This was my first game at Turner Field in ten years, and I was pretty excited:
The crowd was going to be fairly small. The gates were going to open two and a half hours early. The configuration of the left field seats was going to be ideal. And in my previous four games at this stadium (two in 1999 and two in 2000), I’d averaged 9.5 balls per game.
I wasn’t merely hoping to have a big day. I was expecting it. But first, I had some exploring to do outside the stadium.
This is what I saw when I walked to the top of the steps:
That big area is called Monument Grove.
I walked over to the gate in deep left-center field and took a peek through the metal bars:
Two photos above, you can see a blueish wall in the distance. Here’s a closer look at it:
In case you can’t read it, the words on top say, “THE LONGEST CONTINUOUSLY OPERATING FRANCHISE IN MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL.” (I was not aware of that fact.) Underneath it, there were years and logos and names of all the Braves’ former cities and teams: Boston Red Stockings (starting in 1871), Boston Red Caps, Boston Beaneaters, Boston Doves, Boston Rustlers, Boston Braves, Boston Bees, Boston Braves (again), Milwaukee Braves, and finally the current Atlanta Braves. It wasn’t nearly as snazzy as any of the Twins shrines that I saw on May 4th at Target Field, but it was still cool to see the Braves honoring their past.
Here’s the center field gate…
…and this is what it looked like when I rounded the corner of the stadium:
Meh. Nothing wrong with it, but not particularly memorable.
Here’s another look from further down the street…
…and this is what it looked like after I rounded another corner:
Pretty standard stuff, I guess. The street on that side of the stadium was so green and hilly that it didn’t even feel like a stadium. Check it out:
I resisted the urge to try to talk my way in as I passed the media entrance…
…and rounded yet another corner:
That’s more like it.
Two-thirds of the way down the street, a bunch of autograph collectors were waiting for the Mets players to arrive:
See the guy standing on the right with the red ESPN shirt? His name is Pete Gasperlin (aka “pgasperlin” in the comments). I had met him on 5/6/10 at Target Field. He’s a huge Twins fan. He’s the founder of the Denard Span fan club on Facebook. And he’s the guy who took my girlfriend Jona into the Metropolitan Club when she needed a break from the 40-degree drizzle. Yesterday, while I was talking to him, Jose Reyes, Johan Santana, and Oliver Perez were dropped off right in front of us. There were a dozen people begging for their autographs, including one guy (as you can see above) who was wearing a REYES jersey. It would have taken the players a minute or two to sign for everyone, but instead, they headed inside without even looking up or waving. It was pathetic. (David Wright, by the way, had stopped to sign on his way in shortly before I got there. Pete showed me a card that he’d gotten autographed.)
Here’s what the stadium looked like just beyond the autograph collectors…
…and this is what it looked like when I rounded the final corner:
I was back to where I’d started, and I still had some time to spare, so I headed into the parking lot in order to get a look at Turner Field from afar:
Then I walked even further (about a quarter of a mile) and checked out the remnants of Fulton County Stadium:
Fulton County was the home of the Braves from 1966-1996. I was there for one game in 1992 and snagged one ball. It was thrown by a (now totally obscure) player on the Padres named Guillermo Velasquez. I remember it well. It was rainy. There wasn’t BP. I was in the left field corner with my family. I didn’t have a Padres cap. I was 15 years old at the time. And…what else can I say? The whole thing was lucky and feels like it happened in a previous life.
In the photo above, do you see the little random piece of wall on the little random patch of grass? Let me take you closer and show you what that is:
It’s the spot where Hank Aaron’s 715th career home run landed. (At the time, Babe Ruth held the record with 714, so this was a big big big big BIG big big deal. And of course it was more than just the numbers. There was the whole issue of race, too. Big deal. Very big.) Very cool to be standing so close to where such a major piece of history went down.
After that, I headed back to Turner Field and claimed at a spot just outside the gates:
The photo above was taken by Pete. The guy sitting on the right was the first person I had seen while wandering around the stadium earlier. He had stopped me and asked, “Are you Zack Hample?” Most people who recognize me are like, “Hey, aren’t you that guy from YouTube,” but this dude actually knew my name. (If I’m remembering correctly, his name is Matt.)
Five minutes before the gates opened, this was the line behind me:
When I ran inside and headed down to the front row in left-center, I was rather excited to see this:
Glove trick heaven!
Even more important, perhaps, was the fact that the seats extended all the way from the foul pole to the batter’s eye. In other words, I was going to be able to position myself in all sorts of different spots based on who was batting and where the crowd was clustered.
My friend Pete unintentionally got the assist on my first ball of the day. It was a ground-rule double that kinda handcuffed him in the front row, and when it dropped down into the gap, I was all over it. Then I caught a home run on the fly, hit by a right-handed batter on the Braves that I couldn’t identify. Nothing fancy about it. It was pretty much hit right to me. All I had to do was drift a few feet to my right and reach up for the easy, one-handed grab. Two minutes later, I saw a ball drop into the gap in right-center, so I ran over there. I reeled that one in and then discovered another ball in the gap, just a few feet to my left:
The problem with the section in right-center is that it’s really far from home plate. Check out the view:
The batters basically have to hit the ball 400 feet just to reach the seats, and because the front row is always crowded, you’re talking 410 to 420 in order for them to reach a spot where you’ll have some room to run.
I ran back to left field and snagged a ground-rule double that bounced into the seats near the foul pole. I was proud of myself for this one because the ball had been hit really high, and I was all the way over in straight-away left field. I knew that it wasn’t going to clear the wall on the fly, but instead of giving up on it, I kept running in case it bounced over. Two years ago, I wouldn’t have made that play. I wasn’t as good at judging fly balls, and didn’t have The Vision. I don’t know what’s happening, but my instincts are suddenly improving. I can feel it. It’s awesome.
I ran all the way to the seats in straight-away right field (it takes an effort to get there; the path is anything but direct) and caught a home run hit by Melky Cabrera. I had to move a full section to my right for it, and when I looked back up for the ball, I found myself staring right into the sun — so I felt good about that snag as well.
The gap in right field is partially blocked by the backside of the LED board:
It’s still possible to use the glove trick there, but balls don’t drop down too often.
When the Braves finished their portion of BP, I raced over to the seats behind their dugout — and was told by various ushers that I wasn’t allowed down there.
Seriously, what kind of Citi-esque nonsense was that? Braves hitting coach Terry Pendleton was throwing ball after ball into the crowd, and since I was already halfway down into the seats, I started yelling to get his attention. He threw a ball to a nearby female usher, presumably for me, and when she dropped it and it started rolling toward me, she yelled at me to get away from her ball. Then, after she “ran” over and grabbed it, Pendleton threw her another, which she kept.
“Are you kidding me?!” I yelled.
“Theesa fo’ my keeeids!” she insisted.
“Are you really competing with me for baseballs,” I asked, “and kicking me out of your section an hour and a half before game time?”
That IS, in fact, what was happening. As this usher was guiding me up the steps, however, I managed to get Pendleton’s attention, and he threw me my seventh ball of the day (which I caught right in front of her face).
Unbelievable. Does anyone have Ted Turner’s phone number? I need to have a word with him.
When the Mets took the field, I was once again prohibited from entering the seats behind their dugout — or even next to their dugout. The closest I could get was shallow left field!
I got a ball tossed to me in the left field corner by one of the trainer-type-strength-and-conditioning-coach dudes. Then I moved to straight-away left and fished a home run ball out of the gap. (That was my ninth ball of the day, and there was some competition from other fans with devices.) Less than a minute later, I caught a homer on the fly. I’m not sure who hit it. All I can tell you is that I was in the third row, and there was a guy around my age in the second row. When the ball went up, he misjudged it and moved back. This enabled me to carefully slip past him and drift down to the front row, where I leaned over the railing and made the catch.
Check out the ball:
It was a Citi Field commemorative ball. I’d snagged a bunch of these last year, but it was still great to get another. Commemorative balls are sacred to me — even the ones like this with poorly designed logos.
The Braves had been using standard balls with the word “practice” printed under the MLB logo; the Mets were using balls that had “practice” stamped sloppily on the sweet spot. Check it out:
The left field seats got pretty crowded…
…but that didn’t stop me. I snagged a David Wright homer that landed near me in the seats and then ran over to right field for the next group of hitters. It was either Jose Reyes or Luis Castillo — I just wasn’t paying close enough attention — but whoever it was hit a home run right to me. I mean right to me. I could sense that someone was running toward me in the row below me, so I reached up with two hands to brace for a potential collision. The ball cleared this other guy’s glove by three inches, and then he tripped and fell headfirst over his row. (Yes, I caught the ball.) Don’t feel bad for him. He was in his 20s and looked/acted like he belonged in the mosh pit at a punk rock show. Thirty seconds later, I saw him scramble for another ball and grab it right in front of a little kid, who looked pretty devastated. The kid’s father tried to plead with the guy to turn the ball over, and when he refused, I tapped the kid on the shoulder and handed him the one I’d just caught. The kid (as you might imagine) was thrilled, his father thanked me for a solid minute, and I got a bunch of high-fives from other fans.
Back in left field, I went on a mini-snagging rampage during the closing minutes of BP. Pedro Feliciano threw me my 13th ball of the day. Then I used my glove trick (No. 14). Then I grabbed a home run in the seats that some grown-ups bobbled (No. 15). And then used my trick again for a home run ball that landed in the gap (No. 16). I managed to get down to the Mets’ dugout at the end of BP, and as all the players and coaches were clearing the field, I got Howard Johnson to toss me No. 17.
I’d been planning to go for homers during the game, but now that I was so close to 20, I decided to stay behind the dugout and pad my numbers. For some reason, the Mets never came out for pre-game throwing, so that cost me an important opportunity, but there was still the chance to get a third-out ball. This was my view early in the game:
Yunel Escobar grounded out to Mets first baseman Ike Davis to end the second inning. Davis jogged in and tossed me the ball. Pretty simple. The ball, it should be noted, had the Citi Field commemorative logo on it, which means it wasn’t the actual ball that had been used during the game; Davis had obviously kept the gamer and tossed me his infield warm-up ball instead.
As I jogged up the steps, I happened to see Kevin Burkhardt, the Mets’ sideline reporter, sitting at the back of the section with his SNY microphone. I had gotten to know him a bit over the past few seasons, and once I started snagging baseballs for charity last year, I’d been asking him if he’d interview me about it someday. Long story short: the interview finally took place last night during the bottom of the 4th inning.
The whole thing only lasted a couple minutes, but I think it went pretty well. Here’s a screen shot (courtesy of SNY) before the interview started. It shows Kevin pointing out the camera that was going to be filming us:
Here’s another screen shot (courtesy of my friend Howie) during the interview itself.
Yes, Howie actually photographed his TV.
Kevin asked me two main questions:
1) How do you catch so many baseballs?
2) Can you tell me what you’re doing for charity?
It was great to get to give a plug on-air for Pitch In For Baseball. Big thanks to the Mets for letting me do it. (The Braves, as I mentioned three days ago on Twitter, denied my media/charity request.)
Here I am with Kevin after the interview:
I still have yet to see a tape of it, but according to Howie, when Eric Hinske homered the following inning (to a spot where I wouldn’t have been anyway), the Mets announcers mentioned me.
Gary Cohen said, “Zack did not get the ball,” to which Ron Darling replied, “He’s probably negotiating for it.”
I spent the rest of the game chasing nonexistent foul balls behind the plate. This was my view for right-handed batters:
There’s a cross-aisle that runs through the entire field level, so it’s easy to run left and right. The only problem is that the protective screen is rather tall, so balls have to loop back over it — something that doesn’t happen too often.
If you’ve been reading the comments on this blog, you may have noticed a bunch over the years from someone known as “lsthrasher04” and later “braves04.” The person who’s been leaving those comments lives in Atlanta. His name is Matt. We’d been in touch for a long time, but we’d never met in person until yesterday. I saw him briefly during BP, but I was so busy running all over the place that we barely had a chance to catch up. Late in the game, he came and found me, and we finally had a photo taken together. Here we are:
Matt had kindly given me some pointers about Turner Field in recent weeks. I returned the favor last night by signing his copy of Watching Baseball Smarter.
By the time the 9th inning rolled around, I still needed two more balls to reach 20. My plan, since the Mets were winning, 3-2, was as follows:
1) Go to the Mets’ dugout.
2) Get a ball from home plate umpire Ed Rapuano.
3) Get another ball from the Mets as they walk off the field.
4) If that fails, get a ball from the relievers when they walk in from the bullpen.
Good plan, right? It gave me three chances to snag two balls. Well, Rapuano took care of the first one, but then the Mets let me down. None of them tossed a ball into the crowd as they headed back in — and get this: the relievers never walked across the field. They must’ve headed from the bullpen to the clubhouse through the underground concourse.
So that was it.
My day ended with 19 balls.
(Yeah, I know, poor me.)
The Mets held on for a 3-2 win, so my Ballhawk Winning Percentage improved to what would be a major league best: .792 (9.5 wins and 2.5 losses).
Before heading out, I caught up with Pete…
…who generously gave me a new Braves cap. (My old one, circa 1992, was crinkly and fugly and being held together at the back with duct tape.)
Good times. Good people. Good baseball. Can’t wait for the next two games here. I’m hoping to snag 23 more and hit 4,500…
• 19 balls at this game (18 pictured on the right because I gave one away)
• 119 balls in 12 games this season = 9.9 balls per game.
• 641 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 192 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 124 lifetime games with at least 10 balls
• 4,477 total balls
• 31 donors (click here and scroll down to see who has pledged)
• $4.95 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $94.05 raised at this game
• $589.05 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
I woke up in Cleveland at 5:15am with three hours of sleep. By the time I checked into my hotel in Minnesota, I was so tired that my eyes hurt. I should’ve taken a nap, especially considering that I was going to be on TV later that evening, but I was too excited about Target Field. To hell with sleep. I had to get over there and see it. This was my first look at it:
(Did you notice the HUGE Target logo on the walkway?)
I could tell from afar that the place was gorgeous, and once I got closer, I noticed that the Twins (unlike the Mets) did an amazing job of honoring their past. One of the first things I saw was a long, wall-like display featuring the team’s former stadiums:
Right nearby, there was a fence with pennant-shaped tributes to important players and executives in Twins history…
…and then I saw Gate 29:
That’s kind of a random number for a gate, right? Well, it was named after Hall of Famer Rod Carew, who wore uniform No. 29 for the Twins for 12 seasons. Target Field has five gates, all of which are named after Twins players who’ve had their numbers retired. Genius.
I walked clockwise around the outside of the stadium. Here’s the team store…
…and here are some of the many team-related banners:
FYI, there are service ramps behind those long wooden boards. If you look closely at them, you can see a door on the lower left that swings open.
Check out the view through Gate 14 (named after Kent Hrbek):
It was one o’clock. First pitch was scheduled for 7:10pm. That’s why there weren’t many people around.
This is what I saw when I walked past Gate 14 and turned the corner:
The fence on the left was lined with poster-sized replica Topps baseball cards of Twins players, past and present. Brilliant.
At the far end of the walkway, I passed a Light Rail station…
…and turned another corner:
Here’s another sneak peek inside the stadium through Gate 6 (named after Tony Oliva):
I felt very welcomed, indeed.
I kept walking. Here’s more of what I saw:
I passed some artwork (officially known as the “5th Street Panels at Target Field”) on the far end of the building:
This piece in particular is called “A History of Minnesota Baseball.”
I risked my life to take the following photo:
Okay, not really, but I *was* standing awfully close to the train tracks.
(Gate 3, which you can see in the photo above, is named after Harmon Killebrew. I later learned that on Opening Day, Killebrew stood just inside the gate and greeted fans as they entered. That’s how to run a major league organization.)
Here’s where it gets weird. I’d been walking around the stadium without any problems. Everything was beautiful and clean and simple. But when I passed Gate 3, this is what I saw:
Where was I supposed to walk? Into the tunnel? Was it even possible to walk all the way around the outside of the stadium? I crossed the street on the left side and headed onto a narrow walkway. I had no idea where I was going. There were no signs. There was nothing but a pair of unmarked glass doors:
Just when I was was preparing to retrace my steps and head back toward Gate 3, two guys walked by and gave me directions. They said I had to enter the doors and walk through a long hallway and follow the signs and head upstairs…and…what? I was so confused, but they seemed convincing, so I did what they said.
This is what it looked like just inside the doors:
Was this a trick or a scam? Perhaps a hidden-camera TV show? Should I have been concerned for my safety?
I walked quite a ways down the hallway and eventually saw this:
What was the Target Plaza? Was that connected to Target Field? Ohmygod, what was going on? I hadn’t researched the stadium beforehand. I intentionally showed up knowing as little as possible so I could explore and discover things.
There were escalators at the far end of the hallway:
I headed up to the second level and saw this:
Uh…was I supposed to go up to the 3rd level?
It looked like there was a little sign on the door, so I walked over for a closer look. This is what it said:
Hooray! Thank you! Finally, there were clear directions that applied to what *I* hoped to find. Target Field, through the doors. Right?
Umm, not so fast…
This is what I saw when I opened the door:
WHAT THE HELL?!?!?!
I figured the sign had to be right, so I walked across the garage and encountered another set of doors. This is what I saw on the other side:
I walked past the Kirby Puckett statue. This is what was on the right:
Now we’re talking.
Gate 34…the right field gate…just behind the standing room area. I hurried over for a peek inside:
The giant “gold” glove was sitting nearby on the right:
Just how big is it? Here’s my backpack:
I still had a little more exploring to do, so I continued heading around the stadium:
Is that a slick design or what?
In the photo above, do you see the fan wearing red sleeves? More on him in a bit, but first, I have to show you even more Twins history that was on display. Check this out:
You know what those things on the fence are?
There was a roster from every single season since the franchise moved to Minneapolis.
Even the team store was exquisite:
Back outside, I walked right past Justin Verlander and two of his teammates:
One fan approached Verlander and asked for an autograph.
“Not today,” said the Tigers ace.
(Ballplayers are so friendly nowadays.)
Okay, remember the guy wearing red? His name is Greg Dryden, but he’s known simply as “Waldo.” He’s the No. 1 ballhawk in Minnesota. He used to sit in the front row in left-center at the Metrodome, and he always wore a helmet. That was his thing. I’d been hearing stories about him for years — some good, some bad. Everyone I knew who visited the Dome had something to say about the guy, and here he was. I knew it was him because the back of his jersey said “WALDO 13,” so I walked over and introduced myself, and as it turned out, he had heard lots of stories about me, too. Here we are:
I knew that we were only going to have a few minutes to chat, so I asked him the basic questions about how many baseballs he’d snagged over the years. He told me that he only kept count one season and ended up with 352. (He was a season ticket holder and attended all 81 of the Twins’ home games.) He said that was probably a typical season for him and that he’d been ballhawking regularly since 1999.
“So you’ve probably gotten over 3,000 balls?” I asked.
He shrugged and said, “Yeah, I guess.”
“How many game home runs?”
“I don’t know,” he said, “probably 40 or 50…and I’ve gotten about 20 ground-rule doubles.”
Not too shabby.
At 2pm, two attractive women (who looked to be in their mid-20s) started walking right toward us. Waldo’s jaw literally dropped, and when they got closer, one of them asked me, “Are you Zack?”
“Catherine?” I asked.
She welcomed me to Minnesota and introduced me to her twin sister, Laura-Leigh. Then, as the three of us headed off together, I turned toward Waldo and shouted, “I’ll see you back here in an hour!” The look on his face was priceless.
The ladies led me to a nearby mall called Butler Square. Here’s the main entrance:
See the arrow in the photo above? There’s a restaurant in the mall called Smalley’s 87 Club:
That’s where we went. It’s named after former major league All-Star Roy Smalley, who played nine of his 13 seasons with the Twins. Now get this…
1) Roy Smalley just happens to be their father.
2) Roy Smalley is the president of Pitch In For Baseball.
3) Roy Smalley is a commentator on FSN North.
See where I’m going with this? In case you’re new to this blog, I’ve been raising money for the last two two seasons for Pitch In For Baseball — a charity that provides baseball equipment to needy kids all over the world. Roy was planning to interview me live on the Twins’ pre-game show about it, and he was at the restaurant. Here I am with him and his daughters:
(Catherine is on the left, just above my red-and-white Pitch In For Baseball cap, and by the way, I should mention that both plates of food were mine: chicken strips and a caesar salad. The food there is great.)
We all hung out for a couple hours, during which time Roy let me play with his 1987 World Series ring:
Here’s the ring with Roy in the background…
…and here are two close-up shots of it:
(His championship ring is slightly cooler than mine.)
My lack of sleep was killing me, but I was so happy that it didn’t even matter.
By the time I made it back to the Target Field Plaza (that’s the official name of the area outside Gate 34), there were quite a few people milling about:
At 5pm (half an hour before the stadium opened), look who showed up and found me:
It was my girlfriend, Jona.
As I’d mentioned the day before on Twitter, there was a chance that she wasn’t gonna be able to make it to Minnesota, but everything ended up working out, and here she was.
Remember the small crowd waiting outside the gate on 5/1/10 at Progressive Field? If not, click here to see what I’m talking about. Here’s the difference between Cleveland and Minneapolis. Ready? Take a deep breath and brace yourself:
Holy mother of GOD!!! And don’t forget that this was just one of five gates. My biggest gripe about the stadium is that it doesn’t open earlier. I think it’s a real slap in the face to the fans that they can’t even get inside early enough to watch the Twins take batting practice. Every team should open its stadium two and a half hours early. Not just for season ticket holders. Not just on weekends. Always. For everyone. Forever. And especially when it’s the first season of a new stadium and the crowds are extra large. Seriously, Twins: duh.
Shortly before the stadium opened, I learned that FSN’s cameras were going to be filming me from afar during BP. I wasn’t going to be miked up. They didn’t need any audio. They just wanted some B-roll footage that they could later use during my interview with Roy. Catherine (who helped set up the interview) told me to call the producer as soon as I ran into the stadium. She said I needed to let him know where I was so he’d be able to make sure that the cameras were following me — and if I ran to another section, I was supposed to give him another call.
You know what I did instead? I handed my phone to Jona, who offered to make the phone calls for me.
I was so stressed and tired, and at 5:30pm it was time to roll. I raced inside and peeked at the right field seats and quickly decided to head for the left field bleachers. Jona chased after me and called the producer.
“Where do I tell him we are?!” she shouted.
“Ohboy,” I mumbled loud enough for her to hear me, then yelled, “Tell him I’m running behind the batter’s eye!”
It was nuts, and yet Jona somehow managed to take photos while all of this was happening. Here I am in the bleachers:
The bleachers were awful. Too steep. Too crowded. Too many railings. Tucked underneath an overhang. And because of the flower bed down in front, there was absolutely no chance to use the glove trick:
If someone asked me to design a miserable section for catching home run balls, I probably would’ve come up with this. Oh…and the sun was in everyone’s eyes, too.
The bleachers got crowded pretty fast:
Things were NOT looking good.
At one point, I had a chance to catch a home run ball:
(In case you can’t tell, I’m wearing the dark blue jacket with a Tigers shirt.)
Here’s that same moment captured by an FSN camera:
Want to see how it ended?
Yeah, the short guy in the front row jumped up and caught the ball two feet in front of my glove. Then, five minutes, later, I got robbed once again by a guy who reached out and made a bare-handed grab as I was cutting through the second row:
My overall assessment:
My friend Bob (aka “Big Glove Bob” in the comments section) made an appearance in the bleachers:
He had kindly picked me up at the airport that morning, and he’d given me lots of tips on Target Field and Minneapolis in the previous weeks. It was great hanging out with him — this was the first day that we had ever met in person — and I foolishly neglected to get a photo with him. (Random coincidence: he was interviewed on TV that day, too.)
