Tagged: shane victorino

9/24/08 at Citizens Bank Park

I knew this was going to be a good day when I bought a bottle of water at a 7-Eleven on the way to Philadelphia and got a 1917 penny in my change:

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It also didn’t hurt that my girlfriend Jona was with me; good things tend to happen when she’s around.

When the stadium opened at 4:35pm, I raced inside and briefly had the left field seats to myself:

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There weren’t any balls hiding in the flower bed, nor were there any home runs that flew my way, but I did have a chance to use my glove trick when a ball rolled to the wall in left-center field. In the following photo, you can see me way off in the distance, leaning over the railing as I was getting the glove to lower onto the ball:

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Ten minutes later, I snagged my second ball of the day–a home run hit by a righty on the Phillies that landed several rows in front of me and began rolling sideways through the seats. Several other fans quickly closed in on it, and I thought I was out of luck, but then the ball kicked back my way just enough for me to lunge and grab it underneath a seat. As I reached for it, my right shoulder happened to bump the back of the seat where a woman, who was also scrambling for the ball, happened to be bracing herself. As a result, one of her fingers happened to get pinched between my shoulder and the seat, and she reacted as if I’d killed her firstborn.

“I’m terribly sorry,” I said but she wouldn’t accept my apology. Instead, she proceeded to shake her hand (to exaggerate the pain) for a good 30 seconds while looking around for support from her fellow fans. No one noticed or cared. There was nothing TO notice. It was the most minor incident (if it could even be called that) in the history of baseball-snagging. I hadn’t done anything wrong, and she finally realized this and let it go.

Drama aside, things were going well. I’d been in the stadium for about 20 minutes, and I’d snagged two baseballs–a decent pace for reaching double digits, but then my snagging suffered a disastrous interruption. Several stadium employees (one of whom has an arrow pointing to him in the photo below) started combing through the seats and telling all the fans to head back up to the concourse and exit the stadium through the left field gate:

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In the 750 (or so) games I’ve attended in my life, I’ve been denied batting practice for a variety of reasons–bad weather, subway delays, fan photo events, policemen vs. firemen softball games, etc.–but what kind of sick joke was this?!

Apparently it wasn’t a joke. I heard rumors of a “bomb scare” as I walked through the concourse and headed toward the gate:

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Once all the fans AND employees had been evacuated, the gate was closed behind us.

And then we waited…

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…and waited.

And waited.

So much for this being a good day, I thought.

I stayed close to the gate and kept trying not to look at the clock inside the stadium. I couldn’t help it. It was 5:15pm. Then 5:20. Then 5:30, at which point I knew the Phillies were off the field so I changed into my Braves gear.

“We’ll be opening back up any minute,” said a Phillies official who was brave enough to remain on the inside of the stadium.

Meanwhile, the rumors about the bomb scare were taking shape. Just about everyone, it seemed, was on a cell phone, talking to someone they knew who lived nearby and was watching the live coverage on the news.

I overheard someone talking about “suspicious packages.”

evacuation4_zack.jpgIt was 5:45pm. I wasn’t happy.

There was half an hour of batting practice remaining. I thought about stepping out of line and walking b
ack to the ticket office and demanding a refund and driving back to New York City…but I decided to wait a little longer, at least until batting practice would be ending. If I wasn’t back inside by then…then screw it.

I overheard someone talking about the suspicious packages being a shipment of hot dogs.

?!?!?!?!

It was 5:50pm.

The Phillies official approached the gate and made an announcement (that only 38 people heard) that all fans who had already been inside the stadium would have to get their tickets re-scanned.

I wondered if that would even work with those stupid scanners, and the official was probably wondering the same thing because he then borrowed a woman’s ticket (without asking her if she’d already been inside) and tested it. Whaddaya know, it worked.

It was 5:55pm when the stadium reopened. I’d missed over an hour of batting practice. I raced back to the left field seats to look for easter eggs–there weren’t any because the employees had already reentered through another gate–and then sprinted around to the right field side, hoping to salvage my day:

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I quickly caught a home run on a fly that was hit by a righty on the Braves. Nothing special. It was an uncontested, chest-high, one-handed catch that I made while drifting to my right through the front row in right-center field. When I looked down at the warning track, I saw Jeff Bennett looking back up at me.

“You like that?!” I shouted.

He didn’t respond.

Five minutes later, I got a ball tossed to me by Braves “Baseball Systems Operator” Alan Butts. It was totally lucky. I was in the fourth row. Several fans were in the front row. I saw them yelling for a ball and didn’t even know who they were yelling at. All of a sudden, a ball sailed up and flew five feet over their heads and came RIGHT to me. It almost made up for the home run I misjudged and didn’t snag soon after.

That was it for BP. Four balls. It was pretty sad.

I ran over to the Braves’ dugout just before the players and coaches came off the field. I positioned myself behind the home-plate end and waved my arms in the hopes that SOMEone would see me and flip me a ball:

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Not only did I get a crappy (though interestingly streaked) training ball from hitting coach Terry Pendleton…

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…but I also got a bat from Greg Norton:

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Mama mia! This instantly made the whole day worthwhile. The bat wasn’t even cracked, and I hadn’t even asked for it. Norton had just slid it to me across the dugout roof without warning. That’s how I’ve gotten all four of my bats–just dumb luck–and you can see them all (along with some other “bonus items”) on this page on my web site.

I was afraid that stadium security would make me leave the bat with Fan Assistance until after the game (that’s what happened on 9/22/06 at Camden Yards), but no one said a word and I was left in peace to enjoy the delightful essence of pine tar.

I had 3,799 lifetime balls when several Braves began their pre-game throwing along the left field foul line. The seats were practically full by that point (damn the Phillies for being in first place) so I wasn’t able to position myself in a good spot. I had to squeeze against a railing next to two women (who were there for some unknown reason), and when Martin Prado ended up with the ball, my view of him was partially blocked by an usher and a cop who were standing on the warning track. Well, Prado ended up spotting me anyway, and you can see how the whole thing played out in the four-part pic below. Starting on the top left and then going clockwise, I’m a) waving to get Prado’s attention, b) watching and waiting and determining if I’m going to need to jump as his throw sails toward me, c) reaching up as high as I can and making the catch without jumping, and d) holding up the ball and feeling great about life:

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Here’s it is–ball No. 3,800:

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I can’t really say that Jona and I “snuck” down to the Phillies’ dugout in the top of the 1st inning because that would imply that the ushers were trying to keep us out. Ins
tead, we waltzed down to the dugout and grabbed a couple seats on the end of a row, about eight rows back. Conveniently, Ryan Howard ended up with the ball at the howard_kotchman.jpg
end of the inning courtesy of Brett Myers, who induced a 1-6-3 double-play groundout from Omar Infante. I was down in the front row before Howard even caught the throw from Jimmy Rollins (and of course I crouched down as I crept there so I wouldn’t block anyone’s view), and I had exactly NO competition as he jogged off the field and tossed me the ball.

Fast-forward seven outs. It was the bottom of the second inning. I was sitting with Jona in a similar spot on the Braves’ side. Jo-Jo Reyes got Chris Coste to bounce into a 6-4-3 double play. Casey Kotchman took the throw at first base and began jogging toward me. I was wearing my Braves hat and Braves shirt. There were no kids in sight. None of the grown-ups were aware of the snagging opportunity that was about to unfold. It was going to be so easy that I was almost embarrassed. It’s like the ball was guaranteed, and sure enough, Kotchman flipped it right to me.

That was my 8th ball of the day. Not bad.

Believe it or not, I was prepared at that point to call it quits on the snagging and just sit and watch the game with Jona (and root for the Braves). So that’s what we did…until the top of the fourth inning when the guy whose seats we were in decided to show up.

The field level seats were as crowded as I’d ever seen them, and since our actual seats were way up at the top of the upper deck, there was no place to go. Therefore, we wandered and ate and checked out the view from the party deck (or whatever it’s called) in the deepest part of center field. I’d never been up there, and this is why:

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Awful! You can’t even see two of the outfielders, but I guess if you like to drink and you’re willing to think of the deck as a bar with a $10 cover charge where you can kinda see some baseball way off in the distance, then it’s probably a great place to be. Needless to say, Jona and I didn’t stay long. We didn’t need to. The Braves scored six runs in the top of the fifth to take a 9-3 lead, and by the end of the sixth, thousands of fans had left.

I love it when fans leave early. I love it so much. I love empty seats. I love having space to maneuver. I wish the home team would always get blown out when I’m at a game (with rare exceptions, like if I have a son someday who ends up playing in The Show and I go to watch him at his home ballpark).

Anyway, Jona and I went back to the Braves’ dugout, but this time I picked a different staircase–one section closer to home plate. I figured that if the bottom half of any of the remaining innings ended with a strikeout, I might be able to get the ball from catcher Brian McCann.

Jayson Werth did indeed end the bottom of the seventh with a strikeout, but McCann held onto the ball and took it into the dugout. While I was down in the front row, however, first base coach Glenn Hubbard wanted to toss a ball to the woman directly on my right but before he let it fly, he tried to fake me out by pointing to the left so I’d lunge that way and be unable to interfere. It didn’t work. I kept my eyes on him the whole time and was perfectly aware of the situation. He had no choice but to toss the ball, and when he did, I stepped aside and let the woman catch it. Five seconds later, Hubbard poked his head back out of the dugout and rewarded me with a ball of my own.

shane_victorino.jpgjulian_tavarez.jpgSomething funny happened in the bottom of the eighth–something I’d never seen at any baseball game. Not on TV. Not in person. Not in Little League. Not in the Major Leagues. Shane Victorino (aka Mr. Feisty) was leading far off third base and, for a moment, not paying attention so Julian Tavarez (aka Mr. Hothead) sprinted off the mound in an attempt to tag him. Victorino made it back to third base safely but must’ve gotten quite a scare because he didn’t notice what was happening until Tavarez was halfway there.

Now, I have no idea who started it…all I can tell you is that Victorino and Tavarez started jawing at each other.

“Gimme the camera!!! Gimme the camera!!!” I yelled at Jona as both dugouts and bullpens emptied onto the field:

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It was never a “brawl.” No one threw punches. No one was ejected. But home plate umpire Jeff Kellogg did issue a warning to both teams. Tavarez then proceeded to strike out pinch hitters Greg Dobbs and Matt Stairs to end the inning. This time, McCann tossed me the ball, and as I was reaching up casually to glove it, I sensed that someone was invading my personal space from behind, so I lunged for the ball at the last second, and as I closed my glove around it, a 40-something-year-old fat man lunged at my glove and clawed for the ball and yanked my arm down as he stumbled forward. My shoulder was actually a bit sore after that–luckily Jona is a professional massage therapist–but I held onto the ball and returned to my seat. I realized later that this was a milestone ball; it was Tavarez’s 50th strikeout of the season.

Other highlights from the night included seeing a fan with a pierced neck…

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and getting a ball from Kellogg shortly after the Phillies (and Myers, ha-HAAA!!!) lost 10-4.

Oh, and I also got the lineup cards:

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Here’s a closer look at them:

lineup_cards_09_24_08.jpg

…and here are a few photographs of the bat, starting with a shot of Norton’s uniform number written on the end:

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Here’s a close-up of his name:

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Here’s the pine tar-coated trademark…

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…and here’s his name and number on the knob:

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As for the bomb scare, THIS is what really happened.

What a day.

STATS:

? 11 balls at this game

? 528 balls in 69 games this season = 7.6521739 balls per game.

? 565 consecutive games with at least one ball

? 142 consecutive games outside NYC with at least one ball

? 96 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

? 39 lifetime games outside NYC with at least 10 balls

? 23 double-digit games this year (extends my personal record)

? 3,805 total balls

9/22/08 at Citizens Bank Park

On September 12th, I heard from a guy named Charlie Schroeder who produces a show on NPR called “Weekend America.” He’d heard an earlier in-studio interview I did and thought it might be cool to do one at a game–to have a reporter follow me around with a microphone and capture all the sounds of snagging. We picked September 22nd. This was it…

Before I met the reporter from NPR, I had to do another interview with a reporter from the Wall Street Journal. He needed to get in touch ASAP. I’d emailed him my cell phone number before I left New York City and told him I’d have time to talk starting at around 3:45 to 4pm when I’d be waiting to enter the stadium. He ended up calling at 3pm. He couldn’t wait. I was three-quarters of the way to Philadelphia. I didn’t want to have to split my attention between the road and the interview so I found a place to pull over (NOT on a major highway) and spent the next 35 minutes answering questions about Giambi and Damon and lots of other snagging-related topics. I was then forced to drive like a maniac and still didn’t make it to the Ashburn Alley gate until 4:16pm–less than 20 minutes before the stadium was going to open.

The reporter from NPR–Tim Jimenez was his name–was nearly a decade younger than me, and as it turned out, he didn’t actually work for NPR. He worked for a local radio station and was hired for the day to do this as a freelance assignment. Unfortunately, he had to stay at his regular job until 4pm and didn’t reach the stadium until 4:45. I’d already snagged two balls by the that point and had a funny exchange with–who else?–Shane Victorino. It all started when I ran into the left field seats, had the ENTIRE section to myself, and had to watch helplessly as a home run sailed five feet over my head and landed on a staircase and bounced all the way back onto the field. Victorino started laughing at me from left-center and shouting about how I should’ve caught it.

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“It was too high over my head!” I yelled.

He responded by waving his glove dismissively and turning his back.

“Shane!” I shouted, prompting him to turn around. “Did you see the thing on ESPN about the guy in New York who caught home runs on back to back nights?”

“Yeah!” he shouted.

“Well that was ME, so show some RESPECT!”

“That was YOU?!”

“Yes!” I yelled, pretending to be annoyed that he didn’t recognize me, and then I did my stupid dance.

Victorino cracked up because he realized it really WAS me and then he did the “We’re not worthy” move from “Wayne’s World.” (I can’t find the actual clip from that movie, so here’s a random example from YouTube.)

As for the two balls I snagged early on, the first was a home run that I caught on a fly (which Victorino saw and applauded) and the second was thrown by Scott Eyre near the cameras in center field.

Tim showed up five minutes later. Here he is:

tim_jimenez.jpg

Of course I didn’t snag another ball for the remaining 45 minutes of the Phillies’ portion of batting practice. Still, Tim followed me everywhere and asked questions (that he’d been given), and I tried to make his life easier by talking non-stop. Every time I did ANYthing–even moving up or down a row–I explained my logic. I knew it was better for Charlie to have too much audio than too little.

The Braves took the field at around 5:30pm, and a ball immediately rolled onto the warning track in left-center field:

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I had to lean forward just to take this photograph; I had to stretch all the way across the flower bed (and try to avoid the bird poop) to actually snag it with my glove trick. Tim, meanwhile, had his microphone in my face and was asking me to describe what I was doing.

“It’s kinda hard to talk and do this at the same time,” I huffed while supporting all the weight of my upper body on my elbows, which were now digging into the metal railing. (I really couldn’t talk, and I hoped that by saying that, I was providing an entertaining sound bite.)

will_ohman_2008.jpgI reeled the ball in. All the fans around me cheered. I hoped that Tim’s microphone captured them. But mainly, I was just glad to have snagged my 499th ball of the season.

Several other balls were sitting on the warning track, so I had an instant shot at No. 500, but as soon as I started lowering my glove, Will Ohman raced over and grabbed all the balls and fired them back toward the bucket in shallow center field. I wasn’t mad. Ohman has always been nice, and it just seemed like he was being playful.

Sure enough, less than five minutes later as the Braves pitchers were finishing their throwing, Ohman spotted me along the left field foul line and tossed me a ball–number five hundred:

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It was just a regular ball–no interesting markings as you can see–and it came from a player that isn’t exactly heading for the Hall of Fame, but it’s still one of the most special balls I’ve ever snagged.

I jogged to the right field seats and Tim followed–that is, until I took off running for a home run that was heading one-and-a-half sections to my left. I raced through an entire 20-something-seat row and realized that the ball was going to sail a bit over my head, so I darted up a few steps and then cut across, two rows above where I’d been running seconds earlier. Several other hands reached up as the ball came down…right to me…right into the pocket of my glove while I was still on the run. It was a MUCH better play than either of the two home runs I’d caught at Yankee Stadium the week before, and yet no one (outside of this blog) will ever hear about it or care. That’s how it goes.

I used the glove trick to pluck my sixth ball of the day off the warning track, and before I’d reeled it all the way back up, a not-too-happy security guard was standing behind me. He confiscated the ball (it still counts in my collection so whatever) on the grounds that I was “stealing.” He then cut the string off my glove…

string_after_getting_cut.jpg

…and threatened to eject me if he EVER saw me do it again. (Why is it that Giants management doesn’t consider it “stealing” and welcomes fans to bring ball-retrieving devices into AT&T Park and yet this one mean dude in Philly has a problem with it? I guess I shouldn’t complain. The fact that every ballpark is different is one of the many things that makes baseball as great as it is. It’d just be nice if security in all the ballparks were a little more fan-friendly.)

BP ended earlier than I’d expected so I missed my chance to get a ball from the Braves behind their dugout as they left the field.

Every time I go to Citizens Bank Park, my goal is to snag at least ten balls. As I’ve said many times in the past, there’s just something great about breaking double digits–but it didn’t look promising on this day when I finished BP with six. Still, I had a plan. All I needed to do was snag one ball during pre-game throwing, one third-out ball at each team’s dugout during the game, and one more ball after the game. Could it be done?

Pregame throwing?

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Check. Omar Infante hooked me up by intentionally bouncing his toss off the warning track.

Third-out balls?

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Check, check. Like clockwork, Ryan Howard tossed me the first ball after the top of the second inning. Braves catcher Clint Sammons had popped up to him (notice the big smudge where the bat hit it) and he lobbed it to me on his way in. Then, half an inning later, on the other side of the field, Casey Kotchman threw me the second ball after Phillies pitcher J.A. Happ made the third out by hitting a wimpy grounder to Kelly Johnson. How nice. (Actually, the ball from Kotchman WAS nice. I’d always wanted one from him because his father, Tom, was the manager of the Class A Short-Season Boise Hawks when I worked for the team during the summer of 1995. Little 12-year-old Casey was often hanging around the ballpark, and whenever he took BP [on the field, after games, which I had to help set up and clean up as a part-time member of the grounds crew], everyone would rave about his beautiful swing and how he was going to be a great player someday. So yeah, it was cool to finally get to add him to my list.)

By this point, Tim had gotten all the audio he needed, so we parted ways. As for me…I still needed one more ball to reach double digits, and although I knew it would’ve been easy to get it between innings, I abandoned the dugouts. Quite simply, it was time to move on. I hadn’t felt guilty when I snagged balls there early in the game, but after a while there were lots of kids running down to the front row after every third out, and I wanted to give them a chance.

I spent the middle innings in left-center field, hoping for a home run to fly my way. This was my view:

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It was boring. I didn’t like my chances. And I really wanted to WATCH the game (imagine that) so after the seventh-inning stretch, I moved to the seats behind the Braves’ dugout. It was “rally towel” night, or whatever the hell those obnoxious snot-rags are called:

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I didn’t even bother running down to the dugout for third-out balls. I didn’t want to get yelled at. I just watched the game and rooted for the Braves and after they lost (6-2 was the final score), I tried to get a ball from the ump (and failed) but did get Buddy Carlyle to throw me my 10th ball of the day as he walked across the field from the bullpen. Woo!

Then I approached the family of the youngest kid (with a glove) I could find and asked if he’d gotten a ball. When they all said no, I handed him the second cleanest ball I’d snagged that day. The cleanest happened to be my 500th; there was no way I was giving THAT one up.

STATS:

? 10 balls at this game

? 506 balls in 67 games this season = 7.6 balls per game.

? 563 consecutive games with at least one ball

? 141 consecutive games outside NYC with at least one ball

? 94 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

? 38 lifetime games outside NYC with at least 10 balls

? 21 double-digit games this year (extends my personal record)

? 3,783 total balls

(FYI, the “Weekend America” segment won’t air until the World Series.)

9/8/08 at Citizens Bank Park

I knew this was going to be a good day. Not only had accuweather.com reported that there was a ZERO percent chance of rain, but 15 minutes before the stadium was set to open, this was the crowd waiting to enter:

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I’d never seen so few people waiting outside Citizens Bank Park, and even though there were dozens of fans lined up behind me by the time the stadium did open, batting practice was still emptier than usual.

Throughout this season, the Phillies have been starting BP several minutes after the gates open. It’s awful. I’ve always been the first fan to run inside, and every time I’ve reached the seats, there’s never been any action on the field. Well…on this fine day, perhaps because of all the September call-ups who needed to take their cuts, BP was already underway when I ran in, and the batter immediately launched a ball over my head into the seats. There was one other man already sitting in the middle of the section–a very old man who clearly worked at the stadium–and after I found the ball, Shane Victorino started yelling at me and insisting that I give it to him.

“I give balls to KIDS!!!” I shouted at him, to which he yelled, “Suuuure!!!”

Of course Shane Victorino would know whether or not I give balls away because, after all, he spends every second of every game following me around the stadium. What a punk. Maybe if he focused more on the field instead of the stands, he wouldn’t be playing for a second-place team.

nationals_ball1_09_08_08.jpg.jpgThirty seconds after I snagged that first ball, another home run flew over my head, landed several rows behind me, popped up into the air, and bounced back over me toward the empty-ish seats below. It was like an instant-replay of that ball on 8/30/08 at Angel Stadium that led to my rib injury. This time, however, I couldn’t make an attempt to catch it. It still hurt when I ran, hurt when I reached, and would’ve killed if I’d jumped, so I stood there and watched helplessly as the ball plunked down two rows away. Amazingly, the few fans IN that row took their time getting there, so I carefully climbed over the first row and reached under the second and grabbed the ball (pictured on the right) with half a second to spare.

Then things went dead.

There was an entire 15-minute round of BP with left-handed hitters–Jimmy Rollins, Victorino, Chase Utley, and Ryan Howard–who didn’t hit a single ball into the left or center field seats. (Remember that at Citizens Bank Park, you’re trapped in left and center for the first hour.) I’d gotten off to such a good start, and now it was being wasted on a day when the seats were still deliciously empty:

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Halfway through the Phillies’ portion of BP (with Victorino still jawing at me), I drifted 20 feet to my right and caught a Jayson Werth home run on a fly. Then things slowed way down once again. I wanted to have a big day, but I wasn’t snagging balls in bunches. I did get lucky, though, right before the Phillies left the field. First I caught another home run on which nationals_ball2_09_08_08.jpg.jpg
the fans in front of me ducked, and then I caught a ball thrown by Kyle Kendrick that I totally didn’t deserve. He was aiming for a kid in the front row, but he didn’t put enough muscle into it. The ball fell a few feet short, landed ON the railing in front of the flower bed, bounced directly over the kid’s head, and sailed into my glove. I immediately walked down the steps and offered him the ball, but he wouldn’t take it. A woman sitting nearby asked me why. I explained that the kid preferred to try to catch a ball on his own rather than have one handed to him by someone else. She didn’t get it. Anyway, it’s a good thing (for me) that the kid didn’t want that ball because it was commemorative.

When the Marlins took the field and Logan Kensing started playing catch near the foul pole, he had a few extra balls with him and after a few minutes I got him to toss one to me. Five minutes later, I moved about 50 feet closer to home plate and got Andrew Miller to throw me another–my seventh ball of the day–when he finished warming up.

Normally, when the rest of the stadium opens, I head out to right field but because the Marlins had so many right-handed hitters, I decided to stay in left.

My eighth ball was a home run that landed near me, hit an empty seat, and bounced straight up in the air as fans converged from all sides. It seemed like they were all waiting for it to drop back down before they made their move. I, however, lunged and snatched it with my bare hand while it was still on the way up.

“Nice grab!” shouted a guy who apparently didn’t mind that he’d just been outsnagged.

A little while later, Paul Lo Duca threw a ball *AT* a fan who was taking his heckling a few steps too far. Lo Duca didn’t throw it THAT hard, however, and I don’t think he really meant to hit the guy because the ball smacked a seat five feet away from him and happened to roll right to me through a row of mostly empty seats. As soon as I picked it up, I handed it to the nearest kid and quickly got a chance to reach double digits. There was a deep fly ball hit in my direction which I happened to judge perfectly. (It doesn’t always work out that way.) I put my head down, ran up a few steps, looked back up and spotted the ball and then darted five feet to my right. As I reached out and made the one-handed catch, I got clothes-lined by a fan in the row behind me. I wasn’t mad because I realized it was an accident. He had a glove too and I assumed he’d just been reaching for the ball, albeit recklessly.

A bit earlier, someone had successfully reached in front of ME for a ball. It happens. It’s a competition. You win some. You lose some. And usually people are good-natured about it.

tpx_imprint_09_08_08.jpg.jpgToward the end of BP, I happened to reach in front of a guy’s face to catch yet another home run ball on a fly (pictured on the right with a faint “TPX” imprint), and guess what? He was thrilled. Why? Because he hadn’t seen the ball coming. He actually thanked me for saving his life. Unfortunately, several men sitting behind us didn’t see it that way. First they accused me of stealing the ball from him, and then one of them started cursing at me for having changed into Marlins gear. I tried to explain that he had misinterpreted the situation, and that’s when things got really nasty. The guy who’d been cursing then threatened me (“Don’t make me come over there,” etc.) and ended up reporting me to security, claiming that I had crashed into another fan and stolen a ball. I didn’t know this until a guard came over and told me that a “formal complaint” had been filed against me. He then asked to see my ticket, and he pretty much demanded that I apologize to everyone involved. Needless to say, my ticket never left my backpack and the word “sorry” never left my mouth. But do you know what DID happen? While all of this garbage was taking place, I snagged ANOTHER home run ball!!! Oh my God, it was beautiful. It landed several rows behind me and took a perfect bounce in my direction. So easy. It was my 12th ball of the day, and the rude fan was NOT happy after that (even though, as far as he knew, I only had two or three balls). He actually had the nerve to follow me out of the section as I made my way toward the dugout. Gimme a break.
 
With all due respect to the many people in Philadelphia who I’m sure are wonderful human beings, I have to say (and not just because of this incident) that Phillies fans are the second worst in baseball–a very distant second behind Yankees fans and only slightly worse than Dodgers fans.

Hanley Ramirez tossed me my 13th ball of the day at the 3rd base dugout after finishing his pre-game throwing.

Ryan Howard threw me my 14th ball as he jogged off the field in the middle of the fourth inning. I was sitting behind the Phillies’ dugout, solely for the purpose of snagging a third-out ball, and Mark Hendrickson helped my cause by making contact on a 1-2 pitch from Joe Blanton and grounding out to Chase Utley to end the frame. There were a million little kids running down to the front row after every inning, and on this occasion, Howard lobbed the ball right to me over all of their heads, so I didn’t feel guilty. (I do, at times, feel a bit old and out-of-place when playing the dugouts, so when I do it, I take extra care to be respectful to those sitting around me. Ask Shane Victorino.)

Although the Marlins never held the lead and only tied the score once early on, it was still a good game with lots of drama. The Phillies took an 8-6 lead into the top of the ninth, and I headed back to the seats behind their dugout (after having wandered for much of the night). Brad Lidge allowed a double and a single to put runners on the corners with one out, but he then struck out the next two batters–Wes Helms and Jorge Cantu–on six pitches to notch his 35th save.

As soon as the final out was recorded, someone on the Phillies unexpectedly flipped a ball onto the dugout roof from down below. I was already in the front row at that point, so I gloved it before anyone around me even knew what had happened, and then, about 45 seconds later, I got Lidge to toss me the game-ending ball on his way in.

Five hundred?
Here I come…

STATS:

the_15_balls_i_kept_09_08_08.jpg? 16 balls at this game (new personal record at Citizens Bank Park, beating my old record of 14 which I set the day CBS was with me)

? 442 balls in 58 games this season = 7.6 balls per game.

? 165 balls in 16 lifetime games at Citizens Bank Park = 10.3 balls per game.

? 554 consecutive games with at least one ball

? 139 consecutive games outside NYC with at least one ball

? 91 lifetime games with at least 10
balls

? 36 lifetime games outside NYC with at least 10 balls

? 18 double-digit games this year (extends my personal record)

? 3,719 total balls

6/2/08 at Citizens Bank Park

I attended this game for ONE reason: to catch Ken Griffey Jr.’s 600th career home run.

When I reached the ticket window, I learned that there wasn’t a single seat available anywhere in the lower deck in right field. This wouldn’t have been a problem at most other stadiums, but at Citizens Bank Park, there happens to be an usher or two at the top of every staircase; once the game starts, it’s almost impossible to enter the seats without a ticket for that section.

zack_right_field_tickets.jpgThen, out of nowhere, as if sent by the snagging gods, a young man dressed in business attire walked up to the next window and asked if he could exchange his two tickets for another game. It just so happened that his seats were exactly where I wanted to be, in section 104 in straight-away right field. (Check out this seating chart.) I bought his tickets at face value–one for me and the other for Jona (who’s now technically my ex-girlfriend, although we’re still super close…long story…don’t ask). I thanked the man, then said a little prayer for No. 600, and headed around the stadium to the left field gate.

Citizens Bank Park is normally great for catching home runs in batting practice, but it was surprisingly dead yesterday, so I focused on using my glove trick for the balls that rolled to the outfield walls.

First I got one in left-center field:

zack_glove_trick1a.jpg

Shane Victorino had tried to mess me up by playfully throwing his glove at mine just as I got the ball to stick inside. Luckily he missed, and since he was more than 50 feet away, I had time to reel in the ball before he jogged over.

“Don’t be hatin’,” I said to him.

“Hatin’ on what!” he demanded.

“Hatin’ on my glove trick,” I replied. “Don’t be hatin’.”

“I’m not hatin’,” he laughed and jogged back to the spot where he’d been shagging in left-center field.

Two minutes later, another ball rolled to the wall even further out toward center field. Shane didn’t see it, which was a good thing. The ball was about eight feet out from the wall, so I had to toss my glove out onto the warning track (while holding onto the string) and carefully pull it back to knock the ball closer:

zack_glove_trick1b.jpg

Right after I reeled it in, two more balls rolled to the same spot, and as I was getting ready to lower my glove for a third time, Shane jogged back over.

“Go ahead,” he said, “let me see how that thing works.”

“Are you really gonna let me get the ball?” I asked.

“Go ahead,” he repeated.

“If you let me get it,” I said, “I’ll give it to the fan of your choice.”

shane_victorino.jpgHe didn’t say anything, so I started explaining how the trick works. I tilted the glove toward him so he could see me setting up the rubber band and Sharpie. Then, when the contraption was ready, I began lowering it. He even moved one of the balls closer to the wall for me, but then, at the last second, just as my glove was about to lower over it, he grabbed both baseballs and tossed them back toward the infield.

“That’s just wrong!” I shouted.

He shrugged and kept jogging away.

“Shane!” I shouted again. “I taught YOU something! Now you have to teach ME something!”

He turned around. “Like what?!” he asked.

“Teach me something about baseball!” I said. “Teach me how you run so fast! I could use some extra speed!”

“That’s something I was blessed with!” he yelled, and that was the end of that.

I got a third ball with the glove trick in the left field corner…

zack_glove_trick1c.jpg

…and got a fourth in straight away left field. This one was the toughest of all because I had to lean over the flower bed just to see the ball…

zack_leaning_over_flower_bed.jpg

…and then once I saw it, I had to lean/reach ever further to actually get it:

zack_glove_trick1d.jpg

As you can see, I had to support all the weight of my upper body by balancing on a thin metal railing with my elbows. Meanwhile, the back railing was digging into my knees, whi
ch are now quite bruised, and it was totally worth it. As I’ve always said: the pain goes away but the ball lasts forever.

Cole Hamels tossed me a ball a few minutes later (ball No. 5 on the day). He lobbed it high in the air, and I reached up and caught it bare-handed over a few fans. Then I realized that one of them was a young boy (maybe six years old) with a glove.

“Did you get a ball yet?” I asked him.

He answered so quietly that I had to lean down and say, “What?”

“No,” he said a little louder, this time shaking his head.

“Well, this one’s for you,” I said before handing it over and heading to the right field seats.

I got my sixth ball tossed by Gary Majewski and got another from Jeremy Affeldt soon after. Affeldt didn’t look at me. He just grabbed the ball off the warning track and flipped it up randomly into the seats, so he didn’t know that I already had one (or seven) when another ball rolled to the wall in right-center. Before he could get there, I started lowering my glove, and when he arrived, he just stood back and watched:

zack_glove_trick1e.jpg

Jona later told me that one of the fans near her (a high-school-aged kid) was saying that the glove on the string was the stupidest thing he’d ever seen–that is, until I actually got the ball to stick inside.

I used the trick for a SIXTH time for a ball near the right field foul pole, and at the end of batting practice, I got Reds bench coach Chris Speier to toss me my 10th and final ball of the day.

brandon_phillips_autograph.jpgBefore the game started, I got Brandon Phillips to sign a Phillies-Reds ticket from last year. I was in such a good mood…so excited for the game and chance to catch a piece of history.

But then?

The starting lineups were announced, and Griffey wasn’t playing!

Nooooooooooo!!!

Jona pulled out her iPhone and searched for Griffey on rotoworld.com, and we learned that he wasn’t playing because of “general soreness.”

Was there a chance that he might end up pinch hitting late in the game? Yeah, I suppose. But I had no interest in staying, given the circumstances which included the fact that I had to drive 100 miles back to NYC and then drive back early the next day, so I left with Jona after the second inning.

STATS:

the_nine_balls_i_kept.jpg? 10 balls at this game

? 80 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

? 135 balls in 17 games this season = 7.9 balls per game.

? 513 consecutive games with at least one ball

? 116 consecutive games outside NYC with at least one ball

? 830 lifetime balls outside NYC

? 3,412 total balls

I’m about to head back to Philly. Griffey is supposed to be back in the
lineup, and I already have a ticket in section 102. Look for me out in
right-center field. I’ll be wearing a light gray MLB shirt, dark
olive-green cargo shorts, and a red Phillies (boo!!!) cap.