Tagged: new yankee stadium

7/23/10 at Yankee Stadium

I attended this game for one reason only: to catch Alex Rodriguez’s 600th career home run.

The day, of course, started with batting practice, and there was quite a surprise waiting for me on the inside of Gate 6. Check it out:

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It’s a little hard to see, so in case you can’t tell, Yankees pitcher Andy Pettitte was there to greet fans and hand out the giveaway. (It was “Yankees Insulated Can Cooler Night.”)

A few other fans got in ahead of me, one of whom stopped to have his picture taken with Pettitte:

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As much as I wanted to race inside and start snagging baseballs, I couldn’t pass up the chance to say hi to the potential/future Hall of Famer. I reached out to shake his hand, and he responded by handing me a Can Cooler.

“Thanks,” I said, “but I really just wanted to shake your hand.”

“Oh!” he said. “Well, it’s good to meet you.”

I attempted to take a photo with him. I stood next to him and held the camera at arm’s length and pointed it back toward us. I’m usually good at taking photos like that, but in this case, it turned out looking ridiculous, so I’m not going to share it here.

I hurried out to the right field seats and grabbed two home run balls within the first minute. Colin Curtis might’ve hit one of them, but I’m really not sure. I didn’t catch either one on the fly, but that didn’t matter to me. I was just glad to get on the board and not have to worry about being shut out.

Five minutes later, I got C.C. Sabathia’s attention (by jumping and waving and shouting) and got him to throw me a ball. The following photo shows where Sabathia was when he threw it:

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It was gorgeous. He lobbed it with the perfect arc so that it sailed over everyone’s heads and came right to me. I’ve always liked Sabathia and rooted for him, so it was great to finally get a ball from him.

That’s all I got during the Yankees’ portion of BP. Once the Royals started hitting, I headed over to the left field side. This is what it looked like over there — pretty standard stuff:

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My fourth ball of the day was another home run. Once again, I have no idea who hit it — all I know is that it was a right-handed batter — but this time I caught it on the fly. Several other fans were closing in on it, so I jumped and reached above them at the last second.

The ball had an interesting marking on it:

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Royals closer Joakim Soria threw me my fifth ball of the day. Then I snagged a ground-rule double (hit by a lefty) that bounced off the warning track and rattled around in a mostly-empty row. Finally, toward the end of BP, I got another ball from Soria. This time he flung it randomly into the crowd. The ball landed in an empty row, and I barely beat out another man for it.

“That’s okay!” shouted the guy as I walked off. “I’ll get A-Rod’s!”

I gave that ball to the littlest kid in the section and later gave another ball to a slightly bigger kid.

Shortly before the game started, Chris Getz hooked me up with my eighth ball of the day. He and Mitch Maier were playing catch in shallow left field. I got as close as possible, which wasn’t close at all because of that stupid partition, and managed to get his attention from about 100 feet away. Here’s a photo of him walking back toward the dugout after he threw me the ball:

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I had a great seat in left field for the game. Check out the view in the bottom of the first inning:

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Things got a bit more intense when A-Rod stepped to the plate…

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…but then again, not everyone was into it. Check out the two fans sitting down in the following photo:

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A-Rod ended up working the count full and then drawing a walk. No big deal. The night was young, and he wasn’t the only player going for a milestone. Jorge Posada had 999 career RBIs, and I had visions of catching his home run, but it wasn’t meant to be. He stroked a run-scoring double down the right field line, and that was that:

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A-Rod led off the bottom of the 3rd with a single. The people who operate the Jumbotron responded by posting a baby photo of him the following inning:

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A-Rod struck out swinging in the bottom of the fifth, and then there was an 85-minute rain delay. Here’s the grounds crew rolling out the tarp:

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Here’s a shot of the water on the field:

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I did some wandering and found myself in the Great Hall:

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Eventually the grounds crew removed the tarp…

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…and when the game resumed, the seats were half-empty.

Perfect! I finally had some room to run. All A-Rod had to do was hit a line drive right at me, and I’d have an easy, uncontested catch. But no, he singled in the 7th and grounded out weakly in the 8th.

There’s a lot of other stuff that took place over the course of the day, but I’m too busy/stressed/exhausted to go into great detail about any of it. To give you a quick rundown:

1) While waiting for the stadium to open, I did a 20-minute phone interview about A-Rod’s 600th home run for the SeatGeek Blog.

2) During the rain delay, a man had a seizure in the Great Hall and had to be carted off on a stretcher. (He was rather large. Not sure if that had anything to do with it.)

3) Late in the game, a female security guard recognized me and asked in all seriousness, “How are your balls?”

4) Even later in the game, I had a long conversation with the man behind me about why he hadn’t brought his glove.

Final score: Yankees 7, Royals 1.

It was a busy night, and right now, it’s a busy life. That’s why it took me three days to post this entry. I’m dealing with a lot of stuff right now, some good, some bad. I was planning to go to Cleveland and make an attempt at No. 600 there, but I’ve had to cancel my trip, at least for now. Maybe I’ll still make it out there for a game or two if A-Rod holds off a bit longer.

SNAGGING STATS:

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

• 190 balls in 20 games this season = 9.5 balls per game.

• 649 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 138 consecutive Yankee home games with at least one ball

• 9 consecutive games at the new Yankee Stadium with at least two balls

• 4,548 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 44 donors (click here to learn more)

• $6.46 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $51.68 raised at this game

• $1,227.40 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

7/26/09 at Yankee Stadium

When I ran inside Yankee Stadium yesterday, I was glad to see that the grounds crew was in the process of setting up batting practice:

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Why was I glad? Because BP was not guaranteed. Not only was there a “flood watch” in the forecast, but this was a dreaded weekend day game–the absolute toughest time to snag baseballs. If it were up to me, I would not have attended this game. But it wasn’t up to me. I 2_zack_eli_kathryn_pregame.jpghad Watch With Zack clients, and this was the game they picked. The photo on the right shows me with the two of them, and yes, they’re both grown-ups.

This photo was taken at about 11am. By that point, batting practice still hadn’t started, and the right field seats (as you can see) were already packed. Not good.

As for my clients, the man standing next to me is named Eli (pronounced “Ellie”), and the woman on the right is his wife Kathryn. They’ve been married for 20 years. She grew up in Kansas City and went to a ton of games there. He grew up in Israel and only recently got into baseball. This was just the fourth game he’d ever been to, and it was the first time he’d ever arrived in time for batting practice. Needless to say, he’d never gotten a ball from a game–and neither had she, but that wasn’t why she had hired me for the day. I was, in effect, Eli’s surprise birthday present. (Kathryn always orchestrates some type of surprise for his birthday; last year she flew a bunch of his friends in from Italy.) I was there strictly to teach him about baseball and to help him understand all the rules and strategies and nuances and statistics, etc.

Anyway, batting practice, afterthought that it was…

The Yankees finally got started at around 11:30am. I had two close calls but ended up empty handed. (The sun got in my eyes on one; a security guard got in my way on the other.) No big deal, right? I’d snag a bunch of balls during the Athletics’ portion of BP…right?

WRONG!!!

The Athletics didn’t take BP, but no problem, right? I’d just get a ball from one of the pitchers playing catch in left field…right?

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WRONG!!!

Even though I was decked out in a rather eye-catching Athletics costume, no one threw me a ball. And then the grounds crew took the screens down and started preparing the field for the game.

Crap. (And then some.)

My streak was in serious danger of ending. I’d gotten at least one ball in each of the previous 606 games I’d been to–a streak dating back to September of 1993. And now I could feel the whole thing slipping away. In fact, I was convinced that it was going to end, and not only that…I was going to have to refund the $500 fee that Kathryn had paid me. That’s part of the deal with a Watch With Zack game: No ball = epic fail = full refund for the client.

Somehow, despite my inner turmoil, I was able to pull myself together and smile for a photo with this guy:

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His name is Stuart Jon (check out his web site) and he’s been reading my blog for quite some time. After many many emails (and his pledge of three cents per ball for my charity), this was the first time we’d met in person. Knowing I would be at this game, he brought both of my books and asked me to sign them for his one-year-old boy named Charlie.

Finally, at around 12:45pm, there was a promising sign of life on the field:

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The A’s players had come out to stretch and run and throw. THIS was going to be my chance to get a ball, but it wasn’t going to be easy. I couldn’t go in front of the railing (the one with the drink holders in the photo above), so I was somehow going to have to get the players’ attention and convince one of them to launch a ball over eight rows of seats and dozens of fans. I had done it before, but it was always tough.

There were only two balls in use. I screamed my head off for the first one, but Adam Kennedy tossed it to a little kid in the front row. Daric Barton, the starting first baseman, ended up with the other ball, and I was sure that he’d hang onto it and use it as the infield warm-up ball, but I shouted for it anyway. What else was there to do? I shouted and he ignored me, so I shouted again, and he looked up into the crowd, so I shouted once more and waved my arms and he looked right at me. I flapped my glove, and he turned and fired the ball. It was falling a bit short. I knew that I’d be able to reach it, but I was afraid that the man in front of me would reach up and intercept it…but it barely cleared his hands, and it smacked right into the pocket of my glove. It was the biggest relief EVER. The ball had a Yankee Stadium commemorative logo (like this) and I immediately handed it to Eli:

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Five minutes later, a few outfielders began throwing, and I got a second ball (also commemorative) from Rajai Davis! I gave that one to Kathryn. Here she is with it in her hand as she was filling out the starting lineups on her score sheets:

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Hooray.

My streak was alive. They both had a ball. I could relax…and that was great because there wasn’t much I could’ve done during the game anyway. We were sitting in the middle of a long row, one and a half sections from the end of the 3rd base dugout. Great seats to watch the game? Yes, of course. Great seats to catch a foul ball or a 3rd-out ball? Erm…no. I’d bought the tickets off StubHub, which unfortunately doesn’t provide seat numbers so there was no way to find out (until the transaction was complete) if we’d be on the aisle. So yeah, we were all trapped there, but given the fact that I’d snagged those two baseballs, it was actually nice to sit still and focus on Eli and not have to worry about adding to my total.

This was our view.

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This was my lunch:

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This was also my lunch:

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I don’t have good luck with waiter-service-food at baseball games. This was only the second time I’d ever ordered it. The other time was at Turner Field nearly a decade ago. I’d snuck down into the fancy seats with a friend, so we ordered food and before it arrived, we got kicked out by security. We’d already paid for it, and thankfully we were allowed to wait at the top of the section (in the cross-aisle) until it arrived. It was highly embarrassing.

I sat next to Eli during the game and explained stuff nonstop from Watching Baseball Smarter. He already knew quite a bit (including the infield fly rule), so it was a challenge at times to come up with things that were new, but I found a way.

The game itself was thoroughly entertaining. There were several lead changes, and there was only one home run. (Home runs bore me if I’m not in a position to catch them. I wish the MLB Network would show highlights of triples instead.) When Mariano Rivera entered the game (for a four-out save) and “Enter Sandman” started blasting, a fan in the upper deck was shown headbanging on the Jumbotron. I’ve seen this guy before. He’s hilarious:

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During the 9th inning, Kathryn asked me to sign the baseballs to her and Eli. I suggested signing one ball to the two of them so they could keep the other ball pure. She was fine with that, and this was the result:

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The “4142” represents my current ball total. That’s how I sign everything snag-related.

Kathryn and Eli had their own copy of “Watching Baseball Smarter,” and after the game I signed that too. Here we are:

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Final score: Yankees 7, Athletics 5.

Here are Kathryn’s score sheets:

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Very impressive. (“I’m a semi-serious geek for a girl,” she told me.)

On our way out, I stopped to get a pic of the Great Hall…

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…and when we got outside (and because Kathryn and Eli’s camera battery had died), I took one last photo of them, which you can see below on the right.



16_kathryn_eli_outside_stadium.jpgSNAGGING STATS:

• 2 balls at this game

• 322 balls in 38 games this season = 8.47 balls per game.

• 607 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 135 consecutive Yankee games with at least one ball

• 6 consecutive games at the new Yankee Stadium with at least two balls

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

• 4,142 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 114 donors (It’s not too late to make a pledge. Click here to learn more…)

• $24.59 pledged per ball

• $49.18 raised at this game

• $7,917.98 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

7/20/09 at Yankee Stadium

Once again, there was a huge crowd waiting to get inside Yankee Stadium:

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Think that’s a lot of people? Well, guess what…this was just one of the four entrances. I wasn’t surprised or concerned. It’s always that crowded, and I’ve learned to deal with it. There was, however, one thing that set this day apart from all of my other trips to The New Stadium: it was a Watch With Zack game.

My clients were a father and son from California, and the photo below shows the three of us. I’m on the left, 11-year-old Andrew is in the middle, and Jeff is on the right:

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For the record, they weren’t wearing Yankees gear just to fit in; they really are big Yankee fans.

Batting practice hadn’t yet started, so we took some more photos and discussed our ball-snagging strategies. Then, to make it easier for Andrew and Jeff to ask the players for baseballs, I gave them each a sheet of paper that looked like this:
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Yankees bullpen coach Mike Harkey had been playing catch with Chien-Ming Wang. I’d had my eyes on them at first, then shifted my attention elsewhere, and luckily looked back up just as they were finishing.

“MIKE!!!” I yelled.

There were other grown-ups and ballhawks standing all around us. It all happened so fast. There wasn’t time to get Andrew out in the open where he might’ve been seen, so I instinctively darted off to the side and waved my arms and got Harkey to throw me the ball. It was commemorative:

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The fact that I had snagged that ball was both good and bad. It was bad because Andrew hadn’t gotten it, but it was good because I was on the board. I no longer had to worry about getting shut out, so I turned all my attention to Andrew and made sure that HE would be the one to snag the next ball.

Coming into this game, Andrew had snagged a lifetime total of four baseballs, including one that his dad had caught and given to him. Andrew’s single-game record? One ball. I was determined to help him break that.

Several Yankee pitchers were playing catch in right field, so I headed over to the foul line with him and set him up as close as possible:

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As you can see, this actually wasn’t close at all, and the pitchers didn’t show him any love. We could’ve fought our way down into that section on the right, but it didn’t make sense to be buried in the crowd.

Speaking of crowds, look how crowded it was in right field as BP was getting underway:

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In the photo above, the red arrow is pointing to a fellow ballhawk named Alex who did three nice things for me over the course of the day:

1) He took photos of me with Andrew and Jeff.
2) He gave me space during BP (so we wouldn’t compete for the same balls).
3) He hooked me up with a dugout-area ticket stub during the game.

As for Andrew, I knew he needed to be in the front row, and although it took some time, eventually I found him the perfect spot. When you’re 11 years old–let’s face it–most people are going to be taller than you, so I had Andrew slip into a spot that was good for two reasons. First, there were two pitchers playing catch right in front of him, and second, the person on his right was even shorter:

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Three minutes later, Phil Coke ended up with the ball and looked up into the crowd to pick out a worthy recipient.

“Phil!” I shouted. “How ’bout a ball for this young man right here?!”

Coke looked up, and I pointed down at Andrew from the second row. That did the trick. Coke took a step toward us and appeared to be getting ready to toss the ball. At the very last second, I leaned forward and reminded Andrew to reach as far out as possible for it. The ball started sailing our way, and the little kid on the right made his own attempt to catch it. This was the result:

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It was a perfect Yankee Stadium commemorative ball.

BTW, did you notice that the woman in the background has a ball in her pocket? Yeah, don’t feel bad for that little kid who got outsnagged by Andrew. That woman was the little kid’s mom. He’d already gotten a ball.

Andrew ran over to the next section and showed the ball to his dad:

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If I’d been at this game by myself, I would’ve snagged several balls during the Yankees’ portion of BP. Lots of homers had landed near my normal spot at the back of the section, but I was at this game for Andrew. He wanted to get balls on his own rather than having me run all over the place and snag balls for him. And so…I only got one ball out in right field. It was a homer that *might* have been hit by Erik Hinske, but I’m not sure. It landed in a thick crowd of people and ricocheted right to me. Commemorative ball. Pristine logo. Hell yes.

Three days earlier, the Yankees had been using Metrodome balls during BP, but now, I’m happy to report, the Yankee Stadium balls were out in full force.

After the Yankees finished hitting, we headed over to the left field side and changed into bright orange Orioles shirts. I already had my own “RIPKEN 8” shirt that I bought on eBay a while back, and just recently I’d received a free pair of “MORA 6” shirts at a Camden Yards giveaway. I lent those two shirts to Andrew and Jeff. Look how much it helped them stand out…

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…and within a couple minutes, Andrew snagged his second ball of the day:

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This one came from Felix Pie. I helped Andrew by calling out for it, and Andrew helped himself by making a nice jumping catch–and just like that, he had doubled his single-game record.

He and I each snagged one more ball during BP. For me, it was a home run (don’t ask me who hit it) that landed in the seats, and for him, it was a toss from Brad Bergesen.

Once BP was done, we took off the Orioles shirts and posed with our haul:

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Just before game time, Andrew and I worked our way to the seats behind the Orioles’ dugout. Of course we had to stay behind that ghastly partition, but because he was once again wearing one of my bright orange Orioles shirts, it didn’t make a difference. I don’t need to point him out with an arrow in the photo below. You can pick him out easily on your own:

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This was the scene two minutes later:

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Yes, he had snagged another ball (his fourth of the day), this time courtesy of Nolan Reimold.

With a bit of trickery and assistance, Andrew and his father and I managed to stay in that section for the rest of the night. It was a great spot not only to watch the game but for Andrew to get a 3rd-out ball. Unfortunately he did a lot of shouting/waving that wasn’t getting him anywhere. Here’s one of his unsuccessful attempts to get a ball…

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…and here’s another, this time in competition with Alex:

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Things weren’t looking good. Even when 1st baseman Aubrey Huff ended up with the inning-ending balls, he wasn’t throwing THE game-used balls into the crowd. He was saving those for himself (or perhaps for MLB’s authentication program) and tossing the non-commemorative infield warm-up balls into the crowd instead.

Finally, though, Andrew had his chance.

The sixth inning ended when Huff fielded a grounder and tossed it to pitcher David Hernandez, who ran over to cover 1st base. Alex wasn’t there (it turns out he was on line for sushi), so Andrew didn’t have any competition. Andrew didn’t realize that Hernandez was the guy who had the ball; he had his eye on Huff and nearly gave up when Huff disappeared under the dugout roof. I told him that the pitcher had the ball, so Andrew held his ground, and we both started waving our arms to get Hernandez’s attention.

Here’s a photo of Hernandez throwing the ball into the crowd:

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Here’s a photo of the ball in mid-air:

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It appeared to be falling short. I wasn’t sure who Hernandez was aiming for, but I didn’t think there was any chance for Andrew to catch it.

Here’s a photo of Andrew reaching WAY over the railing for the ball, while the grown men in front of him are falling all over themselves:

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And here’s a priceless reaction from one of them:

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Why was that guy so stunned (and saddened)? Because my young dude had just made a catch that would’ve made most major league 1st basemen wet their pants.

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Andrew had more-than-doubled his entire lifetime total in one game. We joked about the fact that I’d have to snag more than 4,000 balls in one game to do that.

During the game, I sat next to Andrew and pointed out some of the things I had written about in Watching Baseball Smarter: the positioning of the 3rd base coach, the catcher looking into the dugout for signs, the runner on 2nd taking his lead behind the baseline, etc. Meanwhile, Jeff used a fancy camera to take some high-quality action shots. Here’s one of them:

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The game itself was good, I suppose, if you enjoy games in which every run scores on a solo homer.

Top of the 1st inning? Nick Markakis homer.

Bottom of the 2nd inning? Eric Hinske homer.

Bottom of the 9th inning? See below:

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Walk-off shot by Hideki Matsui. (Nice camera work, Jeff!)Final score: Andrew 5, Zack 3, Yankees 2, Orioles 1.

Andrew really deserved to get pointed at in the post-game photo:

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He and his father were nice enough to let me keep my two commemorative balls. I gave the other/standard ball to Andrew (I couldn’t send him back to California without an official Zack Hample snagged ball), and then he posed with all of them:

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SNAGGING STATS:

• 3 balls at this game

• 310 balls in 36 games this season = 8.6 balls per game.

• 605 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 134 consecutive Yankee games with at least one ball

• 5 consecutive games at the new Yankee Stadium with at least three balls

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

• 4,130 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $24.59 pledged per ball

• $73.77 raised at this game

• $7,622.90 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

But wait! There’s more!

We lingered outside the stadium until most of the people were gone, and then Andrew and I played catch for about 20 minutes. This is what it looked like from my point of view:

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After that, we rode the subway together back into Manhattan and then said our goodbyes.

7/17/09 at Yankee Stadium

When Yankee Stadium was getting ready to open yesterday at 4pm, there were at least 1,000 fans waiting to get in at Gate 6 alone. The fans (myself and Jona included) had formed mini-lines in front of the dozens of guards and doors. For some reason, however, only TWO of these doors were opened, causing 10 minutes’ worth of congestion while everyone was forced to head to that one spot from various directions. Look at this mess:

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I truly don’t understand it.

To make matters worse, I felt a few raindrops as soon as I forced my way inside, but thankfully the grounds crew left the batting cage in place. Batting practice hadn’t yet started so I headed toward the Yankees’ dugout, picked a spot behind that horrendous partition, got the attention of hitting coach Kevin Long, and got him to throw me a ball. Here I am reaching for it (with a red arrow pointing to the ball):

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I was hoping that the ball would have a commemorative logo…and it did…but it wasn’t the one I wanted.

Check it out:

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I’d already gotten a bunch of these Metrodome balls earlier in the season. (Here’s a better one.) What I really wanted was a ball with the new Yankee Stadium logo. I’d only snagged one of those all season (on May 21st) and it ended up getting water-stained because of a terrible mishap. Quite simply, I needed another.

Nevertheless, I was still glad to have the Metrodome ball because a) any commemorative ball is cool and b) it was my 300th ball of the season. Here I am posing with it:

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Finally, at around 4:25pm, the Yankees started taking BP. I headed to right field and briefly had the last few rows to myself:

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Five minutes later, the whole section was packed and I had to fight (not literally, although that wouldn’t be a stretch at Yankee Stadium) for both of the balls I caught out there. The first was a home run by Hideki Matsui with another Metrodome logo, and the second was a regular ball hit by Nick Swisher. Here I am catching one of the balls:

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The photo above might make it look like I’m trampling that poor woman, but that wasn’t the case at all. At Yankee Stadium, there’s a good amount of space between rows, so I was able to step carefully in front of her and reach up at the last second. She’s not flinching because of me; she’s flinching because she was scared of the ball and didn’t see it coming. Even though it wouldn’t have hit her, she thanked me on three separate occasions for saving her life. You 5b_zack_signing_ball.jpg
know whose life I *did* save? Jona’s. As you can kinda tell based on the photo above, she was sitting two rows directly behind the spot where I reached up.

After the catches, several fans recognized me and asked me to sign their baseballs and to pose in photos with them. I obliged their requests only when right-handed batters were in the cage.

I moved to left field when the Tigers started hitting, and it was nearly a total waste. The only ball I snagged during their entire portion of BP was a fungo that sailed over an outfielder’s head and landed in the third row. And, of course, since the Tigers are too cheap to use real major league balls, this is what I found myself holding:

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YUCK!!!

(In case you’re wondering, this ball counts in my collection because it was used by major league players in a major league stadium.)

Last season, at the Red Sox home opener, the Tigers were using Pacific Coast League balls. What kind of garbage balls will they be using next year?

At the end of BP, I noticed that there was a ball sitting in the corner of the left field bullpen:

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I’d been planning to take Jona for a scenic tour of the stadium, but once I saw that ball, I had to stay and wait until someone came and got it. While I was standing around, I saw a teenaged kid hurdling seats and running toward me.

“OH MY GOD!!!” he shouted. “ZACK HAMPLE!!! ZACK HAMPLE!!!!!!!!!!!

At first I thought he was making fun of me with sarcastic enthusiasm, but he turned out to be totally serious. He was just…excited to see me, apparently. His name is Jon Herbstman. (We’d met once before on 7/8/08 at Yankee Stadium.) Here we are:

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Fifteen minutes later, a groundskeeper wandered into the bullpen, and Jona got a real action shot of him handing me the ball:

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It was another International League ball, and yes, it counts. As long as another fan doesn’t give me a ball, it counts, and would you believe that that actually happened yesterday? One of the guys who’d been waiting for my autograph snagged a home run ball that I would’ve gotten had he not been standing there. He obviously felt guilty about getting in my way (it was my own stupid fault for having misjudged it) so he scooped it up and flung it to me in one motion.

“I don’t want this,” I said as I tossed it back to him, “but thanks.”

I’ve probably had 10 to 20 fans randomly try to give me balls over the years. I’ve never accepted a single one, although I now realize I should’ve taken them, NOT counted them in my collection, and used them for my own BP in Central Park.

Shortly before the game started, I got Adam Everett to toss his warm-up ball to me over the partition. (That was my sixth ball of the day.) The four-part photo below, starting on the top left and then going clockwise, shows how it all played out. The arrows in the final three photos are pointing to the ball in mid-air:

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This ball had the regular MLB logo.

My goal during the game was simple: Hang out behind the Tigers’ dugout and try to get a 3rd-out ball tossed to me over the partition. Having seen the Tigers for four games in April, I remembered that their first baseman, Miguel Cabrera, had a habit of tossing balls deep into the crowd. I felt good about my chances. All I needed was a third out to be a ground out.

It didn’t take long. With two outs in the bottom of the first, Tigers starter Lucas French induced Jorge Posada to roll one over to 3rd baseman Brandon Inge. I crept down the steps as Inge fired the ball to first base and waited for Cabrera to jog in.

He tossed me the ball!!!

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But it turned out to be a regular ball. GAH!!! Cabrera, as some first basemen have started doing, pulled a little switcheroo and threw me the infield warm-up ball.

It was a major letdown.

But at least the game itself was entertaining. The highlight was the 57-minute rain delay in the bottom of the eighth because it chased away 90 percent of the “fans.”

Here’s a photo I took during the delay when everyone was hiding under the overhangs and in the main part of the concourse:

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The way-too-narrow center field concourse was eerily quiet:

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I love having a stadium to myself, or at least feeling like I do, especially when that stadium is typically packed beyond belief.

I was in left field when A-Rod came up in the bottom of the 8th. If EVER there was a time when he should’ve hit a home run in my general vicinity, this was it. I had empty rows on both sides of me. No one else was wearing a glove. Blah blah. But of course he struck out to cap his 0-for-5 performance.

Mariano Rivera pitched the ninth:

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He allowed a one-out double to Placido Polanco, then retired the next two batters on two pitches. He’s so good. And classy. It pains me that he’s on the Yankees because I’m forced to root for them whenever he’s in the game.

Final score: Yankees 5, Tigers 3.

During the game, I had used Jona’s iPhone to look up the box score. I learned that Tim Tschida was the home plate umpire. After the final out, I moved one section to my left, to the approximate spot where he’d be exiting the field. I was still trapped behind the partition, so I shouted “MISTER TSCHIDA!!!” as loud as I possibly could. To my surprise, he actually looked up, at which point I took off my black, MLB umpires’ cap (thank you very much) and 13a_i_heart_tim_tschida.jpgwaved it at him. Was I going to be able to get him to pull one of the Yankee Stadium commemorative balls out of his pouch and chuck it to me over half a dozen rows of fans from more than 50 feet away? It seemed unlikely, but I went for it and continued shouting my request. While walking toward the exit, he pulled one out and under-handed it to me (!!!) but it drifted to the right, and I leaned way out over a side railing to try to make the back-handed catch, and I watched helplessly as it sailed less than a foot past my outstretched glove. NO!!! I looked back at the field, figuring he’d be gone, but he was still there…and he was watching! He had seen some other fan get the ball, so he pulled out another. At this point all the other fans realized what was going on, and they all crowded toward me, so I climbed up on a little concrete ledge just behind the partition and waved my arms. Tschida flung the second ball toward me. It was heading in the right direction, but it was sailing too high, so I waited until the last second and then jumped up off the ledge and made the catch and landed right in the middle of a big puddle in the drainage-challenged front row. Water splashed everywhere, mostly on me, and I was over-JOYED. I was holding a game-rubbed commemorative ball:

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As soon as I caught it, a little kid three rows back started chanting, “Give it to the kid! Give it to the kid.”

“I don’t think so,” I told him, then headed up the steps and handed one of my regular baseballs to a different kid who happened to be walking past with his dad (and with an empty glove on his left hand) at that exact moment.

SNAGGING STATS:

15_the_seven_i_kept_07_17_09.jpg• 8 balls at this game (7 pictured here because I gave one away)

• 4 different types of balls at this game (might be a world record)

• 307 balls in 35 games this season = 8.77 balls per game.

• 604 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 133 consecutive Yankee games with at least one ball

• 4 consecutive games at the new Yankee Stadium with at least four balls

• 4,127 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $24.59 pledged per ball

• $196.72 raised at this game

• $7,549.13 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

5/21/09 at Yankee Stadium

For months and months, I’ve been hearing that the seats from the old Yankee Stadium were going to be on sale for nearly $2,000 a pair, and I couldn’t believe it–not just from a financial standpoint, but because I couldn’t wrap my brain around the fact that THE stadium was really going to be demolished. Well, yesterday, as my No. 4 train approached 161st Street, I got a glimpse inside and saw that the seats are indeed being pulled out:

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It was strange and sad to see the field devoid of grass, and of course to see the seats stacked up on the field itself.

I headed over to Gate 6 and saw a couple familiar faces. In the photo below, I’m with Brian (aka “puck collector” in the comments section) on the left and Eric (the ultimate bobblehead/autograph collector) on the right:

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The stadium opened at 4pm (wow!) and to my delight, a few Yankees were already on the field, taking an early round of batting practice. I headed down to the right field seats…

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…and noticed that there were more righties than lefties taking turns in the cage, so I ran around to the left field side. (I love being able to run behind the batter’s eye. It only takes a minute. At the old stadium, if you wanted to move from right field to left, you had to run all the way around home plate and then head back out along the foul line. It took such a long time that it usually wasn’t even worth it.) The seats were pretty much empty. I had two sections to myself out in left-center. I was all set for a monster day when a security guard came over (oh no…) and gave me advice on how to get a ball.

“Sometimes,” he said, “when they hit one to the wall and the player comes over to get it, you can get him to give it to you.”

REALLY?!?!

Moments later, one of the righties connected on a deep fly ball that was heading to my left. I started running through the third row, then judged that the ball was going to fall a bit short, so while it was still in mid-air, I climbed down over a row of seats and lunged at the last second over another row for the thigh-high catch. (I have no idea who hit it.) I opened up my glove to take a look at the ball, hoping that it would be commemorative, but the sweet spot was facing up, so I grabbed the ball, not expecting much, and turned it over, and Oh My God:

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It was a BRAND new commemorative ball. I mean, it was newer than new. Right-out-of-the-box new. One pitch, home run, into my glove, yay. That pretty much made my entire day right there. I figured I was going to end up snagging a bunch of these balls before the season was through, but I hadn’t gotten one yet and I was officially antsy.

I caught another homer on the fly in left field. So easy. All I had to do was move five feet to my right and reach up over a gloveless fan who was ducking.

Time out…

Let me quickly say two things now so I won’t have to keep repeating myself:

1) Every ball I snagged yesterday except for that first one was standard.
2) I have no idea who hit any of the balls I got, so don’t ask.

Time in…

The Yankees finished their early round of BP, and then the whole team came out to stretch and run along the right field foul line. I had a little time to kill, so I slowly made my way around the field level and stopped to take the following photo. It shows the gigantic/awful partition as well as the netting that protects the fancy seats:

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FYI, the netting doesn’t stay up during the game–not that it matters because neither you nor I will ever get to sit there.

I met up with Brian along the right field foul line. He’d already snagged four balls, including one with the commemorative logo, but within the next 10 minutes, I tied his total for the day by snagging two more of my own. The Yankees had begun playing catch, and when they were wrapping up, I got one thrown (over the netting and partition) by Jose Veras and then got Nick Swisher to toss me another.

When this stadium opened last month, fans were not allowed into the field level seats without field level tickets, even during BP. Now that the Yankees have eased up on that moronic policy, anyone is allowed to get down close to the field (as it should be), at least until 5:40pm, and as a result, the seats were packed while the Yankees were hitting:

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The sun was brutal in right field, so if you’re planning to spend any time out there during BP, you better wear a cap and/or sunglasses. I managed to catch another home run out there–my fifth ball of the day–when everyone around me got blinded and ducked out of the way at the last second. (I’m sure my own retinas suffered some damage, but whatever, it was worth it.) The ball was hit by a righty (mighta been Jeter). I was in the third or fourth row, and it was falling short and tailing to my left, so I scooted down the steps, hopped over a knee-high metal bar, stepped into a little open area (which is probably meant to be a camera well), and made the catch. I was proud of myself for that one because it actually required some skill.

At 5:40pm, security kicked everyone out of the seats who didn’t belong there. I changed into my bright orange “RIPKEN 8” shirt and found my way into the left field seats. Amazingly, I didn’t get a single ball thrown to me by the Orioles, but I did catch another homer. Nothing fancy about it. I had to move about 20 feet through an empty row, and after I made the catch, a security guard (there were about two dozen guards out there) complimented me for having gotten a great jump on the ball, and he asked me if I ever played. I told him I played some college ball and that I could probably play left field better than Johnny Damon. He laughed, but I was serious.

Then something really bad happened…

I had a half-empty water bottle in my bag that had somehow leaked. Everything in my bag was soaked. (This is the Yankees’ fault, by the way. They don’t allow backpacks into the stadium, so I had to cram all my stuff into a little drawstring bag, and it all got jumbled together and messed up.) My commemorative ball? Soaked and waterlogged. Wallet? Soaked. Cell phone? Soaked and totally dead. (I still need to call T-Mobile.) Pens? Markers? Baseball cap? All soaked. My camera?! Soaked, but at least it was in a case that protected it, for the most part, so somehow it still works.

I was so upset about this that I considered leaving the stadium and just going home. I actually had to leave the seats for 10 minutes DURING BATTING PRACTICE to deal with it. I had to wrap up my cell phone in some plastic bags from a souvenir stand because it was overheating, and I went to the bathroom and got some paper towels to put around the commemorative ball. It was a true disaster.

The rest of the night? Whatever. I stayed for the game, but I was too bothered by everything that had happened to enjoy it.

Adam Jones was one of four players who came out to play catch before the game started…

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…and I managed to get him to toss me the ball on his way in. (He’s now the eighth “Jones” to have thrown me a ball, joining Andruw, Bobby J., Bobby M., Brandon, Chipper, Chris, and Todd. This is important stuff. Only the Johnsons have more entries on my master list.)

Another thing the Yankees messed up was the info on the jumbotron. Brian Roberts is NOT 25:

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I sat behind the dugout during the game and proudly wore my orange Ripken shirt:

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I was hoping for a third-out ball, but the players kept tossing them to a specific little girl in the front row. She ended up getting SIX balls. It was so ridiculous the way she kept getting them that all the fans around her kept throwing their arms up in disgust every time she got another. Who ARE these kids, and how the hell do they get to sit down there? Whatever. I shouldn’t be complaining. I did fine for myself, and as Mariano Rivera put the finishing touches on the Yankees’ ninth straight win, I handed a brand new ball to a little boy who’d been wearing a glove and sitting near me all night. The way his face lit up…let’s just say it brought some nice closure to an otherwise unsettling day.

SNAGGING STATS:

• 8 balls at this game

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• 4 gorgeous, gold-stamped ticket stubs collected at this game, pictured on the right. (These are for the seats right next to the 3rd base dugout.)

• 190 balls in 24 games this season = 7.9 balls per game.

• 593 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 131 consecutive Yankee games with at least one ball

• 4,010 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $23.95 pledged per ball

• $95.80 raised at this game

• $4,358.90 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

One final thing…and normally I wouldn’t do this…but it’s for a friend who did an incredible set of favors for me, and by extension those favors helped me snag more balls for the charity, so I owe her. Remember Kelly from Chicago? She’s the Cubs fan who let me crash at her place last month. She gave me her season tickets (for free!) to Wrigley Field on April 21st and 23rd and drove me back to Chicago after that game in Milwaukee. Yes? Remember now? Anyway, she asked me to help spread the word about a contest that she’s in. If she wins, she’ll get to throw out a ceremonial first pitch at Wrigley (something she’s always dreamed of) and she needs everyone’s help. All she has to do is get the most people to sign up for a Cubs-related newsletter, and she’s currently in the lead. There’s a new restaurant inside Wrigley called the Captain Morgan Club. Kelly says:

“Please go HERE and sign up for the Captain Morgan newsletter (you can easily unsubscribe later). Put kelly_mcmahon@yahoo.com in the “Who Referred You” field. Ideally, you can just use an old email address to sign up, but make sure it’s still active because you have to click a link in a confirmation email for your entry to count. This email will most likely go into your junk folder, but it will come from Harry Caray’s Restaurant Group, so you can easily find it. Don’t forget to go in there and click the activation link, or your entry won’t count!!”

4/18/09 at Yankee Stadium

This was my first game at the new Yankee Stadium. I arrived more than five hours before game time, and I could tell right away why it cost $1.5 billion. In a word, the place is glorious. This was the view shortly after I exited the subway:

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I had lots of time to spare (as planned) so I walked around and took a zillion photos. This is what the side of the stadium looks like just past Gate 6:

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Everything was crisp and clean and well designed and classy. Even the ticket windows…I mean, just look:

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In the photo above, did you notice the flat-screen TVs mounted high on the wall? If you look at the one on the upper right, you can see that the field was not set up for batting practice. Thankfully, within the next few minutes, the L-screen was rolled into place:

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I already had a ticket that a friend had bought for me, so just for the hell of it (and because I wanted to have something to complain about later on my blog) I asked how much the cheapest available ticket was. Anyone want to guess? If you said ninety-five dollars, you are correct. (Insert complaining here.)

I kept walking, crossed a little road, and took a photo of Gate 4–the home plate gate:

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Then I continued my journey…

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…and passed Gate 2 (the left field gate)…

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…and rounded the corner of a “Preferred Parking” garage that’s connected to the stadium:

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At the old stadium, fans weren’t able to walk all the way around. There was a fenced off parking lot for the players, next to which was a road that turned into a ramp that merged onto a highway. Not good. I like being able to walk all the way around the outside a stadium. I feel a greater connection to it if I can inspect it from all angles, so I’m glad to say it IS possible to walk all the way around the new stadium.

At the old stadium, there were four gates: 2, 4, 6, and the bleacher entrance.

At the new stadium, the latter has been replaced with Gate 8:

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Here’s a look at the right field side of the stadium from underneath the elevated train tracks:

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I’d made it full-circle, so I decided to take a peek at the old stadium:

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It was dead. And sad:

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All the memorabilia stores were closed…

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…but back at the new stadium, things were jumping. There were hundreds (if not thousands) of people waiting to get in:

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In the photo above, do you see the kid with a glove, a dark green shirt, and tan shorts? His name is Connor and he’s 13 years old. He had recently left a few comments on this blog, and this was the first time we met in person. We ended up crossing paths throughout the day, so remember his name.

The game was scheduled to begin at 3:40pm, and the gates opened at 12:30. You might think it’s the most awesome thing ever to get inside that early, but guess what? It sucks. As a general rule, batting practice doesn’t start that early, so the stadium ends up getting crowded before any balls reach the seats. You know that feeling during the first minute of BP when you’re one of just a handful of fans in the entire stadium? And you can hear the crack of the bat echoing?
And you feel like the players are hitting home run balls just for you? Well, you can kiss that feeling goodbye in the Bronx, but it’s still pretty cool to be able to be inside, crowded or not, for the start of batting practice.

Given the fact that there was no point in rushing inside, I stopped for a moment and took a photo of the…I don’t know what to call it. The outer concourse? All I can say is that it’s spectacular. Check it out:

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Okay, so it looks like an airport terminal, and it’s kind of a rip-off of the outer concourse in Arlington, but it’s still pretty damn cool. With all due respect to Jackie Robinson, I think this is even more dazzling than the Rotunda at Citi Field. Let’s face it, the Mets’ new home is not THAT special. Sure, it’s nice, and the outfield wall has some interesting angles, and the second deck overhangs the warning track in right field, and there’s a brand new Home Run Apple, but overall it looks like every other ballpark that’s been built in the last decade. The new Yankee Stadium, however, is one of a kind and breathtakingly beautiful. Like I said earlier, it was clear from the start.

Here’s the inner/field level concourse:

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The new Yankee Stadium was designed by an architect named God, but it’s run by Satan. Forget the fact that backpacks are not allowed. Don’t even get me started with that. You know what else is not allowed? Going down into the field level seats for batting practice…unless of course you have a ticket for those seats. Let me clarify. You CAN get into the field level concourse no matter where your ticketed seat is located, but unless you actually have a SEAT on the field level, you will not be able to get down into the actual seats to snag baseballs. It’s that simple. There was a security guard at every staircase:

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Batting practice hadn’t even started. (You can see the grounds crew watering the infield in the photo above.) It was more than three effin’ hours before the first pitch, and yet the guards were not letting people down into the seats. As you can imagine, there were some pretty angry fans. I talked to one guy who’s paying $20,000 this year for season tickets in the upper deck. He was there with his 11-year-old son, and he was furious that the two of them weren’t allowed down into the seats to try to catch a ball or get an autograph.

I can understand that the owners want to encourage people to buy the fancy seats (and then reward the people who do), but this is just horrible. It’s funny how the team makes such a huge production of playing “God Bless America” during the 7th inning stretch because this policy of keeping fans–especially fathers and sons–out of the good seats for BP is downright un-American.

You’re probably wondering where my assigned seat was, and if I made it into the field level seats, and if I managed to keep my streak alive, etc., so let me just say this: when Zack Hample goes to a new stadium, Zack Hample GETS INTO the field level seats. (Hey! Talking about oneself in the third person is fun. I can see why Rickey Henderson does it. I can’t wait for his induction speech.) It wasn’t always easy. I got kicked out of the right field seats during BP and later had a guard threaten to call his supervisor, but I survived. That’s because I had a few people looking out for me. For starters, one young man who reads this blog told me the name/section of a certain guard who would let me down into the seats if I mentioned his name. (Don’t ask. It’s a secret. Absolutely no exceptions.) Then there was my friend Linda, the one who bought me the ticket for this game. She and her friend Cindy had field level tickets on the right field foul line. My ticket was in the upper deck. They arrived at game time. You figure out the rest. Finally there was another young man named Alex who had a ticket on the left field foul line and kindly lent it to me at one point. So yeah, it took a team effort to help me beat the system.

I got an early peek at the seats in right field…

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…and I could not be-LIEVE what I was seeing. Every single seat, even 400 feet from home plate, was soft and cushy:

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(These seats will probably look like crap in a few years after nature has its way with them.) Normally these fancy seats are limited to the fanciest sections. The entire new Yankee Stadium, it turns out, is one big fancy section, and if you’re not convinced yet, look at this:

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Yes, right there in the concourse, there was a friggin’ butcher carving steak behind a glass window, and just around the corner there was a gosh-darn fruit stand:

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(How many different ways can I curse without actually cursing?) The prices were reasonable, at least for New York City. Two pears for three dollars? That’s what I’m used to paying on the Upper West Side.

Another nice thing about the new stadium is that the field level concourse runs all the way around the outfield. The following photo shows the concourse directly behind the batter’s eye. I think the space is way too narrow, especially considering that this is where the line starts for Monument Park:

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I made it back to the right field side of the stadium, and the Yankees began playing catch soon after. One of the balls got loose and rolled up to the wall along the foul line. Not only was there a security guard at the top of every staircase, but there was also a guard at the bottom. Being in a stadium for batting practice should feel like being in a playground, but instead it felt like I was at a border crossing. There were more security guards than fans, so I figured I was going to get yelled at, possibly even threatened or ejected for using my glove trick, but I had to give it a shot. I waited until the nearest guard turned his back and then I went for it. The following photo, taken from the RF bleachers by a college kid named Luke who reads this blog, shows me in action:

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As I was getting the ball to stick inside my glove, the guard turned around and stared at me. I had a sinking feeling in my gut. Was he going to confiscate the ball and call his supervisor?

“I saw you on The Tonight Show,” he said. “That’s pretty cool.”

Umm…wow?

I ended up talking to him for a few minutes and thanking him profusely for being so nice and letting me get the ball.

Was it a commemorative ball?!?!

No…

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…but it’s a valuable ball to me.

There were still a few guys playing catch in shallow right field, so I cut through the seats along the foul line. (Once I was down in the seats, no one stopped me from moving side to side.) Damaso Marte was about to finish throwing, and this was as close as I could get:

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When he was done, I waved my arms and jumped up and down and called his name–anything to get his attention, and it worked. He looked up and spotted me in the sea of empty seats and lobbed the ball over the netting and over the partition, right to me. Perfect aim. Easiest catch ever. I had my second ball of the day. Not commemorative.

I moved to the seats in straight-away right field and snagged a third ball (not commemorative) in an unexpected way. I had started running toward the end of the section in right-center for a home run that ended up landing in the bullpen. Just at that moment, another ball landed ten feet away from me, right in my row. A nearby fan told me that Brian Bruney had thrown it. I have no idea who he was even aiming for, or if it’s even true that he’s the guy who threw it, but hey, I’ll take it.

It was shortly after this snag that I got kicked out of right field–a real shame because there were a bunch of lefties hitting bombs at that point. I managed to make it down into the left field seats, and since the lefties were pulling everything, I passed the time by taking some more photos. In the shot below, you can see how the bleachers (the section above the red “State Farm” ads) are separated from the fancy seats:

25_LF_seats_during_BP.jpg

If you have a bleacher ticket, you will be forced to stay in the bleachers. See how there’s a gap between the two State Farm ads? That’s a little tunnel that leads underneath the bleachers to that narrow concourse. Don’t despair if you have a bleacher ticket. There were a lot of home run balls that reached the first few rows, and the players also tossed some balls there. And…although you might get stopped by security, there will be plenty glove trick opportunities from the seats above the bullpens:

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The following photo shows what I *think* is the line for Monument Park, snaking up and around the ramps/stairs:

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The Indians took the field and started playing catch, and whaddaya know, a ball got loose and rolled up against the wall in foul territory. Glove trick. Bam! Ball number four was mine. Security didn’t say a word.

Now…you might recall that at my previous two games at Citi Field, the visiting team had been using the Mets’ commemorative balls. I was hoping that the Indians might be using the Yankees’ balls, but no. No such luck. Every ball I got from the Tribe was standard. How many more balls did I get? Well, thanks to Alex who snagged a bunch of his own and let me have his spot in the very crowded front row, I was able to get Rafael Perez (in the photo below) to toss me his ball after he finished throwing.

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Then, after moving to the seats in straight-away left field, I spotted a ball sitting on the warning track near the foul pole:

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Remember that kid named Connor? He was already there with a glove trick of his own, but unfortunately for him, he experienced quite a mishap. Let’s just say he needs to practice tying better knots, but don’t feel bad for him. He had snagged his first two balls EVER during the Yankees’ portion of BP. As for me, I flung my glove out and knocked the ball closer, and as I was reeling it in, two bad things happened:

1) A security guard marched down the steps and told me I had to stop.
2) The ball slipped out of my glove and plopped back down onto the warning track.

For some reason, the guard turned his back for a moment and started blabbing on his walkie-talkie, so I quickly pulled up my glove, tightened the rubber band, and lowered it for one final attempt. The guard turned back around and faced me and said I had to bring my glove back up right away, and that if I did that again, I would “be gone.” Naturally I did as he instructed. I raised the glove…and the ball was inside of it. HAHA!!! Take THAT, Yankee Stadium security!!! There’s a new sheriff in town and…never mind.

My seventh ball of the day was a line drive homer that I caught on the fly. (Given the fact that I somehow hadn’t caught a batted ball on the fly in my previous six games, this felt like quite an accomplishment.) When the ball left the bat, I thought it might reach the seats, but I definitely didn’t expect it to reach me in the eighth row. Still, I scooted through the row to get in line with it, and when it ended up flying right at me, I was caught a bit off guard and nearly got handcuffed by it. Balls are really carrying at this new stadium, so be prepared.

Two minutes later, I got someone on the Indians (might’ve been the bullpen catcher) to throw me a ball over everyone’s head in front of me. I was still about eight rows back. It was beautiful.

As for the new rule about keeping people out of the seats for BP, I have to say…I’m slightly torn about it. It worked out well for me because I was able to get down there. I mean, the seats were FAR less crowded than they would’ve been. Can you imagine what kind of zoo I would’ve had to deal with if everyone had been trying to snag baseballs in my section? Even with the new rule, look how crowded it got by the end of BP:

30_LF_crowded_late_in_BP.jpg

Still, I think the new rule sucks bigtime. People should be able to go wherever they want, at least when the players are warming up. If there’s more competition as a result, so be it. It’s only fair. In the meantime, though, I will only go to this stadium if I am guaranteed to get into the field level seats, and even then, I won’t be happy about going. The new stadium is gorgeous beyond words, but the experience of being there is the opposite of relaxing. Going there is not just an event…it’s an ordeal. I can’t imagine doing it every day or even every week. Going to a ballgame should be relaxing. You show up early, you run around for balls, you kick your feet up during the game (because the seats around you are empty) and buy a hot dog. You keep score. You chase foul balls. You wander around and watch the action from different angles. Late in the game, after people leave, you move down closer to the field. THAT is how it should be. But here? I felt like I was under surveillance throughout the day. The stadium is so nice that it’s too nice. It’s like being a guest in a house that’s so pristine and museum-like that you’re afraid to sneeze because you might break something. Luxury has replaced functionality. I don’t know. It’ll be interesting to see what it’s like in 10 years when there’s no Jeter, no A-Rod, no Posada, no Mariano, etc. Eventually the Yankees will suck. They have to. Eventually they’ll lose 90 games and fail to reach the playoffs five years in a row. It has to happen. Right? They can’t be a powerhouse forever, can they? Every organization goes through slumps, and when it happens to the Yankees and the stadium is half-full every game, it might actually be fun.

After BP, I headed to the upper deck. This was the view from the escalator:

31_heading_to_upper_deck.jpg

Dammit!!! Why does this place have to be so nice?! I love it! But I hate it! GAH!!!

At the top of the escalator, there was a landing for the suite entrance. Marble floors…yes:

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Then there was another escalator. This was the view looking back down:

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It’s too nice. It’s just absurd. It’s not a stadium. It’s a luxury hotel. It’s a palace. It’s a mall. It’s flawless. Baseball stadiums should have flaws. Sometimes a zit or a crooked tooth can be sexy, you know? Are we in New York City or Dubai? Jesus Aitch.

Here’s the upper deck concourse:

34_upper_deck_concourse.jpg

And yes, fine, here’s my overall assessment:

35_zack_upper_deck.jpg

I was really pressed for time, so the following photo isn’t great. I just wanted a shot of the upper deck itself, but as I was pulling out my camera, everyone started standing and removing their hats for the national anthem. Still, in a basic way, it captures the essence:

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Here’s my panorama attempt from the last row of the upper deck:

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A lot of people have been asking how I do this. It’s really quite simple. You see, there’s this invention called Photoshop…

I’m glad to be able to report that the new stadium does have a few nooks and crannies. There was a staircase leading down from the upper deck that was simply marked “exit.” I asked a nearby guard (there was ALWAYS a nearby guard) if I could use it get to the field level or if it was strictly an exit to the street. He said I could get to the field level. Excellent.

After zig-zagging down a few sets of stairs, I came to an unmarked landing where trash and food was being stored:

38_heading_down_to_field_level.jpg

Was I on the suite level? Was this the back of some concession area? I had no idea, and it made me happy. There were no guards, no cameras, no fans, no signs. Peace on earth.

I walked down the next staircase (which you can see in the following photo, coming from the right-hand side) and saw a security guard at street level:

39_heading_down_to_field_level.jpg

Great. Dead end. There was no way to get to the field level…or was there? I asked the guard, and he pointed behind me and slightly to the right. HUH?! When I looked in the direction he was pointing, this is what I saw:

40_heading_down_to_field_level.jpg

What the hell was he talking about? I asked him again, and he told me to walk around the corner and said I’d get to the concourse.

?!?!

I did what he said, walked around the railing and metal support beam, and found myself standing here:

41_heading_down_to_field_level.jpg

I walked through the corridor, and sure enough, it spat me out right into the bustling field level concourse. How awesome is that!

Now, like I said earlier, I had people pulling strings for me, so I ended up sitting in a pretty good spot during the game. This was my view:

42_view_during_game.jpg

In the top of the second inning, the Indians scored 14 runs. That’s not a typo. I’ll spell it out just to prove it. Ready?

F-O-U-R-T-E-E-N.

Look at the scoreboard, and even more importantly, look at center fielder Brett Gardner’s body language:

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It was the most runs that the Yankees have ever allowed in one inning. Even Freddy Sez was ready to give up:

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Connor came down to my section halfway through the game. Here we are:

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He was nice enough to turn his attention away from the game and take a bunch of photos of me for my website, including this one which I think is funny when compared to this one of me at Citi Field. All these pics are on my photos page. Check it out sometime if you haven’t done so already.

Remember the game I went to on 9/2/08 at Dodger Stadium? I was running back and forth during the game for third-out balls and managed to get a few thrown to me over the obnoxious partition that blocks the first few rows behind the dugout. Well, even though there’s a similar partition at the new Yankee Stadium, I was in a good spot to get third-out balls, but the Indians completely dissed me. They kept tossing them to little kids in Yankees gear right behind the dugout. I’m all in favor of kids getting baseballs–I later gave one of my eight balls away to a kid–but man, I just wanted ONE game-used ball with a commemorative logo. It was really frustrating. Who knows if/when I’ll be back in that section? I figure the Yankees will eventually be using commemorative balls during BP, so they should be fairly easy to snag late in the season, but I didn’t want to have to wait. At the very earliest, the next Yankee game I can possibly attend is on May 15th.

Here’s a look at the partition…

46_partition_yankees_suck.jpg

…and if you’re wondering why the stadium is so empty, it’s because the Yankees were in the process of losing, 22-4. (Aww.)

By the way, if you think you can simply ask people for their ticket stubs and sneak right down to the dugout, think again. Every fan in that exclusive section is given a wristband (just like at Citizens Bank Park), and the band changes color from day to day. Next time you watch a Yankee game on TV, pay close attention to the people sitting behind the plate, and you’ll see what I’m talking about. In order to get back into the section below the partition, you have to show your ticket AND the wristband.

After the game, I met up with Linda and Cindy:

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Linda is the one wearing dark green, and as for my outfit, all you need to know is that the “24” isn’t for Grady Sizemore.

This was the view from the elevated subway platform:

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There’s a lot of great stuff to see at the new ballpark, so bring a camera and make sure the battery is charged. While you’re at it, take out a loan and be prepared to battle security all day long.

SNAGGING STATS:

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• 8 balls at this game (7 pictured here because I gave one away)

• 58 balls in 7 games this season = 8.3 balls per game.

• 576 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 130 consecutive Yankee games with at least one ball

• 46 major league stadiums with at least one ball caught

• 3,878 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $16.37 pledged per ball

• $130.96 raised at this game

• $949.46 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

7/13/08 at Yankee/Shea

2008_futures_game_ticket.jpgDoes the name Robert Harmon sound familiar? He’s the bearded ballhawk from Denver–the guy who came THIS close to snagging Barry Bonds’ 762nd home run ball. I wrote a big article about it a few months ago. Remember?

Robert was in New York City and joined me for this monster day, which started with the 2008 Futures Game at Yankee Stadium and ended with some Mets-Rockies action at Shea.

Even though I wasn’t going to count any balls from the Futures Game in my collection, I still printed rosters for both teams. I had to take my 2008_futures_game_rosters1.jpg
snagging seriously enough to familiarize myself with the bleachers. That’s basically the only reason
I went to the Futures Game. I’d never been in the bleachers at Yankee Stadium, and I was going to be there the following day for the Home Run
Derby.

Outside the stadium, there wasn’t a single security guard who knew what time the gates were going to open. Some of them shrugged, others said “eleven o’clock,” and I ended up getting in at 10:30am. As I bolted into the bleachers, I got Nate Schierholtz to toss me a ball despite the fact that I wasn’t yet wearing my glove. (I wasn’t wearing it because the geniuses who run Yankee Stadium recently decided not to let me bring my dangerous drawstring backpack inside, so now I’m forced to smuggle it in while cradling all of my belongings in my arms.) Phew! I caught my breath, took out my bag, put my stuff in it, looked around…and wow.

bleachers1.jpg

From a ball-snagging perspective, the bleachers were truly glorious. I couldn’t believe it’d taken me nearly two decades (and an impending Home Run Derby) to make it out there.

Robert didn’t have a ticket for the bleachers. He’d never been inside Yankee Stadium, and because he’s a semi-professional photographer, it was important for him to be able to wander robert_from_bleachers.jpgand explore the ballpark from as many angles as possible. (At Yankee Stadium, you can’t move back and forth between the bleachers and the rest of the stadium.) But before he wandered, he grabbed the corner spot in the RF grandstand and snagged a few balls during batting practice.

BP went pretty well for me. I got my second ball tossed by Rockies prospect Dexter Fowler, then grabbed two home run balls that landed behind me in the empty benches. I got my fifth ball tossed by Casey Weathers–another Rockies farmhand–and got my sixth and final ball tossed up by…someone. I forget who, and it doesn’t matter. I ended up giving away two of my six balls, and I passed up opportunities to snag others because I ran into someone that I simply HAD to talk to.

At the end of BP, I approached a middle-aged man who was wearing a black Marlins cap and said, “Excuse me, you look familiar.”

“Okay,” he said, waiting for me to take the lead.

“Do you live in Miami?” I asked, and when he nodded, I said, “Griffey six hundred.”

“Oh my GOD!” he shouted to his friends. “Someone recognized me!”

After catching Ken Griffey Jr.’s 600th career home run, this guy had revealed himself to the media simply as “Joe” and did not allow anyone to take his picture. (He’s lucky my camera joe.jpgbroke earlier that day.) Naturally, when I spotted him at Yankee Stadium, he asked how I knew who he was, so I told him I was five feet away from catching that ball. Then I said, “I was the guy who tried to give you a contact card.”

“Oh yeah! I remember that,” he said. “I didn’t want it. I just wanted to get out of there. You’re some sort of businessman? A memorabilia dealer?”

“Not exactly,” I replied, “but I do collect baseballs.”

I started telling him about myself, and when I mentioned my name, not only did he know who I was, but he pulled out a folder which contained a copy of the New York Times article that was written about me in 2006. (His copy of the article was from another newspaper that hadn’t used the photo.)

We ended up talking for the next half-hour. He told me every detail about his pursuit of No. 600 and the controversy that followed. Turns out he’s snagged more than 1,000 baseballs including 65 home runs DURING games! (So at least I didn’t get outsnagged by some random/lucky chump.)

Joe never told me his last name, but he did take one of my cards, and he promised to keep in touch.

As you can imagine, there’s a LOT more I could say about our conversation, and perhaps I will at some point. Joe mentioned that a publisher has already approached him about writing a book….and I mentioned that I’d be interested in co-authoring it with him, or perhaps writing the foreword…so we’ll see.

After we parted ways, I explored the bleachers and took dozens of photographs. Here’s the gap between the bleachers and the grandstand:

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Here’s the “platform” seating in front of the bleachers:

bleachers3.jpg

Here’s a view from the left field bleachers (which, I discovered, are accessible via a long concourse that begins under the right field bleachers):

bleachers4.jpg

Shortly after the game began, I exited the stadium and used an extra (non-bleachers) ticket I’d bought to re-enter.

2008_futures_game_ball.jpgI caught up with Robert in right field and photographed one of my four remaining Futures Game balls. This
robert_photographs_ball.jpginspired him to do the same with one of his.

I don’t know what inning it was. I don’t know who was winning at that point, and I didn’t care. My mission for (the first part of) the day had been accomplished. I just wanted to chill out with Robert and help him take the best possible photographs, so I led him to the upper deck and ended up taking a few pics of my own. Here’s a look at the New Yankee Stadium (which we saw from an escalator landing area on the way up):

new_yankee_stadium_7_13_08.jpg

Here’s the view from the last row in the upper deck:

view_from_upper_deck_7_13_08.jpg

Here’s a look at the auxiliary press area…

auxiliary_press_area.jpg

…and here are two cops on the top edge of the upper deck:

cops.jpg

I think there were more cops than fans. It was insane.

Robert and I left Yankee Stadium at 2:45pm. The Futures Game still had a couple innings remaining (and there was still an entire celebrity softball game to be played), but we had to go. Why so soon? WELL…if bags were allowed inside Yankee Stadium (as they should be), we could’ve brought our stuff for Shea and stayed longer and then headed directly to Queens. But no. We had to go all the way back to my place on the Upper West Side for a pit-stop and then head back out to Shea. Thanks. Thanks a lot, Yankees. I really appreciate it.

We arrived at Shea at 4:55pm–forty minutes before Gate C was scheduled to open. This gave me time to buy two tickets and get on line, and it gave Robert (who’d never been to this stadium either) an opportunity to take more pics.

Here’s one I took of Citi Field on the way to the ticket windows:

citi_field_7_13_08.jpg

Here’s a rare photograph of Robert wearing anything other than Rockies gear as we waited for the gate to open:

zack_robert_gate_c.jpg

Robert really wanted to snag a Shea Stadium commemorative ball, so I lent him a Mets shirt and printed him a Mets roster and showed him exactly where to stand during BP and convinced him to beg for balls.

It worked.

Less than five minutes after we entered the stadium, Robert got one tossed to him by Mets bullpen coach Guy Conti, and it was indeed one of the prized commemorative balls.

As for me…
I ended up snagging seven balls, and I got each one in a different spot.

1) A 2008 All-Star Game ball (the Mets have been using them in BP) from Brian Schneider along the right field foul line.

2) Another All-Star ball from Billy Wagner in the second deck (aka the “Loge Level”) in right field.

2008_all_star_balls2.jpg
3) Yet another All-Star ball from hitting coach Howard Johnson at the 1st base dugout when the Mets came off the field after their portion of BP.

4) A regular ball (which I later gave to a kid) from Rockies bullpen catcher Mark Strittmatter at the 3rd base dugout after BP.

5) Another regular ball from Joe Koshansky during pre-game throwing along the left field foul line.

ramon_castro_foul_ball.jpg
6) A commemorative foul ball hit by Ramon Castro in the bottom of the 8th inning which I caught on a fly behind home plate in the Loge.

7) Another commemorative ball…after the game…from a security guard who got it from home plate umpire Marvin Hudson…in the seats behind the plate on the Field Level.

Earlier in the day at Yankee Stadium, Robert had collected a bunch of those commemorative plastic cups–you know, the ones that come from concession stands. Brilliant! Why hadn’t I done this yet at Shea? I don’t know. Maybe because I’m so focused on snagging baseballs that I forget to collect anything else. Anyway, I followed Robert’s lead and grabbed a bunch of these cups after the game. Final score: Mets 7, Rockies 0.

mets_cups.jpg

Speaking of collecting things other than balls, I suppose I should mention that I got Jeff Francis to sign my ticket after BP. Unfortunately, he used someone else’s wimpy pen:

jeff_francis_autograph.jpg

I think that about covers it. In the next day or two, I’ll post an entry about my experience at the Home Run Derby.

STATS (not counting the Futures Game):

? 7 balls at this game

? 235 balls in 33 games this season = 7.1 balls per game.

? 529 consecutive games with at least one ball

? 326 consecutive games at Shea Stadium with at least one ball

? 118 lifetime game balls (not counting game-used balls that get tossed into the crowd)

? 75 lifetime game balls at Shea Stadium

? 3,512 total balls