Tagged: toronto blue jays

9/15/10 at Camden Yards

The good thing about going to an all-you-can-eat Indian buffet in Baltimore…

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…is that there’s plenty of room to run around at Camden Yards and burn off the calories:

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Within the first few minutes of BP, a right-handed batter on the Orioles smoked a line-drive homer that landed in the empty front row. I ran down and grabbed the ball:

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“Who hit that?!” I shouted at my friend Rick Gold, who was camped out ten rows back.

“Fox,” said a voice that came from the warning track.

As it turned out, Kevin Millwood was standing just short of the wall and answered the question for me. How about that? Jake Fox. Yes, of course.

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One minute later, I caught a home run on the fly, and once again I was unable to identify the batter.

“Who was THAT?” I asked Millwood.

“Tatum,” he said.

Ha! Awesome. Craig Tatum. I never would’ve known. And then I caught another Jake Fox homer on the fly.

At around 5:10pm, I snagged my fourth home run ball of the day. It wasn’t Fox. It wasn’t Tatum. Damn. I had no idea who hit it, and Millwood was gone. But whatever. I got the ball — that’s what matters — and (my girlfriend) Jona took a series of photos of me chasing it down. Here’s the first one. It shows me tracking the ball as I drifted to my left:

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As soon as I determined that the ball was going to fall a bit short, I took my eyes off it and focused on climbing over a few rows of seats:

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Then I looked back up as the ball was descending; note the red arrow pointing to it:

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The ball landed, prompting a scramble with the fan in the gray jersey:

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Finally, I beat him to it and grabbed the ball just as he was lunging for it:

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Don’t feel bad for the other guy. He’s there every day and always snags at least a few balls.

Before the Orioles finished their portion of BP, I played catch for a minute with Jeremy Guthrie. Here’s a screen shot from a video that shows me catching one of his throws…

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…and here’s another screen shot that shows me tossing it back:

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(Whenever I try to embed a YouTube video on my blog, the format gets messed up, so I’m afraid you’ll just have to click here to watch it.)

In case you’re wondering how I got to play catch with Guthrie, it’s pretty simple: I asked. It also helped that I’ve gotten to know him over the years, but I’ve played catch with lots of players that I’d never met before…like Kyle Farnsworth. Now THAT was fun.

When the Orioles finished hitting, Rick and I each had four baseballs. I asked if we could get a photo together, and as we walked over to a sunny spot, he found a fifth ball hiding in the folded-up portion of a seat. Unbelievable. Here we are moments later:

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The Blue Jays started warming up on the 3rd base side, so I changed into my Jays gear and headed to their dugout. Aaron Hill threw me my fifth ball of the day, and less than a minute later, I got another from Vernon Wells. In the following photo, the horizontal arrow is pointing to Wells, and the vertical arrow is pointing to the ball in mid-air:

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Once the Jays started hitting, I raced back out to the left field seats. Look how empty it was; the arrow is pointing to me:

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Then an amazing thing happened: I got three more balls in a 20-second span. The first two were home runs that I caught on the fly on back-to-back pitches. The third was another homer that landed in the seats…two pitches later, I think. I wasn’t sure who had hit them. Rick (who works for MLB.com) was almost certain that it was Edwin Encarnacion, so I’m gonna assume that that’s who it was.

A few minutes later, Jona called out to me from her spot 15 rows back.

“Can you come here for a minute?” she asked.

I couldn’t imagine what was so important that she’d be pulling me away from my normal spot.

“What is it?” I called back.

She didn’t say anything. She just gave me a look as if to say, “I can’t explain it, so you need to come over here,” and as soon as I started running up the steps, she very subtly pointed at the ground in the middle of a row.

I should know by now not to question her. This is why she called me over:

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Jona knows that I will NOT count a baseball in my collection if another fan gains possession of it first, so instead of picking it up and handing it to me, she called me over so I could grab it myself. If that’s not love, then I don’t know what is.

That was my 10th ball of the day and No. 4,599 overall. The next ball was going to be a milestone, and in case it ended up being a home run, I wanted to know who was batting.

Well, it WAS a home run. Here I am catching it:

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Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to identify the batter, and when I asked the players who was hitting, they all ignored me except for Fred Lewis, who saw my Jays gear and said, “You’re a fan. You should know.”

All I know is that it was a right-handed batter with a very open stance. His left side was practically facing third base before he squared up and stepped straight into the pitch. Any ideas?

Here I am posing with No. 4,600 soon after:

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Toward the end of BP, I got Blue Jays bullpen catcher Alex Andreopoulos to toss me a ball near the foul pole, and then I headed to the 3rd base dugout. Brian Butterfield, the team’s 3rd base coach, ended up walking in with a spare ball in his hand:

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He tossed it to me. Here’s a photo of the ball in mid-air:

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That was my 13th ball of the day, and I got another from Yunel Escobar just before the game (no arrow necessary):

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You may have noticed that in the photo above, I wasn’t wearing my Blue Jays shirt. That was intentional. I figured that everyone on the team recognized me by that point, so I changed my appearance and just went with the hat.

The game itself was incredible — not because I caught anything, but because it only lasted an hour and 55 minutes! I don’t think I’d ever attended a game that finished so fast. The Orioles won, 3-1, behind a 95-pitch, complete-game effort from Brad Bergesen. For the Jays, Kyle Drabek made his major league debut and did pretty well. He allowed three runs in six innings…gave up nine hits, walked three, and struck out five, but the most impressive thing is that he hit 99mph on the radar gun, and I wasn’t even paying attention to the velocity for most of the night, so who knows? He might have even touched triple digits when I wasn’t looking. By the way, Drabek threw 88 pitches, and then two relievers — Shawn Camp and Scott Downs — combined to work the last two innings with thirteen pitches. The Jays and O’s threw a total of 196 pitches. THAT is how to play a game in under two hours. Normally, I love it when games last long, but not when I have a 200-mile drive waiting for me after the final out. Of course, Jona and I didn’t rush toward the garage right away. First I headed to the 3rd base line as the Jays relievers walked in from the bullpen. This was my view as they headed toward me:

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Jesse Carlson tossed me a ball — my 15th of the day — and then Kevin Gregg threw me another 30 seconds later.

After that, I gave away two of my baseballs to kids and headed toward the Eutaw Street exit. Here are the 14 balls I kept:

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The End.

SNAGGING STATS:

• 16 balls at this game

• 247 balls in 26 games this season = 9.5 balls per game.

• 655 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 201 consecutive games outside New York with at least one ball

• 129 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

• 4,605 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 45 donors (click here to learn more)

• $6.49 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $103.84 raised at this game

• $1,603.03 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

9/14/10 at Camden Yards

This was my first game in more than a month, and let me tell you, it felt great to be back…

The story of the day was running. It seemed as if that’s all I did. Here’s a photo (that my girlfriend took) of me bolting toward a section in left-center for a home run that landed in the seats:

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I grabbed that ball and caught a line-drive homer on the fly soon after. (I have no idea who hit either one.)

Things were off to a good start — but then it all fell apart.

The whole running thing? Not too successful. Despite the many rows of seats that I sprinted through and climbed over, I kept finding myself out of position. Here are two screen shots from a video that will illustrate my point. First I climbed over a row while the ball was in mid-air…

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…and then I watched helplessly as it fell short:

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And then the Orioles stopped hitting at 5:17pm — more than 15 minutes early. It was such a waste. All I could do was wander into foul territory and watch the Blue Jays get loose:

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By that time, of course, I had changed into my Blue Jays gear, and it paid off. Lyle Overbay spotted me and threw a ball my way. Here I am behind the dugout, reaching out for the catch:

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If you look closely at the photo above, you can see the ball in the pocket of my glove.

Once the Jays started hitting, I ran back out to left field and got some love from from Adam Lind. Here’s a photo that shows the ball sailing toward me:

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Here I am running around some more and climbing over another row of seats:

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Don’t forget, I had switched into Jays gear, so that’s me on the left with my back facing the camera. And in case you were wondering…no, I didn’t get that ball. I didn’t get this one either…

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…but two minutes later, I did manage to catch a homer on the fly in the front row. Again, I have idea who hit it. I wish I did, but the batters were wearing shirts over their jerseys, so I couldn’t see their uniform numbers, and I didn’t recognize their stances from 375 feet away. Anyway, here I am reaching up for that ball…

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…and if you look closely, you can see a little kid ducking out of the way on my left. I gave that ball to a different kid later on.

I had five baseballs at that point — a respectable total that could’ve been much higher if I’d been a little quicker and/or luckier. Here I am losing out in a scramble…

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…and here I am losing out on a bobble:

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In the photo above, you can’t see me, but trust me, I was there. Do you see the random glove in front of the left edge of the warehouse? That’s my glove.

Toward the end of BP, I got Blue Jays first base coach Omar Malave to throw me a ball in left-center, and I also snagged a ground-rule double in that same area. I think it was hit by DeWayne Wise, but I’m not sure.

Then I met a father-and-son duo named Gregg and Kyle. Gregg is the sports director for a TV station in Harrisburg, PA, and Kyle follows me on Twitter. (Here’s a link to my Twitter page. I haven’t been blogging much lately, but I’ve been tweeting just about every day.) They were both very nice, and I posed for a picture with Kyle before running off to the 3rd base dugout. Here were are together:

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I won’t bore you with a photo of my dash to the dugout. Instead, I’ll skip to the good part:

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In the photo above, do you see the player who’s about to throw a ball? That’s Shawn Marcum. He threw it to me. It was my eighth ball of the day.

Soon after BP ended, I got Marc Rzepczynski to sign my ticket. Here I am in the process of getting the autograph…

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…and here’s the ticket itself:

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Right before the game started, I got my ninth ball from John McDonald. He and Yunel Escobar had played catch in front of the dugout. Easy snag. No competition. Happy birthday to me. (Actually, it WAS my birthday.)

I spent the top of the first inning in left field. This was the view:

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After that, I pretty much stayed in the standing room only section in right field. This was the view late in the game.

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(It was Buck Showalter T-shirt Night.)

I also spent some time chasing (nonexistent) foul balls behind the plate. Here’s the view from that spot:

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As for my girlfriend…

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She picked a comfy spot and stayed put while I ran around and did my thing.

The game itself was whatever. I didn’t come within 100 feet of any of the three homers, and I never got closer than 50 feet to a foul ball. For the record, the Orioles pounded out 16 hits and won, 11-3.

Just after the final out, I got a ball from home plate umpire Bruce Dreckman. (GOSH, I love his name.) Then I got another ball from Jason Frasor near the 3rd base dugout when he walked in from the bullpen with his fellow relievers.

It didn’t feel like I had a great day — I wasted lots of opportunities during BP — but somehow still ended up with double digits.

SNAGGING STATS:

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• 11 balls at this game (10 pictured on the right because I gave one away)

• 231 balls in 25 games this season = 9.24 balls per game.

• 654 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 200 consecutive games outside New York with at least one ball

• 128 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

• 4,589 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 45 donors (click here to learn more)

• $6.49 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $71.39 raised at this game

• $1,499.19 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

8/2/10 at Yankee Stadium

It was another day of A-Rod hysteria:

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Perhaps “hysteria” is an exaggeration. “Anticipation” and “excitement” and “teenage girls hoping to get on TV” would be a better way to describe the atmosphere.

When the stadium opened at 5pm, I raced out to the right field seats. My girlfriend Jona followed close behind with my camera. Here’s a shot of the section from afar. I’m standing in the last row (see the red arrow) wearing a black T-shirt and khaki green cargo shorts:

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When A-Rod stepped into the cage, I moved up a few rows and quickly got my first chance of the day when he launched a deep fly ball in my direction. I could tell right away that it was going to fall a bit short, so I climbed over a row of seats…

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…and when the ball predictably tailed to my left, I began to drift with it. If you look really closely at the following photo, you can see the ball in mid-air:

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One second later, I reached to my left and made an uncontested, one-handed catch:

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For the first 10 minutes, the seats remained fairly empty. I took advantage by running all over the place…

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…but it didn’t always pay off. Here’s a photo that shows me tracking a home run ball…

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…and here’s another that shows me NOT catching it:

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I always seem to make great facial expressions when I narrowly miss baseballs. In my own defense, I missed this one because it sailed five feet over my head. Anyway, I got a chance to redeem myself moments later. A-Rod was back in the cage, and I was in position:

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He launched another home run ball, this time to my right, and I took off after it:

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Once I got close to the spot where I knew it was going to land, I slowed down a bit and started drifting:

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I reached the spot:

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The ball was heading right for me, but I could tell that it was going to sail a few feet over my head. There was no time to climb up on a seat. Did I have enough vertical leap in me to make the catch?

Here’s your answer:

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Here I am just after landing with the ball…

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…and here I am holding it up for Jona (who deserves received many hugs and kisses for taking these outstanding photos):

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Five minutes later, Curtis Granderson really got a hold of one and sent the ball flying deep to my left. The sun was in my eyes, so as I started moving through my row, I held up my right hand to reduce the glare:

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As soon as I passed the Modell’s sign, I climbed over a row of seats:

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The ball landed, and I climbed over another row:

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And then I climbed over another:

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That’s when I grabbed it. (Did you notice that the guy in the red shirt never even moved? All he did was turn around to see where the ball landed.)

Moments later, I caught another A-Rod homer on the fly. It’s too bad that Jona didn’t get a photo of this one because I got clobbered while making the catch. I was in the middle of a cluster of people, and when I jumped for the ball, another guy crashed into me, elbowed me in the back of the head, caused my hat to go flying, and nearly made me tumble forward over a row of seats. I don’t think he meant to hurt me. I just think that some people are out of control and have no sense of their surroundings.

I’d snagged four baseballs in the first 15 minutes. Things were looking good. I thought I was on my way to double digits for the first time ever at the new Yankee Stadium — but then things slowed way down.

I still kept running all over the place…

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…and climbing over seats…

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…but I couldn’t get close to any other balls. I was still stuck at four when the Yankees’ portion of BP ended.

I threw on my Blue Jays cap and headed over to the left field side:

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Dead.

I don’t know what caused it, but the Blue Jays (who lead the majors in home runs) experienced a severe power outage. There was hardly any action in the stands, and as a result, I only snagged two more baseballs. The first was tossed by Jesse Litsch (who recognized me from Toronto). It was my 200th ball of the season. Here it is:

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The second ball was a John McDonald homer. I grabbed it when it landed in the seats and handed it to the nearest kid.

Simple stuff. Six balls. Not terrible. Not great. But that’s to be expected at Yankee Stadium.

Did you know that there’s a butcher inside the stadium? And did you know that Jona is generally repulsed by meat? This photo pretty much tells the story…

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…although I should point out that the three balls I’m holding were my A-Rod homers.

Could A-Rod break out of his slump and hit one to me during the game?! Jona asked me what I thought my chances were of catching No. 600. This was my reaction:

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All I can say is that Yankee Stadium stresses me out. One thing, however, that did temporarily improve my mood was the free chocolate samples that we got from a Dylan’s candy stand inside Gate Two:

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In the photo above, it looks so empty and peaceful, doesn’t it?

One word: HA!!

This was my view during the bottom of the first inning with A-Rod on deck:

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(Historical tidbit No. 1: This was the 31st anniversary of Thurmon Munson’s death.)

Jona and I had seats in the middle of a row. Early in the game, we were able to grab a couple open seats next to the stairs, but in the middle innings, every single end-seat was taken. I had to make a choice. The options were:

1) Move into the middle of the row and basically have no chance to move if A-Rod happened to go yard.

…OR…

2) Leave the section and try my luck somewhere else.

We left the section. I couldn’t even bear the thought of sitting in the middle of a row. I knew I would’ve felt like a caged animal, so we wandered for a few innings and ended up in the bleachers.

Why does Yankee Stadium stress me out? Why haven’t I bothered to make a serious attempt at catching No. 600 in New York?

This is why:

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The strategy for catching a milestone home run ball at Yankee Stadium is simple: be exactly where the ball is going to be hit. There is NO room to move. Security checks tickets at every section. And even if you can somehow sneak into a section, there aren’t any empty seats. It’s a ballhawking nightmare.

When A-Rod grounded out to end the 7th inning, some people foolishly assumed that he wouldn’t come up again — and they left. Jona and I took advantage and moved back to our original section. Look at all this room I had:

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(At Yankee Stadium, that’s a lot of room.)

The Yankees got two guys on base in the eighth, which meant that A-Rod would be due to bat fourth in the bottom of the ninth…and…thanks to a one-out homer by Nick Swisher in the final frame, A-Rod did indeed get one last turn to hit.

It would have been nice if Mister Rodriguez hit a line drive right to me because I almost definitely would’ve caught it. Obviously, there’s no way to guard against someone in the front row throwing their glove up at the ball and deflecting it, but putting freak plays aside, I really do believe that if A-Rod had hit the ball anywhere within, let’s say…five feet of me, I would have caught it. But instead, he grounded out to shortstop to end the game.

Final score: Blue Jays 8, Yankees 6.

(Historical tidbit No. 2: During this game, the Blue Jays tied an American League record by hitting six doubles in one inning.)

I raced over to the Jays’ bullpen and got one final ball from bullpen coach Rick Langford. I didn’t take my camera or backpack with me — Jona was hanging onto all my stuff — so when she finally made her way over, this was the only photo that she got:

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It shows Langford and Janssen and the bullpen catcher walking across the field toward the dugout.

(Jona would like you to know that she took that last photo with her brand new iPhone 4, which she loves.)

SNAGGING STATS:

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• 7 balls at this game (6 pictured on the right because I gave one away)

• 202 balls in 22 games this season = 9.2 balls per game.

• 651 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 493 consecutive games in New York with at least one ball

• 139 consecutive Yankee home games with at least one ball

• 10 consecutive games at the new Yankee Stadium with at least two balls

• 7 consecutive seasons with at least 200 balls

• 4,560 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 45 donors (click here to learn more)

• $6.49 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $45.43 raised at this game

• $1,310.98 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

5/3/10 at Progressive Field

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…

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…and continued with this…

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…and this:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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.

Weird, no?

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:

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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:

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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:

9_zack_with_many_many_balls.jpg

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:

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Balls No. 21 and 22 both looked pretty cool:

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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:

12_sean_malafronte_and_zack.jpg

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:

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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:

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Oof. Make me wish I lived in Cleveland. (No offense, Cleveland, but I really love New York.)

This was my view during the game…

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…and this is a screen shot that shows me missing Jose Bautista’s 2nd-inning homer by five feet:

16_jose_bautista_homer_screen_shot.jpg

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:

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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:

18_perfect game_7th_inning.JPG

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.

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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:

20_view_from_behind_home_plate.JPG

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…

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…and here’s another:

22_empty_stadium_after_the_game.JPG

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.)

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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.

SNAGGING STATS:

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• 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

CHARITY STATS:

• 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

4/25/09 at U.S. Cellular Field

Screwed by the weather!

No batting practice.

Miserable day all around.

Game time temperature: 39 degrees.

Don’t go to Chicago in April.

This is what I saw when I ran into the stadium:

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Thankfully (and for some strange reason) there was a ball waiting for me in the right field bullpen:

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I might not have noticed this ball if not for my new friend Scott and his friend Chad. (In the photo above, Scott is the guy wearing jeans and a black jacket, and Chad is in a maroon shirt just beyond/above the red tarp.) I was staying back under the overhang of the second deck because it was pouring. These two gentlemen, however, were down in the seats and looking for easter eggs when they discovered the ball in the bullpen. Scott doesn’t have a ball-retrieving device and Chad had left his at home, so they waved me down and let me go for it.

In the following photo (which was taken by Scott), you can see me trying to knock the ball closer:

3_zack_failed_glove_trick.jpg

The bad news is that my string got horribly tangled (I blame the wetness) and I failed to reel in the ball. The good news is that a couple of groundskeepers eventually walked into the bullpen and one of them tossed it to me. Although there’s no official “assist” category for ballhawks, Scott and Chad definitely deserve one. Not only had they pointed out the ball, but they didn’t even ask for it when the groundskeepers made an appearance. So…BIG thanks to them.

The ball was soaked, and it weighed about half a pound. My glove was also soaked. My string was soaked. My backpack was soaked. My feet were clammy. The ink on my rosters had bled all over the place. My whole body was freezing. It was just a day of suck. And to make matters worse, when it stopped raining, the Blue Jays never came out. Normally, when there’s no BP, the teams will still take the field and play catch. But no. Not this time. There was nothing happening on the field. There was no way to snag baseballs…so I wandered and took photos, starting with the open-air concourse in center field:

4_wet_concourse.jpg

I headed to the left field corner of the upper deck…

5_cell_upper_deck.jpg

…and then made my way toward home plate:

I’m not sure what to make of the support beams. Are they really necessary? I mean, are the really
holding up the top edge of the upper deck? Or are they just there to make The Cell look charming and old? I’m pretty sure–and correct me if I’m wrong–that when construction began on this stadium in 1989, technology had advanced to the point where view-blocking beams would’ve been unnecessary. This upper deck is rather high and far and steep; if I were trapped in the last few rows and THEN had to sit behind one of those beams, I wouldn’t be happy. But then again, security is so laid-back at this stadium that unless it’s sold out, there’s no reason why anyone would ever have to sit there.

Here’s my panorama attempt from behind the plate:

7_cell_panorama.jpg

This is what the upper deck concourse looks like. Pretty nice, pretty standard:

8_cell_upper_deck_concourse.jpg

I noticed some lousy stadium design as I cut through the seats toward the right field side. In the following photo, look how far the steps extend toward the front of the upper deck:

9_cell_funny_steps.jpg

What’s the big deal?

Let’s say you’re sitting in the front row and you want to get to the concourse. When you reach the steps, you’d either have to climb over them or scoot carefully between the bottom step and the railing. It took somewhat of an effort for ME to reach the tunnel in an empty stadium, so I can only imagine how tough it would be for old/fat people when it’s packed.

Here’s another oddity. Not a mess-up. Just something cute and quirky. Look at the little segment of railing attached to the side of the beam:

10_cell_funny_railing.jpg

Here’s another panorama:

11_cell_panorama.jpg

I wasn’t kidding when I said security is laid-back. I *did* have to pay $34 for a field level ticket in order to get into the field level seats, but once I was in, I was free to go everywhere, including here:

12_cell_dugout_access.jpg

Can someone please tell me why it’s okay for autograph collectors to cluster at the dugout at U.S. Cellular Field, but not at Wrigley Field? Or Citi Field? Or the new Yankee Stadium? I hate that certain teams (read: owners) have the right to enforce all kinds of strict rules. There should be a league-wide policy that gives every fan permission to get as close to the field as they want, in any section, at any time of the day until the game begins. Then, if certain anti-fun owners feel the need to instruct their security guards to check tickets, so be it. I wish I were the commissioner of Major League Baseball and/or an owner. (Evidently you can be both at once.) I’m telling you, the world would be a better place.

Here’s another look from the front row next to the dugout:

13_cell_on_deck_circle.jpg

Half an hour before game time, two White Sox players started throwing in shallow left field. I figured there’d be a mob of fans trying to get the ball (at least there would’ve been in New York) but the only mob was passing by on the warning track:

14_ball3907_being_used.jpg

The White Sox had invited 2,200 Girl Scouts (and their parents/siblings/etc.) to take a lap around the field. I was concerned that one of the kids might get hit by an errant throw, but the two players–John Danks and Gavin Floyd–were very careful. (One little girl walked right up to Danks with a ball and pen in her hand and was quickly stopped by security.) Meanwhile, I was the only fan in the seats who had a glove, and when the guys finished throwing, Danks had no choice but to toss me the ball.

Then I got Floyd to sign my ticket:

15_gavin_floyd_autograph.jpg

The game was delayed 14 minutes at the start, and it rained on and off throughout the night. (I’m surprised it was rain and not snow.)

I decided to stay behind home plate and go for foul balls. This was my view late in the game:

16_cell_umbrellas.jpg

Why was I there and not in the outfield? Because Jim “Future Hall of Famer” Thome and A.J. “99 Career Homers” Pierzynski weren’t playing. It was so miserable and cold that I decided I deserved the pleasure of sitting close to the action.

Scott and Chad had the same idea. They were sitting one section to my right. There were a few foul balls that came close enough for us to get up and run, but we didn’t snag any of them. I got a third-out ball from Jose Bautista after the second inning, and Chad kept his mini-streak alive by getting a ball from the ump after the game, but that was it. Hardly any action. Super-lame. The White Sox won, 10-2, and then there were fireworks. Whoop-Dee-Doo!

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One final thing…

At some point during the game–I think it was the top of the 5th inning–I felt my phone vibrate in the upper right pocket of my cargo pants.

“Who the HELL is texting me?” I thought as I reached for it. (I don’t text. I have T-Mobile. I didn’t sign up for texting, but I still get charged 20 cents every time I send or receive a text. It’s complete B.S., and as a result, whenever I give my cell phone number to someone, I have to insist that they never text me. But they still do. And my phone bill get inflated several dollars every month. The cheapest texting plan from T-Mobile is $5 per month, so I’m still saving money, but it’s still a ripoff, and I can’t wait to dump them and get an iPhone. Anyway, there IS a point to this story…)

I pulled out the phone and flipped it open, and this is what it said:

17_text_from_heath_bell.jpg

Yes, that would be THE Heath Bell who pitches for the San Diego Padres–he’s the only one who has permission to text me–and he was talking about my charity. I had told him about it when I saw him on 4/15/09 at Citi Field, and he told me to email him the link. (Very quickly, for those who don’t know, I’m getting people to pledge money for every ball I snag during the 2009 season. That money will go to a charity called Pitch In For Baseball, which provides baseball equipment to needy kids all over the world. The largest pledge so far is one dollar per ball. The smallest pledge is a penny, and it’s all adding up in a big way. If you want to see the complete list of donors and learn more about it, click here.) I was surprised that Heath signed up so quickly. Ten days? I would’ve been glad to have him sign up after ten weeks, for even a nickel per ball, but he came through. He is truly The Man. I can’t say it enough.

SNAGGING STATS:

• 3 soggy balls at this game

• 88 balls in 12 games this season = 7.3 balls per game.

• 581 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 3,908 total balls


CHARITY STATS:

• 95 donors

• $18.16 pledged per ball

• $54.48 raised at this game

• $1,598.08 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

4/24/09 at U.S. Cellular Field

The last time I visited this stadium, it was called Comiskey Park and my one-game record was just 14 balls. Now, a decade later, my simple goal for the day was to snag half that many and bring my lifetime total to 3,900.

I took the subway (or whatever it’s called here in Chicago) to the stadium. Four stops from my friends’ place. Fifteen minutes. Easy. This was the view from the platform after I got off the train:

1_cell_from_train_platform.jpg

The inside of U.S. Cellular Field (aka “The Cell”) had changed a bit in the last decade, but the outside is the same: UGLY. Still, I had a great time walking all the way around it and taking photos.

Down below, I’ve combined four photos into one image. Starting on the upper left and then going clockwise, you can see 1) the walk from the subway to the ticket windows, 2) the ticket windows, 3) me with the home plate gate in the background, and 4) the 1,450-foot Sears Tower way off in the distance.

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What’s so ugly, you ask? Bland design, mainly. The stadium thinks it’s pretty and classy–like a woman who’s wearing too much makeup and carrying a (fake) designer handbag–but there’s really nothing to it. And to make matters worse, the surrounding area is desolate and boring.

Here’s another four-part pic. It shows 1) the fenced-off area past the right field gate, 2) the walk around the fence, 3) an empty area beyond that, and 4) a dead end:

3_outside_the_cell.jpg

Lameness!

I had to walk back in the direction I came from and then make a WIDE berth in order to keep going. Here’s the last four-part pic I’ll make you look at. It shows 1) a beautiful plastic bag stuck in a beautiful tree, 2) a sketchy stretch of road that turned into a sketchy alley, 3) the projects, and 4) another random stretch of required walking:

4_outside_the_cell.jpg

Am I the only baseball fan in North America that likes to walk all the way around stadiums and take photos? I mean, is it that strange to want to get a sense of the architecture and surrounding areas? I must be the only one who does this on the south side of Chicago because a police officer, sitting in his parked car, actually waved me over and demanded to know what I was doing.

I finally made it past the projects…

5_outside_the_cell.jpg

…and walked along the final edge the stadium. It looked like a boarded up construction zone:

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Okay, enough with the outside of the stadium. I don’t want you to get depressed.

The right field gate opened at 5:40pm–just 90 minutes before game time. (Actually, game time was officially 7:11pm because the White Sox have a partnership with the 7-11 chain. Lovely.) That wasn’t going to give me much time to snag…maybe 45 minutes at the most. At a decent stadium with a not-too-large crowd, I’ll average about one ball for every ten minutes of batting practice. At a lousy stadium, I’ll snag a ball every 15 to 20 minutes, and at a great stadium, I might be able to get a ball every five minutes. Keep those numbers in mind.

As soon as I got inside, I sprinted up four ramps, showed my field level ticket to get past a security guard, bolted across the open-air concourse, and scurried down the steps toward the bullpen. JACKPOT!! There were two balls sitting there, waiting for me and my glove trick. My friend Kelly had told me that security at the Cell is extremely lax, and she was right. I reeled in the first ball with ease, and then I flung my glove out a few times to knock the second ball closer. While I was in the process of doing this, a security guard in the party deck down below saw what I was doing and gave me a strange look that could’ve been interpreted in any number of ways.

“Do you mind?” I asked innocently.

He shrugged and simply said, “Go for it.”

THAT is how a major league baseball stadium should be run. I’m not saying people should be allowed to dangle gloves there (or onto the field) during games, but jeez, what’s the big deal about doing it so early in the day when no one is around? I’m SO pleased to say that White Sox management has the right idea, and as a result, I’ll be rooting for the team (once I leave Chicago) and encouraging people to go to this stadium.

Here’s a look at the bullpen. I took this photo after I’d snagged the two balls, but you can see how awesome it is:

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The bullpen in left field is even better because the seats behind it aren’t as high up. Check it out:

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Did you notice that there are two balls in the photo above? The ball on the left was too far out, but the one on the right (just next to that coiled green hose) was all mine. Too easy.

Now, just to prove that I actually CAN catch batted balls, I made a nice play on a home run that was hit by a Blue Jays righty. The ball was heading about 20 feet to my left, so I cut through an empty row, and then as it was about to land in a small cluster of semi-clueless fans, I jumped and reached out to my left and plucked the ball out of the air, just above their outstretched arms. They weren’t pissed. If anything, they were impressed, and I heard one guy mumble something like, “He must’ve played high school ball.”

“College,” I said.

“Oh yeah?” he replied.

“Well, a little bit.”

“It shows,” he said, and I thanked him.

The White Sox fans were so nice, even though I was decked out in Blue Jays gear:

zack_blue_jays_gear.jpg

Throughout the entire course of the day, I only heard one “Blue Jays suck” directed at me, and the guy who said it was smirking in a friendly way. I explained that I’m not even a Jays fan, and he got a kick out of that. The photo above was taken by a guy whose name is also Zack. I got recognized by a few people during BP, so I can’t remember if he was the one who asked this, but at one point, when people saw me snagging balls left and right, someone was like, “Wait, are you THAT GUY?”

The person who asked this knew the deal, and I knew that he knew, so all I said was, “Yeah, I’m that guy.” He recognized me from the two home runs I caught on back-to-back nights last September at Yankee Stadium. Why? Because those homers were hit off White Sox pitching.

Anyway, I was in glove trick heaven. Look at this glorious gap behind the left field wall:

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Several balls landed there, including this one which I reeled in for No. 5 on the day:

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I used the trick to snag No. 6 from the bullpen, and I immediately noticed that it had a faint bat imprint. Check it out below. I wrote the “3899” because it was the 3,899th ball I’d ever snagged, but right below that, in the very middle of the ball, you can see the first two letters of a reversed TPX logo:

11_ball3899_tpx_imprint.jpg

I love stuff like that.

Batting practice was still in full swing, so I knew I was going to reach 3,900. The only question was…how was I going to get it?

Five minutes later, someone on the Jays hit a home run that barely cleared the outfield fence. The gloveless fans in the front row reached out for it, and this was the result:

12_ball3900_gap.jpg

(Can you see why I was in heaven?)

No one else in the stadium had a ball-retrieving device (how is that possible?), but I still rushed over. The rubber band was already on my glove, so I stretched it into place and propped the glove open with my Sharpie and went in for the kill.

Whenever I snag a ball, I take a quick peek at it right away. Is it marked? Smudged? Stained? Mis-stamped? Lopsided? Is it a minor league ball? A commemorative ball? A training ball? Is there a weird pattern on it? Is there a gash? A bat imprint? I might not have a chance to label it for a few minutes, but at the very least, I take a moment to inspect it.

Well…

This is what I had just pulled out of the gap:

13_ball3900.jpg
Hell YES!!!

The Twins are using these balls in ’09 to commemorate the final season of the Metrodome. I’ve already booked a two-day trip to Baltimore next month for when the Twins will be there, and I was (emphasis on past tense) also planning on going to Yankee Stadium on May 15th when the Twins will be THERE. If I didn’t snag one of these balls at any of those games, I would’ve seriously had to consider going to Minnesota and buying a ticket in the front row behind the visitors’ dugout and snagging an effin’ third-out ball. Now I don’t have to, and it’s SUCH a relief.

Let me not overlook the fact that it really IS a nice logo. Compare it to the blandness of the Citi Field balls. See what I mean? The Twins ball has the name of the stadium. It has the “TC” logo (which stands for “Twin Cities,” in case you didn’t know.) It shows the whole stadium as opposed to a random little sliver of it. Bravo, Twins. Excellent design.

It didn’t occur to me when I booked this trip…and I just realized now…that the Blue Jays were IN Minnesota for four games last week. That explains it. DAMN I’m happy.

It was getting crowded toward the end of BP…

14_left_field_crowded.jpg

…but that didn’t stop me. Double digits, you ask? Read on…

Another ball landed in the gap, and as I was about to go for it, Brandon League jogged over to field a ball that had rolled nearby. I got him to toss me that one and then began what should have been the easy process of using the glove trick.

The ball was kinda underneath the overhang of the gap, so it took me about 30 seconds to knock it into plain view. Once I moved it a bit, I saw that it had the Twins commemorative logo! Ohmygod, I *had* to get it.

I got the ball to stick inside my glove, and as I was gently lifting it up, a hand reached out of nowhere from down in the gap and yanked my string, causing both the ball AND the Sharpie to fall out. What the–?!

I figured someone was just messing with me. Maybe a player had gone in there to get the ball? And maybe he was about to emerge and laugh at me and then toss me the ball and my marker? Nope…nothing. I yanked the glove back up, readjusted the band, pulled out another Sharpie (preparation, baby) and lowered the glove for a second attempt. Then…way off in the distance…far to the right, all the way at the end of the gap, a security guard started walking toward me, and when he saw what I was doing, he started walking faster. Come on, ball!! Go into the glove!! The guard was getting closer. Luckily for me, he was, shall we say, rather hefty and elderly. (He looked like Santa Claus, except he had a white mustache instead of a full beard.) He wasn’t moving fast, but he was gaining ground. I got the ball to go into the glove and started lifting it, and just then the guard made his best attempt to run toward me. He was like 50 feet away, and the glove was only a few feet off the ground. I only had a few seconds, and I was panicking. If I didn’t raise it fast enough, not only would he take the ball but he might cut my string and confiscate my glove. I had no idea. And if I raised the glove too fast, the ball would probably slip out. I kept raising it as fast as I could while keeping the whole operation
under control, and when the guard got very close, I started walking away from him along the front row. I was lifting the glove and keeping my distance at the same time. It was beautiful, but I wasn’t moving fast enough, and he swooped it and made a lunge for my glove, so I had no choice but to yank it up, and the ball stayed inside!!!

HAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!!!!!

The guard was so pissed. I got far away from the front row, and I heard from the fans that he was still down there for the next 10 minutes, looking for me and asking everyone where I was.

I only managed to snag one more ball during BP. That gave me double digits. I got it with my glove trick in the left field corner, and I gave it to the nearest kid.

As for the game itself, there were two players whose potential home run balls I wanted to catch: Jim Thome because he’s a future Hall of Famer who’s already in the 500 Home Run Club and A.J. Pierzynski because he was sitting on 99 career homers. (Thanks to Happy Youngster for reminding me of that fact earlier in the day.) Unfortunately, neither of those guys went deep, and I wandered throughout the night.

This was my view in the top of the first inning:

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Then I made my way out past center field…

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…and picked a spot in a very crowded right field:

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I tried playing for third-out balls behind the Jays’ dugout…

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…but I kept having to leave and run back out to right field whenever Thome (batting cleanup) and Pierzynski (batting 7th) came up. It didn’t give me much of a chance to just sit and relax and watch the game, but that’s life.

By the middle of the 6th inning, the White Sox were losing, 12-0. I felt sorry for the fans, but it was great for me because the stadium cleared out.

After the 7th inning, when the Sox outfielders were warming up, right fielder Brian Anderson looked up into the crowd as if he were going to throw his ball to someone. I jumped up, moved through my (now) empty row, and waved my arms. He threw the ball right to me. Perfect aim. I was in the third row, and it barely cleared the people sitting in front of me. It was totally unexpected. I was just sitting out there in case someone (even Lyle Overbay or Travis Snider) happened to go yard, and I actually felt bad that I was missing opportunities for third-out balls at the dugouts…so this was great.

Despite the lopsided score, some Sox fans were still into the game:

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The Blue Jays scored two more runs in the final three innings:

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I’m definitely rooting for the Jays this year in the AL East. I obviously don’t want the Yankees to win it, and I’m getting pretty sick of the whole Red Sox Cult Bandwagon Nation. Now that Manny Ramirez isn’t in Boston, the only reason why I root for that team is because I don’t want the Yanks to finish in first place.

After the final out, I went down to the seats behind the Jays’ dugout and snagged a ball that was rolled to me across the roof. I have no idea who it came from. There was a cluster of players that disappeared from sight, and the ball came from one of them who had obviously seen me standing there with my my Jays gear. That ball–number 12 on the day–was rubbed up and had a big smudge:

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I’ve caught dozens of foul balls like this during games, so I assume this one was game-used. I won’t count it as a gamer, of course, but it’s still cool to think about when/how it was used.

By the way, you do need a field level ticket to get into the field level at the Cell, but once you’re in, you’re totally free to go anywhere. I was able to walk down any staircase at any point in the day. Most staircases weren’t even guarded, and the few guards who were scattered around didn’t ask for my ticket. What a great stadium. Except for that one guard in the left field gap, I wouldn’t change a thing.

SNAGGING STATS:

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• 12 balls at this game (11 pictured here because I gave one away)

• 85 balls in 11 games this season = 7.7 balls per game.

• 580 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 3,905 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $17.27 pledged per ball

• $207.24 raised at this game

• $1,467.95 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

4/9/09 at Rogers Centre

Last day in Toronto.
Day game after a night game.
Was there going to be batting practice?

Yes!!!

I had seen the batting cage and screens from my hotel room, but unfortunately this is what was taking place when I ran inside the Rogers Centre at 11am:

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At least it was the Blue Jays and NOT the Tigers who were on the field; at each of the previous three games, Detroit had been using cheap International League balls during BP.

Not long after the Jays started throwing, one of the balls got loose and rolled halfway onto the warning track in foul territory. I’m not sure which player had let the ball get away from him, but instead of walking over and picking it up and using it to finish throwing, he left it there and pulled a new ball out of his back pocket. The abandoned ball was sitting 30 feet to my right. There was an on-field security guard standing 50 feet to my left. In New York City, he would’ve walked over and grabbed the ball (and probably kept it for himself), but here in Canada, where
zack_loves_canada.jpgfew people go out of their way to snag baseballs, the guard just stood there and watched while I ran over and successfully used the “half-glove trick.” That’s what I call it when I don’t actually rig my glove to pick up a ball but simply fling the glove out in order to knock a ball closer. Then I moved one section to my left to get near the pitchers–and I found myself standing right in front of the guard.

“Thanks for letting me get that ball,” I said.

“No problem,” he replied. “You’re the guy who gets all the balls, right?”

“Yeah! How’d you know?”

“I’ve been reading your blog,” he said. “I think what you do is pretty cool. I don’t want you writing about any Gestapo sh*t here, and I don’t want you to put the Gustavo curse on me.”

WOW.

Again, just to point out the difference between Toronto and my hometown…

In September 2008, a bunch of security guards at Shea Stadium actually got angry at me (and confronted me) after they read a Newsday article in which I was paraphrased–not even quoted, mind you, but paraphrased–as saying that security at Shea was more lax than at Yankee Stadium. I meant it as a compliment, but they took it as an insult that would get them in trouble with their superiors. Unbelievable.

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Anyway, I bolted out to the seats in left-center field as soon as the Jays started hitting, and I used my glove trick to pluck my second ball of the day off the warning track. Several players watched me do it and were nice enough not to interfere, but when I ran around to right-center and tried to use the trick again, they weren’t as kind. As I began raising my glove with my potential third ball of the day wedged precariously inside, Jesse Litsch and Jesse Carlson both started throwing balls at my glove to knock it loose. I got the sense that they weren’t REALLY trying to mess me up. If they seriously wanted to foil my attempt, they could’ve just jogged over and grabbed the ball out of my glove…but instead they stayed about 40 feet away and took turns
firing balls at it.

“This guy gets like 800 balls a year!” said Litsch to his teammate.

“I don’t get THAT many!” I yelled, “but wait, how do you even know who I am?”

“Man, I see you EVERYwhere,” he said as he continued to fire balls at my glove. “You’re in New York. You’re in Baltimore. You’re all over the place.”

The balls he and Carlson were throwing were thumping off the padded outfield wall as I continued to lift my glove. One of their throws nicked my glove and caused it to spin around, but incredibly the ball remained inside.

As I kept raising my glove, their throws kept getting higher and higher and eventually reached the top of the outfield wall. Litsch had another ball in his hand and paused to look up at me.

“Yeah, what’choo got NOW!!!” I yelled.

He cocked his arm as if he were threatening to throw it.

“Go ahead!” I yelled as my glove dangled just a couple feet below the railing. “Throw it! I dare you! I’ll just catch it!”

I grabbed the string with my left hand in order to free up my dominant right hand, and just then, Litsch fired his ball at my glove and I reached down and bare-handed it just before it was able to hit it.

“HAHA!!!” I yelled. “Yeah!!! That’s what I’m TALKIN’ about!!! You like that?! Pretty good hands, huh?!”

He didn’t say anything. He just turned around and walked back to his spot in shallow right-center field. It felt amazing. I’d lunged and caught a 50mph throw in my right hand while another ball was tucked inside my glove that was dangling by a string from my left hand. It was truly a glorious moment.

The stadium had been open for about 15 minutes, and look how empty the seats were:

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That’s why I don’t feel sorry for people who tell me, “I’ve been going to games for 40 years, and I’ve never gotten a ball, not even in batting practice.”

I mean…DUH.

The left field seats got fairly crowded (by Toronto’s standards) toward the end of BP, and if you look closely at the photo below, you can see Nick Yohanek (aka “Happy Youngster“) in the second deck, wearing a blue jersey and long white sleeves:

left_field_crowded_04_09_09.jpg

My fifth ball of the day was a random toss-up that got bobbled by some fans and rolled right to me through an empty row. Total luck, yes.

After the netting above the Jays’ bullpen was pulled back (as it always is late in BP), I used the glove trick to snag another ball there. Then, two minutes later, I used the trick yet again to pull up a ball from the wide gap on the center field side of the ‘pen. My string got tangled on that one, and I nearly ran out of time.

After BP, I got Jesse Litsch to sign my ticket…jesse_litsch_autograph.jpg

…and asked if he was the guy who’d thrown a ball up to my hotel room two days earlier.

“That was YOU?!” he asked.

(Heh.)

Here’s a photo of him signing…

jesse_litsch_signing.jpg

…and here’s a shot of his glove, which was sitting on top of the low wall right in front of me:

jesse_litsch_glove.jpg

Five minutes before the game started, I headed out to the front row along the left field foul line to say hey to the nice security guard. We talked for a bit, and then I noticed that there was a ball sitting underneath the ballboy’s stool:

ball3850_stolen_from_ballboy.jpg“I’m guessing I’d probably get yelled at if I went over there and grabbed that ball,” I said to the guard.

“Do what you need to do,” he said. “It’s his fourth day on the job. He doesn’t know what’s going on.”

Poor ballboy. Totally oblivious. He was looking out at the field and talking to the fans sitting behind him. I felt guilty, like I was taking advantage of him, like I was about to steal his lunch money. And what about the Blue Jays outfielders? How would they warm up if I took that ball? Screw it, I thought. They’ll find another ball somehow. It’s not my problem.

“I gotta do it,” I told the guard. “In the name of charity. Yes! It’s for a good cause!”

He seemed to be getting a kick out of the whole thing, so I shared my plan: I was going to head up the steps, cut through an empty row, head back down the steps, and stand right behind the ballboy until I felt he was sufficiently distracted. Then I was going to reach over the low wall, grab the ball, and run like hell.I thanked the guard, told him this was my last game in Toronto, said goodbye, took a deep breath, and made my move. Up the steps, through the row, down the steps. I looked back at the guard, and he was watching while making it look like he wasn’t watching. I looked all around. The fans were clueless. The ballboy was yapping away. The guard at the top of the steps had his back turned to me. I waited for the ballboy to lean forward a bit, and as soon as he did, I reached carefully over the wall and under his stool. If he’d leaned back at that moment, his back would’ve pinned my arm against the wall, and I would’ve been busted. I actually had to feel for the ball because there wasn’t room for me to bend all the way over and look for it, so that took a couple seconds, and I was very nervous, but I got it! I grabbed the ball with my fingertips and lifted it up over the wall and BOLTED up the steps. I turned back quickly, spotted the guard, and pumped my fist. He gave a subtle nod, and I disappeared into the concourse.

Because the 200 Level wasn’t quite as empty as I’d hoped it would be, I spent the game going for foul balls on the first base side of home plate. Nothing came my way, but I did manage to maneuver down behind the dugout after the first inning and get Tigers first baseman Miguel
ball_3851_miguel_cabrera.jpgCabrera to toss me a ball on his way in. I quickly realized that it was not the ball he’d actually caught to end the frame; it was too scuffed/marked (as you can see on the right), which means he’d switched the gamer with the infield warm-up ball and given me THAT one instead. Rrr.

I really wanted one more ball. That would’ve given me double digits, my personal benchmark of stadium domination, but it wasn’t meant to be. I didn’t get any (other) third-out balls, and like I said, there weren’t any fouls that came anywhere near me. I felt like I would’ve had a great shot at getting an umpire ball after the game, but when Nick made his way down into my area in the late innings, I told him he could go for it. It was only fair. He’d backed off the day before and given me the dugout, and I’d snagged two balls as a result. Now it was my turn to be generous, and sure enough he ended up getting a ball at the dugout, not from home plate ump Chris Guccione but from one of the Tigers pitchers walking in from the bullpen. Overall, during the three days that Nick and I were both at the Rogers Centre, we managed to stay out of each other’s way and NOT lose any opportunities, but this was one of the few times that it couldn’t be avoided. It happens. Sometimes there IS only one place to be, but we handled it well. We communicated and shared our strategies and made it work.

The game itself was historic. It was the first time in major league history that two first-round draft picks made their debuts against each other. Ricky Romero, drafted 6th overall by the Blue Jays in 2005, earned the win after giving up two runs on seven hits in six innings. Rick Porcello, the 27th overall pick by the Tigers in 2007, suffered the loss after allowing four runs on nine hits in five innings. (I should’ve saved my ticket and tried to get it signed by them instead of Litsch). Final score: Toronto 6, Detroit 2.

SNAGGING STATS:

• 9 balls at this game

• 31 balls in 4 games this season = 7.75 balls per game.

• 573 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 3,851 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $14.88 pledged per ball

• $133.92 raised at this game

• $461.28 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball