Field. Joe had snagged 10 balls that day, and I’d added 12 more of my own. I also told Ross that in order to pile up the numbers, we’d have to split up during batting practice, at least a little bit, so that we could cover more ground and double our opportunities. He was okay with that, and in fact he insisted on it. I started the day with a lifetime total of 4,292 balls; Ross really wanted me to snag at least eight so that he could be there for No. 4,300.

Finally, September 23rd arrived. I left my place in Manhattan at 3:10pm, took the No. 7 train to Citi Field, and met Ross and his parents less than an hour later outside the Jackie Robinson Rotunda. Ross and I reviewed some last-minute strategies and put on our game faces:

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Once the gates opened at 4:40pm, it was showtime.

By the time I got to the top of the escalator, Ross was only halfway up. (That’s no diss on him; I just happen to be pretty quick.) If he were younger or if he’d never been to Citi Field before, I would’ve slowed down and led him out toward the left field seats, but since I knew he could find his way out there and since I knew that he wanted me to snag as many balls as possible, I ran ahead and reached the seats 30 seconds before him. I had the whole stadium to myself, and this is what I saw:

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Someone on the Mets was about to pick up the first of FIVE baseballs lying in the outfield. I ran through the front row toward left-center and identified the player as Brian Schneider.

“Brian,” I called out politely as I tried to catch my breath, “is there any chance that you could toss a ball up to me, please?”

Schneider immediately obliged and then threw the remaining four balls back toward the 2a_ball4294_on_field.jpgbucket. That’s when Ross arrived. There were still a few more balls sitting on the field near the foul pole, one of which was within reach thanks to my glove trick. Ross was prepared with a glove trick of his own, but he’d never actually used it at a game, and since this ball was several feet out from the wall and needed to be knocked closer, he let me go for it.

It was too easy. The day was barely two minutes old, and I already had two baseballs.

A few minutes later, several lefties started hitting, so I told Ross that we should head over to the right field side. He followed me out to the deep section in right-center, and when we got there, I noticed that two balls had rolled onto the warning track in the right field corner.

“Those balls are definitely gonna get tossed up,” I told him. “You wanna head over there on your own and see if you can get one?”

“Sure,” he said.

Ross had his cell phone, and I had mine. If we got separated, we’d just call each other, but it was pretty clear where we were each going to be.

Less than a minute later, Ross was down in the seats near the foul pole, lowering his glove on a string:

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Seconds later, I saw Ross pull up his glove before it got anywhere near the ball. I found out later that he had suffered a rubber band mishap, but it didn’t end up making a difference. Josh Thole walked over and retrieved the ball and tossed it up to him. Here’s a photo of the ball in mid-air:

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I wasn’t paying attention to the batter at that point. I had my eyes (and camera) on Ross, and since I was standing approximately 420 feet from home plate, I didn’t expect anyone to hit a ball that would reach the seats.

I expected wrong.

All of a sudden, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed that a Mets player was running back toward my section. I looked over and saw that it was Sean Green. He was looking up as if he were tracking a deep fly ball, and then…DOINK!!! The ball fell out of the sky, landed on the warning track, and bounced over a gloveless woman in the front row. I darted through the third row and scooped it up before she even moved.

Then I looked back over at Ross and saw that he was getting another ball tossed to him by Thole. What the hell?! Once he caught it, Ross looked over at me and waved his arms frantically. I figured he was either excited or having a seizure — hopefully the former — and he then ran over to tell me what had happened.

You ready for it?

THIS is what happened:

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Ross had snagged a commemorative ball from the 2008 All-Star Game! (Here’s a closer look at this type of ball.) What had happened was…Thole originally tossed him a commemorative Citi Field ball, but Ross already had a few of those at home. Soon after, another ball rolled out near the foul pole, and Ross noticed that it was an All-Star ball, so he asked Thole if he could trade the Citi Field ball and have that one instead. Very clever.

As soon as Ross finished telling the story, he leaned over the bullpen railing and asked Mets pitching coach Dan Warthen for a ball. Warthen denied the request, but Sandy Alomar Jr. walked over and tossed up two balls — one for Ross and another for a younger kid who’d been standing nearby. Here’s Ross with his second ball of the day…

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…which had the Citi Field commemorative logo.

Green jogged over to retrieve a ball off the warning track. Ross hurried down to the front row and asked him for it. I moved into the second row behind Ross with my glove on my left hand and my camera in my right. My only intention was to get a photo of Ross catching the ball if Green tossed it up. Well, Green DID toss it, but it sailed a bit too high. Ross still probably would’ve caught it if not for the grown man who scooted over and tried to reach up in front of him. As it turned out, the ball sailed over both of them and came right to me, so I stuck out my glove and made the catch. It was another All-Star ball. I offered it to Ross, but he didn’t want it. He didn’t want any of my baseballs. The only balls he wanted were the ones he snagged on his own.

Back in left field, I got Ken Takahashi to toss me my fifth ball of the day and then scrambled for a Nick Evans homer that landed in the mostly empty seats. Ross, meanwhile, was doing pretty well for himself. He got Nelson Figueroa to throw him a ball and then got his fourth of the day from (we think) Takahashi. Here’s a double-photo of Ross with each of those balls. As you can see, he was rather excited after the first one…

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…because it had the old Yankee Stadium commemorative logo. Ross had never snagged one of those, and he didn’t think he ever would, so yeah, he was pumped.

By the time the Braves took the field for BP, we felt like we were in pretty good shape to challenge Joe’s Watch With Zack records, but then things slowed way down, and to make matters worse, there was a scary accident in the process. Someone on the Braves got hit by a ball near second base, prompting the trainer to rush over toward the growing huddle of players:

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I hadn’t seen it (there’s a lot to look at during BP), so I had no idea who it was or where the player had gotten hit. I learned later that it was Martin Prado who got nailed, and thankfully (painful as it obviously was) the ball had hit him just below the left knee. It was serious enough that Prado had to miss the game and for an article to be written about it on MLB.com.

Batting practice resumed five minutes later, and since the Braves pitchers were about to wrap up their throwing, I moved over to the left field foul line. Ross was still in fair territory, and he had changed into his Braves gear:

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I shouted his name and got his attention and tried to wave him over, but he wanted to stay where he was. Two minutes later, I convinced Manny Acosta to throw me a ball (by asking for it in Spanish), and saw several other fans near me get balls thrown to them as well.

That gave me seven balls on the day. My next ball was going to be No. 4,300, and it took about ten minutes before I had another chance. Yunel Escobar was in the cage and ripped a deep line drive to my left. I bolted through an empty row and then determined that the ball was going to fall a bit short so I climbed over the row in front of me. The ball was approaching. I was now in the third row. Two fans in the front row reached up for it. I flinched (not wanting to take a deflection to the face) while keeping my glove in the spot where I thought the ball was going to end up, and I heard the ball tip off their hands, and then a split second later, I felt the ball smack into the pocket of my glove. HA! It was just like catching a foul tip, and just like that, I had reached the milestone. Here’s a photo of ball No. 4,300:

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You know what Ross said after I caught it? Nothing. He was in right field, getting his fifth ball of the day from David Ross. (D’oh!) But when he returned to the left field seats, he was glad to learn that I’d caught it.

Then we both experienced some bad luck. Omar Infante threw me a ball which fell short, and he didn’t bother to retrieve it and give me another chance. Moments later, Buddy Carlyle did the same thing to Ross, who at least got another shot when the ball was thrown back up, but he got robbed by another fan who reached out and caught it right in front of him. Ross should’ve had seven balls at that point. In addition to the five he’d snagged, there was the Carlyle fiasco as well as the overthrow in right-center field by Sean Green — and then things got worse. Ross and I raced to the Braves’ dugout at the end of BP. A few other fans got balls tossed to them, but as for us? Nothing. It looked like we were done snagging for the time being, so we stood around and contemplated our next move. Ross was in the front row, staring off aimlessly into space, and I was right behind him in the second row. We had a few feet of space on either side of us, but there were other fans nearby…and then, without warning, a ball came flying up toward us from down below. WHAT?! I glanced at Ross while the ball was still high above us and noticed that he didn’t see it, so I shouted his name, but instead of looking up, he turned around and looked at me. NO!!! I wanted him to catch it, but he still didn’t see it, and I knew that if I let the ball drop into the seats, the other fans would’ve been all over it, so at the very last second, I stuck out my glove and made a waist-high catch. Ross was totally bummed out when he realized what had happened. He wasn’t mad at me. He knew I’d done the right thing by catching it. He was upset at himself for not paying attention, and while he was beating himself up mentally, another ball came flying up out of nowhere. The two balls were thrown five seconds apart, and the same thing happened with the second one. He never even saw it, so I made a very reluctant and last-second catch before it had a chance to hit the plastic seats and ricochet to another fan. There was nothing either of us could do. I had to catch the balls, and since they had entered my possession first, he couldn’t count them and didn’t want them. He was still stuck at five balls, while I had stumbled into double digits. It was just one of those things. Sometimes you get all the breaks, and other times it seems like the snagging gods hate you. This was Ross’s reaction:

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The photo above was not staged. Ross was truly distraught. He could have — and really should have — snagged nine balls by that point and been on the verge of breaking Joe’s record, but instead, he still had a long way to go. Another thing about the photo above: the man with the beard is Ross’s father Steve, and the woman in the green sweater is his mother Cindy. They tried to console him, but it was no use. He felt bad, and that was that.

One thing that cheered up Ross a little was that my friend Leon Feingold (a former minor league pitcher) showed up at game time and sat with us behind the Braves’ dugout and gave a brief pitching lesson. Here’s a photo of Leon, making the ball look tiny in his hand:

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Even as the innings ticked by, Ross was determined to find SOME way to snag five more balls, but the opportunities were dwindling, and he had some competition. Here’s a photo of Ross from behind. See the fan sitting across the staircase in the red shirt?

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That was Clif (aka “goislanders4” in the comments), a former Watch With Zack client who had become quite an experienced baseball-snagger. (You might remember Clif from 9/25/07 at Shea Stadium and 7/28/08 at Yankee Stadium and 8/19/08 at Citizens Bank Park.)

Both Ross and Clif were in the perfect spot to get a 3rd-out ball tossed up by the Braves, and after every inning, both of them rushed down the steps to the front row:

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(Check out that guy in the gray shirt on the right. Dear Lord. He has a lot to learn about snagging.)

In the bottom of the fourth inning, with one out and the bases loaded, Luis Castillo grounded into a 4-6-3 double play. Ross was standing at the edge of the dugout before first baseman Adam LaRoche even caught the throw. Clif, for some reason (perhaps it was professional courtesy or maybe he was just trying a different strategy) stayed a few rows back, and as a result, Ross received an uncontested toss from LaRoche. Cha-ching! It was his sixth ball of the day, and he was still determined to snag four more. We considered all the possibilities and came up with the following:

1) another 3rd-out ball from a different player
2) an infield warm-up ball
3) a foul ball
4) a toss-up from the 3rd base coach
5) a game-ending ball (if the Braves hung on for the win)
6) an umpire ball
7) a bullpen ball

There were still some hypothetical opportunities, but it wasn’t meant to be. Glenn Hubbard was stingy with the warm-up balls. The remaining 3rd-out balls got tossed all over the place. No foul balls came anywhere near us. The ump gave all his balls away to little kids. The relievers tossed their balls into the crowd near the bullpen. The endgame was a complete disaster, and neither of us snagged another ball.

Still, Ross had managed to break his one-game record by snagging six balls, and he DID actually break a Watch With Zack record: most different types of balls snagged by a client in one day — four, to be exact. He’d snagged two Citi Field balls, two old Yankee Stadium balls, a 2008 All-Star Game ball, and a standard Selig ball. Here I am with Ross after the game (which the Braves won, 5-2):

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Here’s a close-up shot of Ross that shows the various baseballs that he’d snagged:

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Ross was still bummed about not reaching double digits, and I knew there was no point in trying to cheer him up. I’d been in his shoes many times, so I just told him that it was a good sign that he could have a “bad” day and still end up with half a dozen balls — that it showed he was ready to break out and hit double digits very soon.

One last thing…

While Ross managed to snag four different types of balls, I got lucky and managed to one-up him by snagging five. My first three were Citi Field balls. My fourth ball (the Sean Green overthrow) was an All-Star ball. My fifth (from Ken Takahashi) for some reason was a training ball. My sixth (the Nick Evens homer) was an old Yankee Stadium ball, and my final four were standard Selig balls. I gave away one of those four to a little girl sitting behind the dugout late in the game. Brian McCann had tossed a 3rd-out ball half a dozen rows deep, and some absolute JERK — a grown man no less — ran through an empty row and dove/stumbled for the ball and caught it right in front of this girl’s mother and then crashed down in the seats and nearly landed on top of the girl. The whole section booed him, and I thought there was going to be some kind of riot because he absolutely refused to give up the ball. I was in the middle of the section at that point, having inched toward the area where I figured McCann was going to throw it, so as soon as I saw what happened, I raced back to my seat (where Leon was guarding my backpack) and pulled out a ball and ran back over to the little girl and handed it to her.

SNAGGING STATS:

17_the_nine_i_kept_09_23_09.jpg• 10 balls at this game (nine pictured here because of the give-away)

• 482 balls in 54 games this season = 8.93 balls per game.

• 623 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 350 consecutive Mets games with at least one ball

• 118 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

• 21 consecutive Watch With Zack games with at least two balls

• 4,302 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $25.26 pledged per ball

• $252.60 raised at this game

• $12,175.32 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball