Tagged: robert harmon

8/27/09 at Coors Field

This was the final day of my trip, and it began with a home-cooked breakfast of bacon and eggs:

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The meal was prepared by Nettie, my “host mother” for the week. She and her husband Danny have season tickets at Coors Field, and to put it lightly, they are C-R-A-Z-Y about baseball. Their home is filled with baseball-related items, and when I finished eating my breakfast, I photographed as much of them as I could before leaving for Coors Field.

First of all, did you notice the smaller plate in the photo above? Yeah, those are baseball seams coming out in all four directions. And how about the salt and pepper shakers? I’m telling you, these people are nuts (and I mean that in a good way; I keep trying to get them to adopt me). Wherever I looked, there was a baseball-themed object.

The four-part photo below shows some of their food-related baseball items. Starting on the top left and then going clockwise, you can see 1) a baseball sign on their kitchen wall, 2) a baseball mixing bowl, 3) teeny baseball candles with burnt wicks, and 4) a baseball toothpick holder:

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See what I mean?

Nuts.

And we’re just getting started…

Here’s another four-part photo that shows 1) baseball caps hanging on baseball hooks, 2) mini-baseball statues high up on a ledge, 3) a baseball key hook with an “I Love Baseball” lanyard hanging from it, and 4) a baseball stool sitting in front of a bottle-shaped Colorado Rockies piggy bank:

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Ready for more?

Here’s another collage that shows 1) baseball rugs, 2) a baseball lamp sitting in front of a baseball clock, 3) a baseball calendar, and 4) baseball coasters and a baseball pad:

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Speaking of clocks…

The one pictured below on the lower left has a baseball pendulum swinging back and forth:

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Let’s go from clocks to pillows…

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…and from pillows to the downstairs bathroom. Here are the towels:

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Here’s the soap dish:

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And hey, let’s not forget the baseball hooks on the inside of the door:

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Elsewhere in Danny and Nettie’s apartment, there were two baseball mouse pads:

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Then there was the pair of All-Star Game sneakers, which were sitting in front of a dresser with baseball handles:

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And finally (although I’ve only shown a fraction of the baseball items in their home), check out the Rawlings luggage:

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How cool is that?! (I’d be too nervous to travel with it. I’d be paranoid that someone would steal it.)

Anyway, yes, Coors Field…

It was a dreaded day-game-after-a-night-game, which meant there might not be batting practice. Still, I was optimistic and marched confidently toward Gate E:

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Oh yeah, baby, that’s right: the big glove was BACK.

Unfortunately, this is what the field looked like when the stadium opened:

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No batting practice!
Faaaaaaaaaaaack!

I don’t get it. Why wasn’t there BP? The previous night’s game (at which there was no BP because of rain) had started at 6:40pm. It lasted two hours and 46 minutes. That means it ended at 9:26pm. That’s not exactly late. And the Rockies had only scored one run. Why?! I demand to know! Because it was get-away day? Sorry, but that’s lame.

This was my eighth game of 2009 without batting practice. My baseball totals at the previous seven were: 4, 3, 3, 6, 3, 4, and 2. That’s an average of a little over 3.5 balls per game. Not good…not now…not when I needed to snag five balls in order to reach 400 for the season. It’s not like this was going to be my last game of the year, and it’s not like I’d never reached 400 before. It’s just that…I don’t know…it was something I’d been shooting for by the end of August.

There wasn’t much happening early on, but I still had a chance to get myself on the board. Several Dodgers pitchers began playing catch in the left field corner, and one of them made a bad throw that rolled all the way into deep left-center. They didn’t bother to retrieve the ball, so it just sat there, right on the grass in front of the warning track. Naturally, I ran over and got myself as close to the ball as possible. This was my view as I waited there for the next five minutes:

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Finally, a couple pitchers stepped out of the bullpen in right-center and began walking slowly across the field. Hiroki Kuroda was the player closest to me, and he spotted the ball on his own. I didn’t have to point at it or call his name. I didn’t even bother asking him for the ball in Japanese. I didn’t say a word. I was the only fan standing there *and* I had the big glove. If ever there was a guaranteed ball, I figured, this was it…and sure enough, he walked over and picked it up and tossed it to me. I made a careful two-handed catch and squeezed the ball inside the gigantic pocket. I thanked Kuroda in Japanese, then took a peek at the ball, and was happy to see that it said “DODGERTOWN” on the sweet spot. Nice!

Danny had not snagged a Dodgertown ball at either of the previous two games, and he knew that I had, so he asked me if I could spare one of mine.

“I know you always give away one of your baseballs to a little kid,” he said, “so can I be the little kid today?”

Danny had the ball in his possession soon after. It was an honor to give it to him, knowing that he would treasure it in his own collection.

There wasn’t too much action after that, unless you consider THIS to be action:

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Everyone inside Coors Field, it seemed, wanted to see the big glove, and everyone asked the same question: “Where did you get it?” I meant to count the number of times I got asked that question, but once the stadium opened, I quickly forgot. I would estimate the number to be somewhere around 50, and I gave the same answer every time: “I don’t know. It was a gift. A friend found it online and sent it to me.” Next time I take the big glove to a game, I might print up cards with that answer and hand them out.

Meanwhile, the lack of activity on the field was mind-numbing. All I could do was spend my time posing with the big glove…

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…and then take photos of my friend Robert Harmon doing the same:

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Yawn.

Finally — I don’t even know when — a few more Dodgers came out to run and stretch and throw in shallow left field.

Ramon Troncoso spotted my big glove and asked if he could see it.

Here he is checking it out as Ronald Belisario stood nearby looking on.

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Belisario tossed a few balls to Troncoso, who struggled to catch them and seemed to enjoy the challenge. Then he handed the glove to Belisario, who inspected it thoroughly before walking it back over to me:

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(Is it just me, or does the glove kinda look like an octopus or giant squid? You have to click these links. Especially the octopus. In fact, better yet, copy-and-paste the link into a new window and then drag it down next to the glove. Huh? Huh?)

Soon after my big glove was returned, I got George Sherrill to toss me my second ball of the day. Just like the ball I’d gotten from Kuroda, this one also had a Dodgertown stamp on the sweet spot.

One of the nice things about being at a game without batting practice (just kidding, there IS nothing nice about it) is that the players have more free time, and they’re usually more relaxed, and it’s easier to get close to them. That was the case here, as Troncoso came over and leisureley signed autographs for everyone:

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I got his autograph on a ticket from the previous game, then ran around to the right field side and got Ubaldo Jimenez to sign one from August 25th. Here are the two autographs:

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Coincidentally, both of those players wear number 38 and wrote it underneath their names.

Then, once again, there was a lack of action.

See what I mean?

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I *thought* I was going to snag my third ball along the right field foul line, but I ran into some bad luck. Franklin Morales was playing catch with Joe Beimel, so I headed down to the front row and held up the big glove:

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I simply wanted Morales to see me so that he’d consider tossing me the ball when he was done. Well, totally unexpectedly, right in the middle of long-tossing, he decided to throw one to me — except he airmailed me, and the ball landed in the fourth row, and some other fan ended up with it. Fabulous.

I headed to the left field corner after that because Jonathan Broxton started playing catch with Guillermo Mota. Here’s a shot of Broxton catching one of the throws:

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There were a bunch of fans waiting along the foul line, but I was the only fan in fair territory. When the two players finished throwing, Broxton walked over and looked at the big glove and smiled and fired the ball at me from about 40 feet away. I was lucky to catch it. It was another Dodgertown ball, and before I had a chance to label it, he started waving at me with his glove as if to say, “Throw it back.” So I did. I tossed him a near-perfect knuckleball, and he seemed to be mildly impressed. He then turned his back to me and took a few steps toward the fans in foul territory and cocked his arm back as if he were going to throw them the ball. He then turned back to me and laughed and tossed me the ball for a second time. I was really surprised by the whole interaction. I’d seen the Dodgers a bunch of times in recent years, and Broxton was never friendly. It’s nice to know that even the most serious player can be “cracked,” as it were, and it’s also nice to have an extra reason to root for him (beyond the fact that he’s a freak of nature with a frighteningly strong arm).

The following photo needs no explanation…

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…although I should point out (because it’s hard to see here) that the guy has a purple goatee.

Shortly before the game started, Juan Castro threw me another Dodgertown ball along the left field foul line, and then I got Andre Ethier to sign a ticket. This one, unlike the autograph he’d signed for me the day before, did not get smudged:

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A few minutes later, Manny Ramirez and several other guys began playing catch in front of the 3rd base dugout. I decided to put on my Dodgers T-shirt, and I wore it backwards so that the “RAMIREZ 99” would face toward the field. I *really* wanted a ball from Manny, and I thought it might help convince him to toss one to me. Unfortunately (I know…shocker) when Manny finished throwing, he didn’t toss the ball to anyone. He didn’t even end up with the ball (he could have if he wanted to), so I turned my attention elsewhere. Rafael Furcal…yes! He’d thrown me a ball two days earlier, right in that section, right before the game. I knew he was going to end up with the ball again. My only concern was whether or not he’d recognize me.

“Ladies and gentlemen…” boomed the voice of the public address announcer, “will you please rise and remove your hats for the singing of our national anthem?”

Furcal caught the final throw and jogged toward the dugout. I was being forced to stand behind Row 10. (That’s one of the stupid rules at Coors Field.) I held up my big glove and shouted his name. He looked up and lobbed the ball to me. I was convinced that someone else was going to reach in front of me…but no one touched it! I made another careful two-handed catch with the big glove and felt great about having just snagged my 400th ball of the season. (My single-season record is 543. I did that last year.)

Seconds before the music started, I took a photo of the ball. The red arrow is pointing to Furcal:

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Then, after the anthem was done, I asked a nearby fan to take my picture in the approximate spot where I’d made the catch:

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It was game time. I headed out to my front-row seat in left field.

The two worst things about the game were that:

1) There was only one home run, and it didn’t land anywhere near me.
2) I was sitting in the sun, and the right side of my face ended up pinker than the left.

The highlight of the game was when a one-armed fan (who looked like Robert) ran over and grabbed my big glove and sat back down in his seat (in front of which was his own little strip of AstroTurf) and posed for my camera:

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Yep, just another day at the ballpark…

Here’s a photo of me, taken by Robert who was sitting just beyond the one-armed fan:

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Here’s another photo that was taken by Robert. He’s in the middle. Jameson Sutton (the guy who snagged Barry Bonds’ final home run ball and sold it for $376,612) is on the left…and I’m on the right:

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I’m ashamed to admit that Robert’s ear hair (okay, no, it was just his regular hair) was tickling MY ear…and no, I didn’t enjoy it. (The fan in the background is like, “Whoa, take it easy, fellas…”)

Good times (but not a whole lot of balls) in Denver.

Final score of this game?
Dodgers 3, Rockies 2.
My boy Broxton notched a four-out save.

And then Danny and Nettie drove me to the airport.

SNAGGING STATS:

33_the_four_I_kept_08_27_09.jpg• 5 balls at this game (four pictured here because I gave one away)

• 400 balls in 47 games this season = 8.51 balls per game.

• 616 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 175 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball

• 4,220 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $24.86 pledged per ball

• $124.30 raised at this game

• $9,944.00 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

8/26/09 at Coors Field

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:

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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:

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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…

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…but mainly I was just there to goof around:

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The lovely Ladies of the Scoreboard welcomed me and Brandon into their work space and seemed to appreciate our enthusiasm:

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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…

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…and here’s a shot I took of some cobwebs:

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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…

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…and noticed that there was a ball sitting on the field:

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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…

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…and walked with Dave back through the employees’ concourse:

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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:

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Juan Rincon had started playing catch, and as he backed up, he kept getting closer and closer to the ball:

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Moments later, he was standing (and throwing) right behind it:

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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:

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(Was there something unusual that caught his attention?)

Then he turned to throw it to me, and I gave him a target:

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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:

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Here’s a closer look at both the logo and the Dodgers’ stamp on the sweet spot.

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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:

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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:

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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:

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Here’s a photo of the ball itself:

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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:

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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:

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What were they doing?

Umm…blowing up a huge, inflatable baseball glove.

Here are a couple photos of the finished product:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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This was the best anti-Manny sign of the night:

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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:

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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:

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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.

Come on!

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:

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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:

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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.

Cool, huh?

Here I am wearing the jersey:

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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:

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(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:

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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.

SNAGGING STATS:

• 2 balls at this game

• 395 balls in 46 games this season = 8.59 balls per game.

pitch_in_for_baseball4.jpg

• 615 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 174 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball

• 4,215 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 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

8/24/09 at Coors Field

I woke up at 6:20am, raced to Newark International Airport, flew nonstop to Denver, and made it to Coors Field by 3:30pm:

1_zack_outside_coors_field.jpg

I headed inside to the Rockies’ office…

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…and met up with Jay Alves, the Rockies’ vice president of communications and public relations. I’d spoken to him a week earlier, told him that I was working on a book about baseballs, and asked if I could see the humidor. (In case you don’t know, the Rockies have been storing their game balls in a humidor since 2002 to prevent them from drying out in the mile-high air; dry baseballs become lighter and harder, and they travel way too far when they’re hit.) Jay warned me that I was going to be “underwhelmed” by the humidor — that it was small and that there really wasn’t much to see. I didn’t care. I had to set foot in it, and Jay kindly accommodated me. He even let me take photos, and he said I could share them on my blog, so here we go…

The humidor is located in the street-level/employees-only concourse:

3_humidor_from_concourse.jpg

The whole thing is VERY small (and yes, it’s locked). Here’s what it looks like on the inside:

4_humidor.jpg

As you can see, there are cases of balls on the left (six dozen balls per case). The smaller boxes which hold a dozen balls apiece are on the right.

The temperature in there is 70 degrees, and the humidity is kept at 50 percent, but I didn’t see any dials or gauges.

Even though the room was small, there was a lot to see…

5_humidor_test_box.jpg

…but I didn’t get to photograph everything because Jay was in a serious rush to get back to work. I probably spent less than two minutes inside the humidor, but at least I got to SEE it.

Here I am inside it:

6_zack_inside_humidor.jpg

Before I knew it, I was back out on the street. The brief tour felt like a distant blur, like a strange fragment of a dream that kept replaying in my mind.

I headed over to Gate E and (after switching caps) met up with some friends.

Pictured below from left to right:

1) Dan Sauvageau (who has snagged roughly 90 game home runs)
2) Danny Wood (who showed me his incredible baseball collection on June 20, 2008)
3) Danny’s wife Nettie (who’d picked me up at the airport earlier in the day)
4) me (happy to be staying with Danny and Nettie this week)

7_dan_danny_nettie_zack.jpg

The gates opened at 4:30pm (two hours and ten minutes before game time) and I raced out to the left field bleachers. Here’s what the seats looked like after a couple minutes:

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Dan had hooked me up with a front-row ticket, but there were a bunch of ballhawks in that row, so for the most part, I stayed farther back and took my chances in the main part of the bleachers. (At Coors Field, you can’t go into the front row in left field unless you have a ticket for the front row, even during batting practice.) I got Ubaldo Jimemez to toss me a ball by asking him in Spanish, and that was the only ball I snagged during the Rockies’ portion of BP.

When the Giants started hitting, I headed over to right field. As you can see in the following photo, the platform that extends out from the seats makes it impossible to use the glove trick for balls that are sitting on the warning track:

9_right_field_during_BP_08_24_09.jpg

The nice thing about the right field section, however, is that there aren’t any railings in the staircases, so it’s easy to run around. Unfortunately, the section only extends out to straight-away right field, so most of the home runs were uncatchable and landed in the bullpen in right-center.

Tim Lincecum was shagging in right-center, and I got him to toss me a ball. I took the following photo from the row where I caught it:

10_tim_lincecum_in_right_field.jpg

Five minutes later, I caught a home run that was hit by Eugenio Velez. It was a line drive that was heading RIGHT at me, but since I was in Denver (where the air is thin and balls carry a long way), I turned around and bolted up the steps past a fat guy with a glove, then turned around at the last second and jumped as high as I could and made the catch high over my head. And guess what? That was the end of batting practice. It ended more than 20 minutes early because it started drizzling and the wussy grounds crew rolled out the tarp:

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I noticed that there were two balls sitting within reach in the bullpen. I used my glove trick to reel in the ball on the right…

12_ball4204_in_the_bullpen.jpg

…and was stopped by security while going for the ball on the left.

There were more than a dozen balls sitting further out in the bullpens. Two security-type guys walked out and retrieved them and didn’t toss a single ball into the crowd. I thought that was really weak, and I let them know it. There were a few young kids with gloves nearby, standing quietly in the rain, but no, the Rockies couldn’t afford to part with a few baseballs (which were probably too damp to re-use anyway). I later gave away one of my baseballs to a kid.

I had some time to kill after BP, so I wandered up to the “rock pile” section in deeeeeeep center field and took a few photos. Here’s one of them:

13_view_from_the_rockpile.jpg

(The tarp didn’t stay on the field long.)

Before the game started, I snuck down near the Giants’ dugout and tried to get Pablo Sandoval’s warm-up ball…

14_pregame_throwing_08_24_09.jpg

…but I ended up getting one from Nate Schierholtz instead.

Then Schierholtz signed my ticket:

15_nate_schierholtz_autograph.jpg

What a lame signature. Seriously, what kind of garbage IS that?

I headed out to left field once the game started. This was my view:

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This was the view to my right…

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…and this was the view to my left:

18_view_to_my_left_08_24_09.jpg

It was home run HEAVEN — or rather it would have been home run heaven if anyone had managed to hit a ball anywhere near me, but no, my game home run curse continued.

Do you remember that story I wrote last year about Barry Bonds’ final home run ball? Well, two of the three key ballhawks in that incident were at the game last night. Jameson Sutton, the fan who snagged that ball was there:

19_jameson_sutton.jpg

Jameson sold that ball at auction for $376,612 largely because of this man, Robert Harmon:

20_robert_harmon_08_24_09.jpg

Robert, as you may recall, snagged a dummy ball that Jameson had inadvertently dropped while going for the real one. I won’t re-tell the whole story here. It’s archived on Yahoo Sports for your viewing pleasure.

Anyway, the game was really slow for the first 13 innings. Pablo Sandoval put the Giants on the board with a sacrifice fly in the top of the 1st, and Todd Helton tied the score by drawing a bases-loaded walk in the bottom of the 5th.

That was it.

The 14th inning, however, was a totally different story. In the top of the frame, Edgar Renteria hit a one-out triple and Travis Ishikawa walked. Eugenio Velez then hit a two-run triple to left center and scored two batters later on a Juan Uribe groundout,.

The Giants had taken a 4-1 lead:

21_scoreboard_in_14th_inning.jpg

I was sick of sitting 400 feet from home plate at that point, so I told Robert that I was heading over near home plate, and that he could have the walk-off grand slam.

This was my view in the bottom of the 14th inning:

22_view_behind_home_plate.jpg

How did that half-inning start? With a leadoff walk to Dexter Fowler. Giants pitching coach Dave Righetti made a visit to the mound, and his advice must have helped because Brandon Medders got Clint Barmes to pop out.

But then things fell apart.

Medders was taken out of the game and the new pitcher, Justin Miller, proceeded to give up a single to pinch hitter Chris Iannetta. Then he walked Troy Tulowitzki to load the bases, and then he walked Adam Eaton to force in a run. (Did you hear me? He walked ADAM EATON!!!) Merkin Valdez came in to pitch after that, and on his second pitch, Ryan Spilborghs blasted an opposite field shot into the Rockies’ bullpen. It was the first walk-off grand slam in Rockies history.

Final score: Rockies 6, Giants 4.

Wow.

SNAGGING STATS:

23_the_four_balls_i_kept_08_24_09.jpg• 5 balls at this game (4 pictured here because I gave one away)

• 385 balls in 44 games this season = 8.75 balls per game.

• 613 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 172 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball

• 4,205 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 119 donors (Heath Bell made a pledge; you can too)

• $24.76 pledged per ball

• $123.80 raised at this game

• $9,532.60 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

2008 Home Run Derby

There are rumors that I stole baseballs from kids, knocked over other fans, and got into an argument with a Chinese lady.

Allow me to set the record straight:

1) I didn’t steal a ball from anyone.
2) Other fans were crashing into ME.
3) The lady was Japanese.

The 2008 Home Run Derby was scheduled to begin at 8:00pm, batting
practice was going to start at 5:30, and Yankee Stadium was set to open at
4:30. What time did I get there? Shortly after 12pm, of course.

I had a ticket for the right-field bleachers (thanks to a friend who
hooked me up), and I’d planned my strategy days in advance. It was
pretty simple–or at least it was supposed to be: Be the first one on
line. Be the first one in. Grab the corner spot near the batter’s eye.
Use my big glove to get attention. Get lots of balls thrown to me.

Well, I *was* the first one on line–in fact I was the only person on line for nearly an hour and a half…

zack_1st_in_line.jpg

…and that’s when things went awry. But wait. Let’s slow this story
down. The day wasn’t all bad. There were some happy moments before the
stadium opened.

First of all, the big glove got lots of attention. Comments/questions
from passersby ranged from “I don’t wanna be sitting behind you” to
“Is that Shaq’s glove?” to “Aren’t you the guy who was on TV and
catches all the balls?” to “Where the **** did you find that thing?” to
“Oh my God that’s HUGE.” (Why…thank you.)

Here’s one of the dozens of random people who asked to try it on:

hottie_with_big_glove.jpg

Robert Harmon (the guy from my Bonds 762 story) stopped by and said hello on his way to Gate 6:

robert_harmon_drops_by.jpg
I got interviewed by a local news station and
hung out for a bit with a friend and fellow snagger named Clif (aka
“goislanders4” if you read the comments) whom you might remember from 9/25/07 at Shea Stadium.

clif_zack_derby.jpg
See the white pole on Clif’s right? It’s a “nuclear
radiation detector.” One of the nearby cops was poised with a portable
version:

cop_with_scary_gadget.jpg

By 4pm, there was a crazy-long line that snaked around the stadium:

line_outside_bleachers.jpg

Someone had held my spot at the front of the line. That’s how I was able to wander and take pics, but by the time I returned, there were several other fans who’d slipped in ahead of me. One of these fans was a Japanese woman I’d met two weeks earlier during BP. I figured she was a regular and that she knew someone else in line, but I didn’t appreciate the fact that she’d cut in. Still, I didn’t really care because there was NO WAY that I was going to let her cut in front of me when the gate actually went up…so I didn’t say anything.

This was when my day started falling apart. (I hope you’re sitting down.)

As soon as the gate went up, one of the security guards gave me a funny look and walked over.

“You can’t bring that inside,” he said, eying my big glove.

Are you serious?!” I demanded. Why not?!” I was about to ask to speak to his supervisor, and then I noticed that his shirt had the word “SUPERVISOR” on it.

He took a hold of my glove and said, “It’s too big.”

“Who cares?!?!”

He grabbed another fan’s glove and held it up against mine. “See?” he said. “This is a normal glove. Yours glove is too big.”

“So what?!?!”

weapons1.jpg
“So what?” he repeated, clearly trying to buy himself some time. “It could be used as a weapon.”

“WHAT?!?!?!”

“Yeah,” he said and then mimed swinging it around as if it were an ax.

Wow.

I really didn’t think the Yankees would stoop THIS low, but what could I do? The ticket-takers were activating their scanners and unlocking the turnstiles. The stadium was going to open any minute, and I **HAD** to get the corner spot. Batting practice wasn’t going to begin for another hour, by which time the bleachers would be packed. Snagging a ball wasn’t going to have anything to do with skill or luck. It was going to be all about positioning.

I stepped out of line, raced across the street with the glove, and spent six bucks to leave it at a bowling alley which in recent years has become more known for its bag-check than for the bowling. (I wouldn’t be surprised if the Yankee security guards receive kickbacks.)

I barely made it back in time, and yes, in case you’re wondering, I’d also brought my regular glove. But get this…when I was finally given the green light to approach the turnstiles, my ticket wouldn’t scan. The scanner kept giving an error message.

“This is no good,” said the ticket-taker.

“EXCUSE ME?!?!”

“The code hasn’t been entered into the system. You need to go to Window 74 and have them take care of this.”

“WHAT?!?!”

Window 74?! The guy started giving me directions as he reached for the next fan’s ticket. That one wouldn’t scan either. Meanwhile, at least a dozen other fans–including the Japanese woman–filed past me at the next turnstile and hurried into the bleachers. I climbed over a railing, handed my ticket to the other ticket-taker, and successfully got scanned.

By the time I reached the bleachers, the other fans who’d gotten in first had spread out randomly along the railing, except for the Japanese woman. She was standing in the corner spot.

To make a long story short, we argued over who had the right to be there, and she finally moved when another fan (who’d seen that I’d been first in line) took my side. We quickly made peace and even shared a few laughs after she heard me ask for a ball in Japanese. AND…just so you don’t feel bad for her…she and her boyfriend ended up snagging two of their own.

As for me…
There was a lot of time to kill before BP so naturally I played with my camera. This was the view to my left:

view_from_corner_spot1.jpg

This was the view straight ahead:

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And this was the view to my right:

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Robert took a pic of me from the corner spot in the grandstand:

zack_corner_spot1.jpg

Finally, after waiting through one of the longest hours of my life, BP got started and bad luck took over. The outfield was crawling with the players’ kids who tossed at least half a dozen balls directly over my head. After 20 minutes, a kid with “RIVERA 42” on his back fired a ball right to me, but I didn’t get it because some cameraman from ESPN who was standing near me on the batter’s eye stuck his hand out at the last second and deflected it elsewhere. (He claimed he did it in self defense, but I’m not so sure.) I seriously couldn’t catch a break, and I was getting a bit nervous because I had no chance to use the glove trick. Every time a ball landed in the gap between the outfield wall and the base of the bleachers, another cameraman went and got it and tossed it up to a cop who handed it to a kid. Good for the kids. Bad for me. I just wanted one ball. ONE BALL so my streak wouldn’t end. Even though this wasn’t an official game, it was still a major league event in a major league stadium so it counted for me.

Finally, just when I was starting to believe that a Higher Power was out to get me, I convinced one of the players’ kids to throw me a ball. As soon as I caught it and looked at it, my heart sank because it was a Futures Game ball. I’d snagged six of them the day before and this_one_counts.jpgreally didn’t need another. At least that’s how I felt at first, but then it occurred to me that it was actually kinda cool because I’d be able to count this ball in my collection. The Futures Game is a minor league event, so I hadn’t counted any of the balls I snagged that day. But hey, it wasn’t MY fault that one of these balls found its way into the BP bucket (and then into my glove) on the day of the Derby.

Would you believe that the fans behind me (who were trapped in the crowded aisle because they weren’t smart enough to arrive early) started whining after I caught this ONE lousy ball? One guy had the nerve to tell me to get out of the corner spot and give someone else a chance. Was this the first time he’d ever set foot inside a major league stadium? Or was he from Canada? I don’t know what his deal was, but there was no ch
ance I was moving. I simply HAD to snag at least one ball with the Home Run Derby logo on it. If that meant I had to snag 20 more balls before I got one, so be it.

Toward the end of the American League’s batting practice, I shouted at Mariano Rivera (in Spanish) and asked for a ball. He looked up at me and shrugged as if to say he didn’t have one. Then I noticed that he was drinking an ice-cold bottle of water (I could see the condensation) so I asked for that instead by making a drinking motion and shouting “Agua!” He laughed and held up the bottle as if to say, “You want THIS?” I nodded excitedly and made an exaggerated gesture with my shirt to show how hot it was. He kept looking at me and smiling so I kept going with it. I grabbed my throat with my right hand and made a choking gesture, then drooped my eyelids as if I were passing out. To my surprise, he started walking toward me, and when he got within 30 feet, he underhanded the bottle in my direction. It was falling short, so I reached over the railing and extended my glove…and the damn thing tipped off my fingers and dropped into the gap. I flung up my arms in disgust, and he did the same.

Not all hope was lost, however.

I shouted at the cameraman, and when he came over, I pointed out the bottle and asked him to hand it to me.

He looked at the cop for guidance.

“It’s okay,” said the cop. “Mariano Rivera tried to give it to him.”

The cameraman looked totally confused, but once he heard that, he fetched the bottle and tossed it to me. Woo-hoo!!! I truly WAS thirsty and didn’t care that the bottle was two-thirds empty; if Mariano Rivera had cooties, I wanted them.

agua_from_mariano_rivera.jpg

I chugged the water as the American Leaguers jogged off the field and snagged my second ball of the day 10 minutes later. Some random kid wearing a Rockies cap tossed it to me from the warning track, and I took an elbow to the kidney as I reached straight out to make the catch.

At this point, the people around me seriously started going crazy. There was a skinny little kid with glasses, standing directly behind me, who couldn’t have been more than eight years old. He was so intent on pushing his way up to the front that every time I leaned forward (to see where a ball was landing elsewhere in the bleachers) and settled back down from my tip toes, I ended up stepping on HIS toes. He was literally wedging his feet in the space underneath MY feet whenever he had a chance. I don’t know what he was thinking, but when it became clear that he wasn’t going to stop, I turned around and looked him in the eye and told him gently but firmly that it was impolite and dangerous for him to crowd me like that. He said he was sorry, ended up getting a ball from the cop two minutes later, and quickly disappeared. The cop, meanwhile, wasn’t too happy about the fact that I now had two baseballs.

“Ya gotta let the kids get some,” he growled.

“The kids are getting plenty thanks to you,” I said. “They don’t need MY help.”

Now don’t get me wrong…I love it when kids get balls, especially kids who are wearing gloves and making a sincere effort to snag on their own. I often go out of my way to help kids get balls, and I now give away at least one of mine at just about every game I attend. But this 2008_home_run_derby_ball.jpg
was a different story. I wasn’t about to give away my Futures Game ball, and there wasn’t a chance in hell that I was going to part with my second ball. Why? Because it had a Home Run Derby logo on it. That’s why.

Of course the cop didn’t get it. First he asked me to give away a ball, and when I refused, he asked me to move from the corner spot.

“It’s the right thing to do,” he insisted.

I resisted the urge to tell him that the right thing for HIM to do was to mind his own business and consider Weight Watchers. Instead, I calmly explained that I’d gotten to Yankee Stadium an hour and a half earlier than everyone else for the sole purpose of standing in this spot.

“Where are you supposed to be?!” he demanded. “Where’s your ticket?!”

“It doesn’t matter where my seat is,” I said. “This is batting practice. Everyone’s standing wherever they want.”

This prompted the man who’d elbowed me to turn around and shout (in a derisive, sing-songy manner) to everyone behind us: “WHO THINKS HE SHOULD GO?!?!?!” The whole section cheered. “WHO THINKS HE SHOULD STAY?!?!?!” he continued, and the whole section booed.

“That’s it,” said the cop, “you have to go back to your seat.”

“That’s ********,” I said. “You can’t make me move. You can’t make a special rule just for me. I’m not moving unless you make everyone else go back to THEIR seats.”

So he did!

I couldn’t believe it. He actually got on his walkie-talkie and issued a directive to all the other cops, and in less than a minute, EVERYONE was forced to step away from the railing and vacate the aisle and tunnels. People were NOT happy about it, and I don’t blame them. The whole thing was arbitrary and dumb. The cops tried enforcing a rule that simply shouldn’t have been enforced. Some fans (including me) kept lingering in the aisle while pretending to head somewhere else. A few people simply defied orders and stood there anyway, and as you might expect there were some pretty nasty confrontations.

I wandered toward the foul-pole end of the bleachers and took a peek at the grandstand:

robert_corner_spot.jpg

Sure enough, the cops over there hadn’t forced anyone back to their seats–a good thing for Robert who technically belonged in the upper deck. Robert told me later that he snagged three balls (all with the Derby logo) and when other people started complaining, he shouted, “I have four grandkids so I’m still one ball short! Do YOU want to give me one?!” People left him alone after that.

I managed to snag one more Derby ball toward the end of BP. I should’ve had two more, but the second one (which was thrown by a teenage kid from about 100 feet away) fell short and tipped off my glove and landed in the gap. Even though he had clearly intended to throw it to me, the cameraman who retrieved it handed it to someone else.

That was it. Three balls. Not great. Not terrible. But if I’d been allowed to bring my big glove inside and stay in the corner spot, I would’ve snagged at least a dozen. I really believe that.

The Derby itself ended up being extremely frustrating. I had a second-row seat and found myself trapped behind a group of fans who jumped up at all the wrong times. Whenever a left-handed batter lifted a routine fly ball in our direction, they were on their feet in no time. But the few times that a right-handed batter hit a home run to right-center, they didn’t move because they weren’t expecting it. When they didn’t move, I couldn’t move. I felt like a caged animal. It sucked.

zack_caged_in_during_derby.jpg

The highlight of the day (other than not being shut out during BP) was getting to witness the  first-round, record-breaking performance by Josh Hamilton. The man hit twenty-eight home runs, including two that traveled more than 500 feet.

josh_hamilton_domination.jpg

During the second half of the Derby, security wasn’t quite as strict about keeping people in their seats, so I escaped from the second row and moved around a bit. I had three very close calls, including a chance to catch one of the coveted gold balls, but I came up short for various reasons. I misjudged one, failed to be blessed with a 36-inch vertical leap on another, and got boxed out on the third. That was the gold ball. Ouch. It was a lazy fly ball (relatively speaking) that barely cleared the railing five feet to my left. The aisle was packed and I couldn’t move. Not even one foot. It’s like I was battling a brick wall.

It pained me to see other fans snag these gold balls, but I took a picture anyway of a guy holding one up:

fan_with_gold_ball.jpg

It also pains me to see this screen shot from ESPN (which someone was kind enough to send my way). It shows a fan directly behind me zack_espn.jpginspecting a ball that he caught on a fly. This is the one I misjudged, but you have to understand what “misjudged” means in this case. I bolted two steps to my left as the ball exploded off the bat–that’s the direction that it was initially heading–and then when it drifted five feet back to my right, the aisle was too crowded for me to be able t
o drift back with it. If I’d just stayed put, it would’ve been an easy catch, but what can you do? These types of mistakes happen. I know a guy (a legendary Bay Area ballhawk, in fact) who would’ve caught Barry Bonds’ 714th career home run if he hadn’t outsmarted himself by reacting too soon and moving away from the spot where it ultimately landed.

Even though Hamilton put on a home run clinic in the first two rounds, he ended up losing to Justin Morneau in the finals. Everyone was criticizing the rules of the Home Run Derby, saying it wasn’t fair that one guy could hit so many longballs and still lose. But hey, that’s how it goes. If Hamilton had paced himself better, maybe he would’ve had more energy at the end. Or maybe he had plenty of energy and just happened to swing the bat poorly. Let’s not assume that his power outage in the finals was a direct result of his goose-bump-inducing performance in the opening round.

After the Derby was done, I went back to bowling alley and claimed my big glove, and while I was there I took a pic of the three balls I’d snagged:

three_derby_balls.jpg
Robert and I finally made it into the subway at midnight, and we were immediately approached by several fans wearing Minnesota Twins gear. One of them recognized me from TV and asked if I knew how to ask for a ball in Arabic. I told him I didn’t, so he taught me. Ready? It’s short-n-sweet. Here it is, spelled phonetically with the emphasis in CAPS:

OTT-nee KOO-rah

For the last syllable, you need to roll the ar. (Did you know that the letter ‘R’ is spelled ‘ar’?) Of course there aren’t any Arabic-speaking major leaguers yet, but boy, when one finally comes around, I’ll be ready.

tris_speaker.jpg
STATS:

? 3 balls at this game (or “event” or whatever you want to call it)

? 238 balls in 34 games this season = 7 balls per game.

? 530 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

? 2 consecutive Home Run Derbies with at least three balls

? 33 languages in which I can ask for a ball

? 3,515 total balls…moves me past Tris Speaker (3,514) and into fifth place on the all-time hits list. Next up is Stan Musial (3,630). (If you’re wondering why I’m comparing balls to hits, click here.)

? 1 fancy-schmancy ticket stub that actually contains dirt from Yankee Stadium. Check it out and I’ll explain below:

2008_home_run_derby_ticket.jpg

Okay, so I’ve shown the front and back of the ticket. See the brown strip on the front, about an inch from the bottom? See how it’s kind of…speckled…as opposed to being one neat/solid color? Well, those speckled marks are actually little particles that are embedded into the glossy strip. On the back of the ticket, I’ve drawn a red arrow to a little blurb that says the following: “To commemorate the final season of the historic ballpark, this ticket contains dirt collected from the field at Yankee Stadium which has been authenticated under the auspices of the MLB Authentication Program.

Cool, huh? (Too bad that program failed miserably on No. 762.)

So yeah, the ticket is a true collector’s item, but I question the photography that was selected for it. First of all, what’s so special about a hot dog and why does the mustard stop short on the north end? Secondly, why does the view of the field show the area behind home plate instead of the unique facade in the outfield? Third, why was the photo of the seat taken while the rest of stadium was empty? (See the little patch of blue near the upper right in that photo? Those are empty seats.) And fourth…taxis? Seriously?! That’s the best design MLB could come up with? I’ll bet the people who designed this ticket haven’t ever BEEN to New York. And while I’m already dissing this, I might as well share my thoughts on the logos for the Futures Game and Home Run Derby. In a word: LAME!!! The 2007 Futures Game ball at least had some artwork, albeit generic, while the 2007 Home Run Derby ball had artwork that was unique to AT&T Park. Why didn’t this year’s Derby ball have a facade or some pinstripes or an image of Monument Park? When will MLB and ESPN finally learn that they need to hire me? I have so many great ideas. If only someone would listen…

7/13/08 at Yankee/Shea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Here’s a look at the auxiliary press area…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It worked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

STATS (not counting the Futures Game):

? 7 balls at this game

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

? 529 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

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

? 75 lifetime game balls at Shea Stadium

? 3,512 total balls

6/19/08 at Coors Field

Let me start with a big THANKS to everyone who took photographs of me yesterday. I really appreciate it…

Okay, so the Associated Press was done with me. They had followed me around for the past two days and felt they got everything they needed, so I was on my own. As a result, I decided to break out the big glove (which I had used only once before on 4/24/08 at Champion Stadium). I figured the Indians were sick of me and probably wouldn’t throw me any balls unless I had an edge–a really, really obnoxious edge.

As soon as I ran inside Coors for batting practice, two home runs clanged off the metal bleacher benches in left field, and I grabbed them both. Check out the gash on the first ball:

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Before the bleachers got crowded, I was able to race up the steps from the front row whenever a home run was sailing over my head:

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Unfortunately I didn’t snag the ball in the photo above (or any of these balls for that matter), but I did get one tossed to me by Kip Wells:

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It was still early so I kept the big glove in my backpack. There weren’t any kids behind me shouting for balls (yet) but I did have to compete with two Coors Field regulars: Jameson Sutton and Robert Harmon. Here we are…walking around in the front row:

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Jameson (wearing the dark blue T-shirt), as many of you know, is the fan who snagged Barry Bonds’ final home run ball, and Robert (in the background with the gray beard) was right there with him on that fateful September night. It was strange to be snagging baseballs with these guys after having written a long article about them only a few months earlier. For the bulk of last winter, I had been trying to track down the mystery man who snagged that ball. I was talking to fans (starting with Robert) and members of the Rockies’ front office and people at the Hall of Fame and presidents of auction houses. It was the ultimate scavenger hunt…and then…poof! Jameson appeared. And it was a HUGE story in the sports world. And I flew to Denver for the press conference. And now…here we all were, just hanging out and chasing BP balls like it was nothing. And by the way, about half an hour later, I saw Jameson reach over the wall and make a nice one-handed catch on a home run. The point is…when I was first interviewing him on the phone, he had claimed that he dropped the Bonds homer because he was bumped from the side, and although the video replay backed him up, I still thought he was just some lucky klutz who’d let a life-changing ball deflect off the heel of his glove. But now that I’ve seen him in action, I can say with confidence that Jameson is very athletic and perfectly capable of catching any ball that comes his way.

It was time for the big glove:

zack_big_glove_coors1.jpg

Rockies pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez (who surrendered Bonds’ final home run) tossed me a ball just before the Rockies finished BP, but the Indians weren’t impressed. C.C. Sabathia smiled at me for about an eighth of a second and then tossed a ball to someone else:

zack_big_glove_coors2.jpg

Two minutes later, Ben Francisco showed no love for the big glove by tossing a ball right over my head. Could I blame him? Not at all. Check out my competition:

competition_during_batting_practice.jpg

I happened to be wearing the big glove a bit later in left-center field (because I was trying unsuccessfully to get Grad
y Sizemore’s attention) when one of the Indians batters hit a deep fly ball in my direction. Rafael Perez chased the ball but couldn’t catch it and it bounced right to me:

zack_big_glove_coors3.jpg

Did I catch it? No. The fan next to me reached out and deflected it and caused the ball to drop back onto the field.

I sensed an opportunity in straight-away left field and took off:

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Yes! Francisco DID show me some glove-love after all:

zack_big_glove_coors5.jpg

As for Rafael Betancourt?

zack_big_glove_coors6.jpg

No love. And when BP ended soon after, I only had five balls. I was hoping for double digits, at least one on this trip, but it just wasn’t happening. At least Mr. Evil (arms folded in the photo above) got shut out for the second game in a row. He hasn’t gotten a single ball since he shoved me three days ago.

After BP, I signed a couple baseballs for two kids named Hunter and Mylee–the kids of a guy named Don (aka “Rock Pile Ranter” to those of you who read the comments) who’s wearing the floppy hat in the following photo:

zack_signing_autographs.jpg

I (jokingly) told the kids to hold onto the baseballs because they were worth a lot of money.

“Yeah,” said Jameson in front of the other ballhawks, “but my autograph is worth more than yours.”

We all laughed (even *I* had to laugh) and then posed for a photo:

zack_robert_dan_danny_jameson.jpg

The guy standing on the right is Danny Wood (who snagged Bonds’ 698th career homer), and the guy to HIS right is Dan Sauvageau (who’s caught 36 homers on a fly during games). I know I’ve mentioned these snagging accomplishments in previous entries, but I’m saying it again here in case you missed it or forgot. Between the five of us, we’ve probably snagged close to 10,000 balls.

I used the big glove to get Casey Blake to throw me a ball at the Indians’ dugout just before the first pitch, and guess what happened…the ball went right through! Apparently, one of the holes in the webbing is just a bit too big, but I got lucky and still ended up with the ball. It landed behind me in the empty second row and trickled out onto the staircase where several other fans were a bit too late in trying to snatch it.

The game was a disaster for me. I had a ticket for the front row in left-center field, and I decided to sit along the left field foul line instead:

zack_during_game_from_afar.jpg

I figured it’d be dead in the outfield and that I’d have a bunch of chances to scoop up foul grounders.

This was my view during the game…

coors_view_during_game.jpg

…and I *did* catch a foul grounder (my 200th ball of the season) off Francisco’s bat in the top of the third inning…

foul_grounder_200th_ball_of_2008.jpg

…but there were **TWO** home runs hit **EXACTLY** to my seat, and the same guy caught them both!!! Oh my God, I felt (and still feel) like the biggest A-Hole on the planet. First Manny in Baltimore…then Griffey in Miami…now this crap in Denver. This is seriously the worst month of my ball-snagging career. What good is it to average 7.7 balls per game if none of the balls mean anything?! Okay, great, I got a foul ball during the game, but in the grand scheme of things, WHO CARES?!?!

I was so upset that I had to distract myself by eating Dippin’ Dots and photographing the clouds…

clouds_by_zack.jpg

…but I couldn’t even do THAT right. Robert, the real photographer, was also taking pics of the clouds, and snapped one that was just a little bit better:

clouds_by_robert.jpg

In case you’re wondering, Robert’s photo is not Photoshopped. There was no trick photography involved, and I know this because:

1) The silhouette of the stadium isn’t blurry, which means he wasn’t moving the camera, and

2) He came back to my hotel room directly after the game, swapped memory cards with me, and I downloaded all his photos directly onto my laptop. This was one of them.

Here’s another…of me photographing the ball with the gash:

zack_photographing_his_pathetic_balls.jpg

Yes, I like bottled water. And I recycle.

Anyway, the Rockies swept the Indians. Blah blah. As if it matters. I’m so pissed off. And I’m acting like a baby. I know this. You don’t need to point it out. Hopefully I can end this trip with some better luck tonight against the Mets. Reminder: LOOK FOR ME ON TV. Tape the game if you can. If I do happen to catch a home run, I’d love to own the footage. I might not be sitting exactly in my seat all night, but I’m definitely not going to stray too far. Look for the Waldo shirt and if you’re up for it, keep a running tally of all the times you spot me. Game time is 9:05 p.m. ET. Don’t miss it.

STATS:

? 7 balls at this game

? 200 balls in 26 games this season = 7.7 balls per game.

? 522 consecutive games with at least one ball

? 125 consecutive games outside NYC with at least one ball

? 895 lifetime balls outside NYC

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

? 25 lifetime game balls outside NYC

? 5 consecutive seasons with at least 200 balls (Click here for my yearly breakdown.)

? 3,477 total balls

Barry Bonds 762 press conference

Last month, in case you missed it, I wrote a long article about Barry Bonds’ final home run ball and the fan who snagged it, then flew to Colorado for the press conference at which that fan–a 24-year-old from Boulder named Jameson Sutton–came forward for the first time. Naturally I took a bunch of pics (and received a few others), and here they are…

My stay in Denver started with a late-nite gathering at the Blake Street Tavern. I took a cab there straight from the airport and met the key players for the first time. Here we are in the pic below, from left to right: Robert Harmon, Jameson Sutton, David Kohler (the owner of SCP Auctions which is handling the sale of the ball), me, and Jameson’s brother Randy:

Thumbnail image for robert_jameson_david_zack_randy.jpg
Me with The Man:

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My dinner (this stuff is important to document):

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While we were all waiting for the editors at Yahoo to get my story online, Jameson and Robert were using THE fake ball to recreate the battle for the real one:

jameson_robert_competition.jpg

Finally, I got the call, found a wireless connection, and pulled up the story on my laptop:

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I read the story aloud as Jameson and the others looked on:

zack_reads_story_with_jameson.jpg

The next morning, on the way to the press conference, I got my picture taken across the street from Coors Field:

zack_coors_field.jpg

Jameson likes stripes. Here he is about half an hour before making his official appearance:

jameson.jpg

Did you notice the woman standing in the background? Here she is again. She might look sweet, but don’t mess with her. She had a gun, and she was guarding The Real Ball.

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The press conference took place at the ESPN Zone. I arrived early while the media was just starting to set up:

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Here’s another look at the cameras:

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During the press conference itself, I roamed all over the room and took pics from various angles. Here’s one from the back:

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Here’s another (with David, the auction owner, on Jameson’s right) from closer up:

jameson_at_the_podium2.jpg

CLICK HERE to see a one-minute video that I shot. Did you watch it? Good. Now take a look at Jameson holding up The Real Ball:

jameson_holding_ball.jpg

Robert wishing he were holding The Real Ball (after the press conference):

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Close-up of The Real Ball:

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Me in the background:

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One last pic with Jameson before racing off to catch my flight:

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The Real Ball is currently being auctioned online. There’s a two-week window for people to bid, and you can follow it all RIGHT HERE.

Two other unrelated pieces of news:

1) I’m in the current issue of Southwest Airlines’ official magazine. Check it out.

2) I’m driving to Boston tomorrow for a Watch With Zack game at Fenway on Tuesday. Red Sox home opener. Ring ceremony. Pretty good seats. Just hoping for at least one ball…