“T-Shirt Tuesday” always draws a big crowd at Camden Yards:
Thankfully I had a spot at the front of the line, and it paid off. As soon as the stadium opened at 5pm, I raced out toward the left field seats and found a ball sitting in the front row along the foul line. The ball was VERY scuffed and even had a tiny piece of concrete embedded in its cowhide cover. Check it out:
I would’ve taken a photo of the ball sitting in the seats, but Jona had my camera, and since she didn’t have a season ticket, she was trapped in right field for the first half-hour. The good news is that she took a bunch of photos of me from afar. In the photo below, I’m the guy in the white T-shirt:
Within the first few minutes, I lost a three-person race for a loose ball in the seats…
…but quickly made up for it by making a nice running catch on a home run hit by Melvin Mora. The following four-part photo (starting on the top left and then going clockwise) shows me 1) running through an empty row, 2) crossing the staircase, 3) pausing for a moment to look up, and 4) lunging far to my glove side to make the catch:
That first section was 22 seats wide. I love having room to run. Baltimore is the best.
Unfortunately I had some bad luck after that. Three different balls tipped off the very end of my glove — two of which ricocheted back onto the field — and then I got robbed on a deep fly ball by Chris Tillman:
Cool photo, huh? Here’s a closer look:
It might look like the ball is falling short of my glove, but I guarantee that I would’ve caught it.
I’m happy to say that my luck improved soon after. Robert Andino launched a deep home run to my right and I took off through an empty row. As I reached the staircase on the far side of the section, I looked up just in time to see the ball fly 20 feet over my head. It landed on the staircase and took a gigantic bounce deeper into the section. It bounced all the way into the seats above/behind the cross-aisle (which is about 25 rows back). I sprinted up the steps as a fellow ballhawk trailed close behind…
…and I cut through the aisle and managed to grab the ball as it began to trickle down the steps of the elevated section. Fun!
That was my third ball of the day, and I snagged another soon after. I’m not sure who hit it. All I know is that it was a home run by a right-handed batter on the Orioles. It landed in a mostly-empty patch of seats in left-center field, and I ran over and grabbed it. There was nothing special about it until I took a peek at the ball itself. Here are two photos of it:
Have you ever seen anything like that?! Forget the small gash on the right. I’m talking about the bas-relief-like impression on the left. It looks like there are letters, perhaps the first three of the word BASEBALL? But if so, what would have created that mark on the ball? Could it have been a bat? And if it was, why aren’t the letters reversed like a mirror image? I’ve snagged my share of bat-imprinted balls, and the markings always look two-dimensional like this, so I’m completely stumped here.
At 5:30pm, I changed into my dark green A’s gear, and Jona headed over to left field. She took a photo of me standing around…
…and got another photo of me climbing over some seats:
I didn’t end up getting that ball. I wasn’t getting anything. I kept having close calls, and Jona captured me with a look of dismay after one of them:
Somehow, I ended up snagging a bunch of balls after that. I don’t know why. I guess my luck just improved. It started when I positioned myself deep in the section for Tommy Everidge. I caught one of his home runs on the fly, and then ten seconds later, I grabbed another one of his home run balls that whacked a seat and bounce right up to me. It was beautiful. I was running through the row, and the ball popped up waist-high, and I kind of swatted at it with my glove and scooped it up in one motion. (I later gave that one away to a kid. I should probably keep the home run balls and give away the ones that are tossed to me, but whatever.) Then, a few minutes later, I started using my glove trick to knock a ball closer on the warning track, and a player came over and picked up the ball and tucked it into my glove. I’m not sure who it was, but the same thing happened AGAIN five minutes later with Andrew Bailey (whom I now realize was the guy who bounced the ball to me off the warning track the day before). Anyway, poof, just like that, I’d snagged four balls within a 10-minute span to salvage my day, and then I snagged another home run ball — my ninth ball overall. It was absurdly lucky. The ball fell five feet short and headed right toward two guys with gloves who were standing two rows in front of me. Incredibly, they not only dropped it, but they somehow managed to bobble it two rows back. It kind of skipped off their wrists and blooped right into my row where I bent down and grabbed it without any competition. I mean, the seats were fairly crowded at that point, but there wasn’t anyone else in my row at that moment (which is why I was IN that row). You get the point. It was as lucky as it gets.
Meanwhile, when BP ended a few minutes later, I was as sweaty as it gets:
I don’t know what it is with me and butt sweat. I’m not sure if that’s a perfectly normal bodily reaction to running around nonstop for 70 minutes when it’s 90 degrees and humid…or if I should see a doctor about it. As for my upper body, my white T-shirt was completely soaked, and the A’s shirt was absorbing the moisture. I didn’t even care. That’s what showers are for. Someone once suggested that I get one of those under-armor shirts, but I haven’t gotten around to it.
I headed to the left field foul line when the A’s came back out to stretch and run and throw…
…and I got Mark Ellis to sign a ticket:
(Nice handwriting, pal. You’re fired.)
Then I got Adam Kennedy to toss me his warm-up ball after he finished throwing. I was surprised he gave it to me. He’d thrown me one the day before at the same time in the same spot when I was wearing the exact same thing.
During the game, I stayed in the right field standing-room-only section whenever there was a left-handed batter, and I moved to the seats on the right side of home plate for most of the righties. I was constantly on the move…
…and Jona was kind enough to carry my backpack for me.
(By the way, that alien shirt is THE shirt I was wearing as an 18-year-old in 1996 when I snagged my 1,000th ball. Check it out. On the front it says, “Baseball: a higher form of intelligence.”)
There weren’t any home runs that came anywhere near me, but there was some action behind the plate. In the top of the fifth inning, Mark Ellis hit a foul ball that shot straight back over the protective screen. It was heading about 40 feet to my left. The photo below was taken from the tunnel where I was standing, and the arrow is pointing to the spot where the ball ended up:
Naturally, I bolted through the aisle (is it too late to have an aisle installed at Citi Field?) and watched with great pleasure as a gloveless man sitting in the elevated section behind the aisle bobbled the ball and dropped it over the railing. There was another fan standing nearby in the aisle, but he didn’t even know what was happening, so I was able to swoop in and grab the ball after it took one bounce. It was embarrassingly lucky and easy, and I won’t lie — I love it.
I got even luckier after that (although in this case there was some skill involved too). One inning later, as I was hurrying through the aisle from the outfield to my normal spot behind the plate, Scott Hairston happened to slice a high foul pop-up in my direction.
Take a look at the photo below. It shows the aisle where I was walking, but even more importantly, it shows a platform that extends out from underneath the second deck. (There are TV cameras up there.) Here it is:
The ball went HIGH up in the air, and I really didn’t think I was going to have a play on it. I couldn’t be certain where exactly it was going to land, but I knew it was going to come close, so I got myself into position to give myself a chance. I weaved in and out of a few people, then did the same thing with those vertical/folding chairs. It felt like there were a million obstacles, and as the ball started to descend, I thought, “No way…” If the ball carried far enough back into the stands to reach the aisle, it was going to land on that platform. At least that’s what I thought…and I was pretty sure that if it missed the platform, it wasn’t going to reach me. Still, I kept drifting and looking up and tracking the ball as it came closer and closer, and then before I knew it, I was surrounded by grown men who were all jostling for position and reaching up. It was coming right to us…to ME. I had picked THE perfect spot, so I reached up as high as I could with both hands and squeezed my glove around the ball when it landed. Ha-HAAA!!! It was a totally unexpected foul ball. I hadn’t even been in a “good” spot. I was merely passing through. The whole section erupted with cheers, and I got high fives and fist bumps from half a dozen fans. Best of all, I got a kiss from Jona who’d been standing 20 feet away and saw the whole thing.
I went ALL OUT to get more foul balls after that — my one-game record is three — but I didn’t have any other chances.
The game itself was great. The Orioles won, 3-2, and the whole thing was done in 2 hours and 23 minutes. (I later learned that I witnessed a bit of history: Rajai Davis hit the 10,000th double in A’s history.)
After the game, I got a ball at Oakland’s dugout. A bunch of relievers walked in from the bullpen, and when they all disappeared from sight under the dugout roof, a ball came sailing up and bounced right to me. It was rubbed with mud, which means it was either used in a game or intended for game use, so that’s cool.
On my way out, a large middle-aged man struck up a conversation with me. He recognized me from the day before as That Guy who had gotten a foul ball from the press box and handed it to a little kid sitting nearby. It just so happened that this man was Landon Powell’s father, and the little boy (who was at his first game ever) was one of Landon’s nephews. Landon ended up signing that ball for him.
• 369 balls in 42 games this season = 8.79 balls per game.
• 611 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 171 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 113 lifetime games with at least 10 balls
• 51 lifetime games outside of New York with at least 10 balls
• 131 lifetime game balls (not counting game-used balls that get tossed into the crowd)
• 10 lifetime game balls at Camden Yards
• 15th time snagging two or more game balls in one game
• 4,189 total balls
• 118 donors (click here and scroll down for the complete list)
• $24.75 pledged per ball
• $321.75 raised at this game
• $9,132.75 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
It was really hot.
And I was interviewed for ESPN.com.
I met the reporter, Patrick Hruby, at my hotel at 2:30pm. Then we went out for (mediocre) Thai food (which ESPN paid for) and drove to Camden Yards at 4:45pm.
As we headed toward the media entrance, I stopped to take a photo and Patrick inadvertently walked into the frame:
I didn’t bother to retake the photo because we were in a rush. He had to pick up his media credentials. I needed to walk halfway around the stadium to meet Jona, who was holding a spot for me at the front of the line.
Patrick wasn’t allowed to enter the stadium until 5pm, and even then he had to use the media entrance behind home plate. By the time he caught up with me in left field, I had already snagged three balls. The first was a home run by a left-handed batter (possibly Luke Scott, but I’m not sure) that landed in the totally empty seats in left-center. (I ended up giving that ball to a kid during the game.) The second was a homer by Melvin Mora that I scrambled for in straight-away left, and the third was a homer that also landed in the seats. I have no idea who hit that one.
Just as Patrick made his way out to left field, he saw me sprint across two sections toward the foul pole and beat out a couple other guys for yet another home run ball. The photo below shows Patrick interviewing one of them; the arrow is pointing to Erik Jabs, founder of the ballhawk league (which recently got a nice mention in USA Today):
I made sure that Patrick and Erik talked to each other.
My fifth ball was a home run that I caught on the fly. It was only 5:08pm. I was all pumped up and ready for a monster day, but then things slowed down and the bad luck kicked in. Adam Jones, for example, hit a home run right at me when I was the ONLY fan in the section. The ball fell two rows short, smacked off a seat, and bounced back onto the field. If the ball had stayed in the seats — even if it had ricocheted 30 feet in any direction — I would’ve been able to get it. I did, however, manage to snag two more home run balls that landed in the seats. I have no idea who hit them. Most of the hitters were wearing warm-up jerseys that covered their uniform numbers, and I was also distracted (in a good way) by Patrick’s steady stream of questions.
Four of the seven balls had interesting markings:
I’m pretty sure that the ball on the top left got scuffed by landing on a concrete step in the stands. The “Rawlings” logo on the top right probably got smudged by a non-squarely-hit drive off the bat. The ball on the bottom left? No idea. Maybe it hit one of the screens? The ball on the lower right probably got its mark from skipping off the infield dirt.
I changed into my A’s gear for the second half of BP, and Patrick kept interviewing me:
I only managed to snag ONE ball during the A’s portion of BP. It was a lame performance on my part. There’s no denying it. I just wasn’t on my game. I wasn’t judging homers as well I normally do, and of course I had more bad luck…for example…I was in the third row and got Trevor Cahill to toss a ball in my direction, but the ball fell a bit short, which enabled the fans in front of me to reach up for it. The ball tipped off of someone’s glove and ended up hitting me on the left wrist as I was reaching down to make the catch — and then the ball bounced off in some crazy direction and someone else grabbed it. Crap like that. As for the one ball I snagged from the A’s, it was “thrown” into the crowd in the form of a bounce-pass off the rubberized warning track. I don’t even know who threw it (which is another example of the lameness of my overall performance), but I did make a decent play on it. I was in the front row, and it was pretty crowded, and the ball was sailing three feet over my head, so I jumped as high as possible and reached up with my right hand and swatted at the ball with my fingertips in an attempt to tip it back toward me, and it worked, but I bobbled it a bit, and everyone was grabbing for it, but I managed to secure it after a second or two. Phew! That felt good.
After BP (another mistake was not making it to the A’s dugout) I spotted a ball in the staircase next to the bullpens in left-center. Here’s a cool photo, taken by Jona, that shows me leaning out and looking at it:
Then I made a brazen attempt to reel it in with my glove trick…
…and I was stopped by a female usher within five seconds. I kind of expected that, but hey, ESPN was with me so I had to go for it. (And hey, did you notice my delicious crack sweat?)
The thing that bothered me in this situation is that the usher threatened me with a trespassing charge if I didn’t bring my glove back up. (Please.) As soon as I climbed down off the seats, a whole bunch of fans (who recognized me and had been talking to me throughout BP) approached her and said, “Do you know who this guy is?!”
“No,” she said, “should I?”
The fans then proceeded to tell her all about me. They mentioned that I was there with ESPN and that I had caught over 4,000 balls.
“Am I supposed to be impressed?” she asked in the most condescending of tones.
They told her all about my TV appearances and mentioned that I’m snagging baseballs for charity and said that I give balls away to kids (“That’s what a good Christian does,” she replied a little too enthusiastically), but she didn’t seem to care. At one point, she asked me if other stadiums allow fans to use ball-retrieving devices, and I informed her that YES, some places do.
Anyway, enough of that.
Right before the game started, I got autographs from Tommy Everidge and Rajai Davis…
…and snagged two more baseballs. The first was thrown by Adam Kennedy along the shallow left field foul line, and the second ball was tossed further down the line by A’s bullpen coach Ron Romanick (who has used it to play catch with Kurt Suzuki). It was beautiful. Although the front row was full, I was the only fan with a glove, so it was basically a guaranteed ball. I need those to balance out the inevitable bad luck. It’s sort of like how a .300 hitter needs to get his share of swinging-bunt base hits and broken-bat bloopers to make up for all the “at ’em” balls.
In case you’ve lost count, I had 10 balls at this point — a number I’d told Patrick after lunch that I’d be shooting for. Even though it wasn’t a particularly skillful or action-packed 10, at least I hadn’t embarrassed myself.
Patrick followed me everywhere during the game:
I had warned him that I’d be moving all over the place and suggested that he wear comfortable shoes.
Here we are in the tunnel on the right side of home plate:
It was a great foul ball spot, and I had a great opportunity to catch one…BUT…bad luck, of course. The ball shot back over the protective screen, ricocheted off the concrete facade of the press level and bounced RIGHT back to me as I darted to my left through the cross-aisle. Unfortunately, however, just as I put up my glove to make the catch, a man stood up in the seats above me (those seats are behind the aisle, and they’re elevated about six feet) and he reached out and caught the ball bare-handed.
See what I mean? Yes, sure, fine, I had snagged 10 balls (and raised an additional $247.50 for Pitch In For Baseball). I know that’s nothing to be complaining about. Most people don’t snag 10 balls per week, month, season, lifetime, etc. I realize this. But for ME, things just weren’t going well. I hope I don’t sound spoiled or obnoxious. The fact is, I know what I’m capable of (when I’m at an awesome stadium with an attendance under 15,000) and I’m very competitive, and I’m a perfectionist, and I hold myself to very high standards…and it simply wasn’t happening as I envisioned it. Does that make sense? I know that my fellow ballhawks (especially the ones who average half a dozen balls per game) understand what I’m talking about, but I want everyone to get it.
I played the right field standing room only section for lefties…
…but there wasn’t any action.
More bad luck? Gio Gonzalez, a left-hander, was pitching for the A’s, so the Orioles stacked their lineup with righties. Only two Oriole batters were left-handed. That would be Nick Markakis (future Hall of Famer…don’t argue) and Luke Scott, who hit the game’s lone longball to center field.
It rained like HELL during the 7th inning…
…which should’ve been a good thing. I figured that after the rain delay I’d have a chance to get a ball thrown to me when the players came back out to warm up…and I did…but the throw was a bit off, which enabled another fan to reach out and catch the ball right in front of me.
NOW do you get it?
But wait, that wasn’t the end of my bad luck. In the eighth inning, a foul ball shot back over the screen and landed in the press box. First of all, if it had gone six inches lower, it would’ve hit off the base of the press box and ricocheted into a section which, by that point, was completely empty. Secondly, I was the first fan to run up there (you can just about look into the press box from the last row of seats) and asked the guy who retrieved the ball if I could “please possibly” have it. He said he wanted to give it to a little kid, and he scanned the seats to find one.
“There ARE none!” I wanted to scream, but I just stood there silently, knowing I wasn’t gonna get it. Five seconds later, the guy finally spotted a kid. How much did the kid want that ball? Let’s just say that even when the guy called out to him, the kid didn’t look up. So…I offered to deliver the ball to the kid, which I did (resulting in a big round of applause), and no, I’m not counting that ball in my collection because it was predetermined to be for someone else. If I’d randomly gotten the ball and THEN decided to give it away (as I normally do), then I would’ve counted it.
Blah blah blah. I even failed to make it to the A’s dugout at the end of the game. Why? More bad luck…duh! Melvin Mora was on second with one out in the bottom of the ninth, and I was making my way though the cross-aisle on the first base side. What happened next? Not only did Cesar Izturis swing at the first pitch, but he lined it back to the pitcher for a 1-6 double play.
And then, of course, I saw a ball get tossed right to the spot where I would’ve been standing.
Final score: A’s 9, Orioles 1.
I’m not sure when the story will be up on ESPN.com, but I was told that it’ll probably be a couple weeks.
• 356 balls in 41 games this season = 8.68 balls per game.
• 610 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 170 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 112 lifetime games with at least 10 balls
• 50 lifetime games outside of New York with at least 10 balls
• 4,176 total balls
• 13 days until I’ll be at Coors Field
• 118 donors (click here and scroll down for the complete list)
• $24.75 pledged per ball
• $247.50 raised at this game
• $8,811.00 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
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:
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 had 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?
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?
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:
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:
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:
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:
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.
This was my lunch:
This was also my lunch:
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:
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:
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:
Final score: Yankees 7, Athletics 5.
Here are Kathryn’s score sheets:
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…
…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.
• 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
• 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
I left New York City at 10:30am, blasted my iPod in the car the whole way up, got stuck in traffic half a dozen times, and finally parked in the garage behind the Green Monster at around 3pm. As soon as I walked down the garage ramp onto Lansdowne Street, a college-aged Red Sox fan walked up to me and asked if I was Zack Hample.
In my previous entry, I had mentioned that I was going to be there, and sure enough, this
guy had seen it. His name is Garo. He’s a semi-regular at Fenway Park. And the first thing he did was show me how to get a sneak peek inside the stadium. Check it out:
There’s a new restaurant/bar tucked underneath the seats in center field. (The entrance is right on Lansdowne.) This was it. Pretty simple.
Fenway wasn’t going to open until 5pm, so when the Red Sox started taking batting practice at 4:30, Garo (wearing the red shirt in the photo on the right) and I went to the roof of the garage and camped out for home run balls. Of course nothing came over, so at 4:55 I left empty-handed and ran over to Gate A.
This was another Watch With Zack game–my second of the week and fourth of the season–and my clients still had not arrived at that point. They were from Tallahassee and included two 13-year-olds named Lars and Cody, as well as Lars’ grandmother Jean who had gotten in touch last year after hearing me on NPR. Even though we’d planned this game months in advance, they waited until the last minute to make an appearance. Lars and Cody had the basics–baseball gloves and Red Sox caps–but we didn’t have time to discuss any specific strategies for BP. All I could do was give them each a sheet with the rosters of both the Sox and A’s and tell them to follow me as soon as everyone was allowed in. With 30 seconds to spare, I asked them how many games they’d been to. Lars said he’d been to “one or two” major league games, and as for Cody…this was his first professional game! What a way to start. (Jean said she’d been to about 50 games, going back to the days of the Milwaukee Braves. And by the way, if there’s anyone from Tallahassee who’s reading this, or
even anyone who’d just like to talk baseball in general, Jean would
love to hear from you. Leave a comment and let me know, or email
me and I’ll put you in touch.)
When the stadium opened, several dozen fans got in ahead of us, but we were still the first ones to reach the seats along the left field foul line. Sweeeet!!! I grabbed the corner spot and positioned Lars and Cody about 20 feet apart against the wall in the middle of the section. You can kinda/almost see them leaning out with their gloves in the following photo:
Here’s a close-up. Cody is the one wearing blue, and Lars is in black:
Once the A’s took the field, I told Lars and Cody to turn their hats backward so the players wouldn’t see the logo. (I think Cody turned the logo toward me just for the photo and then quickly switched it back.) This simple form of trickery worked for Lars; he used the roster to identify pitcher Lenny DiNardo and then got him to toss up a ball. Cody, on the other hand, wasn’t as lucky. He had a few close calls during BP but didn’t end up with anything to show for it.
As for me…
Two minutes after the stadium had opened, Justin Masterson tossed a ball to a kid ten feet away, but his aim was off and the ball sailed high and landed in a patch of empty seats. There was a mini-scramble for the souvenir, which I ended up snagging as it trickled down the steps…and yes, I felt a bit guilty. Under normal circumstances, I would’ve handed this ball to the kid for whom it was intended. But this day was special. I had my own “kids” to take care of, so I held onto it, and as it turned out Masterson went and got another ball and hooked up the original kid. Everyone was happy.
Before the Sox finished hitting, I got a second ball by using what I refer to as the “half-glove trick.” I didn’t need the rubber band and magic marker. I only needed the string because the ball was just a few feet out from the wall…in a spot where the wall was nice and low…so I let
out a bit of string and swung my glove out and knocked the ball closer and then leaned over the wall and grabbed it. Easy.
Despite the fact that I had a green and yellow A’s shirt to match my green and yellow cap, I couldn’t get a single player or coach to toss me a ball. I partially blame myself for not being able to recognize anyone, but seriously…Joey Devine? Dallas Braden? Sean Gallagher? Jerry Blevins? Who the hell ARE these guys?!
I managed to get one more ball during BP. It was a rocket-shot, pulled on one hop a few feet to my left. I wish the fan behind me had been holding a radar gun. I’d say it had to be traveling 80 to 90mph. Maybe even more. According to Hit Tracker, some balls fly off the bat in excess of 120mph, so there’s no telling how fast this one was traveling. I was about 200 feet from home plate, and it couldn’t have taken more than a second to reach me. Anyway, I half-dove and half-lunged over the wall and reached way out and half-snared the ball between my upper palm and the pocket of my glove. Yes…ouch. But I had it and that’s all that mattered. Between the ball that Lars snagged and the three that I got, there was exactly one ball for each of us.
After BP, Cody and Lars and I each got an autograph from Greg Smith…
Then Jean joined us and we posed with our loot:
There were a few more snagging opportunities that we passed up…like, for example…when the A’s were playing catch before the game along the left field foul line, the four of us were eating pizza in the fourth row on the opposite side of the stadium. That’s where our seats were. Check out the view:
This game was Jason Bay’s first as a member of the Red Sox–or the “Bayston Red Sox” as one fan’s T-shirt read–and the ovation he received during his first at-bat gave me goose bumps and
almost made my eyes a little misty. It was THAT thunderous and heart-warming. I didn’t get the sense that anyone at Fenway missed Manny. He’s behaved so poorly that even I (a longtime Manny supporter with a personal connection to him) have a tough time rooting for him now. On the other hand, Jason Bay is one of those quiet/professional types who consistently puts up solid numbers but gets no respect because he plays in Pittsburgh. I felt so happy for him. After five years of rotting in baseball hell, he was rescued and thrust into a pennant race in front of 37,832 fans who were truly thrilled to have him. With all due respect to the four million-plus fans who’ve been filling up Yankee Stadium each of the past few years, I have to say that the people in New England are without a doubt more passionate about their team than ANY fan base I’ve EVER encountered. There’s no comparison. It’s not even close.
Bay ended up drawing a five-pitch walk in the bottom of the second (you’ve never heard such loud cheers for a walk), moving to third on a J.D. Drew double, and scoring the game’s first run on a sacrifice fly by Jed Lowrie. Tim Wakefield and Justin Duchscherer matched zeros after that, and it looked like the Sox were going to hang on for 1-0 win until Jack Cust (who’s on pace to strike out 205 times this season) hit an opposite field bomb off Hideki Okajima to tie the game at 1-1 in the eighth.
Jean knew a lot about baseball, and in fact, so did Lars and Cody because they’d read my book. I don’t know if they tried to memorize it or what, but I was blown away with the amount of facts and details they remembered. We all wore our gloves, but since there wasn’t much action in the foul ball department, we focused on watching the game. They asked dozens of questions and I explained everything…from the stats on the scoreboard to the Pesky Pole (which was less than 20 feet to our right) to double-play depth…and on and on and on. I had lots of fun, and I’m pretty sure they did as well.
As the game headed into the 10th inning, I was surprised when hardly any fans left the stadium. Six outs later, however, a few seats opened up so I led Jean and Cody and Lars toward home plate…and this is where we settled down:
With two outs in the bottom of the 11th, I took Lars and Cody to the third base dugout and explained exactly how to get a third-out ball. We were all set to charge toward the front row and yell at whichever A’s player ended up with the ball…when Kevin Youkilis took a called third strike and the catcher rolled it back to the mound.
Five outs later we were back in position, but we didn’t get another shot. Bay hit a towering fly ball high off the Monster for a triple, Drew drew an intentional walk, and Lowrie punched a weak grounder past the left side of the mound that allowed Bay to score the winning run. Final score: Zack 3, Red Sox 2, Athletics 1.
Lars and Cody and I still went down to the dugout (even though I knew the A’s would be in a foul mood), and it paid off…sort of. We got some gum and seeds from one of the bat boys. He was carrying a few boxes of it, and after I called out and asked him if we could have some, he walked over and held it out and let us grab whatever we wanted. The photo on the right shows what I took. Cody and Lars each got their own stash.
We all lingered inside the stadium as long as possible, then headed outside and I told them where they might be able to get a few more autographs. I didn’t stick around for that, however, and they understood why. It was already well past 11pm, I’d been up since 8:45am, and I had a 211-mile drive ahead of me. Before we parted ways, Jean told me she might send me to a game at Citi Field next season with her son who was born on the day that the Mets won their first World Series…
? 3 balls at this game
? 273 balls in 39 games this season = 7 balls per game.
? 535 consecutive games with at least one ball
? 128 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
? 9 consecutive Watch With Zack games with at least two balls
? 3,550 total balls