This was one of the most fun/hectic days I’ve ever experienced at a major league stadium.
For starters, it was a Watch With Zack game; my client was a 23-year-old from Indiana named Justin. We were joined by Phil Taylor, a senior writer for Sports Illustrated, who’s working on a big story about ballhawking. And that’s not all. There was also a two-person film crew following my every move and getting footage for a separate documentary about collectors. (I blogged about the filmmakers two months ago when they first interviewed me.)
See what I mean?
Fun. And hectic.
Let me point out that Justin didn’t mind the media being there. In fact, he was looking forward to getting a behind-the-scenes look at how it would all go down. He had booked this game a month in advance, so when the media contacted me and asked if they could tag along with me at a game, I ran it by Justin first to make sure it was okay. If he had said no, then I would’ve picked a different game to do the interviews.
Anyway, let’s get to the first photo of the day. It shows some friends, acquaintances, and “key players” outside the gate:
From left to right, you’re looking at:
1) Phil Taylor from Sports Illustrated.
3) Justin, my Watch With Zack client.
4) An aspiring ballhawk named Andrew. He and I have now run into each other three times since last season, all at different stadiums.
5) Avi Miller (check out those orange socks) who writes an outstanding Orioles blog.
6) Rick Gold, a fellow ballhawk, who began the day with 937 lifetime balls.
7) My good friend Ben Hill, who writes a blog about minor league baseball’s wackiest promotions. He lives in NYC and traveled to Baltimore with me for the day. He’s gone to several games with me in the past, including this one three years ago in Philly.
I saw some other familiar faces outside the gate and made a couple new friends during the hour that we were all standing around. By the time the stadium opened, there were a ton of people. Everyone was really friendly, we had a lot of laughs, and I remember thinking, “Phil picked a good day to join me.” I mean…most of the people I see/meet at games are friendly, but it just felt like love was in the air a bit more than usual. During the five hours that Phil spent with me, several fans asked for my autograph, one guy asked to have his six-year-old son’s picture taken with me, and two female ushers greeted me with hugs. Bottom line: ballhawking has gotten some bad press in recent seasons, so I’m hopeful that Phil got a positive impression of it based on our time together.
Five minutes before the stadium opened, the filmmakers showed up. I didn’t take a photo of them at that point because I was distracted. I was being interviewed by Phil, and I was giving Justin a few pointers, and I was focused on being the first one in so I could try to beat everyone else to the left field seats. Moments after I got there, I took the following photo:
Justin, wearing the orange Orioles shirt that he’d received on the way in, was already in position 13 rows back. Rick, wearing the black shirt, was walking through my row.
BP was dead at the start. An usher had already combed through the seats to pick up the loose baseballs, and the Orioles weren’t hitting many home runs. It’s too bad there wasn’t more action because the media was officially on the scene:
That’s Paul with the big camera and Meredith with the smaller one (and of course that’s Phil from Sports Illustrated sitting between them).
After ten minutes or so, I raced one full section to my left and snagged a home run ball that landed in the seats, and on the very next pitch, I sprinted back to my original spot and caught a homer on the fly. That felt good. I was on the board. I’d even used a bit of athleticism. Phil had gotten a good view. Paul and Meredith had gotten good footage.
What about Justin, you ask?
Two days earlier, when I had spoken to him on the phone, he told me that he wanted ME to break double digits. He also told me that he didn’t want any of the balls that I caught, and that he mainly wanted to learn by watching me in action. But still, he wanted to snag some baseballs on his own, and I did my best to help him.
Unfortunately, the Orioles stopped hitting at 5:16pm — roughly 15 minutes ahead of schedule — so that took a major chunk of opportunities away from us. It did, however, give us a chance to wander into foul territory and focus on getting balls from the Angels.
Justin threw on a maroon Angels T-shirt and headed to the corner spot near the 3rd base camera well:
When the Angels started throwing, Justin moved down the foul line into shallow left field, and as a result, I happened to get the next two balls. Mike Napoli tossed me one. The other was a random overthrow that skipped off the rubberized warning track and bounced into the empty front row.
Paul and Meredith followed me everywhere and kept the cameras rolling:
I helped Justin pick the best possible spot along the foul line…
…and played a role in getting Jered Weaver to toss him a ball. This was only the third ball that he’d ever snagged at a major league game, and it was the first one that had been given to him by a player.
Moments later, another errant throw bounced off the warning track and ended up in the seats, this time ten rows back, so I scampered up the steps and grabbed it.
The Angels had started hitting by that point, and I noticed that a ball had rolled onto the warning track in straight-away left field. I hurried over, used my glove trick to reel it in, and immediately handed the ball to the smallest kid with a glove.
That was my sixth ball of the day, and I got Scott Kazmir to throw me No. 7 in left-center. I was about eight rows back when I got his attention. He lobbed it perfectly, right over everyone and into my glove. (After batting practice, I gave that ball away, too.)
That’s when things slowed way down. The stands got really crowded, and I ran into some bad luck. For example, I was standing in one spot for about ten minutes, and there was NO action there. Eventually, I ran down to the front row to chase a ball that ended up falling short, and while I was there, Howie Kendrick hit a home run that landed right where I’d been. But hey, that’s just how it goes. I realize that I’d gotten lucky earlier with the two overthrows that bounced near me in the seats.
Justin was in a good spot, or at least a spot that’s normally good, but the balls just weren’t flying our way, and the Angels abruptly stopped hitting at 6:08pm. The visiting team’s batting practice normally goes until 6:20-ish, so that sucked. On the plus side, though, the shortened session of BP gave us extra time to eat and talk to Phil. (Justin got interviewed, too.) Paul and Meredith suggested eating at one of the tables near the concession stand. That certainly would have been easier because they had to deal with their equipment in addition to their food and beverages, but I insisted on heading back to the seats — and it’s a good thing. Halfway through the meal/interview, I noticed that Orlando Mercado and Mike Napoli were getting close to finishing playing catch down the left field line.
“Run over there,” I told Justin with a mouthful of pepperoni pizza. “You’ll probably get that ball, but you have to hurry.”
He looked over in the direction where I was pointing, shrugged, and took another bite of his chicken strips.
“Fine,” I said, “I’ll go over there.”
I threw my pizza back in the box, wiped my hand on my shirt, grabbed my glove…and returned 90 seconds later with the ball. Mercado, thankfully, had been the one who ended up with it. I’m pretty sure that Napoli would’ve recognized me and thrown it to someone else.
Shortly before game time, I got Torii Hunter’s autograph on my ticket:
(I tried to get him to use my blue Sharpie, but he was moving quickly with his own black marker.)
Justin and Phil and I spent most of the game in the standing-room-only section in right field:
There were lots of lefties in the lineup, so it was a good spot, but of course there wasn’t any action. The closest we came was when Luke Scott blasted a home run to right-center field, which, according to Hit Tracker, traveled 447 feet. The ball cleared the seats and landed in the narrow walkway at the very back of the section. I ran in that direction from the standing room…
…but got trapped behind a couple other fans approximately 15 feet from the spot where it landed.
Paul and Meredith had already taken off by that point, and Phil left soon after. He felt like he’d gotten enough info/material, and he told me he’d get in touch if he had any follow-up questions. His article, by the way, will either run this season as the pennant races are heating up or it’ll run next spring in the “baseball preview” issue. Phil told me that he had interviewed some other ballhawks (he wouldn’t say who) and that they all told him that he had to talk to me. (That was nice to hear.) I mentioned a lot of names to him, so there’s really no telling who else he’ll end up interviewing.
Anyway, late in the game, Justin and I went for foul balls. This was our view for several left-handed batters:
Then, in the top of the ninth, I helped him sneak down to the umpires’ tunnel behind the plate. He took the right side of the tunnel, and I hung back a few rows on the left. In the following photo, the red arrow is pointing to him:
After the final out, home plate ump Jerry Layne placed a ball in Justin’s glove…
…and then he handed me a ball, too, just before he disappeared.
That was it. Justin doubled his lifetime total by snagging two baseballs, and I finished with nine — not terrible considering that the teams skipped half an hour’s worth of batting practice.
Final score: Orioles 6, Angels 3. (Nice debut for Buck Showalter as the Birds’ new skipper.)
In case you were wondering, my friend Ben Hill was nowhere near me during the game. He met up with his own friend, and they sat together behind the Orioles’ dugout. Ben has finally achieved full-time status at MLBAM (Major League Baseball Advanced Media), so he now has a pass that gets him into any non-sold-out major league game for free, and once he’s inside, he can sit wherever he wants. Pretty cool, huh? If only he had more free time to take advantage.
Ben took one final photo of me and Justin after the game:
Justin and I then said our goodbyes. Ben and I then made the three-hour drive back to New York City.
• 9 balls at this game (7 pictured on the right because I gave two away)
• 211 balls in 23 games this season = 9.2 balls per game.
• 652 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 199 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 24 consecutive Watch With Zack games with at least two balls
• 4,569 total balls
• 45 donors (click here to learn more)
• $6.49 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $58.41 raised at this game
• $1,369.39 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
Day 2 of the San Juan Series started with another long line outside the bleacher entrance:
See the guy in the gray All-Star Game shirt? His name is Mike. We’d met the day before, and we ended up sitting together at this game.
One minute after the gates opened, this was the scene:
In case you can’t tell, it’s a photo of the Marlins jogging off the field.
During that lone minute of batting practice, Anibal Sanchez threw two baseballs to me. I was the only one wearing Marlins gear, and at that point, I was the only fan wearing a glove and calling out to him, so he didn’t have many other options. He probably figured that I’d give away the second ball, and I did. In fact, I gave them both away to a pair of extremely friendly security guards.
Soon after the Mets started hitting, the bleachers got insanely crowded:
There wasn’t any room to run, so I headed underneath the bleachers and played the gap behind the outfield wall. Here’s what it looked like down there:
Several minutes later, a different security guard kicked me out (along with the few other fans who’d ventured down), so I had to find another spot.
Hmm, where to go…
I decided to stand behind the outfield wall in right-center. Surely, there’d be a few bombs hit that way, right?
This was my view straight head:
This was my view to the right…
…and to the left:
I had a ton of open space all around me, and there wasn’t anyone else who was even thinking of snagging a baseball.
How many balls do you think I got during the next half hour? Go ahead, take a guess. Three? Five? Ten? Twenty? Think big. It was warm. Fly balls were carrying. The players, undoubtedly, were pumped to be playing in Puerto Rico. Home runs galore, right?
Ready for the answer?
The Mets didn’t hit a single home run to center field — or anywhere near center field. They didn’t hit any ground-rule doubles either. It was so dead that for a moment I wondered if BP was still taking place. I peeked through a narrow gap in the center field wall:
Yup, the Mets were still hitting.
Meanwhile, half a dozen balls dropped into the gap behind the left field wall. I would’ve snagged all or most of them if I’d been allowed to stay there. It was just one of those days. And that was it for BP.
Now get this: I had three tickets for this game. Let me explain…
When tickets first went on sale, I wasn’t able to just buy one ticket for one game. I had to buy one ticket for all three. Does that make sense? It’s like they were being sold as a strip, or as a package, or whatever you want to call it. I knew that my girlfriend wasn’t going to attend all three games, but since she was going to attend at least one, I had to buy two tickets for each game. Anyway, this was the game that she chose to skip. (She decided she’d have more fun at the hotel, working out in the fitness room, getting woozy in the steam room, and lounging at the pool.) So, in addition to my own bleacher ticket, I also had hers.
What about the third ticket, you ask?
Well, once individual seats finally went on sale, I splurged and bought an extra, fancy-ish ticket on the first base side. Why? Because I’d learned that the bleachers were completely separate from the rest of the stadium. Buying that extra ticket was the only way I’d be able to wander all around and get the full experience.
This was the first thing I saw when I entered the main concourse behind home plate:
There was a band blasting music just outside the gates, and as you can see, there were people walking on stilts and dancing in crazy mascot costumes. It was a truly wild/festive scene, and the best thing about it (unlike all the hoopla I experienced at the 2007 All-Star Game) is that none of it felt contrived. There was a genuine vibe of joy and exuberance. People were just excited to be at a baseball game, plain and simple.
I walked through the concourse to the 3rd base side, then headed through a tunnel and into the seats. Check out this cross-aisle — a perfect place for chasing foul balls:
I walked up the steps toward the upper/outermost corner…
…and discovered that there was a secondary concourse at the very back:
Behold the puddles:
What’s up with that? Was the ice machine leaking?
This was the view of the field from that back corner of the ballpark:
I walked down the steps, and when I looked to my left, this is what I saw:
Gotta love the Roberto Clemente truck. It was parked in an employees-only area between the grandstand and the bleachers. See that thing with the black fence and tan roof? That was the Mets’ batting cage. Here’s a closer look at it:
This was as close as I could get to the field:
As you can see in the photo above, the four rows down in front were roped off.
There was no way to sneak down there; every single staircase around the entire stadium was guarded by an usher. Here’s one of the ushers behind the 1st base dugout:
See the shirt that he’s wearing? I really wanted one, but obviously they weren’t being sold. The ushers wore those shirts every day. If the fans had been able to buy and wear them, too, it would’ve caused all kinds of security issues. There were some “San Juan Series” shirts for sale at the main souvenir stand, but they weren’t nearly as nice.
Normally, when I visit a stadium for the first time, I make a point of going to the last row of the upper deck and taking a couple photos that I can later combine into a panorama. Hiram Bithorn Stadium has no upper deck, so here’s what I ended up with:
Here’s a look at the stadium from the back of the seats on the 1st base side:
Here’s one of two ramps that lead to the press box:
I suspect this would be a good place to get autographs, but I didn’t stick around. It was only 20 minutes ’til game time, so I made my way back down the steps and took a couple pics of the multi-colored seats:
Then I headed into the lower concourse and saw the best concession stand of all time:
That concluded my tour of the main part of the stadium.
I headed out through the gate…
…and stopped for a minute to watch the band:
It might not look like they were playing, but they were. The blurry guy right in front was jumping all over the place while performing a drum solo.
When I made it back to the bleachers, there happened to be a TV crew from some local station called El Nuevo Dia getting shots of the crowd. The host recognized me as the guy who’d caught Mike Stanton’s home run the day before, and he asked if he could interview me. (He was bilingual.) While he was introducing me, Mike grabbed my camera and took the following photo:
It was a quick interview. Probably less than 60 seconds. Standard stuff. The guy basically asked me where I’m from and what I was doing in Puerto Rico, and we talked baseball.
The highlight for me during the game was that I snagged another San Juan Series commemorative ball (I’d gotten two the day before), and it was embarrassingly easy. With one out in the bottom of the 2nd, Dan Uggla ripped a line drive down the left field line. The ball hooked foul. I raced to my right through the cross-aisle. Mets left fielder Jason Bay jogged over and retrieved it. I was the only person in the aisle, so when I shouted at him, he tossed it right to me.
This was my view of the field, at least for a few moments here and there:
(FYI: the woman in the photo above is a vendor.)
In the bottom of the 5th, Uggla smoked a line drive home run right at me. I was lined up with it. There wasn’t any competition in the stands. It was going to be the easiest catch ever, but the ball fell five feet short and dropped into the gap and trickled under the bleachers. Here’s a screen shot that shows me looking down at it:
If I could do it all over again, I would have climbed over the railing and jumped down into the gap. At the time, I was one-third concerned about getting in trouble, one-third worried about getting hurt, and one-third convinced that there was already someone down there (a cameraman or security guard or fan) who must’ve grabbed the ball, so I stood there like an idiot and watched and waited…and waited…and waited, and 15 seconds later, some little kid appeared out of nowhere and ran under the bleachers and grabbed the ball and ran back out holding it up triumphantly. Good for the kid. Bad for me. It really would’ve been great to get that ball, and as it turned out, someone else jumped over the fence later on — without any negative consequences — for a warm-up that dropped into the gap. I really feel like I wasted an opportunity. It was one of only two homers in the game. The other was a grand slam by Hanley Ramirez that barely cleared the wall in left-center, bounced back onto the field, and immediately got tossed back into the crowd by Mets center fielder Angel Pagan. I tried running over, but didn’t even come close.
Final score: Marlins 7, Mets 6.
As for that Uggla foul ball that got tossed up to me, I took a bunch of photos of it and ended up with two that I simply have to share. I’ll post one now and the other after the stats:
• 3 balls at this game (1 pictured above/below because I gave the other two away)
• 179 balls in 18 games this season = 9.9 balls per game.
• 647 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 197 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 4,537 total balls
• 37 donors (click hereto learn more)
• $5.41 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $16.23 raised at this game
• $968.39 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
Major League Baseball in Puerto Rico?
The Mets and Marlins moved a three-game series to Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan, and I made the trip from New York City to be there:
Yeah, I was a bit excited. It was my first time at this stadium, and as you might expect, I took a ton of photos. (For some reason, when the Expos played a bunch of games here in 2003 and 2004, I neglected to take advantage.)
Let’s start with the Hiram Bithorn statue:
Did you know that there was a guy named Hiram Bithorn? I wasn’t aware of that until I booked this trip and did a little research. Bithorn, born in 1916, was the first Puerto Rican to play in the Major Leagues. Check out all the info about him on the statue’s plaque:
In 1943, the dude went 18-12 with seven shutouts and a 2.60 ERA. That’s pretty impressive, and THAT is how you get a stadium named after you.
It was only 3pm. The gates weren’t going to open for another two hours, so I had plenty of time to wander.
Here’s the area with all the media/TV trucks:
Look at the slanted light towers:
Here’s a close-up of the trucks:
Here’s my first glimpse of the scoreboard inside the stadium:
In the four-part photo below (starting on the top left and then going clockwise), you can see 1) the area beyond the right field corner of the stadium, 2) lawnmowers parked in the parking lot and Roberto Clemente Stadium in the distance, 3) the edge of the grandstand on the first base side, and 4) the road that curves around from right field to left field:
While walking along that road, I saw an open gate:
It was some sort of employee entrance. This is what I saw through the bars:
It was the back of the right field bleachers. I had a bleacher ticket. I didn’t know if I’d be allowed to move back and forth from right to left field, but it looked promising. I also didn’t know if there’d be batting practice. It had just been pouring for 20 minutes, and there was still thunder and lightning in the area.
Here’s another four-part photo that shows 1) the road behind the right field edge of the stadium, 2) a Puerto Rican stop sign, 3) a view of the stadium from deeeeeeep center field, and 4) another gate of some sort:
I was so confused.
Nothing was marked, few people spoke English, and let me tell you, I was in heaven. It’s like I was discovering a new way to watch baseball.
Hiram Bithorn Stadium is the largest baseball stadium in Puerto Rico, and it only holds about 20,000 fans. There’s no upper deck. No club level. No standing-room sections. No cup holders. No flat-screen TVs. No waiter service. It’s incredibly simple, and yes, also dumpy and run-down, but that’s what makes it nice. It’s the opposite of the new Yankee Stadium. It’s unrefined, and I don’t mean that as an insult. I like unrefined. I like it when puddles don’t drain. I like it when garbage cans overflow. That’s real life. You know what I mean? Take Target Field, for example. That stadium is an architectural marvel, but it’s almost too perfect. When I was there last month, it kinda felt like I was in a modern art museum.
But let’s get back to Hiram Bithorn Stadium. Look at all this clutter sitting around just inside the random gate:
Is that a beautiful sight or what? I’m totally serious. It was great to experience Major League Baseball in a facility where every inch of space wasn’t being micromanaged.
Here’s another four-part photo that shows 1) the area outside the left field corner of the stadium, 2) police guarding an employee entrance along the left field foul line, 3) the view as I cut across toward the 3rd base line, and 4) the walkway that leads to the main entrance.
This is what the gates look like…
…and here’s a sneak-peek at the concourse inside:
The sun finally came out. I ran across the street to use a bathroom inside a gigantic mall and took this photo of the stadium on the way back:
The stadium was jumping at that point. There were food tents and vendors and DJ booths and promoters aggressively handing out thunder sticks. The whole place had a carnival-like atmosphere. Look how crowded it was:
Luckily, there was a special someone holding a spot for me near the front of the line:
I’m talking about my girlfriend Jona, pictured above in the white shirt and torn jeans. Unfortunately, we were in line at the wrong spot. We couldn’t enter the main part of the stadium with bleacher tickets, so at the last second, we had to get out of line and head halfway around the stadium, and by the time we got inside, we’d missed a few minutes of batting practice. But hey, at least there WAS batting practice. The Mets were on the field, and before I had a chance to blink, a right-handed batter crushed a home run to the back of the bleachers. I raced up the steps and grabbed the ball after lunging over a railing.
Mission accomplished! It was the 48th “major league” stadium at which I’d snagged at least one ball. I wouldn’t have counted Hiram Bithorn on my list if I’d snagged baseballs at a Puerto Rico Baseball League game or even at the World Baseball Classic, but this was different. I was here for an actual regular-season major league game. If the wins and losses and stats were gonna count for the teams and players, then it was only fair that the balls would count in my collection.
After getting that first ball, I took a few photos of the glorious bleacher configuration. Look at the cross-aisle in front…
…and check out the gap behind the outfield wall:
I got one of the Mets’ strength/conditioning coaches to toss me a ball near the left field foul pole, and then things slowed way down. The bleachers were general admission, so everyone showed up early to claim a good spot, and as a result, the whole section got crowded fast. There just wasn’t much room to run. Batting practice was a major struggle. The expression on my face tells the whole story:
(That’s me in the Mets gear.) Here’s a closer look:
Finally, after 20 minutes of frustration, I got my third ball of the day from Bobby Parnell. The fact that I spoke perfect, accent-free English probably helped convince him to hook me up. There were very few people from the States. I’d say 99 percent of the fans were Latino/Puerto Rican. Although there’s no telling what kind of effect that had on my ability to snag baseballs, it’s an interesting factor to consider.
Left field was dead, so I decided to see if I could move to the right field side. Naturally, I took some photos along the way.
First, here’s the staircase that leads up into the left field bleachers:
Here’s the view to the left:
See all those people walking toward the batter’s eye in center field?
(Oh yeah, baby…)
Not only was I free to roam between left and right field, but there was a TON of open space in between. Check it out:
Here’s one more photo to show you what I’m talking about. I took it behind the wall in center field.
I couldn’t decide where to go. The opportunities — the ball-snagging potential — was truly mind-boggling.
All of a sudden, I saw a ball fly over the wall in right-center and drop down into the gap in front of the bleachers. Was I allowed to chase after it? I had no idea what the rules were, so I raced over…and this is what I saw:
The photo above is blurry because I was running full speed when I took it, but anyway, yeah, I was totally allowed to run under the bleachers. The ball was just sitting there, waiting for me. My first three balls of the day were regular MLB balls; this one was a training ball. It was all muddy, so I kept it in my hand as I headed back into the left field bleachers. When I got there, a female security supervisor (who’d seen me get a ball earlier) asked me if I could spare the ball. She told me there was a kid who was crying because someone else had taken a ball from him.
“Where’s the kid?” I asked, expecting to see a five-year-old.
“Over there,” she said, pointing to a teenaged boy curled up with his face in his mother’s lap.
“Are you serious?” I asked. “He’s too big to be crying.” I was going to tell her that there’s no crying in baseball, but I didn’t know if she’d get it. Anyway, it was no laughing matter, so I handed her the ball so that she could be the one to give it to the boy.
Well, the kid was thrilled, his entire family was thrilled, and the supervisor loved me after that and took good care of me for the rest of the series.
That was it for batting practice. The Mets finished hitting at 5:50pm — half an hour earlier than I expected — and I was stuck in the bleachers. There wasn’t anything to do. There wasn’t anything to photograph. So I just sat there with Jona and waited for the game to start.
This was our terrible view…
…but it was worth it because I had lots of room to run through the aisle on either side.
Do you remember my previous blog entry? I said I was going to be wearing my “Where’s Waldo” shirt in order to make it easier for people to spot me on TV. (I brought four shirts to this game.) That’s all. just wanted to remind you of that fact.
Before the top of the 2nd inning got underway, Marlins left fielder Chris Coghlan threw his warm-up ball into the bleachers. He hadn’t aimed for anyone in particular. It was just a random toss. It happened to come right to me, but it was several feet over my head, so I jumped as high as I could…
…and came down with it. (Jona’s camera could not contain me!)
With no outs in the top of the 5th inning, Jason Bay smoked a 1-1 pitch from Ricky Nolasco down the left field line. The ball hooked foul and rattled around in the corner, and by the time Coghlan jogged over to retrieve it, I had already bolted through the aisle so that I was standing right behind him. Once again, he randomly flipped the ball up into the crowd, and wouldn’t you know it, I was able to grab this one as well. But this wasn’t any ordinary ball. Have a look:
Oh yes, my friends, that’s right. MLB and Rawlings International had designed a special commemorative logo for this series. Here’s a closer look:
I had heard from one of my contacts at MLB that these special balls were only going to be used during games — not during BP. He actually offered to send one to me before I went on this trip, but I didn’t take him up on it.
“Let me see if I can snag one on my own first,” I said.
And…voila! Another mission had been accomplished. At that point, the only thing left for me to achieve was catching a game home run, and if ever there was a time to do it, this was it.
Of the 18 players in the game, 14 were batting from the right side, and yet the first four home runs of the night went to right field. It was tempting to run over there, but I decided to hold my ground in straight-away left.
With two outs in the bottom of the 8th, I pulled out my camera and took the following photo:
There were two runners on base, and Mike Stanton was batting, but I wasn’t thinking about that. Mainly, I just wanted a photo that captured the simplicity of the scoreboard. There was no pitch count. There were no stats other than his .203 batting average. It didn’t even say what he’d done earlier in the game.
The count was 1-1, and the next pitch was a strike.
No big deal.
I took another photo to capture all the room I had on my left:
“What a waste,” I thought, “that there haven’t been any homers hit to left field.”
On the very next pitch, Stanton cranked a deep fly ball in my direction.
“HOLD THIS!!! HOLD THIS!!! HOLD THIS!!!” I yelled at Jona, reaching to my right to hand the camera to her.
From the second the ball left Stanton’s bat, I knew it was coming to me. I mean right to me. I don’t know how I knew. I just knew. And I also knew I was going to catch it. It was as simple as that.
Here are a few screen shots from the TV broadcast to show you how it played out. First, you can see Jason Bay running back toward the wall. Note the “Waldo” stripes directly behind him:
In the screen shot above, approximately five feet to the left of where I was standing, you can see a fan wearing a white shirt with red sleeves. He ended up drifting over, and he nearly cost me the ball. Look how close he was when I reached up for it:
Like I said, the ball was coming RIGHT toward me. I wasn’t going to have to jump or lean out over the railing. All I had to do was reach up for it, but this other guy (who was not wearing a glove) was reaching up, too. His hands were right in front of my face, and I knew that it was gonna be a battle to see who could reach the furthest.
Here’s a closer look at the screen shot above. I’ve drawn two little red dots over his hands, and I’ve drawn an arrow to show you the ball going into my glove:
That should illustrate just how close he came to getting a piece of the ball. I had tried to box him out (simply by holding my ground), but he managed to reach in front of me at the last second. Still, I think my effort to block him made a slight difference, and as a result, the ball cleared his left hand by about four inches.
I had the ball!!!
Here’s a closer look at my reaction:
(Unfortunately, you can’t see Jona in any of these screen shots, but she saw me. In fact, it was the first game home run that she’d ever seen me catch on the fly.)
Half the fans were really happy for me, and I got a few high fives:
The other half were p*ssed because it was the third ball I’d snagged during the game, and get this: three minutes later, before the top of the 9th started, I got another. Coghlan threw another warm-up ball into the crowd. It sailed about five feet over my head, but because all the fans reached for it at once, they all booted it, and the ball dropped right down to me. There was a huge crowd in the aisle, going for the rebound, but I managed to stick out my glove and catch it before it hit the ground.
I immediately handed the ball to the smallest kid with a glove, and then I reached into my backpack and pulled out another ball and gave that one away, too. Everyone started cheering and shaking my hand. A bunch of parents asked if they could take photos of me with their kids. It was nuts, Here I am with the two kids that received baseballs:
After the game (which the Marlins won, 10-3), I got more high-fives and handshakes. Several people asked me to sign autographs:
Did I mention that it was nuts? Everyone wanted to stop and talk. (One man said, “Everybody is famous for one day. Today is your day.”) It’s like I was their good luck charm — as if touching me or connecting with me was going to bring them fortune. I’ve never experienced fans reacting like that before. iViva Puerto Rico!
Everyone was energized, it seemed. Outside the stadium, the vendors were still selling food, the DJs were still blasting music, and people were dancing just about everywhere:
This was probably the most unusual major league game I’ve ever attended, and I’m not talking about the action on the field. There had been fans with air horns and vuvuzelas inside the stadium. There’d been people playing drums and singing and chanting. It was so happy and festive and joyous and just…I don’t know…raw…and stadium security didn’t really give a damn about anything.
Before Jona and I headed back to the hotel, I met up with two guys who’d been reading this blog and got in touch to tell me they’d be here. These guys didn’t know each other. One was from San Juan. The other was from Michigan. Here I am with them:
The guy on the left is named Gustavo. (Unlike this Gustavo, he’s incredibly friendly.) He had actually gotten in touch two years ago and sent me one of the longest/nicest emails I’ve ever received. You can read that email on this page on my web site. Just search for “Gustavo” or scroll down to September 14, 2008, and you’ll see it. The guy on the right is named Mike. He had contacted me a few weeks earlier, and he was really cool, too. He’s been to 46 major league stadiums.
One last thing…
There are lots of highlights of the Mike Stanton homer, but thanks to a friend in New York who taped the game, I got a hold of the best footage of all. It’s a one-minute clip from SNY, the Mets’ cable network. The file (.mov format) is 15MB, so you might need to give it a minute to load. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Mets’ announcers, the two guys talking about me at the end are Gary Cohen and former major leaguer Ron Darling. Enjoy…
• 8 balls at this game (5 pictured on the right because I gave three away)
• 176 balls in 17 games this season = 10.4 balls per game.
• 646 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 196 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 48 different major league stadiums with at least one ball
• 13 lifetime game home runs (not counting toss-ups); click here for the complete list.
• 6 different stadiums with a game home run (Old Yankee, PETCO, Shea, Camden, New Yankee, and Hiram Bithorn)
• 4,534 total balls
• 37 donors (click hereto learn more)
• $5.41 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $43.28 raised at this game
• $952.16 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
UPDATE: My home run catch was written up on MyGameBalls.com. Click here to read the story.
Technically, this was a Watch With Zack game, but for a change, my job didn’t involve teaching anything about baseball or helping anyone snag baseballs. That’s because my “client” — a very talented ballhawk named Joe Faraguna — didn’t need that kind of help. Joe is only 15 years old, and since he lives in New York, he mainly needed help getting down to Baltimore. Beyond that, he just wanted to hang out.
Joe and I left New York City at 11:30am, blasted music and talked baseball for the entire three-hour drive, and went to lunch at Hooters (his choice, though I didn’t complain). Then we walked to the stadium in the 98-degree heat. Here we are standing outside the Eutaw Street gate:
You might also know about Joe because:
1) He was featured in this blog entry in 2008. (Scroll down to #5.)
2) He regularly leaves comments on this blog as “yankees5221.”
3) He writes his own blog: baseballexperiences.mlblogs.com
4) He has a profile on MyGameBalls.com.
5) He has the second highest balls-per-game average of anyone in this year’s Ballhawk League.
Anyway, like I said, Joe didn’t need my help snagging baseballs. In fact, he told me that he wanted us to split up so that we could combine for as many balls as possible — but we both still raced out to left field as soon as the gates opened.
Thirty seconds after we got there, Jason Berken and David Hernandez walked out to the warning track, and one of them asked, “How many balls are you up to now?” I was so focused on the batter that it took a moment before I realized that they were talking to me.
“Wait…what?!” I asked. “How did you know who I am?”
“How many!” demanded Berken with a smile on his face.
“Four thousand, five hundred, and twenty. But how did you know?!”
“We saw you on CNN,” replied Hernandez.
“CNN? That was eleven years ago. Are you sure that’s what you saw?”
“It was the one with Katie Couric,” said Berken.
“Oh, you mean CBS,” I told them. “Yeah, that one aired in ’06.”
“You still got the streak?” asked Hernandez.
Before I had a chance to answer and confirm that my streak of consecutive games with at least one ball WAS, in fact, still going strong, a right-handed batter launched a deep fly ball in my direction. There were a few other ballhawks in the stands, but I managed to get underneath it and hold my ground and reach up for the one-handed catch.
The first thing I noticed was that the ball had a beautiful smudge on the logo. The second thing I noticed was that Berken and Hernandez were rather amused.
“Yes,” I told them, “my streak is still alive, and it just lived to see another day.”
“Oh, so you count batting practice?” asked Berken.
“Yeah, of course,” I said.
Hernandez asked to see the ball, so I tossed it to him.
“This one is all messed up,” he said. “You don’t really want it, right?”
“Are you kidding me?! I love baseballs that are beat up. Brand new balls are boring.”
Hernandez then tossed the ball back. He and Berken kept talking to me for a few minutes. I should have taken photos, but there were so many home runs flying into the seats that I truly didn’t have a chance to pull out my camera.
Joe already had three balls by that point, including a homer that he caught right in front of me. I had been cutting through the second row. He was camped out in the front row. A line drive was heading toward him. He stuck his glove up and nabbed it. Once he turned around and realized that I was standing behind him, he apologized profusely for robbing me, but there was no need for that. He made a nice catch. The end.
I caught two more homers in the next five minutes. The first was a line drive hit by Julio Lugo that barely cleared the outfield wall. I drifted down the steps. David Hernandez jumped up and reached for it. The ball sailed six inches over his glove. (I discovered later that this ball represented three personal milestones: the 4,200th ball during my consecutive games streak, my 1,600th ball outside of New York, and the 300th ball I’d ever snagged at Camden Yards. Coolness.) The second was a lazy, 375-foot fly ball that was hit half a section to my right. I jogged through an empty row of seats and made the easy back-handed catch.
It was only 5:10pm. I had three baseballs and Joe had five. We were both set for a monster day of snagging when this happened:
In case you can’t tell what’s taking place in the photo above, all the Orioles were jogging off the field. Their portion of batting practice ended 25 minutes early — POOF!!! — just like that.
Evidently, the team’s new/interim manager, Juan Samuel, changed the BP schedule. It now starts earlier and ends earlier, and as a result, it’s now like this almost every day.
Joe and I were in shock:
After a long wait, the Marlins finally came out and started throwing:
In the photo above, the three fans in the front row are regulars at Camden Yards. I know you can’t see their faces, but I still want to point them out. The kid wearing the backward O’s cap is named Zevi, the guy in the middle is Matt Hersl, and the man on the right is Ed. There were other regulars in attendance as well, along with other folks that I’d met before, or who recognized me and said hello. Let me see if I can remember everyone:
1) Avi Miller, who has an excellent web site about the Orioles
2) Casey from Milwaukee, who writes a blog about ballhawking
3) Wiley from Milwaukee, who also blogs about his games
4) Jon Herbstman from NYC, whom I last saw 11 months ago
5) Jon’s friend Bennett
6) Kevin, whom I last saw nearly four years earlier
7) Craig, who spotted me during BP and got really lucky later on…
Am I forgetting anyone? If so, I apologize. I talked to so many people at this game that my head is spinning. But let’s get back to the Marlins. This may be hard to believe, but they did not throw a single ball into the crowd during batting practice. I’ve never seen anything like it. Avi told me that the Marlins had thrown so many balls into the crowd the day before that the players actually got scolded by a coach.
The seats were fairly crowded. Yeah, there was room to run, but there were lots of guys with gloves. Basically, there was competition for every home run ball. You know what I mean? There was almost no chance to make an easy, uncontested catch. Keep in mind that the photo above was taken at 5:50pm — half an hour before BP ended, so it got a lot more crowded than that.
My fourth ball of the day was a homer that I caught on the fly. The easy part of it was that it was hit right to me. The tough part was that the guy standing directly behind me clobbered me from behind as I made the catch. (I’m pretty sure it was an accident, but still, that’s just uncalled for.)
Ten minutes later, I caught another home run, this time off the bat of Hanley Ramirez. It was a high fly ball. That made it tough. It gave everyone else time to drift underneath it, but I picked the right spot and reached up through a sea of hands at the last second.
Then something funny happened. Some guy (who was about 50 years old and not exactly in shape) started complaining about all the balls I’d caught. He told me he was going to “shut me down” and prevent me from getting any more.
“You’re gonna have a professional outfielder trailing you,” he warned.
“Sounds like fun,” I said.
The guy proceeded to stand directly in front of me on the staircase — and you can probably guess what happened next. The batter hit a deep fly ball to my right. I took off running through an empty row. The guy was blocked by a railing and watched helplessly as I made the catch. He was furious. I later gave the ball to a kid.
That was it for BP. I’d snagged six baseballs, and every single one was a homer that I’d caught on the fly. I found Joe behind the Marlins’ dugout. He was up to seven balls at that point, and he’s also gotten two batting gloves — one from Chris Coghlan and another from Brian Barden. Joe had actually gotten a third glove, which he generously gave to the kid who’d let him move into the crowded front row.
Despite the earlier stinginess, the Marlins did toss their pre-game warm-up balls into the seats behind the dugout. Joe got two of them (one from Gaby Sanchez, another from Dan Uggla), and a little kid on my left got the other (from Hanley Ramirez).
I spent the entire game in the outfield. I never went for a foul ball or a 3rd-out ball or even an umpire ball at the end of the night. I just focused on home runs, and I constantly ran back and forth from right field to left field, depending on the number of righties and lefties that were due to bat.
Joe stayed behind the plate and used his speed to snag a foul ball in the top of the first inning. The following photo shows where Joe was sitting and where the ball ended up. The amount of ground he covered was seriously impressive:
I immediately called and congratulated him. (It was his second lifetime game foul ball.)
“You saw that?!” he asked.
“Hell yeah!” I said. “Who else here would be streaking three full sections for a ball?”
A bit later on, this was my view for left-handed batters:
Joe was in the standing room section because Nick Markakis was at bat. Other than that, Joe pretty much stayed in foul territory. As for me, I normally play lefties farther to the left at Camden, but because the seats in straight-away right field were so empty, I stood behind that staircase and gave myself a chance to run down the steps.
In the bottom of the 2nd inning, Luke Scott hit a homer into the seats, but it was too far to my right. By the time it landed, I was still 20 feet away, and another fan immediately grabbed it.
There was even more action for me in left field.
In the top of the 3rd, Gaby Sanchez hit a bomb that was heading a full section to my right. I jumped up and raced through the seats. I knew that the ball was going to sail over my row, so while everyone else around me was frozen in place, I put my head down and focused on running toward the spot where I predicted the ball would land. Check out this screen shot from the Orioles’ broadcast:
A split-second later, I was heading up the steps:
See the guy in the white shirt reaching up with his bare hands? With my back to the field, I could tell from his body language that the ball was heading right for him, but I couldn’t quite get there in time. My only hope was that he’d drop the ball and cause it to bounce down to me.
Sure enough, the ball clanked off his hands. I could see it on the ground, and we both scrambled for it…
…and he grabbed it JUST as I was reaching for it.
That really sucked, but there was no time to mope. Jorge Cantu was due up two batters later, and he was sitting on 99 career home runs. I’d already been thinking of what to ask for if I caught No. 100. I had the whole thing worked out. I was visualizing everything. I was more prepared than ever. And then whaddaya know, Cantu blasted a drive toward the seats in left-center. This time the ball was heading a section to my left (AARRGHH!!) so I started running through my row…
…and I reached the staircase as the ball was descending.
Nooooooo!!! It was falling short!!!
I tried to work my way down the steps, but I just couldn’t get there in time:
But wait! The fans bobbled the ball and kicked it all over the place. It was still rattling around on the staircase two seconds later…
…and if not for the two fans who were blocking me, I would’ve dove on top of it.
The ball somehow rolled all the way down to the front row. In the screen shot above, do you see the guy in the white Orioles jersey at the front? That was Craig, the guy I’d talked to during BP. He’s the one who ended up grabbing it, so I gave him all kinds of advice on what to tell security when they came to get the ball from him. I told him he could get all kinds of goodies for it, and that he could meet Cantu, but in the end, all he got for it was a signed ball by Nick Markakis. I thought he really wasted an opportunity until I noticed the name of the back of his jersey: MARKAKIS. Still, he could’ve gotten a Markakis bat to go along with his Markakis ball, if he really wanted it…but oh well. He was happy, and Cantu was obviously thrilled, so in the end, it all worked out perfectly.
As for the game itself…whatever. Joe pretty much summed it up when we were driving down to Baltimore and naming all the reasons why the attendance would be low. “This is probably the least cared about game in the majors,” he said.
Final score: Joe 11, Marlins 7, Zack 6, Orioles 5. (My Ballhawk Winning Percentage is now .781 — 12.5 wins, 3.5 losses.)
You can read all about the balls that Joe snagged on his blog. The entry isn’t up yet, so keep checking back. I’m sure he’ll be posting it soon…
• 6 balls at this game (5 pictured on the right because I gave one away)
• 168 balls in 16 games this season = 10.5 balls per game.
• 645 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 4,204 balls during the consecutive games streak
• 195 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 1,604 lifetime balls outside of New York
• 304 lifetime balls at Camden Yards
• 4,526 total balls
• 37 donors (click here to learn more; Jason Berken and David Hernandez now know about it)
• $5.41 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $32.46 raised at this game
• $908.88 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
WATCH WITH ZACK STATS:
Did you know that I have a whole page of Watch With Zack stats on my web site? Click here to check it out. Joe became the first client to snag a foul ball during a game, and he also broke two records: most balls by a client at one game and most balls by a client overall. Congrats, Joe. Snagging 11 balls (including a foul ball) and two batting gloves is about as good a day as anyone could hope for.
On May 1st, I took lots of photos outside Progressive Field, and on May 2nd, I went nuts with my camera inside the stadium. May 3rd — my final game in Cleveland — was simply the day for me to snag an obscene number of baseballs.
It started like this…
…and continued with this…
For some reason, the ushers at this stadium rarely collect the home runs that land in the seats before Gate C opens.
Soon after I grabbed those three Easter eggs, I got David Huff to toss me my fourth ball of the day near the bullpen in right-center. Nothing special, right? At least that’s what I thought until I started scribbling some notes and numbers, and then it hit me: I had just snagged my 4,400th lifetime ball. Here I am with it:
Moments later, Grady Sizemore flipped a ball to me in right center. Even though he’s struggling this season, I’ve always liked him and wanted a ball from him, so it felt great to finally get one.
This was my view of the field:
My sixth ball of the day was a total fluke. David Huff tossed it into the front row roughly 50 feet to my left — and there wasn’t anybody there. I don’t understand it, but whatever. All that matters is that I was able to run over and pick it up.
My seventh ball was thrown by Chris Perez near the visitors’ bullpen down the right field line. My eighth and ninth balls were home runs that I caught on the fly; the first was hit by an Indians righty (no idea who), and the second was a line drive off the bat of Mister Sizemore.
It was 5:01pm. The stadium had barely been open for half an hour. I was thinking BIG, but then I hit a bit of a dry spell.
Twenty minutes later, when the Blue Jays took the field, things picked back up. Shaun Marcum tossed me my 10th ball of the day, and then I got another from Brandon Morrow. Here’s a photo that I took a few minutes later. It shows those two guys standing around with their teammates:
Now get this…
Five minutes later, Marcum walked back onto the warning track to retrieve a ball. I wasn’t even going to bother asking him for it, but then at the last second, right before he was about to fire it back toward the bucket, I said, “Hey, Shaun, let’s play catch.” He responded by turning around, tossing me the ball, and then walking away before I had a chance to throw it back.
You know what else was weird? Two players (Huff and Marcum) had each thrown me two baseballs in the same day. (Okay, fine, Huff didn’t exactly throw the second one *to* me, but it still counts.)
Look how empty the stands were, one hour after the stadium had opened:
In the photo above, do you see the fan in the pink shirt? He’s right in the center of it, standing in the fourth row. Well, after I caught two more home runs on the fly, I ended up beating him out for another ball that landed in the seats. He was pretty bummed about it, so I asked him if he’d snagged a ball yet.
“Yeah,” he replied, “I’ve actually gotten a couple.”
“Oh, cool,” I said, “because if you hadn’t, I was gonna offer you this one.”
He thanked me, and then he asked if I was Zack.
“Yeah, how’d you know?”
“I’m Jimmy,” he said. “I the guy that emailed you and told you I was going to be here.”
We talked for few minutes and then parted ways temporarily.
Now, in case you’ve lost count, I had 15 balls by this point, and yeah, I was thinking about reaching 20. There wasn’t a whole lot of time remaining in BP, but I had a secret plan. During the previous 90 minutes, there were FIVE home runs that landed in the second deck in right field; when the rest of the stadium opened at 6pm, I raced up there. Here’s a summary of what happened:
1) There was one other guy who also ran up to the second deck.
2) All five balls were scattered in the front row (some in puddles).
3) The other guy took a bad route, and I got a slight head start.
4) I grabbed four of the five balls.
5) I missed one because he shoved me from behind, forcing me to overrun it.
6) I offered him a few choice words.
Naturally, I didn’t have time to pull out my camera and photographs the baseballs sitting in the stands, so please, take my word for it. I’m not making this stuff up. Just smile and nod and accept the fact that I had 19 balls in my backpack by the time I ran over to the left field bleachers. (By the way, I have no idea who hit the three homers that I’d snagged a bit earlier — balls No. 13, 14, and 15 on the day. All I can tell you is that they were hit by lefties on the Jays, and that the 14th ball was the 1,500th I’d ever snagged outside of New York City.)
Jimmy was in left field. There were a few other fans nearby. Someone on the Jays — a right-handed batter — launched a deep home run that landed halfway up the bleachers. I sprinted up the steps and hurdled a few benches and grabbed the ball half a second before Jimmy got there. (He was a good sport about it.) That was my 20th ball of the day (!!) and then, while I was up there, the same batter hit another ball that clanked off a nearby bench. I didn’t even see it coming. I only heard it, and I was able to jog over and pick that one up, too. (Sorry for the lack of photos, but seriously, there was never a break in the action.)
Two minutes before the end of BP, I tried unsuccessfully to get a Jays pitcher to throw a ball up to me.
“You got like 30 balls already!” he shouted.
“Not quite that many!” I yelled.
“Why don’t you dump all the balls out of your backpack and I’ll throw one to you?” he joked.
I think it was Josh Roenicke, but I’m not sure. He was wearing warm-up gear over his uniform, and I was 20 feet high, but anyway, while he was jawing at me, another home run ball clanked off a nearby bench. Once again, I hadn’t seen it coming. In fact, it nearly hit me, and it ended up AT MY FEET in left-center. Roenicke (or whoever it was) threw his arms up in disgust. Too funny. And that was it for BP.
Finally, there was a moment to relax/breathe.
Jimmy and I got a photo together:
In case you’re wondering, that thing in front of my right ear is a pen. I’d been scribbling notes about all the balls I snagged, and I tucked it into my cap.
I gave away one of the balls to a kid, then changed out of my Blue Jays costume, and went to the back of the bleachers with Jimmy:
In the photo above, I’m holding my 20th ball of the day. Jimmy (who took the photo) lent me his glove to use as a barricade so the balls wouldn’t roll down the steps.
Remember those puddles in the 2nd deck that I was talking about? One of the balls had evidently been laying face down in the water:
Balls No. 21 and 22 both looked pretty cool:
I suspect that the ball on the left hit the edge of a bench. That’s gotta be how the gash got there.
Before Jimmy left to go watch the Cavs’ playoff game, he asked me to sign one of his baseballs. Then I wandered down to the Home Run Porch and caught up with a fellow ballhawk named Sean Malafronte. Here we are together:
I had met him for the very first time earlier in the day when we were waiting in line outside Gate C — but I had already heard about him because he was involved in this home run controversy last season. Crazy stuff. It turned out that he had heard about me, too, and we kept running into each other throughout the day. I believe he ended up snagging eight balls.
Several minutes before game time, I made it down to the Indians’ dugout just before Shin-Soo Choo finished playing catch. Here he is, about to make one of his final throws:
I got him to toss me the ball by asking for it in Korean. Then, on my way out to the left field bleachers, I gave away another ball and took the following photo of the empty stands:
Oof. Make me wish I lived in Cleveland. (No offense, Cleveland, but I really love New York.)
This was my view during the game…
…and this is a screen shot that shows me missing Jose Bautista’s 2nd-inning homer by five feet:
The HORIZONTAL arrow is pointing to the spot where I was sitting, the VERTICAL arrow is pointing to me, and the DIAGONAL arrow is pointing to the spot where the ball landed.
If you watch the replay, it doesn’t look like I was running particularly fast, and it’s true. I wasn’t. But here’s why. The following photo shows the route that I had to take:
Let me explain the numbers (and symbol)…
1) I was sitting in the second row.
2) As soon as the ball was hit, I had to climb over the bench…
3) …and jump down to the front row.
4) I had to cut left in order to avoid the people and benches.
$) The money spot — it’s where the ball landed.
If the ball had stayed in the stands, I would’ve been able to count to three and then pick it up. The other fans had NO idea what was happening. But no, of course, because I’m jinxed when it comes to game home runs, the ball smacked off the Road Runner ad, landed in the aisle, and bounced back onto the field. Un-effing-believable.
At least the game itself was exciting. Blue Jays starter Brett Cecil took a perfect game into the seventh inning. He then got Asdrubal Cabrera to hit a weak come-backer, walked the next two batters, and struck out Austin Kearns for the 2nd out. That’s when I took the following photo to document the fact that his no-hitter was still intact:
Moments later, Jhonny Peralta hit a clean, line-drive single to left field, and that was that. (Was it MY fault? Did *I* somehow jinx him my taking a photo? I made sure not to talk about the no-hitter while it was still in progress. Damn. Would’ve been nice to witness history.)
During the break before the start of the ninth inning, I moved to the center field end of the bleachers and tried to get Grady Sizemore to throw me his warm-up ball. He ended up throwing back to Chris Perez, the reliever who was playing catch with him, and Perez threw it to me instead. HA!!! It was my 24th ball of the day — my fourth highest single-game total ever — and Perez was the third player to throw me a pair. Are you hearing me? Three different players each threw me two balls in one day. I know it’s a random/meaningless “accomplishment,” but I’d bet that no one else has ever done it.
I took the following photo from the spot where I caught the throw. (I had to jump for it while I was standing on the steps. One of the cameramen yelled, “Nice catch.”) The arrow is pointing to the spot where Perez was standing when he threw it.
Since the Jays had the lead, I headed to their dugout in the bottom of the ninth, and I took this photo along the way:
After the final out, I got robbed by another fan on what would’ve been ball No. 25. Rommie Lewis tossed it to me from the side; the awkward angle enabled some other guy to reach out in front of me, and he apologized profusely.
“Hey, it’s all good,” I told him. “Get whatever you can get.”
Final score: Zack 24, Blue Jays 5, Indians 1. My Ballhawk Winning Percentage is now .800 (4 wins, 1 loss.), which means I’d be in first place in any division in the majors.
I gave away one more ball as I headed toward the right field exit, and before I left the stadium, I took a few final photos. Here’s one…
…and here’s another:
I just LOVE empty stadiums. I mean…I love stadiums, period, but there’s something extra special about being inside one when there aren’t any other fans. (The whole game practically felt like that.)
That was it for the Cleveland portion of my trip. I knew that my next stop — Target Field — was going to be a bit more crowded.
• 24 balls at this game (21 pictured on the right because I gave three away)
• 62 balls in 5 games this season = 12.4 balls per game.
• 634 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 185 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 123 lifetime games with at least 10 balls
• 7 lifetime games with at least 20 balls
• 4 consecutive seasons with at least one game at which I snagged 20 balls
• 4,420 total balls
• 29 donors (click here and scroll down to see who has pledged)
• $3.85 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $92.40 raised at this game
• $238.70 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