The good thing about going to an all-you-can-eat Indian buffet in Baltimore…
…is that there’s plenty of room to run around at Camden Yards and burn off the calories:
Within the first few minutes of BP, a right-handed batter on the Orioles smoked a line-drive homer that landed in the empty front row. I ran down and grabbed the ball:
“Who hit that?!” I shouted at my friend Rick Gold, who was camped out ten rows back.
“Fox,” said a voice that came from the warning track.
As it turned out, Kevin Millwood was standing just short of the wall and answered the question for me. How about that? Jake Fox. Yes, of course.
One minute later, I caught a home run on the fly, and once again I was unable to identify the batter.
“Who was THAT?” I asked Millwood.
“Tatum,” he said.
Ha! Awesome. Craig Tatum. I never would’ve known. And then I caught another Jake Fox homer on the fly.
At around 5:10pm, I snagged my fourth home run ball of the day. It wasn’t Fox. It wasn’t Tatum. Damn. I had no idea who hit it, and Millwood was gone. But whatever. I got the ball — that’s what matters — and (my girlfriend) Jona took a series of photos of me chasing it down. Here’s the first one. It shows me tracking the ball as I drifted to my left:
As soon as I determined that the ball was going to fall a bit short, I took my eyes off it and focused on climbing over a few rows of seats:
Then I looked back up as the ball was descending; note the red arrow pointing to it:
The ball landed, prompting a scramble with the fan in the gray jersey:
Finally, I beat him to it and grabbed the ball just as he was lunging for it:
Don’t feel bad for the other guy. He’s there every day and always snags at least a few balls.
Before the Orioles finished their portion of BP, I played catch for a minute with Jeremy Guthrie. Here’s a screen shot from a video that shows me catching one of his throws…
…and here’s another screen shot that shows me tossing it back:
(Whenever I try to embed a YouTube video on my blog, the format gets messed up, so I’m afraid you’ll just have to click here to watch it.)
In case you’re wondering how I got to play catch with Guthrie, it’s pretty simple: I asked. It also helped that I’ve gotten to know him over the years, but I’ve played catch with lots of players that I’d never met before…like Kyle Farnsworth. Now THAT was fun.
When the Orioles finished hitting, Rick and I each had four baseballs. I asked if we could get a photo together, and as we walked over to a sunny spot, he found a fifth ball hiding in the folded-up portion of a seat. Unbelievable. Here we are moments later:
The Blue Jays started warming up on the 3rd base side, so I changed into my Jays gear and headed to their dugout. Aaron Hill threw me my fifth ball of the day, and less than a minute later, I got another from Vernon Wells. In the following photo, the horizontal arrow is pointing to Wells, and the vertical arrow is pointing to the ball in mid-air:
Once the Jays started hitting, I raced back out to the left field seats. Look how empty it was; the arrow is pointing to me:
Then an amazing thing happened: I got three more balls in a 20-second span. The first two were home runs that I caught on the fly on back-to-back pitches. The third was another homer that landed in the seats…two pitches later, I think. I wasn’t sure who had hit them. Rick (who works for MLB.com) was almost certain that it was Edwin Encarnacion, so I’m gonna assume that that’s who it was.
A few minutes later, Jona called out to me from her spot 15 rows back.
“Can you come here for a minute?” she asked.
I couldn’t imagine what was so important that she’d be pulling me away from my normal spot.
“What is it?” I called back.
She didn’t say anything. She just gave me a look as if to say, “I can’t explain it, so you need to come over here,” and as soon as I started running up the steps, she very subtly pointed at the ground in the middle of a row.
I should know by now not to question her. This is why she called me over:
Jona knows that I will NOT count a baseball in my collection if another fan gains possession of it first, so instead of picking it up and handing it to me, she called me over so I could grab it myself. If that’s not love, then I don’t know what is.
That was my 10th ball of the day and No. 4,599 overall. The next ball was going to be a milestone, and in case it ended up being a home run, I wanted to know who was batting.
Well, it WAS a home run. Here I am catching it:
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to identify the batter, and when I asked the players who was hitting, they all ignored me except for Fred Lewis, who saw my Jays gear and said, “You’re a fan. You should know.”
All I know is that it was a right-handed batter with a very open stance. His left side was practically facing third base before he squared up and stepped straight into the pitch. Any ideas?
Here I am posing with No. 4,600 soon after:
Toward the end of BP, I got Blue Jays bullpen catcher Alex Andreopoulos to toss me a ball near the foul pole, and then I headed to the 3rd base dugout. Brian Butterfield, the team’s 3rd base coach, ended up walking in with a spare ball in his hand:
He tossed it to me. Here’s a photo of the ball in mid-air:
That was my 13th ball of the day, and I got another from Yunel Escobar just before the game (no arrow necessary):
You may have noticed that in the photo above, I wasn’t wearing my Blue Jays shirt. That was intentional. I figured that everyone on the team recognized me by that point, so I changed my appearance and just went with the hat.
The game itself was incredible — not because I caught anything, but because it only lasted an hour and 55 minutes! I don’t think I’d ever attended a game that finished so fast. The Orioles won, 3-1, behind a 95-pitch, complete-game effort from Brad Bergesen. For the Jays, Kyle Drabek made his major league debut and did pretty well. He allowed three runs in six innings…gave up nine hits, walked three, and struck out five, but the most impressive thing is that he hit 99mph on the radar gun, and I wasn’t even paying attention to the velocity for most of the night, so who knows? He might have even touched triple digits when I wasn’t looking. By the way, Drabek threw 88 pitches, and then two relievers — Shawn Camp and Scott Downs — combined to work the last two innings with thirteen pitches. The Jays and O’s threw a total of 196 pitches. THAT is how to play a game in under two hours. Normally, I love it when games last long, but not when I have a 200-mile drive waiting for me after the final out. Of course, Jona and I didn’t rush toward the garage right away. First I headed to the 3rd base line as the Jays relievers walked in from the bullpen. This was my view as they headed toward me:
Jesse Carlson tossed me a ball — my 15th of the day — and then Kevin Gregg threw me another 30 seconds later.
After that, I gave away two of my baseballs to kids and headed toward the Eutaw Street exit. Here are the 14 balls I kept:
• 16 balls at this game
• 247 balls in 26 games this season = 9.5 balls per game.
• 655 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 201 consecutive games outside New York with at least one ball
• 129 lifetime games with at least 10 balls
• 4,605 total balls
• 45 donors (click here to learn more)
• $6.49 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $103.84 raised at this game
• $1,603.03 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
Sunny days without batting practice are the worst. This is what I saw when I arrived at the stadium and peeked through the left field gate:
I took my time walking over to Gate C (on the right field side). There were a couple dozen fans when I got there. Normally, I try to make sure that I’m the first one to enter, but in this case it didn’t matter, so I waited patiently as everyone filed into the stadium ahead of me:
This was my first look at the field:
Moments after I made it down to the front row, I heard a voice from behind say my name. I turned around and saw a familiar face. It was a guy from Akron, Ohio named Dan Cox. He and I had met once before on 6/17/08 at Coors Field. (That was the day that a reporter and photographer from the Associated Press were following me around, and Dan actually ended up with his picture in the article. If you click here, you can see him in the top photo standing just over my left shoulder with a red shirt.) We kept in touch, and he recently told me that he was going to attend this game. Here we are:
Oh yeah, I should probably mention that I snagged two baseballs. Several Twins pitchers had come out to play catch, and when they were finishing, I convinced Jesse Crain to hook me up by telling him that I had a good knuckleball and wanted to show him. He threw me
a mediocre knuckler and then waved toward himself with his glove as if to say, “C’mon, let’s see what you got.” I threw him my best knuckler, which turned out to be as bad as his (oops), and it kept going from there. We played catch for about 30 seconds, throwing nothing but so-so knuckleballs. Unfortunately, it all happened so fast that by the time I thought about handing my camera to Dan, it was too late. Then, two minutes later, Crain saw one of his teammates — I’m not sure who — toss me another ball. Before Crain could protest, I told him that I would give it to a kid, and I kept my promise.
Gate C had opened at 11:30am. The rest of the stadium opened at noon, and when it did, Dan and I moved to the left field foul line. I positioned myself in the front row while Kevin Slowey (pictured below with his leg up) played catch with Scott Baker:
Dan stayed a couple rows back, and at one point, I turned around to look at him. This is what I saw:
Yeah, there was a ball just sitting there. There were even a few other fans nearby, but no one saw it. I moved toward it slowly and picked it up. No one noticed. I showed Dan, and we both shrugged.
Once the players cleared the field, it was time to wander and take pics. I started by walking through the cross-aisle toward the left field corner:
The aisle isn’t great for foul balls because, as you can see, it’s tucked slightly under the overhang of the second deck. That said, foul balls do shoot back there behind the plate.
I headed to the upper deck…
…and walked through the concourse…
…and then went down to the front row. Check out the third base dugout:
See that red area right behind it? No, it’s not a carpet. It’s just painted concrete, but it’s still pretty cool and functions like a cross-aisle. The seats behind it are very exclusive. It’s the “Mercedes Benz Front Row,” and you can’t go there without a ticket.
I walked up to the last row directly behind home plate…
…and then took a couple photos, which I later combined to make a panorama:
On my way back down to the Home Run Porch in left field, I poked my head into the suite level. Check it out:
There was so much room to run during the game. I was in heaven. For left-handed batters, I alternated between the seats on the third base side…
…and in right-center:
For all righties, I stood toward the back of the Home Run Porch. This was my view:
(That’s Dan standing in front of me with the glove.)
The view was not as bad as you might think. I could actually see the batters in between the people standing at the front. Here’s a close-up of the previous photo. It’ll show you what I mean:
In the top of the 5th inning, Jim Thome connected on his 569th career home run, tying him with Rafael Palmeiro (BOO!!!) for 11th place all time. The ball landed in a gap directly behind the wall in dead center. Here’s a photo of that area from above:
If the ball had traveled five feet farther, it would have landed in the trees, and I might have been able to reach under the fence for it on the lower level of Heritage Park. But no, Chris Perez walked over from the Indians’ bullpen and picked it up, and that was the end of it.
Here’s a photo of the Home Run Porch from above:
Is that beautiful or what? It doesn’t matter if your ticketed seat is in the last row of the upper deck. If you want to hang out on the Porch, you’re welcome to do so. Bravo, Indians, for making the fan experience so laid-back and positive. (As for the quality of the team, that’s another story.)
Have you heard about the Indians fan who sits in the last row of the bleachers and bangs a drum? (That sounds like the opening line of a joke, but I’m being serious.) He’s been going to games forever, and he’s done lots of interviews of the years. The reason why I’m mentioning him is that I went up there to say hello. Here he is focusing on the game…
…and here I am with him:
His name is John Adams, and he’s a legend. This was his 2,917th game. He has missed just 37 games in 36 years. I asked if the Indians still make him buy an extra seat for his drum. He said it’s not an issue because he has four season tickets. I asked if the Indians ever told him not to bang the drum when the ball is in play or if that’s his own decision. He said he decided on his own out of respect for the game. I asked if he ever snagged a home run ball that landed on a staircase and bounced all the way to the back row. The answer is no. Anyway, go say hi to him if you’re ever at Progressive Field. He’s incredibly friendly and chatty, and he told me that he enjoys the opportunity to talk to so many people.
I was back on the Porch in the bottom of the 7th, when Asdrubal Cabrera lifted a deep fly ball down the line. I drifted forward to the railing at the front. The ball was coming…coming…and I had it lined up perfectly. It was going to be the easiest catch ever, but dammit, it ended up falling about ten feet short and bouncing high off the wall for a double. Here’s a screen shot that shows the action:
The UP arrow is pointing at me, the LEFT arrow is pointing at Dan, and the DOWN arrow is pointing to a fan who’s really, really, really into the game. I love it. It’s like a full-body maneuver to peek around the wall from that little nook.
The Twins won the game, 8-3, behind a solid, seven-inning performance by Francisco Liriano. Catcher Wilson Ramos, filling in for the injured Joe Mauer, went 4-for-5 in his major league debut. Delmon Young also went 4-for-5 (with a homer) as Minnesota combined for 20 hits.
I ended up getting one more ball after the game behind the Twins’ dugout. I don’t know who provided it. It was flipped up randomly from under the roof. So…I ended the day with four balls — fewer balls than the winning team had runs — which means I took my first “loss” of the season. At 3-1, my Ballhawk Winning Percentage is now .750.
• 4 balls at this game (3 pictured on the right because I gave one away)
• 38 balls in 4 games this season = 9.5 balls per game.
• 633 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 184 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 4,396 total balls
• 25 donors (click here and scroll down to see who has pledged)
• $2.91 pledged per ball (if you add up all 25 pledges)
• $11.64 raised at this game
• $110.58 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:
Remember my blog entry from 6/17/09 at Kauffman Stadium? I talked about playing catch with Kyle Farnsworth, and I just put the video on YouTube. Check it out:
BTW, I finished reading the book “Miracle Ball” and loved it. Easy read. Very engaging and suspenseful. Consider this my official recommendation.