Tagged: newsday

9/19/08 at Yankee Stadium

It was dark when I woke up. I’d gotten less than four hours of sleep. I
quickly shaved and brushed my teeth and got dressed and headed
downstairs with my glove and my girlfriend Jona and a duffel bag full of baseballs. It was 6:30am. There was supposed to be a car waiting
for us. I was supposed to be on “The Early Show” in half an hour. I
called my contact at CBS. She told me the car was on the way. I called
back three minutes later. Still no car. She told me to get a cab and
that she’d reimburse me. Then the car showed up. We picked up my mom
and flew through Central Park:

CBS1_ride_to_early_show.jpg

I hadn’t even been awake for an hour, and the day was already a blur.

We
arrived on the set–an outdoor plaza on 59th Street & 5th Avenue–at
around 6:50am. It was cold and windy. Several staffers greeted me and
rushed me off the sidewalk and hooked me up with a microphone and an
ear piece as my mom (holding the green Argosy bag) looked on:

CBS2_zack_getting_miked.jpg

The ear piece wouldn’t stay in my ear.

“If it falls out on-air, just hold it in place,” said a voice.

Several other staffers appeared with two rectangular clear plastic boxes and helped me transfer the balls into them.

Then, almost without warning, I was told to get ready to open the show.

“What am I supposed to do?” I asked.

“Hold up your two home run balls and do your dance,” said the woman in the green jacket.

“For how long?”

“Until I tell you to stop.”

“We’re on in thirty!” yelled another voice.

“Okay,
stand by,” said the woman, and before I knew it, she was pointing at me
to indicate that the cameras–all three of them–were rolling. I was on
live national TV. I held up the balls as the audio portion of the show
pounded my left eardrum. Then I danced, stopping briefly to roll my
eyes, and continued until my right ear heard someone shout, “That was
great!”

I was rushed inside to get a new ear piece and then led (along with my mom and Jona) to the green room:

CBS3_green_room.jpg

We
helped ourselves to some food, and the producer of my segment came in
to prep me. Super-nice guy. Young. Cute (according to Jona). His name
was (and still is, I imagine) Warren. He asked to see the glove trick,
reviewed the three ball-snagging tips we’d discussed the night before
on the phone, and told me that my entire segment had been bumped up
“from a minute and thirty seconds to two-ten.”

Then I headed back outside to do another “teaser”:

CBS4_zack_teaser1.jpg

At 7:21am, I was finally given some makeup to hide the bags under my eyes. Naturally, this was Jona’s favorite part of the day:

CBS5_zack_makeup.jpg

Then it was back outside for another teaser. I decided to juggle:

CBS6_zack_teaser2.jpg

This
was the last teaser. I headed back to the green room (as three security
guards stayed with the balls) and talked to the two international
soccer players who were going to be doing a cooking segment later in
the show.

Warren came and got me and led me back outside. This time it was the real deal:

CBS7_before_main_interview.jpg

The
main feature of the interview was the glove trick. First I showed Julie Chen (who was holding one of the two home runs balls) how it works…

CBS8_zack_glove_trick.jpg

…and then struggled briefly during my attempt to reel in the other. CRAP!!!
I didn’t realize it at the time, but the ground (as you can kinda see
in the following photo) was slanted down toward the drain in front of
me, so as soon as the tip of my glove touched the ball, it started
rolling away. Fortunately I made a quick recovery and proved to the
world that the glove trick really does work:

CBS9_zack_glove_trick.jpg

The segment closed with another dance performance, and I felt a little less stupid about it when all the anchors joined me:

CBS10_zack_dancing.jpg

Jona later admitted that they danced even worse than me. (“I thought it was just a white-boy thing,” she said.)

It took a team effort to pack up the balls…

CBS11_balls_being_packed_up.jpg

…and then I went home for a live phone interview with “Boomer and Carton” on WFAN 660AM. You can find the segment and listen to it on this page.
Just do a search for my name or scroll down ’til you see me. Remember
that the date was “9-19” and when you see the little blurb about me,
click the tiny “play” button.

Once again, just like
the day before, I had a million calls and emails to deal with, and
whenever I had a break, I worked on my blog. (Jona, meanwhile, went out
to run a few errands and came back with a copy of Newsday which had this article
about me.) I heard from a guy at “Inside Edition” and talked to someone
else at NPR and eventually met FOX News at my parents’ place at 2:30pm.
That’s where I keep most of the balls.

We did the first part of the interview while the balls were still hidden…

FOX1.jpg

…and then I opened up the barrels and drawers for the camera:

FOX2.jpg

After the FOX people left at 2:50pm, I basically passed out in the living room (Jona doesn’t miss a thing)…

FOX3_napping_after_interview.jpg

…but
didn’t get to rest for more than 10 minutes before leaving for Yankee
Stadium. (The FOX segment, by the way, aired that same day on the local
six o’clock and ten o’clock news. Sorry I didn’t get a chance to give a
heads-up, but I was told that it can now be seen online. I haven’t yet had
a chance to look for it so let me know if you find it.)

Remember
the guy named Hideo who works for a Japanese public TV station called
NHK? Well, he was back at Yankee Stadium, and when he saw me (and
Jona) waiting outside the bleacher entrance, he asked if he could film
me again.

First he had me re-enact the walk from the subway:

NHK1.jpg

Once we reached the bleacher entrance, I showed all my ball-snagging “equipment”…

NHK2.jpg

…and after answering a bunch of questions about what Yankee Stadium means to me, I demonstrated the glove trick:

NHK3.jpg

Several people asked to have their picture taken with me…

zack_and_random_fans1_09_19_08.jpg

…and before long, it was time for batting practice.

I roamed all over the place early on…

zack_during_BP1_09_19_08.jpg

…but
didn’t get a thing. I had a few very close calls and several other
unlucky bounces. On a good day, all those balls might’ve ended up in my
drawstring backpack, but on this day it just wasn’t happening. I don’t
know why. Just one of those things?

I got lucky halfway through
the Yankees’ portion of BP when some fans dropped a ball into the gap
between the outfield wall and the base of the stands. By this point it
was too crowded for Jona to find a space along the railing and capture
the action below, so she stayed behind me and ended up getting a pretty
cool shot. Notice how my feet were off the ground…

glove_trick_09_19_08.jpg

…which
means all 175 pounds of me were being pressed against the railing via
my stomach. (I was balancing on the railing in the exact same way when
I caught the Damon homer–feet off the ground and everything–but you
can’t tell in any of the footage.
What a shame.) The reason I was up on the railing is that the ball was
on the far side of the netting. (If you’re unfamiliar with the
bleachers, you can see a photo of the gap and netting in this
entry.) Basically I had to get up high in order to reach far out.
Anyway, the trick worked, and I had my first ball of the day–a very
important ball as it turned out, and yes, it was commemorative:

ball3768.jpg

There
wasn’t much action after that, so Jona borrowed my Orioles cap (to
shade her eyes) and waited patiently as I suffered. Here she is–the
woman behind the camera:

jona_during_BP.jpg

Once the Yankees jogged off the field, I switched into my Orioles gear and stood out in the sea of white and gray and navy blue:

zack_during_BP2_09_19_08.jpg

It
didn’t help. The Orioles hardly threw ANY balls into the crowd, and the
fact that most of their batters were right-handed didn’t help my cause
either. I didn’t snag a single ball during the 45 minutes that they
were on the field.

HOWEVER…

There was one good thing
that happened during that time. When I asked Jeremy Guthrie for a ball,
he turned around and immediately recognized me as THAT GUY who caught
the two home runs. I know he recognized me because he briefly imitated
my dance move. Wow. He walked over to the warning track and asked if I
was really THAT GUY, and when I said yes, he started quizzing me about
the various T-shirts that I’d been wearing throughout the week.

“What’re you doing wearing an Orioles shirt?” he asked.

“I’m
not actually a Yankee fan,” I said. Then I turned around and showed him
the back of my shirt and told him that Ripken is my favorite player of
all time.

Guthrie took the ball out of his glove.

“Don’t give it to him!” shouted another fan.

jeremy_guthrie_2008.jpg
“Don’t worry, I won’t!” yelled Guthrie. “He’s got enough already!” and with that he flipped the ball 20 feet to my left.

I caught his attention just as he was getting ready to walk away.

“Listen,” I said. “I don’t care about catching any balls today, but I’m gonna be here on Sunday for the final game, and I’m dying to get a ball that day. Is there any chance at all that you might be able to hook me up?”

“You mean a BP ball?” he asked.

“Yeah, anything.”

“Oh yeah, that’s no problem.”

“Seriously?”

“Yeah,” he said, “where are you gonna be?”

“Well
that’s the thing. I’m not sure. I haven’t figured out my strategy
yet. Do you know if you guys are even gonna take BP?”

“I’m not sure.”

The
conversation went on for another minute, and he told me that if there
was BP, I should meet him on the short porch in right field and if
there wasn’t BP, he’d still have to come out and throw in which case
he’d look for me along the left field foul line.

How.
Awesome.
Is.
That.

I
just hope he remembers and keeps his promise. The last time I went to a
game and didn’t snag at least one ball was in September of 1993. It’d
be a real shame if that streak were to end on an otherwise incredible
day.

After BP, I caught up with a fellow baseball-snagger named
Mike (aka “yankees42294” if you read the comments on this blog) who was
also wearing a Ripken shirt and had a ball-retrieving device. Here we
are:

michael_and_zack.jpg

A few more fans asked to take their picture with me…

zack_and_random_fans2_09_19_08.jpg

…and that’s when the battery in my camera died.

The rest of my evening can be summed up as follows:

1)
A particular season ticket holder who narrowly missed both of the home
runs I caught ratted me out to security and told them I didn’t belong
in the wheelchair aisle. (The way I see it, if he leaves the game in the
seventh inning and I take his seat and catch a homer in the eighth,
that’s not my fault.)

2) Security and several other
season ticket holders made me feel rather unwelcome. (Good thing this
was the last time I was ever planning to be in the bleachers anyway.)

3)
I left the stadium with Jona, walked to the ticket office, and bought
two seats IN the aisle in front of section 41 which is exactly where I
wanted to be. (It had occurred to me that those seats, if left unsold,
would be released to the public at some point; clearly that point had
arrived by the time I tried to buy them in the top of the third inning.)

4)
I waltzed back into the bleachers and stunned everyone when I appeared
in the wheelchair aisle with two folding chairs and a sexy mama by my
side. (Not surprisingly, a good number of people still felt the need to
call me “gay” despite the presence of the aforementioned sexy mama. I
think it was all the dancing that had them convinced.)

5)
No home runs were hit into the bleachers. (I heard later that Michael
Kay spotted me on a deep fly out to right-center by Xavier Nady.)

6)
After I returned to the seat from having my picture taken with a few
more people, Jona said she overheard a fan behind her talking about how
all he wanted to do was prevent me from getting another ball. She then
told me that for the rest of the night, whenever I got up to chase a
ball, she would get up too and block this other fan. (Jona is 5-foot-8
and knows how to…let’s say…use her body. Don’t mess with her.)

7)
Before the ninth inning got underway, Brett Gardner threw his warm-up
ball into the crowd, or at least he tried to. Unfortunately for the
fans he was aiming for, and luckily for me, it fell short and landed in
the gap. I already had the rubber band stretched around my glove, just
for ball3769.jpg
this reason. Before Mike had a chance to run over with his cup trick,
and before security had a chance to stop me, I was standing over the
ball and lowering my glove. The glove made it all the way down, but I
couldn’t get the ball to stick inside on the first try. That’s when I
heard a police officer tell me I had to stop doing that. I played dumb
for two seconds, raised the glove a few inches, and lowered it back
over the ball for what I knew would be my final attempt. The officer demanded
that I stop at once and bring my glove up. So I did. Slowly. Because
the ball was tucked snugly inside. (Once I had the ball in my bare hand, I made sure to hide it until
I’d walked past the cop. Then, once I was within view of the fan who was
supposedly going to try to interfere, I made sure he and his buddies saw it.)

8) Mariano Rivera nearly blew the save but escaped his own jam and preserved the Yankees’ 3-2 lead.

9) After the final out, Jona and I made a mad dash to the subway and beat the crowd.

I
just did a little calculatin’ and came up with this nugget: If the
Yankees and Orioles don’t combine to hit more than three homers in the
Final Game, I’ll be able to say that I caught two of the last ten home
runs ever hit at Yankee Stadium. Of course, given the fact that I’ll BE
at the Final Game, I’m obviously hoping to catch THE final home run. I
won’t be sitting in the bleachers. I’m not sure exactly where I’ll be
or what I’ll be wearing, but know that if there’s a way to make
something happen, I’m bound to find it…

STATS:

? 2 balls at this game

? 492 balls in 65 games this season = 7.6 balls per game.

? 561 consecutive games with at least one ball

? 127 consecutive games at Yankee Stadium with at least one ball

? 3,769 total balls

9/18/08 at Yankee Stadium

I don’t even know where to begin…

Yesterday I woke up way too early with way too little sleep and spent the entire morning and afternoon attempting to blog. It was impossible to write more than a couple sentences at a time because I was on the phone nonstop, mostly with people from the media asking me when I was free, and I was also trying to keep up with the steady flow of emails. Here’s a (partial) screen shot of my inbox from earlier this morning. Keep in mind that these are just the messages that I haven’t yet had a chance to answer…

inbox.jpg

I spent most of my time talking to a producer at CBS, who told me that “The Early Show” wanted me the next day at 7:30am. (Damn, that IS early.) I talked to other TV people, a few radio producers, and some newspaper reporters. I can’t even list them all.

I was supposed to meet a member of the Japanese media at Yankee Stadium between 4pm and 4:15, but I ended up running late and calling him and pushing things back to 4:30. I was trying to finish my blog while shaving and gathering my stuff for the game while getting calls from CBS and the YES Network (and a few other places) while updating my publicist while checking my email. I truly can’t convey how crazy it was.

I left my apartment at around 3:45pm and RAN seven blocks to the subway at 72nd and Broadway. Just before I was about to head underground, I remembered I had to return a call from a guy at Newsday…so I called him and got him on the phone, and he immediately started interviewing me. Then I got a call on the other line from a guy with the local NBC news. He wanted to meet me at the stadium, and we made a plan to do the interview at 4:45pm outside the bleacher entrance. (Batting practice was going to start at 5pm and I didn’t want to miss any of it.) I switched back to the Newsday guy and said I had to get taxi_to_stadium.jpg
to Yankee Stadium ASAP and asked if we could talk after BP…but no, he was on a strict deadline, so it was now or never. I put my MetroCard away and ran over to Amsterdam to hail a cab. That was the only way to get to the stadium AND have cell phone reception at the same time. It took a few minutes to find a cab, and then I was off. We talked nearly the whole way up. Twenty-five dollars later, I was dropped off near the players’ entrance and RAN halfway around the stadium, where there was already a line of fans waiting to get into the bleachers. Luckily I knew a guy (from Shea) at the front, and he let me stand with him.

PHEW!!!

I had a couple minutes to spare, so I ate my chicken sandwich (with mayo, lettuce, tomato, and provolone). Dozens of people recognized me as THAT GUY who caught the two home runs, and lots of them asked to take pictures with me. One guy even asked me to autograph a mini-bat for his kid. I did all this with mouthfuls of food. (Charming.) Then the NBC crew showed up, and I handed my camera to the nearest fan and asked him to take a few pics while I was being interviewed. Here’s one of ’em:

interview1_NBC.jpg

Oh, I forgot to mention that the Japanese guy (whose name is Hideo) was late, and he showed up AS this other interview with NBC was getting underway. I thought this was going to be a problem, but it wasn’t. Hideo (who’s filming a documentary about the final days of Yankee Stadium for a public TV station called NHK) was glad to get some footage of me talking to the other TV crew…and when I wrapped it up with NBC, he came over and asked his own round of questions. I didn’t get anyone to take a pic of me during the NHK interview so as soon as it was done, I asked Hideo if he could hold up his video camera and point it at me (you know, to recreate the interview from my perspective)…which he did…while cracking up…and this is the pic I got:

interview2_NHK.jpg

The stadium opened at 5pm, and when I ran inside, I got a ball almost immediately. It was a home run by Hideki Matsui. (Yay, Japanese people!!) It landed in the empty benches behind me and took a nice ricochet back into my waiting glove. Thank God. I was relieved to get that first ball out of the way.

My cell phone rang. It was a photographer from Newsday who asked me where I was and then headed out to the RF bleachers. He found me easily because of the bright yellow “Homer” shirt I was wearing. Just as he was getting ready to start shooting, I got a call from a high-ranking official (who’s also a friend) at the National Scrabble Association who’d seen my Scrabble T-shirt all over the news and just wanted to say “hey” and “thanks.” (I was wearing the shirt when I caught the Johnny Damon homer. Here’s the footage again, in case you missed it the first 79,000 times.)

Back to the Newsday photographer…

interview3_newsday.jpg

He had me pose this way and that, and at one point I had to take a one-minute break to reel a ball out of the gap with my glove trick.

The photographer finished up a few minutes later. Then I caught an A-Rod home run on a fly. Then a three-member crew from the YES (Yankees Entertainment & Sports) Network showed up and took me to the back of the bleachers for a five-or-so-minute interview, which aired a short while later on the Yankees pre-game show. Here they are:

interview4_YES.jpg

In case you’re wondering, Kimberly Jones (holding the microphone) was very nice. After the interview, I handed her a card and told her to give my love to Michael Kay.

I probably missed a ball or two because of the interview (and photo shoot), but whatever. It was obviously worth it.

My first three balls were all commemorative:

three_commemorative_balls_09_18_08.jpg

My fourth ball, which came via the glove trick, was just a regular ball, so as soon as I got it, I handed it to a little girl who was standing on my left…and I’d just like to point out that yes, she was wearing a glove. (Bring your gloves, people!)

The bleachers were very crowded by the end of BP…

bleachers_during_BP.jpg

…and I didn’t snag any more balls.

After BP, I managed to find a few f
ree minutes (when I didn’t have to be on the phone) and took a picture of the Jumbotron as it showed highlights from the previous game…including my celebratory dance:

zack_jumbotron_09_18_08.jpg

After the highlights were done, half the people in sections 41 and 43 were staring at me, so I recreated the dance and got a bunch of laughs and cheers. Throughout the night, people asked to take pictures with me. It never got old.

As for the game…
There was only one home run that landed in the bleachers. It was Bobby Abreu’s second homer of the night–the first one went into the upper deck–and it sailed 10 feet directly over my head. Wow. If he’d swung a millimeter (or something like that) higher, he would’ve hit the ball a little bit more on a line…and it wouldn’t have traveled as far…and I have no doubt that I would’ve caught it. Can you imagine THAT?!

Worse than not catching the ball was the fact that I dropped my five-dollar-and-twenty-five-cent hot dog during the scuffle. And then, for good measure, someone stepped on it:

zack_loses_hot_dog1.jpg

It was a very sad moment indeed. I *had* managed to take a bite before gravity got the best of it, but I was still hungry so I bought another. I gave the vendor a 75-cent tip each time–one rule of ballpark etiquette is never to ask for coins back from a vendor–so in effect I paid $12 for a hot dog, or two dollars per bite.

The Yankees, as they’ve been doing all week, flashed a message on the Jumbotron that urged fans not to dismantle the Stadium. I just thought it was cool, so naturally I took a picture of this as well:

dont_damage_the_stadium.jpg

Once the game became official in the middle of the 5th inning and the “MetLife regular season countdown” changed from 4 to 3, I got a picture of that as well:

three_games_remaining.jpg

By the late innings, my ex-hot dog wasn’t looking too good…

zack_loses_hot_dog2.jpg

…and by the time Chris Britton retired Juan Uribe for the final out, my two-game home run streak had ended.

Final score: Yankees 9, White Sox 2.

I stopped in the bathroom on the way out and heard a guy in a stall behind me say, “Final piss at Yankee Stadium.”

His friend said (with a heavy New York accent), “Ya want me t’get my video camera?”

“Whoa!” I shouted. “I didn’t know it was gonna be THAT kinda party!”

“It’ll be a very short story,” said another man.

“OHHHH!!!” we all shouted, and that was that. (Thankfully.)

I met up with Hideo outside the bleacher entrance, and we discussed dates/times for a follow-up interview. Thousands of fans were filing past us toward the subway, and many of them recognized me. A bunch of people came over and asked to take pics with me, so I got Hideo to get some shots with my camera as well.

Here’s one of the photos:

zack_and_random_fans1.jpg

Not great. Not bad. Right?

Well, it got better…

zack_and_random_fans2.jpg

Eventually I made it to the subway, and before I got on the No. 4 train, I took one final pic of the New Yankee Stadium:

new_yankee_stadium_09_18_08.jpg

I’ll be back at the old one tonight with my girlfriend. Look for me/us in the right field bleachers.

STATS:

? 4 balls at this game

? 490 balls in 64 games this season = 7.7 balls per game.

? 560 consecutive games with at least one ball

? 126 consecutive games at Yankee Stadium with at least one ball

? 3,767 total balls

…oh, and one more thing. The Newsday article is out. It’s in the actual paper today (Sept. 19), on page A69 in the sports section, and it’s probably online as well. I got a hard copy, and I’ll scan it and share the link as soon as I get a chance.

OH! And I was on “The Early Show” today, and I’m meeting a TV crew from FOX at 2:30pm. I’ll share all the details (and photos) in my next entry.