I was getting desperate. I still didn’t have a ball. I was worried about my streak. And I was embarrassed to be putting on such a lousy ballhawking display for the cameras, which were evidently capturing my every move.
After what felt like an eternity, I finally got Tigers reliever Brad Thomas to throw me a ball. He was in left-center field. I was standing near the slanted railing next to the bullpens. His throw fell short. I nearly had a panic attack. I reached way out — full extension — and caught the ball in the tip of my glove. It was a true snow-cone. Here’s an FSN screen shot…
…and here I am pointing at Thomas as if to say, “You’re the man. Thank you.”
I was so relieved at that point. My streak was alive, and I had snagged a ball in my 47th different major league stadium. Here I am with the ball:
I wasn’t sure what type of balls the Tigers were going to be using during BP; in 2008 they used Pacific Coast League balls and in 2009 they used International League balls. As you can see in the photo above, the ball that Thomas threw me was an official major league ball, but check out the logo:
The Tigers had marked it. Many other teams have done the same thing over the years, but never on the logo itself.
My phone rang. Jona handed it to me. I answered it. It was Roy. He asked me to swing by the FSN set down the left field line, and since BP was such a colossal waste of time, I didn’t mind sacrificing a few minutes of it to go check in with him:
He asked me to be back there by 6:25pm. The pre-game show was going to start at 6:30. I was going to be interviewed during the second segment, and I needed to get miked up…so for the time being, I was free to run around a bit more and try to snag a few additional baseballs. Unfortunately, there weren’t any more to be snagged — at least not during BP. The bleachers were dead, and when I ran over to the Tigers’ dugout at the end of BP, I didn’t get anything there. The look on my face tells the whole story:
I had snagged ONE pathetic baseball during batting practice. I was sweaty and exhausted…
…and I wanted to go back to Cleveland.
It was time to head over to the FSN set, so I cut through the seats with Jona. I stopped along the way to photograph a fugitive hot dog:
Here’s what it looked like from my perspective:
Remember the random sausage I photographed on 4/27/09 at Miller Park? Yeah, I don’t know what to say. It’s just one of those things that needs to be documented.
I made it to the FSN area as Roy and his fellow commentators were finishing up the first segment:
He and I caught up for a moment during the commercial break…
…and headed into the left field bleachers:
(Roy is adjusting his ear piece in the photo above, and if you look closely, you can see The Ring on his right hand.)
See those two women sitting behind us? When we walked into the bleachers, the blonde one said to Roy, “You look like you’re famous.”
“Umm, that’s because he IS famous,” I said.
“Oh,” she said, half-excited and half-embarrassed, “should I know your name?”
I turned toward Roy and said, “Would you like me to to be your spokesperson?”
“Smalley,” he said to the women. “I used to play for the Twins.”
The women were like, “Smalley…Smalley…oh! Yeah!” but they had no idea who he was.
The interview itself went pretty well…I think. Here’s a photo that Jona took while it was in progress:
We were being filmed by the camera behind home plate in the upper deck.
The interview flew by — they always do — but I got to talk about Pitch In For Baseball. That was the most important thing, and I ended up getting a few new pledges as a result.
I still have yet to see the interview itself, but I did manage to get a screen shot. Here’s what it looked like to the folks watching on TV, and for the record, I did NOT write the text that appeared below my name:
The interview ended just in time for me to make it down to the front row along the left field foul line for pre-game throwing:
I ended up getting a ball from Scott Sizemore, and then less than 60 seconds later, because there wasn’t anyone else competing with me, I got another from Adam Everett. That made me feel a little better, but of course the FSN cameras weren’t on me anymore, so as far as the general public in Minnesota was concerned, I was just some random putz who happened to catch ONE ball during batting practice and then talked about some charity thing.
I spent most of the game in the standing room area down the right field line. Here’s that section from above. The red “X” marks the spot where I was standing:
Here’s what my view from that spot looked like:
Yeah, it was rainy and nasty and cold — about what I expected.
Here’s a photo from the back of the standing room area, with my back against the inside of Gate 34:
(I can’t explain that random box, so don’t ask.)
Waldo was on the outside looking in:
He’s “protesting” Twins management because he feels he got screwed over on his season tickets. Long story. Go to Target Field and ask him about it. But anyway, as part of his protest, he’s refusing to enter Target Field this year. He also wants to catch the first home run that either flies or (more likely) bounces out of Target Field, so in that sense, his spot just outside Gate 34 is actually ideal. Personally, I would go crazy if I had to spend even one game outside a stadium with such slim odds at snagging a homer, but he seems content (relatively speaking) out there, and he doesn’t seem to be hurting anyone, so I say hey, why not?
Jona and I sat in a few different places throughout the game. Here’s one…
…and here’s another:
I thought it was going to be really tough to move around, but a) there were empty seats to be found and b) the ushers were really laid-back.
After the bottom of the 8th inning, I got Miguel Cabrera to throw me a ball as he jogged off the field:
Although it had a commemorative Target Field logo, I knew it wasn’t the actual third-out ball that’d been used in the game because it was kinda beat up.
In the photo above, do you see the kid on my right, reaching up with both hands? It was a girl who was probably about 10 years old. Even though she didn’t have a glove, I just felt that giving her a ball was the right thing to do, so I pulled out a regular/non-marked/non-commemorative ball from my backpack and handed it over. I ended up sitting next to her and her father for the last half-inning, and they thanked me about a dozen times.
The Twins won the game, 4-3, on a run-scoring wild pitch in the bottom of the ninth. That made a winner of starter Nick Blackburn, who went the distance. It also meant that I notched a rare “tie” in the Ballhawk Winning Percentage category. My record moved to 4.5 wins and 1.5 losses, so my percentage is .750, second only to the Rays, who lead all of baseball with a .759 mark.
Jona was freezing her you-know-what off, but I was not in any rush to leave. (Sorry, baby.) I took more photos of basically everything around me, including the beautiful MLB logo atop the visitors’ dugout:
And then I had to stick around and watch the FSN crew do their on-field analysis of the game-ending wild pitch:
1 = Tim Laudner
2 = Bert Blyleven
3 = Roy Smalley
Very cool to see former players using the field itself as a teaching instrument. That’s how it should be.
• 66 balls in 6 games this season = 11 balls per game.
• 635 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 186 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 47 different major league stadiums with at least one ball
• 4,424 total balls
• 29 donors
• $3.85 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $15.40 raised at this game
• $254.10 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
One last thing…
I just discovered that someone with Minnesota Public Radio wrote a short article about me — and about this actual blog entry. Here’s the link to it, and here’s a screen shot of the piece:
This was the third time I’d ever been to Nationals Park, and it was the third time that something went wrong. This time? I took a wrong turn and got stuck in traffic and missed the first 20 minutes of batting practice. I would’ve missed even more if not for my friend Brandon and girlfriend Jona. They were with me, and when we got close to the stadium, they agreed to park the car (not an easy task in Washington, D.C.) so I could run in and try to make up for lost time. I was totally out of breath by the time I made it to the left field seats, and then when I realized that the left-handed Adam Dunn was taking his cuts, I sprinted around to the right field side. Here’s what it looked like out there:
Thirty seconds after arriving, I got Justin Maxwell to throw me a ball in right-center field. Then I hurried back to the other end of the section and convinced Ron Villone to toss me another…so at least I wasn’t shut out. Ten minutes earlier, while stuck in traffic and biting the crap out of my fingernails, I figured I’d be able to salvage the day and snag a decent amount of balls, but then again, every worst-case scenario still found its way into my head. Anyway, after getting the ball from Villone, I took a peek into the gap behind the outfield wall — just in case — and this is what I saw:
I crouched down in the front row (to avoid drawing extra attention to myself) and set up my glove trick, and within moments I had the ball in my possession. It was my third ball of the day, and they were all training balls:
I hate training balls. They’re cheap and plasticky. It’s no wonder that the worst team in baseball uses them, but hey, I wasn’t about to stop snagging.
A few minutes later, Adam Dunn launched a home run that landed 15 feet to my right and three rows behind me. I was able to grab that ball out of the seats, and then I raced down to the front row as Zack Segovia retrieved a ball from the warning track.
“Hey, Zack!” I shouted. “My name is Zack, too, and I have ID to prove it! Any chance you could toss me a ball, please?!”
I was already reaching for my driver’s license, but he didn’t ask to see it. Instead, he simply smiled and flipped the ball up to me.
My next ball was tossed by Garrett Mock, and I wouldn’t have gotten it if not for a fellow ballhawk named Aaron (aka “districtboy” in the comments section). Aaron happened to get into a conversation with Mock, and I happened to hear him mention my name, so I headed closer to see what was going on.
“You guys talking about me?” I asked.
“This is the guy,” said Aaron, pointing me out to Mock.
Mocked looked over at me and said something like, “So, what’s the deal with your charity?”
That’s when Brandon and Jona showed up and started taking photos of me. (Brandon is a professional photographer and had two cameras with him.) Here’s a shot of Mock looking up:
He and I talked for a couple minutes. I told him all about the charity and how I’ve been getting people to pledge money for every ball I snag during the 2009 season, and I mentioned that Heath Bell had made a pledge and that I’d raised over $12,000 and that the money was going to be used to provide baseball equipment to needy kids all over the world. Mock was interested enough that he asked if I had any additional info. I tossed one of my contact cards down to him, and he tossed a training ball up to me. (That was my sixth ball of the day, and yes, all of them were training balls.) He then thanked me and said he’d try to help out by mentioning the charity to the Nationals’ P.R. people.
I then had my picture taken with Aaron:
(In case you’re new to this blog, I’m on the left.)
My seventh ball of the day was a home run by Mike Morse. I had to climb down over a couple rows while the ball was in mid-air, but I didn’t quite reach the front row in time so the ball tipped off my glove. Luckily, it didn’t ricochet too far away, and since there wasn’t anyone standing near me, I was able to grab it.
Moments later, Segovia tossed another ball into the seats that landed one section away and began trickling down the steps. I raced over and picked it up and immediately realized that the ball had been intended for a kid in the front row, so I opened up my glove and let the kid reach into the pocket and grab it. The kid seemed a bit dazed by the whole situation, but his parents were very thankful.
By the time the Mets took the field at 5:30pm, I already had eight balls. I’d been planning to head over to left field at that point, but it was far less crowded in right field so I stayed put.
Someone on the Mets hit a ball that rolled to the wall in right-center. Nelson Figueroa walked over to retrieve it, so I asked him if he “could please toss the ball up.” Figueroa did toss it up, but it fell short and landed back on the warning track.
“Nelson!” I shouted. “Please, one more try!”
Once again, he tossed the ball straight up and it fell just beyond my reach.
Brandon was in left field at that point, and he took a photo that captured the ball in mid air. Check it out:
(Don’t forget that you can click all these photos for a closer look. Also, FYI, I had changed into my blue Mets gear by this point.)
After the second bad throw, I realized that Figueroa was messing with me, so I asked, “Could you please toss the ball up TO ME?!”
“Ohh!” he said with a big grin, “To you?! Sure, why didn’t you say that? Before, you just asked me to ‘toss it up.'” And then, sure enough, he tossed the ball to me. It was my first non-training ball of the day.
Meanwhile, the sun was brutal. It wasn’t directly over home plate, but it was still pretty tough to see:
I was one ball short of double digits, and I ended up getting No. 10 from Brian Stokes. In the following photo, the red arrow is pointing to him just before he threw it…
…and here’s a shot of the ball in mid-air:
I snagged two more balls in the next five minutes. The first was a Mets homer that landed in the wide open area behind the center field wall. It was tossed up to me by some random employee who was hanging out back there. The second was another Mets homer (not sure who hit it) that I caught on the fly. I made a lunging catch over the railing in the front row after climbing over two rows of seats, so I felt pretty good. It was redemption for the Mike Morse homer that had tipped off my glove earlier under similar circumstances.
I had 12 balls at that point, which brought my season total to 499. I walked over to Jona at the back of the section and told her that she HAD to get a photo of my next ball.
“Please don’t miss it,” I implored, and as the word “don’t” came out of my mouth, she took the following photo:
She was like, “Yeah yeah, I’ll get a photo,” but that didn’t comfort me. I was about to snag my 500th ball of the season, and I wanted it to be well documented. What made me relax was knowing that one of our three cameras was bound to capture the milestone moment. Here’s a three-part pic that shows Jona (on the left) and me (middle) and Brandon (right):
We were good to go, and then I had my chance…
Bobby Parnell was shagging balls in center field and accidentally let a grounder slip under his glove. The ball rolled back toward the wall and then trickled into the wide open space behind it. I raced over to take a look…
…and as you can see in the photo above, Brandon ran after me (with a baseball glove on his left hand).
Thankfully, there were different guys down in the open space this time, so I didn’t have to worry about being recognized. One of the guys got the ball and then when I asked him for it, he started walking toward me. In the following photo, you can see the guy with the ball in his left hand, and you can also see what that whole area looks like:
The guy’s first throw fell short. That was probably a good thing. It gave Brandon a couple extra seconds to move up against the railing with me. Then the ball was tossed up for a second time. The throw was right on the money, and I reached out for the easy catch:
I caught another home run on the fly soon after. It was hit by a lefty. I have no idea who. It was my 14th ball of the day. It pretty much came right to me.
Then, with batting practice winding down, I ran back to the left field side and got Mets coach Razor Shines to toss me a ball near the foul pole. The arrow in the following photo is pointing at the ball:
I didn’t know it at the time, but when I updated my stats later on, I discovered that this was the 4,000th ball I’d snagged since my consecutive games streak began on September 10, 1993. That’s kind of a random stat, but I think it’s cool. Also…this was the 625th game of my streak, which means I’ve been averaging 6.4 balls per game.
My 16th ball of the day was thrown by Pedro Feliciano. Nothing special there. I was standing near the Mets’ bullpen. He walked over to pick up a ball off the warning track. I asked him for it and expected to get dissed because he’s not exactly the most fan-friendly player in the majors, but to my surprise, he turned and chucked it to me. (So I guess that IS special.)
I wasn’t done…
David Wright launched a home run into the left field bullpen, and the ball happened to settle in the perfect spot for my glove trick. Here’s a shot that Jona took…
…and here’s a shot that Brandon took at that same exact moment from across the stadium:
A nearby Mets fan saw me use the glove trick and responded with a gesture as if to say “We’re not worthy!”
At the very end of batting practice, after all the Mets players and coaches left the field, there was a ball sitting on the warning track near the foul pole. I ran over and tried using my glove trick to knock it closer, but a groundskeeper wandered out and picked up the ball before I had a chance. I asked him for it, and when he looked up and saw me decked out in Mets gear, he said, “You’re wearing the wrong clothes.” He then pointed to the little kid next to me and tossed him the ball, but guess what? The ball sailed over the kid’s head, and I ended up catching it. I didn’t reach in front of him. I had stepped back so that he’d be able to experience the rush of getting the ball on his own. It was a total accident that the ball found its way into my hands, and I immediately turned it over to the kid.
It was 6:25pm. The game was going to start at 7:05pm. What happened next? Brandon and Jona and I left the stadium (I gave away another ball to a kid on the way out), and we never looked back. This was all part of the plan, but it’s not the end of this blog entry, so keep reading past the stats…
• 18 balls at this game (15 pictured on the right because I gave three of them away)
• 505 balls in 56 games this season = 9.02 balls per game.
• 625 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 179 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 119 lifetime games with at least ten balls
• 4,325 total balls
• 126 donors (one more month remaining to make a pledge)
• $25.26 pledged per ball
• $454.68 raised at this game
• $12,756.30 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
Okay, so, as I was saying, we left the stadium:
We jumped in the car and set out on a 13-mile drive that ended up taking 90 minutes! Traffic in D.C. was a true nightmare, especially for Brandon because he lives for music, and we were on our way to a concert. Isn’t life funny? Less than four hours earlier, I was stressed out of my skull because I was missing batting practice. Now it was Brandon’s turn to freak out about missing Muse play the opening act.
By the time we reached our destination, it was dark:
Can you tell where we were? Look closely at the photo above, and you’ll see a small “REDSKINS” sign on the light pole. That’s right, we were at FedEx Field for a huge huge HUGE concert. Traffic outside the stadium (in case you couldn’t tell from the last photo) was insane. I mean, it wrapped all the way around the place and then snaked around endless/temporary barricades in various parking lots that had been set up just for this event. Jona and I agreed to park the car so Brandon could run in and try to catch the first part of the show.
Finally, by like 8:30pm, Jona and I made it into the stadium and met up with Brandon. We walked through a VERY crowded concourse and eventually headed out through one of the tunnels. This was our first glimpse inside the seating bowl — and of the stage:
What the hell?!
Did you ever see anything like that? It reminded me of the huge alien-monsters in “War of the Worlds.” I was almost afraid to go near it, but in fact we were about to go very near.
Are you wondering what concert we went to? Who we went to see? The answer lies at the top of this ticket stub:
I’d never seen them in concert before, but that’s not saying much; I’d only been to a handful of concerts in my life, and they were all small shows, so this was quite an experience.
Want to see where our general admission tickets put us?
Take a look at the FedEx seating chart here on the right (courtesy of StubHub).
See the red section that says “FLOOR GA”?
That’s where we were. It was a huge standing-room-only section right down ON the actual field itself. Well…we weren’t standing on the grass. There was a floor that’d been built for everyone to stand on, but it was still great to be down there. If we’d gotten there earlier, we could’ve rushed right up to the front, but because I’d selfishly insisted on stopping at Nationals Park for batting practice, we had to settle for being about 100 feet away from the main part of the stage.
Here I am in front of the big freaky structure:
Did you notice that I was making “U” and “2” symbols with my hands?
We moved as close as we could just in time for the main part of the show, and then…
U2 was on the stage.
Bono himself was close enough that I could’ve thrown a baseball to him had he asked.
The name of this tour was the “360 Tour” because of the circular stage and venues. The circular video screen was amazing. The lighting was cool. Everything was cool. Here are four different shots I took during the show (with my rinky-dink camera that I smuggled inside). In the photo on the lower left, all the little lights are cell phones that people help up at Bono’s urging:
It was truly an extravaganza. Was it worth leaving Nationals Park early and giving up a guaranteed 20-ball performance? Sure, why not. It was my own stupid wrong turn that cost me the 20 minutes of BP at the beginning, and I kept thinking about that throughout the show. But the show WAS good. I’m not a concert expert, so I don’t even know how to write about it. I only have five U2 songs on my iPod, and I was just glad to hear a few of them. I was bummed, though, that my favorite U2 song wasn’t played, but I wasn’t surprised because no one else in the world seems to know it or like it. It’s called “In a Little While,” and I think it’s one of the most beautiful songs ever recorded. (For the record, I have 139 Beatles songs on my iPod. I gravitate toward older music in general, but what would you expect from someone who didn’t own a cell phone until 2007 and still isn’t on Facebook?) Anyway, for me, this whole concert experience wasn’t about the music. It was just about being there and experiencing it with two great friends and simply witnessing the magnitude of it all.
Here’s some more Bono action:
After the show, when the general admission area began clearing out, we walked up to the edge of the stage:
We couldn’t get any closer than that because of the barricade, which you can see in the photo below. Also in the following photo: three cameramen suspended from some sort of diagonal beam. (The correct terminology is escaping me, but you get the point.) The red arrow is pointing to the cameraman in the middle:
I kept thinking about how many people had to be employed to put on the show and build the stage and how long it took and how much it all cost and how much money U2 makes for each show. If only there were a book called “Watching Concerts Smarter.” I also tried to guess how many people had been in attendance. According to the FexEd Field page on Wikipedia, the stadium holds over 91,000 people. I assume that figure doen’t include the field itself. The seats were basically full except for a few rows at the very top of the upper deck. So how many general admission tickets were sold? Were there over 100,000 people altogether?!
Here’s one final photo of me on the field/floor:
The traffic wasn’t too bad on the way out, mainly because we lingered inside the stadium for about an hour. Then we drove back to our hotel and ate a huge, fattening meal at 1am. It was the perfect end to an unforgettable day.
This was a very special day…
Not only was it my parents’ 35th anniversary, but it was the first time that I walked all the way around the outside of Citi Field since that snowy day in February of 2008.
Naturally, I took photos of everything, starting with the view from the subway exit:
I headed past the Brooklyn Dodgers Rotunda…
…and walked the length of the stadium toward the left field gate:
I rounded the corner and walked to the outermost edge of the parking lot. Here’s what the stadium looked like from afar — from about a quarter of a mile from home plate in straight-away left field:
I didn’t like what I saw. It didn’t look like a baseball stadium. It looked like a jumbled mess of generic modern architecture.
I walked closer…
On the right side of this edge of the stadium, there was some type of employee entrance:
In the middle, there was a chain-link fence blocking off a huge area of loading docks:
On the left side, there was a security guard and a “DO NOT ENTER” sign:
Do you see all those cork-shaped objects poking out of the ground every four feet? Do you know what those are for? Here in New York City, they’ve been popping up on sidewalks outside of new and important buildings. They’re there to prevent extremists (i.e. Al-Qaeda, Hamas, disgruntled Mets fans, etc.) from driving too close with explosive-laden vehicles.
Several policemen eyed me suspiciously as I walked around taking photos. I eyed them right back and rounded another corner…
…and peeked through one of Citi Field’s many glass doors. This is what I saw:
In case it’s not clear, this construction zone is inside Citi Field — basically at the deepest part of center field. Can anyone explain why the stadium is still under construction six months after it opened? Do we have Bernie Madoff to thank for this? What was/is this area supposed to end up being? I thought this new stadium was supposed to be “intimate.”
I approached the bullpen gate in right-center field:
In the photo above, did you notice all the cars and signs on the left side of the road? You know what’s over there, RIGHT across from the stadium? If you were to stand with your back facing the bullpen gate and walk across the street, this is what you’d see:
Instead of paying Oliver Perez $36 million to “pitch” for three years, the Mets should’ve bought out all the auto repair centers and replaced them with a public park…with some orange and blue flowers…and a few restaurants…and fountains…and a small baseball field where people could play catch…and statues of players who actually played for the Mets.
I rounded yet another corner and headed past the right field gate:
The following photo shows where the Mets players walk in from their parking lot:
Normally (as you might recall from my entry on 8/4/09 when I got Livan Hernandez to sign my 4,000th ball), this area is gated off in order to keep the fans as far away from the players as possible. The reason why it wasn’t blocked when I passed by is that it was already 4:15pm. All the Mets players were safely inside.
I made it all the way back around to the Rotunda:
(GOSH I love barricades!)
As I was looking for the best spot to wait in line, I ran into a new-ish friend (and aspiring ballhawk) named Ryan. He was there with his friend Keith. You’ll see a photo of them at the end of this entry.
Citi Field opened at 4:40pm, and I raced out to the left field seats. For a few minutes, I pretty much had the place to myself…
…but of course almost every batter was swinging from the left side of the plate. As a result, a ball ended up rolling onto the warning track in right-center field, so I ran over there. Ryan and Keith were standing nearby in the seats. They knew that I was there to snag that ball with my glove trick, but they didn’t mind. In fact, they even strategized with me about how I could get it without being seen by security. It was then that another ball rolled onto the track. Josh Thole jogged over to retrieve it, then tossed it to me (after I asked him politely for it) and left the other ball sitting there. Very strange. Moments later, a home run landed on the slanted area in front of the batter’s eye. Perfect! The security supervisor standing at the back of our section walked down a few rows and then climbed over the side railing to go get it. Ryan pulled out his camera and took a few photos while Keith stood next to me and used his tall frame as a shield. Here’s a pic of me getting the ball to stick inside the glove…
…and here’s another shot of the glove trick in action. You can see that I’m lifting up the ball while the yellow-shirted supervisor is wandering off in the background:
Some people consider this to be theft. My response: It’s not 1915 anymore. Fans are allowed to keep baseballs nowadays. Players and coaches (and ballboys and groundskeepers and ushers and photographers and announcers and mascots and vendors and security guards and other stadium personnel) actually GIVE balls to fans. Welcome to 2009.
And by the way, the ball that I snagged with my glove trick was a 2008 Yankee Stadium commemorative ball. The Mets are cool like that. They often use old/random commemorative balls during BP.
I headed back to left field, and once again, there was very little action. Brian Stokes walked by. He didn’t have a ball in his hand, and even if he did, I wouldn’t have asked him for it. Two days earlier, he had recognized me as That Guy who snags lots of baseballs. Normally, when players recognize me, it’s a bad thing. It means they’re not going to give me any more balls…ever. There’ve been exceptions — Josias Manzanillo, Pedro Martinez, and Heath Bell to name a few — but it’s rare. Anyway, when Stokes walked by, I shouted, “Hey, Brian, what’s up?!” He looked over and spotted me and waved, and it sounded like he yelled, “Hey, Zack!” I could be wrong. There’s a chance that he didn’t actually say my name. I might just have been hearing what I wanted to hear, but in any case, it was nice that he remembered me.
Thirty seconds later, while I was standing in the middle of the left field seats, minding my own business, watching the batter and hoping for a home run, I heard/saw someone trying to get my attention down below on the field. It was Stokes! He now had a ball in his hand, and he was making a gesture to indicate that he was going to throw it to me. I held up my glove…and…whooooosh!!! He fired a strike right to me.
“Thanks!” I shouted. “Is that for the charity?”
“I haven’t checked out your site yet!” he shouted back.
“But you still have my card?!”
“Yeah I got it!”
“Cool!” I said. “Thanks again!”
Then he waved and headed toward the foul pole, and I took a photo of the ball he’d thrown to me:
Yup, another Yankee Stadium commemorative. Brian Stokes is my new favorite player. With my luck, the Mets will trade him next year, and with the Mets’ luck (as was the case with Heath Bell), he’ll develop into an All-Star closer.
Halfway though the Mets’ portion of BP, a ball rolled onto the warning track down the left field foul line:
I waited for a minute to see if a player or security guard noticed that it was there, and when nobody went for it, I made my move. I raced over to the seats in foul territory and got as close as possible to the ball. Then I used my “half-glove trick.” That’s what I call it when I don’t actually use the rubber band or Sharpie, when all I do is fling the glove out and then yank it back in order to knock the ball closer. That’s all I had to do here because the wall was so low. Once I had the ball in my hand, I was thrilled to discover that it was a 2008 All-Star Game ball.
I headed back to left field and caught three home runs on the fly. The first — another Yankee Stadium commemorative — was hit by Jeff Francoeur, and I gloved it after running a section and a half to my left. The second was hit by Cody Ross (the Marlins had taken the field by this point) and it came right to me. The third homer? I have no idea who hit it because I was looking somewhere else and didn’t even see the ball coming until the very last second, at which point I darted to my right and made a lunging, back-handed catch.
The three homers gave me seven balls on the day. That might sound great, but I was pissed that I didn’t have a dozen. I misjudged one homer that ended up sailing five feet over my head. (I was in the middle of a section — in other words, NOT on a staircase — so I would’ve had to climb over two rows of seats while the ball was descending. It was a tough chance, but I feel like I should’ve had it.) Another home run tipped off the very end of my glove after another running/lunging attempt. Two more home runs were heading RIGHT toward me but fell five feet short. The Marlins players didn’t toss me a single ball despite the fact that I was decked out in
hideously ugly aqua-colored Marlins gear. Another home run sailed ten feet over my head and landed in a totally empty patch of seats. All it had to do was stay there and I would’ve been able to walk over and pick it up, but it ricocheted about a mile away. It was just one of those days when very little seemed to be going my way. The fact that I *did* have seven balls at that point was amazing and lucky. It shows how good Citi Field can potentially be (even though it’s nearly impossible to catch batted balls in right field). Someday…SOME day…mark my words: I’m going to snag 20 balls in a single game there. It might take a few more years of the Mets winning 45 percent of their games in order for the crowds to shrink sufficiently, but it *will* happen.
Another lame thing that happened during batting practice was that I had to deal with a hater. I was standing in the front row, getting ready to call out to a Marlins player, when I heard a man’s voice coming from the right, saying something about “running around like an idiot.” The voice was rather faint, and there wasn’t anyone standing nearby, so it didn’t occur to me that the words were aimed my way. Still I wanted to see who was talking so I looked over and saw an averaged-sized, 40-something-year-old man, sitting 15 feet to my right. He was wearing a glove and glaring at me.
“Are you talking to ME?” I asked. I wasn’t trying to start a fight. (Remember, I went to Quaker schools for eight years.) I was just taken by surprise by the whole situation, which seemed to be arising from nothing, and I genuinely wanted to know if, in fact, he WAS talking to me. It didn’t make any sense.
“Yeah, I’m talking to you!” he snapped.
I was already so annoyed by all the balls I’d missed that I was ready to explode, but I thought better of it and just shrugged it off and went about my business. Ten minutes later, when there was a lull between rounds of BP, I was still bothered by the whole thing. Why did the guy have a problem with me? I didn’t know him. I’d never talked to him. He obviously didn’t know me, so what the hell was his problem? I decided to confront him — but in a nice way. I walked over to his section. He was facing the field. I approached him from behind (since the front of the section was packed) and climbed over several rows of seats. As I sat down right behind him, he turned around quickly and noticed me and flinched, ever so slightly. That amused me. He obviously wasn’t expecting to see me again, and I swear, I just wanted to have a conversation with him and get to the bottom of his mysterious hostility.
“How’re you doing,” I said warmly but firmly. (This wasn’t a question. It was a statement.) “I was just wondering what exactly it is about me that you find idiotic.”
The guy was reasonably nice — as nice as he could be while telling me why he thought I sucked. He gave two reasons. First, he accused me of bumping into a kid, but then he admitted that he hadn’t really seen it, and that he HAD seen me pat the kid on the back after the kid got a ball. (In truth, the kid was a bit out of control and had bumped into me, but having once been an out-of-control kid myself, I let it slide.) Second, the guy accused me catching too many balls and therefore preventing other kids from getting them.
“Did you know,” I asked him, “that I give away balls to kids every time I go to a game?”
“I’ve never seen you give one away here,” he said.
“That’s because I usually wait until after the game to give balls away.”
“Well, that’s nice of you,” admitted the guy.
“And did you know,” I continued, “that I’ve been raising money for a kids’ charity this season with all the balls I catch at games?”
“I did not know that,” he said, now softening up.
I proceeded to tell him all about Pitch In For Baseball, and how I’ve gotten 123 people to make pledges for each ball that I snag, and how I’ve raised over $10,000 which will be used to ship baseball equipment to needy kids all over the world.
By the time we were done talking, the guy apologized to me and shook my hand. I also apologized to him for doing anything that might have given him the wrong impression. And that was that.
Right before the game started, several Marlins played catch in front of the 3rd base dugout:
In the photo above, the player on the left is Hanley Ramirez, and the player on the right (wearing No. 12) is Cody Ross. Ramirez finished first and tossed his ball to another fan one section to my left. Ross wrapped it up soon after, walked toward the dugout, scanned the seats for a cute little kid, and when he couldn’t find one (school is back in session, heh heh) he settled for tossing his ball to me.
I had a GREAT time during the game because I’d gone on StubHub earlier in the day and splurged for a ticket in the fancy “Sterling Level” seats behind home plate. At the beginning of the season, those seats were selling for hundreds of dollars apiece, but now, with the Mets embarrassing themselves, I was able to find one in the $70 range. That’s much more than I usually spend on tickets, but every now and then, I like to treat myself, and besides, I’d never been to that part of Citi Field, so I figured it was worth it to experience it once.
I headed out through a door on the field level concourse and then walked down a set of stairs. I don’t often get to go below field level, so this was quite a treat. This is what it looked like as I headed down. The red arrow is pointing to the Sterling Level entrance:
(Can we get some artwork on the walls? Maybe a big Mets mural? Or some old photographs? Maybe a trophy case? Something? ANYthing? Who the hell designed this place, and why wasn’t I consulted?)
Once I got through the doors, I felt incredibly out of place. I was wearing sneakers, cargo shorts, a T-shirt, a Mets cap, and a baseball glove. (And socks and underwear, in case you were wondering.) Everyone else there looked like…wait…was I even in a baseball stadium? This was the view to my right…
…and this was the view to my left:
A well-dressed employee approached me and said, “You look lost.”
It took an effort to explain (without losing my patience) that I was intentionally lost…that it was all part of my plan…that it was my first time down there…that I just wanted to be left the hell alone to wander and take photos and soak it all in.
I got some funny looks as I hurried through the club toward the seats. The game (there WAS a game, right?) was about to start…and…what? There were people sitting at a bar:
I was excited to be in the fancy club, but I didn’t like it at all. “Sterling Club” should be renamed “Sterile Club.” It was clean and spacious and luxurious, I suppose, if that’s your idea of luxury, but there was no charm or character or purpose. Not to me, at least. Why would anyone want to go to a baseball game and then sit at an air-conditioned bar watching it on TV? Am I missing something? Were all these other people there for the first time, too? It was like an airport lounge.
I was about to lose my mind. I had to get to the seats. This is how I got there:
My view for the game — or rather “for left-handed batters” — was outstanding. Check it out:
My actual seat was in the middle of a row somewhere, but since the section was half-empty, the friendly usher told me I could grab a seat at the end of a row.
After the top of the first inning, I recognized a security guard at the bottom of the section — a guy who was always really nice to me at Shea Stadium — so I got permission to go down there and talk to him. I couldn’t go ALL the way down to the protective screen. The seats there are separated by a “moat” (which you’ll see a bit later) and are reserved for people like Mrs. Beltran (yes, she was actually there). So, I went down to the first row behind the moat. I talked to the guard. We were glad to see each other. Last year at Shea, he had told me that Citi Field was going to be “a separation of the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots.'” I didn’t believe him at the time, or at least I didn’t think that the separation was going to be all that noticeable, but he was absolutely right. Citi Field is an elitist club that was built for millionaires (as opposed to the new Yankee Stadium, which was built for multi-millionaires); the average die-hard fan is an afterthought. This night confirmed it. Once the bottom of the first got underway, I sat down and kept talking to the guard. Angel Pagan, batting leadoff for the Mets, lifted a high foul pop-up that was heading 10 rows back and a full section to my left. I jumped out of my padded seat
and raced up the steps and cut through an empty row and came much closer to snagging the ball than I should’ve. There weren’t ANY other fans wearing gloves. I settled back down near the guard at the bottom of the section just as Pagan hit another foul ball. This time, it was heading into my section. I raced up the stairs and came within five feet of it as it landed. The ball then bounced back toward me and sailed one foot over my glove as I jumped and reached for it. I turned around and noticed that the ball had come to a rest against the bottom of a seat several rows below me. Normally, I wouldn’t have had a shot at it, but here in Moneyville, everyone else reacted in slow-motion. I bolted back down the steps, squeezed past an old man wearing moccasins, and dove on top of the ball. I was very careful not to bump into anyone; the only person who got banged up was me. I scraped my knuckles and slammed my right knee on the ground. There was a little blood. Nothing serious. But most importantly, and as I already said, NO ONE was hurt except me. I can’t stress that enough. It was a controlled dive on my part, if that makes sense. There was another fan approaching from the opposite direction, and I knew that he was going to reach the ball first unless I laid out. So I did. And I got it. And then he dove on top of me! I wasn’t expecting that. I don’t know what he was thinking. He actually tried to grab the ball out of my hand after I clearly had sole possession of it. I mean, it wasn’t even close. It wasn’t like a “held ball” in basketball where two guys grab it at the same time. No way. I had the ball in my bare hand when his hand was at least six inches away. I used all my strength (as I lay sprawled out on the concrete) to grip the ball and prevent him from prying it out of my hand. This was my first foul ball at Citi Field, so there was no way I was going to have it taken from me. I won the battle and finally got up — my camera had gotten banged up too — and returned to my aisle seat at the back of the section. I made eye contact with the guard at the bottom. He didn’t know whether or not I’d gotten the ball, so I held it up and he shook his head in disbelief. Moments later, my phone rang. It was Clif (a former Watch With Zack apprentice; aka “goislanders4” in the comments section) who was sitting behind the Marlins’ dugout. He’d seen the whole thing.
I caught my breath, tested my camera (it still loved me!), and inspected the ball. It had a beautiful patterned marking on one part of the cowhide. I can’t describe it or explain it. I can only show it:
The area with the marking was slightly — almost negligibly — rougher than the rest. How could this have happened? Is it possible that the pattern was imprinted when the ball first landed on the concrete steps in the stands? That’s my best guess. One thing I learned last month in Philadelphia when I got a lesson on how to rub mud on game balls is that the subtle patterns and abnormalities in the cowhide will be accentuated when the mud is rubbed on. Still, I can’t imagine that this pattern could’ve found its way onto the ball through mere rubbing alone. (BTW, if you want to see photos of other weird markings and defects, click here.)
When right-handed batters came up after that, I moved to the other side of home plate. There was lots of room to run…
…but nothing came my way.
During inning breaks and pitching changes, I explored the rest of the club. Here’s what the concession area looks like. I took this photo from the edge of the concourse that runs between the Rotunda and home plate…
…and here’s the concourse itself, if it can even be called that:
It’s really more of an entrance, although it DOES connect the left and right sides of the Sterling Level clubs.
At some random point in the middle innings, I felt a stinging sensation on the outer edge of my right wrist. I took a look at it. There was a small scrape. It took me a moment to realize that it must’ve happened while I was scrambling for that foul ball. This made me happy. It was the sign of a good injury; I was having so much fun and the adrenaline had been so high that I didn’t even know where I’d been hurt. Two days have passed since this game, and I *just* noticed that I have a larger scrape on my left shin. After careful review and analysis, I have determined that it’s the result of having lunged across the concrete ledge for the half-glove trick.
Anyway, on with the tour…
Here’s the Sterling Level patio seating:
That’s a good foul ball spot for righties, although there’s very little room to run.
Are you wondering about the bathrooms? I sure was, and since there weren’t any signs pointing to them, I had to ask a restaurant staff member to point me to them. I didn’t whip out my camera in the men’s room. (I was tempted to photograph all the marble and fancy appliances, but that just would’ve been creepy.) Instead, I took a photo just outside the men’s room, which shows where I had to walk to get there:
(WHY ISN’T THERE ANY METS STUFF ON THE WALLS?!?!)
Speaking of the restaurant, here it is:
At the far end, there were a couple tables near a window:
Those tables overlook the visiting team’s batting cage…
…but don’t get too excited. This type of “sneak peek” exists in a number of other new stadiums, including Citizens Bank Park, which is better than Citi Field in every conceivable way (except for all the Phillies fans) and opened five years earlier.
Way way WAY over, on the far end of the Sterling Level (on the 1st base side of home plate), there’s a window overlooking the Mets’ batting cage:
That crazy pitching machine was filled with tennis balls, each with small colored numbers printed in several places. The Mets (and perhaps other teams as well) run a hitting drill in which these balls are fired at the batters, who try to identify the numbers on them. I tried to take a close-up photo of the balls, but my camera wasn’t good enough. (Or maybe *I* wasn’t good enough.) You can see the photo here on the right. I apologize for the blurriness, but it’s the best I could do. And let me further explain something about the balls, since it might be impossible to see it for yourself: there aren’t different numbers on each ball. Instead, each ball has the same number in several places. Does that make sense? Good. Here’s a photo of another bar, taken from the corner near the batting cage window:
The TVs over the bar were showing both the Mets and Yankee games as well as a live match from the U.S. Open.
Here’s a photo that shows the enormity of the club. This is only about one-fifth of it:
I went back to the seats and stayed there. Here’s that moat I was talking about:
Late in the game, I ran into SportsNet New York reporter Kevin Burkhardt. He and I had met briefly last season, and he already knew about me then. This time, we got to talk for a full inning. I told him some details about my baseball collection, filled him in on the charity, and gave him a glove trick demo. While we were talking, I had chances to snag two more foul balls, but I came up short. I took a bad route on one and misjudged another because of the crazy backspin (long story) but Kevin was impressed just by the way I raced after them. He gave me his email address and told me to drop him a line next time I’m going to be at Citi Field, and he said he’d interview me during the game and plug my web site and mention the charity. The Mets only have 10 more home games, and I’ll only be free/motivated to attend a couple of them, so we’ll see…
After the game (which the Mets lost), I got a ball from Scott Barry, the home plate umpire, and then I raced over to the Marlins’ dugout where I got Fredi Gonzalez to give me his lineup cards. Unfortunately, when he tossed them to me, the wind separated them, so I was only able to grab one of the two. BUT…I’m happy to report that the one I grabbed happened to be the Mets’ card.
A few minutes later, I met up with Ryan and Keith:
Ryan (wearing the Marlins gear) had snagged four balls, which was quite an accomplishment considering that his lifetime total entering the day was just two! (Hey, you have to start somewhere. I remember when I only had two baseballs. It was 1990. I was in 7th grade. I hated it. That was probably the worst year of my life. But I digress.)
Here’s a look at the lineup card:
Notice how the switch-hitters have an “S” drawn next to their names? And how the lefties have an “L”? And how there’s a pitcher on the Mets named “Stoner”?
(If you want to see my complete collection of lineup cards, click here.)
Just before I headed up the steps, I pulled a ball out of a special compartment of my backpack. It was the ball that had been tossed to me by Josh Thole. I’d decided when it first came into my possession that it was going to be my give-away ball. Now the time had come for me to find a worthy recipient. I noticed a young kid with a glove heading up the steps with his dad. I caught up with them. The kid’s glove was empty. I handed the ball to him and told him how I’d gotten it. He was thrilled. His father shook my hand. They both thanked me and then disappeared into the night.
• 418 balls in 50 games this season = 8.36 balls per game.
• 619 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 483 consecutive games in New York with at least one ball
• 348 consecutive Mets games with at least one ball
• 133 lifetime game balls (not counting game-used balls that get tossed into the crowd)
• 18 different stadiums with at least one game ball
• 4,238 total balls
• 123 donors (click here and scroll down for the complete list)
• $25.03 pledged per ball
• $250.30 raised at this game
• $10,462.54 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
This was a Watch With Zack game, and my client was a 13-year-old Mets fan named Ross. (I need to come up with a better word for “client.” It sounds impersonal. Any suggestions?) Here we are outside the Jackie Robinson Rotunda, waiting for the gates to open:
Ross’s parents and 18-year-old brother also attended this game, but the day was all about him; it was a present for both his birthday (which was in August) and Bar Mitzvah (which he had celebrated the day before).
Earlier in the week, Ross had told me that his goal for this game was to snag 10 balls — a rather lofty goal given the fact that a) his lifetime total entering the game was 10 balls and b) his single-game record was 3 balls. I told him I’d help him snag as many balls as possible, but I warned him that it’d be really tough to reach double digits. First of all, I explained, we’d be attending a weekend game which meant there’d be a zillion little kids competing with him for balls. Secondly, it was going to be a day game which meant that there might not be batting practice. And third, the Mets were going to be facing the Cubs, a team with a HUGE fan base, which meant that our Cubs gear wouldn’t exactly make us stand out.
Ross changed his goal to six balls after that — still a significant challenge, but certainly more reasonable.
When we ran inside the stadium and got our first glimpse of the field, this is what we saw:
This was good news and bad news…
BAD: There wasn’t a player in sight.
GOOD: At least the batting cage was set up.
Pat Misch began playing catch with Josh Thole in deep right-center field. Ross and I ran out to the nearest section of seats, and I set him up in the corner spot near the entrance to the Mets’ bullpen:
Just as Misch appeared to be finishing, I helped Ross come up with the politest possible request for the ball — when you’re all alone in the seats, the way you ask for a ball is going to be much different from when you’re buried in the crowd — but Misch held onto the ball and took it with him into the bullpen. He had to do some more throwing, and I had a good feeling that if Ross waited patiently in the corner spot, he’d get rewarded at the end. Meanwhile, the rest of Ross’s family caught up with us, and we all posed for a photo. Pictured below from left to right, you’re looking at: me, Ross, father Steve, mother Cindy, and brother Ethan:
See the box that Ethan is holding? It was Frankie Rodriguez bobblehead day. I gave them my bobblehead.
Anyway, as I predicted, Misch finished his bullpen session and then threw his ball to Ross. In the following photo, you can see the ball sailing toward him:
Ross reached up and made a nice one-handed catch and then posed with his souvenir:
Did you notice the logo? It was a Citi Field commemorative ball. Nice.
A few minutes later, another fan (who recognized me and knew about my glove trick) pointed out a ball that he thought I might be able to snag. Do you see it in the following photo?
Here’s a closer look:
Finally, there was a tangible reason for the existence of those fugly white canopies over the bullpen. The most difficult part of snagging the ball wasn’t the use of the glove trick itself. Oh no no. The challenge was waiting for all the security guards to look the other way simultaneously. They were swarming all over the place, and you can even see three of them two photos above, standing behind the railing at the top of the section. For some asinine reason (which I would SO love to discuss with the Wilpons), the security guards at Citi Field have been instructed not to let fans use ball-retrieving devices, even for balls that are trapped in random/harmless places far away from the field itself. It truly makes no sense. The way I saw it…I was going to do a service for the Mets by snagging that baseball. If not for me, one of the guards (or hapless maintenance workers) was going to have to climb down there or set up a ladder in the bullpen or find a long
pole to poke the ball out. It seems like such a hassle, and you know, the Mets have already endured enough stress this season, so yes, I was going to help out, rules or no rules, by snagging the ball. I slowly made my way up the steps and headed to the side railing and peered over at the ball down below. It was nice and rubbed up with mud, and I could see that it had a Citi Field commemorative logo. My back was turned to the guards, so I waited until I got a signal that the coast was clear — or at least as clear as it was going to be. Then I lowered the glove down over the ball. Boom! It only took five seconds, and as soon as my glove touched the canopy, I heard one of the guards yelling at me from behind. He was demanding that I bring my glove back up, so I did…slowly…with the ball nestled snugly inside. He didn’t even know that I had the ball, and with all the other guards now heading over to deal with the situation, I managed to secretly slip the ball out of the glove and hide it underneath my cupped palm and stick it in my back pocket. The security supervisor then gave me a whole speech about how I’d been warned before and blah-blah-blah and this-and-that and you-should-know-better. Then he cut the string off my glove — Oh no, not my precious string! — and sent me on my way. Another fine job by Mets personnel.
The Mets pitchers were already throwing along the right field foul line, so Ross and I ran over there and I helped get Brian Stokes to throw him his 2nd ball of the day. We were standing about 10 rows back because the front row was so crowded. I had shouted at Stokes and waved my arms to get his attention, at which point he lobbed the ball right to Ross over all the fans standing in front of us. It was beautiful.
When the Mets finally started hitting, Ross and I headed back to left field. I set him up in an empty row and then moved a section over so we wouldn’t get in each other’s way. In the following photo, you can see him at the end of my row in the orange shirt:
I think the Mets managed to hit two home runs into the seats during their entire portion of BP. Okay, fine, the wind was blowing in, but it was truly pathetic. There just wasn’t any longball action, so Ross squeezed into the front row…
…and focused on getting balls tossed by the players, but he didn’t snag anything there. It was a tough day to be a ballhawk.
Ten minutes later, I noticed that Stokes was tossing a ball up and down near the wall in left field to tease the fans. I ran over near the spot where he was tossing it, and I ended up catching it when he threw it a little too close to the stands. He immediately recognized me as THAT GUY who gets all the balls, so he told me to give the ball to the kid on my right…which I did. (Yes, that ball counts in my collection.) Then he asked me why I need so many baseballs. He was very friendly — genuinely interested in the answer — so I told him that I’m raising money for charity by catching balls at games.
“Which charity?” he asked.
“Pitch In For Baseball,” I told him. “They provide baseball equipment to needy kids all over the world.” He kept looking up at me so I kept talking. “I’ve been getting people to pledge money for every ball I snag this year at major league games. So far, I’ve raised over ten thousand bucks.”
He asked me if I had any info about the charity. I told him I could give him a card that would direct him to my web site where there was a link on the home page. He waved at me to indicate that I should toss one down to him, so I did, and as soon as he caught it, he looked at it and asked, “Are YOU Zack?”
“That’s me,” I told him, and then I mentioned that Heath Bell had made a pledge.
“Cool,” he said, “I’ll check it out.”
The Mets finished batting practice soon after. Unfortunately, the Cubs did not hit, but Ross and I still changed into our Cubs gear:
All the Cubs pitchers were hanging out along the left field foul line, and I *do* mean hanging out. They seemed to be doing more talking than throwing. It was strange:
That’s Ross on the lower right of the photo, looking out at the field. It was painfully crowded (as you can see). There was nowhere to go, and we didn’t get anything from the pitchers.
During the half-hour lull before the game, Ross and I caught up with his brother and parents. It was then that I learned more about his Bar Mitzvah. Inspired by my work with Pitch In For Baseball, Ross decided to snag baseballs to raise money for Project A.L.S. (A.L.S. stands for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, aka “Lou Gehrig’s Disease.”) But instead of making it a season-long project, he was raising money at this game only. During the speech at his Bar Mitzvah, he announced his plan and solicited pledges from his guests. Then, during the party, he had a
poster on the wall that featured 1 pictures of me, 2) info about ballhawking in general, and 3) additional info about his charity plan. He also had slips of paper on which people could fill out their pledges. (Wow!) He told me that he’d gotten 20 pledges, ranging from $1 per ball all the way up to $25 dollar per ball, and that when all the pledges were combined, it added up to $102 per ball. He also told me that the pledges applied for my baseballs! That meant he had already raised $408. I was more determined than ever to help him pad his totals…
Shortly before the game started, I positioned Ross in the corner spot behind the tarp and helped shout at the players for their warm-up balls. Ross did end up getting a ball thrown to him, but it didn’t come from a player. It was thrown by some trainer-type-guy — possibly the team’s “Strength and Conditioning Coordinator.” It’s hard to say. All I can tell you is that Ross made another nice catch as the kid next to him made his own attempt to snag it. Here’s an action shot, which I took just after Ross squeezed his glove around the ball:
It was Ross’s third ball of the day, and he wasn’t finished. When Anderson Hernandez flied out to center fielder Sam Fuld to end the second inning, Ross bolted down the steps toward the Cubs’ dugout where the ball was tossed to him. There were so many other fans reaching for it, however, that it deflected off his glove and bounced back into the dugout. Ross turned around and looked at me and threw his arms up in disgust. I made a “V” shape with my middle and index fingers and pointed at my eyes, then pointed the “V” back at the field as if to say, “Turn around and be on the lookout.” I knew there was a chance that the ball could get tossed back into the crowd for a second time, and sure enough, five seconds later, it was. Guess who snagged it: my man Ross. Here’s a photo that shows the ball heading toward his open glove:
Ross had broken his single-game record, and he managed to do it at a game when one of the teams hadn’t even taken BP. Not too shabby.
By the end of the game, there were some empty seats farther down, so we moved even closer to the dugout. This was our view:
Ross had a chance to snag another third-out ball. He managed to squeeze into the front row and he got Derrek Lee to toss it right to him, but he got robbed by a grown man who claimed he was going to give the ball to his son. That really sucked.
After the final out, Ross and I worked our way down to the tunnel where the umpires walk off the field. I gave him a few pointers on how to ask Fieldin Culbreth, the home plate ump, for a ball. The following photo shows Culbreth pulling a ball out of his pouch, half a second before placing it in Ross’s outstretched glove:
This ball (along with Ross’s first ball from Misch and the third-out ball from Fuld) had the Citi Field commemorative logo. It also gave Ross FIVE balls on the day.
Could he reach his goal of six? There was one final chance.
Ross and I raced back to the Cubs’ dugout, just as the relievers were walking across the field from the bullpen. At the last second, John Grabow threw a ball right to him, but Ross was robbed again, this time by a middle-aged woman who didn’t have a glove or a kid! What the hell?! It was a frustrating end to an otherwise great day. Overall, Ross was pretty happy with his total of five balls — so happy that he didn’t bother to change out of his Cubs gear for our post-game photo:
(No, that’s not a man-boob on me, I swear. It’s just the shirt. Really. And also, not that it matters, but the Mets beat the Cubs, 4-2.)
• 2 balls at this game
• 408 balls in 49 games this season = 8.33 balls per game.
• 618 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 482 consecutive games in New York with at least one ball
• 347 consecutive Mets games with at least one ball
• 19 consecutive Watch With Zack games with at least two balls
• 4,228 total balls
• 123 donors (click here if you’re thinking about making a pledge)
• $25.03 pledged per ball
• $50.06 raised at this game
• $10,212.24 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
Ross finally changed out of this Cubs gear. Then he and I played catch in the parking lot:
The highlight of the day BY FAR was hanging out with my mom. Here we are outside the stadium:
The baseball portion of the day, unfortunately, was rough. I ran all over the place while the Phillies were taking batting practice…
…and I only managed to snag ONE ball during that time. I won’t even bother listing all the close calls and unlucky moments (most of which were the product of being in a sold-out stadium). All I’ll say is that I snagged the ball with my glove trick and that my mom took a cool photo of me while I was stretching across the flower bed. Check it out:
Once the Giants took the field, I changed my outfit accordingly…
…and it actually paid off. I headed into foul territory as the Giants pitchers were finishing playing catch. Matt Cain ended up with the ball and considered tossing it to a bunch of Phillies fans, but I got his attention. He then looked back at the other fans (which included several young women). Then he looked at me again. I tipped my cap and flaunted the Giants logo on my shirt. He looked at the other fans one last time. Then he looked at me, and I shrugged as if to
say, “Come on, I’m wearing Giants stuff. It doesn’t matter how cute the Phillies fans are. You can’t possibly be serious about giving the ball to them.” (Yes, my shrug communicated all of that.) Cain finally turned and threw me the very dirty ball, pictured here on the right.
Twenty minutes later, I caught a home run that was hit by a righty on the Giants. I have no idea who. He was wearing a warm-up jersey over his uniform number, and I was way too busy jockeying for position to pay any attention to his stance or swing. There was a swarm of fans around me. I had to jump up and reach above all of their gloves to make the catch. There was such a frenzy that my mom (who was standing 10 feet away) didn’t even know that I’d gotten the ball until I took it out of my glove and showed her.
That was it for BP.
Tim Lincecum signed autographs for five minutes at the dugout. People were going crazy. I couldn’t get near him. I settled for taking his photo:
After that, I met up with David Rhode, the executive director of Pitch in For Baseball, the charity for which I’m raising money this season. David was there with his 14-year-old son Casey. They’re bigtime Phillies fans, which is understandable given the fact that they actually live in Pennsylvania, but still, when the three of us had our picture taken, I felt compelled to wear my Giants gear and try to cover up their evil Phillies logos. Here we are:
Ten minutes before the game started, I worked my way down to the front row along the left field foul line. Juan Uribe was playing catch with a couple other guys, and when they finished,
I got him to throw me the ball. (The ball is pictured here on the right. As you can see, it has a smudged MLB logo, which I find somewhat
interesting.) It was easy. Not only was I the only person there wearing
Giants gear, but no one else was even wearing a glove or standing up.
After that, my mom and I headed to the Diamond Club seats behind home plate. We stayed near the back of the unofficial standing-room-only area, just in front of the glass doors that lead into the club. This was our view for right-handed batters:
It’s a great foul ball spot — not ideal because of its close proximity to the field — but it’s good enough that I feel like I have a genuine shot on every single pitch. I got my chance with one out in the top of the 2nd inning. Randy Winn hit a very high foul pop-up that was pretty much heading right to me. As I was drifting with it and preparing to make the catch, a man walked up from behind me and inadvertently cut me off…or maybe *I* was the one who cut *him* off. It doesn’t matter. The point is…from my perspective…he got right in my way at the last second. But he wasn’t trying to catch the ball. He didn’t have a glove. He was carrying beers. He didn’t even know the ball was coming. He just happened to stroll out through the doors…and THWACK!!! The ball clocked him on the forehead. Direct hit. Holy hell. My instinct, of course (because I’m such a kind-hearted person), was to grab the ball, which conveniently landed at my feet. The man, meanwhile, spilled his beer and staggered backward and spouted an incredible string of obscenities (not at me, but at his general misfortune) as security whisked him off for medical treatment. I noticed that he had a big bloody welt on his head. It was alarming, to say the least. I was planning to give him the ball (or at least *a* ball) when he returned, but I didn’t see him for the rest of the night.
Here’s a photo of the ball:
(Nope, no forehead imprint.)
I had another shot at a foul ball in the 9th inning, but I totally blew it. It was hit way over my head — into the third deck, I think — and was dropped by some fans. The ball fell all the way back down and landed on the pavement near me in the standing-room area. I ran toward it and tried to smother it before it bounced back up, but I failed miserably and deflected the ball right to some other fans. It was a lot more complicated than that, but I don’t want to relive it by telling the story here. Some things are better left unsaid. Anyway, I was so upset (not just because I’d booted my chance at a foul ball but because I was getting booed by so many people) that a teenaged kid walked over to me and handed me a ball. It wasn’t THE ball. It was a different game-used ball that he happened to have. Long story short: I tried to convince the kid that I really *really* didn’t need his baseball, but he was determined to give it to me, and there came a point when I realized it would have insulted him if I didn’t accept his gift. So, I reluctantly allowed him to hand it over (no, the ball doesn’t count in my collection), at which point a bunch of people (his mom included) started cheering him for his generosity. And then, 15 minutes later, I turned the ball over to a younger kid who was heading out of the stadium with an empty glove.
Those final 15 minutes were action-packed. Cole Hamels completed his two-hit, 1-0 masterpiece — only the fourth 1-0 game in the six-year history of Citizens Bank Park — and I got a ball tossed to me at the Giants’ dugout by one of the relievers.
• 406 balls in 48 games this season = 8.46 balls per game.
• 617 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 176 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 132 lifetime game balls (not counting game-used balls that get tossed into the crowd)
• 4,226 total balls
• 122 donors (click here and scroll down for the complete list)
• $25.01 pledged per ball
• $150.06 raised at this game
• $10,154.06 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
Talk about bad timing…
There was only half an hour of rain all day, and it came right around the time that the grounds crew would’ve been setting up the field for batting practice. When the gates opened, I was hoping to see various screens out on the field, but instead, THIS is what greeted me:
See that yellow chain?
Not only was the infield covered, but I wasn’t even allowed to run down into the seats along the foul line; whether or not there’s BP at Coors Field, fans have to stay in the left/center field bleachers for the first half-hour.
There was, however, something good that happened as a result of the limited access and lack of baseball-snagging opportunities: I ran into a guy named David — a friend of a friend — who works inside the manual scoreboard and invited me back to check it out. Remember when I first visited the scoreboard on 6/20/08 at Coors Field? Well, this second visit was special because I was with my friend (and personal photographer) Brandon and got to share the experience with him.
Here I am inside the scoreboard:
Here’s a photo of David, monitoring the scores on a laptop:
The TV in the background is new. It gets a special feed from the MLB Network and can display eight games at once.
I helped out a little by removing the previous day’s scores and placing the wooden panels back on their hooks…
…but mainly I was just there to goof around:
The lovely Ladies of the Scoreboard welcomed me and Brandon into their work space and seemed to appreciate our enthusiasm:
That’s Nora on the left and Liz on the right. If you look closely at the photo above, you can see that Nora has a small bandage on her right shin. Several days earlier, while working inside the scoreboard, she got nailed by a BP homer that sailed through one of the small openings.
Here’s a photo that shows how long and narrow the space is back there…
…and here’s a shot I took of some cobwebs:
Normally I get freaked out by cobwebs (I’m a city boy so I’m allowed to get freaked out by anything that even resembles nature or the wilderness; you get freaked out by riding the subway to the Bronx so we’re even), but it was oddly comforting to see them here. It showed that there can be neglected nooks and crannies even in a relatively new stadium.
I removed another panel and took a peek through the open space…
…and noticed that there was a ball sitting on the field:
Brandon and I left after that. I had to get back into the stands and make an attempt to snag it.
We headed down the steep steps…
…and walked with Dave back through the employees’ concourse:
He led us to the tunnel that connects to the center field bleachers, and we said our goodbyes.
It was several minutes past 5pm. The whole stadium was now open, which meant I was finally free to go to the right field seats. On my way out there, I ran into a friend and fellow ballhawk name Don (aka “Rockpile Ranter“), who was there with his son Hunter. The three of us barely had a chance to talk. I had to rush out to right field, and then I ended up getting pulled in a bunch of different directions, and they ended up leaving the game early because Don had to wake up for work the next day at 2:30am. Yeesh!
Anyway, right field…
I raced out there and grabbed the corner spot near the Rockies’ bullpen:
Juan Rincon had started playing catch, and as he backed up, he kept getting closer and closer to the ball:
Moments later, he was standing (and throwing) right behind it:
I called his name, and he looked up.
I pointed at the ball and flapped my glove.
He picked it up and paused to look at it:
(Was there something unusual that caught his attention?)
Then he turned to throw it to me, and I gave him a target:
His throw (probably in the neighborhood of 50mph) was right on the money. I caught the ball one-handed in front of my right shoulder and felt incredibly relieved; my consecutive games streak had survived a BP-less day.
As for the ball, there WAS something unusual about it:
Here’s a closer look at both the logo and the Dodgers’ stamp on the sweet spot.
I’d snagged two of these balls the day before, and as I mentioned then, “WIN” stands for a charity called “Women’s Initiatives Network.”
A few more players came out and started throwing. Check out this magazine-quality photo that Brandon took of Rafael Betancourt:
I was busy at that point, taking my own photos and stewing over the fact that it was sunny AND the tarp was still on the field:
One of the Rockies’ pitchers made a bad throw that rolled all the way out to the grass in front of the warning track in straight-away center field. His throwing partner didn’t bother to retrieve the ball. As soon as I saw that (and because there were so many other fans along the foul line), I headed toward the left field bleachers. My simple plan was to position myself as close to the ball as possible — all the way out in the corner spot of the front row in left-center. There were several Dodgers in the bullpen. I was thinking that when they finished their throwing session and headed out of the ‘pen, I might be able to convince one of them to take a slight detour and walk over to the ball and toss it to me. My plan, however, was foiled as I headed toward the bleachers. I was running through the open-air concourse at the back of the bleachers when I noticed that a groundskeeper was driving a lawnmower on the grass at the edge of the warning track. He was heading right for the ball, and when he got close to it, he stopped the mower, climbed down, picked up the ball, stuck it in his pocket, and then kept mowing. By the time I made it down to the front row, he was driving past me. It was too loud for me to shout at him. I didn’t know what to do, so I just stood there and watched him mow a few more lanes into the outfield grass. Then, rather abruptly, he drove off into a wide ramp near the foul pole — a ramp that evidently leads to a concourse where the groundskeepers store their equipment. I rushed over to the edge of the ramp and waited for a minute. All of a sudden, the groundskeeper reappeared without the lawnmower and ran past me out onto the field. I don’t know what he did out there. Maybe he was on his way somewhere and forgot something because he then ran back to the ramp and disappeared into the concourse. Then he reappeared, and as he began to run past me for a second time, I yelled, “Hey, did you happen to pick up that baseball in center field?” He looked up and nodded, so I shouted, “Any chance I could have it, please?” He never said a word. Instead, he held up his right index finger as if to say, “Hold on.” Then he ran back into the concourse. Ten seconds later, he came running back with the ball and tossed it to me. Then he disappeared once again. How random is THAT?
Brandon, unfortunately, was on the phone while this whole thing played out, so he wasn’t able to get an action shot. Here’s a photo of me posing with the ball next to the ramp:
Here’s a photo of the ball itself:
As you can see, it’s rubbed with mud, which means it was either used during a game or was intended for game use. I love how the mud is caked into the stitch holes above the logo.
Here I am with Brandon:
In case you’re wondering, Brandon was wearing a Padres cap because he’s from San Diego. (He hadn’t been home for 70 days because he’d been on the road with Warped Tour.) He WAS planning to sit with me during the game, but his family decided at the last minute to show up (they live 50 miles from Denver), so he spent the game with them on the 3rd base side.
Too bad for him. He missed the next round of action out in the bleachers…
My friends Robert Harmon (the bearded guy who nearly snagged Barry Bonds’ final home run ball) and Dan Sauvageau (the clean-shaven guy who has caught 41 game home runs on the fly) were engaged in a secret mission in one of the tunnels:
What were they doing?
Umm…blowing up a huge, inflatable baseball glove.
Here are a couple photos of the finished product:
As soon as Dan took those photos, I raced over to the seats along the left field foul line. I was hoping to get one of the Dodgers to throw me a pre-game warm-up ball, but instead I had to settle for getting Andre Ethier’s autograph on a ticket from the previous day:
Do you see that nice little smudge? Ethier did that. After he “wrote” his name (if that’s even what he “wrote”), he carelessly touched it while handing the ticket back to me.
Once the game started, Brandon took a photo of me from afar. I’m sitting right behind the last “R” in the “Frontier Airlines” advertisement:
If you look to the left of me, there’s a guy wearing a maroon baseball cap. That’s Dan. He always sits near the Frontier ad, and he always wears that cap, so you can look for him on future home run highlights. His five-year-old daughter Emily (blonde hair) is sitting beside him. I’m not sure who the two guys are to the left of Emily, but the two people next to them are Nettie (platinum blonde) and her husband Danny (black cap), my “host parents” for the week.
Speaking of hair, this was my view of Manny Ramirez, who was unable to stand still for more than two seconds at a time:
This was the best anti-Manny sign of the night:
Once again, the fans were really letting Manny have it. My favorite heckles included:
• “Hey, Manny! We’re having a pool: who’s gonna have kids first, you or your wife?!”
• “Manny, it’s okay, I like boobs on a guy!”
• “Did you and Big Papi share a needle?”
• “Back to ‘The View,’ Sister Act!”
• “I didn’t know ‘HGH’ stands for Hair Growth Hormone!”
• “Girl, you know it’s true: you suck!”
I used to be a HUGE Manny fan, and even *I* will admit that he sucks. He’s a lazy, arrogant, one-dimensional player (who cheats, no less), and I feel that he deserves everything negative that comes his way as a result.
But enough of that…
If you’ve been reading this blog consistently since the beginning of this season, take a good look at the following photograph and see if you spot a familiar face somewhere in the crowd:
Here’s a close-up of the photo above. Any thoughts? Here’s a hint: it’s a legendary ballhawk who doesn’t normally attend games at Coors Field:
Okay, here’s one last chance to identify the mystery fan before I tell you the answer. He’s sitting halfway up the section just to the right of the steps. He’s wearing a black Rockies cap, a gray T-shirt, and black pants. He’s touching the right side of his face with his hand, and his elbow is resting on his right knee.
If you’re going to call yourself a ballhawk (or even a fan of ballhawks), you have to know the all-time greats.
Here I am with him:
It’s Rich Buhrke (pronounced “BRR-kee”) from Chicago. This man has snagged 178 game home runs (including five grand slams!) and more than 3,400 balls overall. Although Rich does count balls from Spring Training, it should be noted that more than 97 percent of his home runs are from actual regular-season or post-season major league games.
Halfway through the game, Robert was miked up for a segment on FSN that was going to air the next day. In the following photo, you can see the microphone’s battery pack sticking out of his pocket:
Robert attends EVERY game and always sits in the front row in left-center. If you ever visit Coors Field, go find him and buy him a beer, or at least tell him that Zack from New York says hello. Anyway, Robert told the FSN producer about me, so the producer came over and told me that he was gonna have Robert sit with me for half an inning and ask me some questions, and that we should just have a normal conversation about baseball. The producer also mentioned that everything I said would get picked up by Robert’s microphone and might end up getting used on the air. Robert came over after that, and we did our thing, which was kind of silly because we just ended up talking about stuff that we’d discussed a hundred times in the past (how many balls have you snagged, what do you think about the new stadiums in New York, etc.), but it was still fun. Just about all TV is staged theater. Even when things look like they’re random and spontaneous, they’re not.
During an inning break late in the game, the Rockies’ mascot came running out onto the field for the “jersey launch.” Yes, jerseys. The Rockies don’t give away cheap T-shirts with fugly corporate logos (ahem, Citi Field, cough, cough). You see, at Coors Field, they do things right and give away real, authentic, high-quality, Majestic jerseys that fans are proud to wear — jerseys that would normally cost about $100 in the team store. Why am I telling you this? Because the mascot came running out on the warning track in front of my section. He (She? It?) had one of these jerseys in his hand, and as he started running out toward left-center, I followed him by running through the not-too-crowded aisle. It seemed like an obvious move, and eventually, as I predicted, the mascot flung the jersey into the crowd, and whaddaya know? It came right to me, and I made a leaping grab. Apparently this was a **BIG** deal, but I didn’t know it until Robert ran over and basically tried to mug me for the jersey (in a friendly way). Indeed, when I thought about it, it occurred to me that the jerseys had not been launched anywhere near the bleachers over the previous two days. They got shot (and in some cases tossed) into the crowd sparingly, and always in different spots.
Here I am wearing the jersey:
Whose fingers are those behind my head? Robert’s, of course.
(See my glove sitting on the chair on the lower right? Thanks to Dan, my seat was a folding chair. I turned it around so that I’d be able to jump up and immediately start running for balls without having to maneuver around it.)
Here I am with Nettie and Danny:
(Danny forgot to take his earphones out for the photo. He and Nettie both listen to the radio broadcasts of the games.)
And finally, here I am with Emily and Dan. As you can see, I borrowed some of Emily’s hair for the photo:
I came really close to snagging Ryan Spilborghs’ solo homer in the bottom of the third inning. It sailed 10 feet over my head, landed on the staircase, and then ricocheted back toward me. Dan had raced up the steps ahead of me. I was right behind him. He got close enough to the ball that he ended up scrambling for it underneath a bench, but some lady (without a glove, of course) managed to reach down and grab it.
Andre Ethier hit two homers for the Dodgers, both of which landed in the bullpens in right-center field.
What a waste.
Still a fun day.
Final score: Dodgers 6, Rockies 1.
• 2 balls at this game
• 395 balls in 46 games this season = 8.59 balls per game.
• 615 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 174 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 4,215 total balls
• 120 donors (click here if you’re thinking about making a donation)
• $24.86 pledged per ball
• $49.72 raised at this game
• $9,819.70 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball