I wasn’t too happy about paying $23 apiece for the cheapest seats in the stadium…
…but money was the last thing on my mind when I ran inside at 4:40pm. Here I am with left field all to myself during the first minute of batting practice:
By the way, the reason why I bought two tickets is that Jona was with me — and for the record, she took every photo in this entry with her iPhone 4. She’s very proud of her phone. She’ll be happy when she reads this entry and sees that I mentioned it. But anyway, my first ball of the day was a rather unusual snag. While standing in straight away left field, I saw a left-handed batter slice a soft line drive into the seats in foul territory. There was another fan at the back of the section where the ball landed, but he didn’t see it until a security guard waved him down toward the front. Guess what happened? He couldn’t find it, so after 10 or 20 seconds, I decided to run over there and have a look for myself. I found the ball right away, sitting in the middle of the 3rd row behind the rolled up tarp.
My second ball was thrown by a ballboy named “Jimmy” deeper down the left field foul line. Here’s a photo of the ball in mid-air sailing toward me:
All the batters in the first two groups were left-handed, so I ran over to the right field side. As soon as I got there, Mike Pelfrey tossed me a ball that fell short and bounced back onto the field. One of the Mets’ Japanese/translator-guys (who was shagging balls in the outfield) retrieved it and chucked it to me. That was my third ball of the day. Soon after, Jona made her way out to right field and took the following photo that shows me roaming through the seats above The Mo’s Zone:
As you can see, the stadium was almost completely empty, and I ended up taking full advantage.
When several righties started hitting, I ran across the Shea Bridge…
…and rushed back to the left field seats. Jona wasn’t far behind, but things tend to happen quickly, and once again, she missed out. As soon as I reached the front row, Mets rookie pitcher Dillon Gee picked up two baseballs that were sitting on the warning track. He tossed the first one to a little kid, so I shouted, “How about a ball for a big kid?” That worked. He tossed the second one to me, and then moments later, I lunged over the railing and grabbed a David Wright ground-rule double that conveniently bounced right to me.
That’s when Jona arrived.
Jesus Feliciano then threw me a ball in straight-away left field, and 30 seconds later, I raced out to the seats in left-center and got Manny Acosta to throw me another. In case you’ve lost track, I now had seven balls, and things kept going from there. David Wright launched two home runs in my direction. I grabbed the first one after it landed in the seats (here I am chasing after it)…
…and caught the second one on the fly. Then Mike Hessman blasted a home run that landed a full section to my left — landed in my glove, that is, after I ran over and caught it on the fly.
It was 5:09pm. The stadium hadn’t even been open for half an hour, and I already had double digits. Unfortunately, the Mets cleared the field soon after, so it was going to take a solid performance during the Braves’ portion of BP in order for me to break my single-game Citi Field record of 15 balls.
When the Braves started throwing, I changed into my Braves gear and moved over to the left field foul line…
…but I didn’t get anything there.
Ball No. 11 was thrown by Billy Wagner in left-center. Ball No. 12 was a home run that I caught on the fly in straight-away left. (Don’t know who hit it.) Ball No. 13 was another homer, and I ranged three full sections for it. I was in left field when the batter connected (once again, I have no idea who), and I immediately took off running to my left:
Here’s a four-part photo that shows what happened next:
It’s pretty simple. In the first two photos above, I was running like a madman. (Note the ball in photo No. 2 streaking in front of the Home Run Apple.) In the third photo, I was racing up the steps, and in the fourth photo, you can see me holding the ball right after I snagged it.
My 14th ball was another home run. I have no idea who hit it, and I caught it on the fly.
The record-tying ball was thrown by Melky Cabrera in left-center. I was several rows back. His throw sailed a bit too high, so I jumped and made a back-handed grab. Here’s a photo of both me and the ball in mid-air:
Now, it might seem like I was catching everything in sight, but that wasn’t the case. There WAS some competition, and at one point, I got flat-out robbed on a home run. Check it out:
The ball was coming right toward me. I could sense that there was another guy standing on my right, so I tried to box him out of my row. Well, unfortunately for me, he snuck past me on the steps and moved into the row directly in front of me and jumped at the last second and caught the ball right in front of my glove. What can I say? I misplayed it, and he did everything right. I should have climbed up on a seat. Then he wouldn’t have been able to reach above me. But hey, it’s hard to think/move that fast, so I can only tip my cap and admit defeat. As it turned out, the other guy reads this blog regularly and leaves comments as “li7039.” I’ve crossed paths with him a couple times in the past, and for some reason, I always forget who he is. (I just suck with faces and names sometimes. Forgive me.)
What happened next? I’ll tell you what happened next. I caught two more homers on the fly. They were both hit by righties, and I still had no idea who was batting. The first one was routine. The second one required a basket catch. The following two-part photo shows how it played out:
In the photo on the left, I was drifting through the seats while another fan down in front was moving to his right. The photo on the right shows me making the catch while the other fan was leaping and lunging for the ball.
That gave me 17 balls, and I wasn’t done. Craig Kimbrel tossed me No. 18 with a nice, easy, under-handed toss, and then I caught another home run on the fly in left-center. This homer was hit by a lefty. I think it was Rick Ankiel, but I’m not sure. It’s very rare for anyone to go oppo at Citi Field, so I consider myself lucky.
That was it for BP.
I had 19 balls!
That tied my single-game record for New York City; on April 19, 2004, I somehow managed to snag 19 balls at Shea Stadium.
I decided to go for No. 20 behind the Braves’ dugout. Snagging a third-out ball seemed like the most reliable option, and I didn’t have to wait long for my chance. When Tommy Hanson struck out Carlos Beltran to end the first inning, I bolted down to the front row and got Brian McCann to toss me the ball as he jogged off the field.
It was the eighth time in my life that I’d reached the 20-ball plateau and, of course, it was the first time I’d ever done it in New York.
Let’s cut to the chase…
After the game (which the Braves won, 6-4), I got a ball from home plate umpire Bill Hohn as he walked off the field. It was my 21st and final ball of the day. Here’s a screen shot from a video that shows the ball sailing toward me…
…and because there’s been some speculation, let me just say that the ball was NOT heading toward the kid on my left. I was the one who called out to the umpire. The umpire tossed the ball directly to me. What’s the problem? See the huge security guy in the purple-ish outfit? He was watching the whole thing. If I had indeed reached out in front of the kid, do you think the guard would’ve let me get away with it? Do you think the ump or any of the other fans would’ve been okay with it? No one said a word to me because it was a clean play. But the more important fact here is that I simply don’t reach in front of kids for baseballs. I used to reach in front of people when I was a kid myself, and I regret it. Now I give baseballs to kids. I also raise money for a children’s charity by snagging baseballs. But the “media” doesn’t like to report that. Nope. The media prefers to write negative crap because it’s more entertaining. And whenever there’s negative crap written, there’s never a quote from me. Have you noticed that? I never get a chance to explain my side of the story. That’s kind of strange, don’t you think?
Anyway, here I am with my 20th and 21st balls of the day…
…and here I am outside the stadium with my total haul:
If you look closely at the photo above, you’ll notice that there are only 18 balls. That’s because I gave three of them away over the course of the night. The first one went to the nearest kid after I snagged the ball from McCann. (I kept the gamer and handed him a much cleaner practice ball instead.) After the game, I gave a ball to a kid at the dugout, and when I was walking out of the stadium, I gave away another to a boy who was so excited that his parents had to remind him to thank me. It was pretty sweet.
• 21 balls at this game
• 268 balls in 27 games this season = 9.93 balls per game.
• 656 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 495 consecutive games in New York with at least one ball
• 356 consecutive Mets home games with at least one ball
• 18 consecutive games at Citi Field with at least two balls
• 130 lifetime games with at least 10 balls
• 8 lifetime games with at least 20 balls
• 4,626 total balls
• 45 donors (click here to learn more)
• $6.49 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $136.29 raised at this game
• $1,739.32 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
This was one of the most fun/hectic days I’ve ever experienced at a major league stadium.
For starters, it was a Watch With Zack game; my client was a 23-year-old from Indiana named Justin. We were joined by Phil Taylor, a senior writer for Sports Illustrated, who’s working on a big story about ballhawking. And that’s not all. There was also a two-person film crew following my every move and getting footage for a separate documentary about collectors. (I blogged about the filmmakers two months ago when they first interviewed me.)
See what I mean?
Fun. And hectic.
Let me point out that Justin didn’t mind the media being there. In fact, he was looking forward to getting a behind-the-scenes look at how it would all go down. He had booked this game a month in advance, so when the media contacted me and asked if they could tag along with me at a game, I ran it by Justin first to make sure it was okay. If he had said no, then I would’ve picked a different game to do the interviews.
Anyway, let’s get to the first photo of the day. It shows some friends, acquaintances, and “key players” outside the gate:
From left to right, you’re looking at:
1) Phil Taylor from Sports Illustrated.
3) Justin, my Watch With Zack client.
4) An aspiring ballhawk named Andrew. He and I have now run into each other three times since last season, all at different stadiums.
5) Avi Miller (check out those orange socks) who writes an outstanding Orioles blog.
6) Rick Gold, a fellow ballhawk, who began the day with 937 lifetime balls.
7) My good friend Ben Hill, who writes a blog about minor league baseball’s wackiest promotions. He lives in NYC and traveled to Baltimore with me for the day. He’s gone to several games with me in the past, including this one three years ago in Philly.
I saw some other familiar faces outside the gate and made a couple new friends during the hour that we were all standing around. By the time the stadium opened, there were a ton of people. Everyone was really friendly, we had a lot of laughs, and I remember thinking, “Phil picked a good day to join me.” I mean…most of the people I see/meet at games are friendly, but it just felt like love was in the air a bit more than usual. During the five hours that Phil spent with me, several fans asked for my autograph, one guy asked to have his six-year-old son’s picture taken with me, and two female ushers greeted me with hugs. Bottom line: ballhawking has gotten some bad press in recent seasons, so I’m hopeful that Phil got a positive impression of it based on our time together.
Five minutes before the stadium opened, the filmmakers showed up. I didn’t take a photo of them at that point because I was distracted. I was being interviewed by Phil, and I was giving Justin a few pointers, and I was focused on being the first one in so I could try to beat everyone else to the left field seats. Moments after I got there, I took the following photo:
Justin, wearing the orange Orioles shirt that he’d received on the way in, was already in position 13 rows back. Rick, wearing the black shirt, was walking through my row.
BP was dead at the start. An usher had already combed through the seats to pick up the loose baseballs, and the Orioles weren’t hitting many home runs. It’s too bad there wasn’t more action because the media was officially on the scene:
That’s Paul with the big camera and Meredith with the smaller one (and of course that’s Phil from Sports Illustrated sitting between them).
After ten minutes or so, I raced one full section to my left and snagged a home run ball that landed in the seats, and on the very next pitch, I sprinted back to my original spot and caught a homer on the fly. That felt good. I was on the board. I’d even used a bit of athleticism. Phil had gotten a good view. Paul and Meredith had gotten good footage.
What about Justin, you ask?
Two days earlier, when I had spoken to him on the phone, he told me that he wanted ME to break double digits. He also told me that he didn’t want any of the balls that I caught, and that he mainly wanted to learn by watching me in action. But still, he wanted to snag some baseballs on his own, and I did my best to help him.
Unfortunately, the Orioles stopped hitting at 5:16pm — roughly 15 minutes ahead of schedule — so that took a major chunk of opportunities away from us. It did, however, give us a chance to wander into foul territory and focus on getting balls from the Angels.
Justin threw on a maroon Angels T-shirt and headed to the corner spot near the 3rd base camera well:
When the Angels started throwing, Justin moved down the foul line into shallow left field, and as a result, I happened to get the next two balls. Mike Napoli tossed me one. The other was a random overthrow that skipped off the rubberized warning track and bounced into the empty front row.
Paul and Meredith followed me everywhere and kept the cameras rolling:
I helped Justin pick the best possible spot along the foul line…
…and played a role in getting Jered Weaver to toss him a ball. This was only the third ball that he’d ever snagged at a major league game, and it was the first one that had been given to him by a player.
Moments later, another errant throw bounced off the warning track and ended up in the seats, this time ten rows back, so I scampered up the steps and grabbed it.
The Angels had started hitting by that point, and I noticed that a ball had rolled onto the warning track in straight-away left field. I hurried over, used my glove trick to reel it in, and immediately handed the ball to the smallest kid with a glove.
That was my sixth ball of the day, and I got Scott Kazmir to throw me No. 7 in left-center. I was about eight rows back when I got his attention. He lobbed it perfectly, right over everyone and into my glove. (After batting practice, I gave that ball away, too.)
That’s when things slowed way down. The stands got really crowded, and I ran into some bad luck. For example, I was standing in one spot for about ten minutes, and there was NO action there. Eventually, I ran down to the front row to chase a ball that ended up falling short, and while I was there, Howie Kendrick hit a home run that landed right where I’d been. But hey, that’s just how it goes. I realize that I’d gotten lucky earlier with the two overthrows that bounced near me in the seats.
Justin was in a good spot, or at least a spot that’s normally good, but the balls just weren’t flying our way, and the Angels abruptly stopped hitting at 6:08pm. The visiting team’s batting practice normally goes until 6:20-ish, so that sucked. On the plus side, though, the shortened session of BP gave us extra time to eat and talk to Phil. (Justin got interviewed, too.) Paul and Meredith suggested eating at one of the tables near the concession stand. That certainly would have been easier because they had to deal with their equipment in addition to their food and beverages, but I insisted on heading back to the seats — and it’s a good thing. Halfway through the meal/interview, I noticed that Orlando Mercado and Mike Napoli were getting close to finishing playing catch down the left field line.
“Run over there,” I told Justin with a mouthful of pepperoni pizza. “You’ll probably get that ball, but you have to hurry.”
He looked over in the direction where I was pointing, shrugged, and took another bite of his chicken strips.
“Fine,” I said, “I’ll go over there.”
I threw my pizza back in the box, wiped my hand on my shirt, grabbed my glove…and returned 90 seconds later with the ball. Mercado, thankfully, had been the one who ended up with it. I’m pretty sure that Napoli would’ve recognized me and thrown it to someone else.
Shortly before game time, I got Torii Hunter’s autograph on my ticket:
(I tried to get him to use my blue Sharpie, but he was moving quickly with his own black marker.)
Justin and Phil and I spent most of the game in the standing-room-only section in right field:
There were lots of lefties in the lineup, so it was a good spot, but of course there wasn’t any action. The closest we came was when Luke Scott blasted a home run to right-center field, which, according to Hit Tracker, traveled 447 feet. The ball cleared the seats and landed in the narrow walkway at the very back of the section. I ran in that direction from the standing room…
…but got trapped behind a couple other fans approximately 15 feet from the spot where it landed.
Paul and Meredith had already taken off by that point, and Phil left soon after. He felt like he’d gotten enough info/material, and he told me he’d get in touch if he had any follow-up questions. His article, by the way, will either run this season as the pennant races are heating up or it’ll run next spring in the “baseball preview” issue. Phil told me that he had interviewed some other ballhawks (he wouldn’t say who) and that they all told him that he had to talk to me. (That was nice to hear.) I mentioned a lot of names to him, so there’s really no telling who else he’ll end up interviewing.
Anyway, late in the game, Justin and I went for foul balls. This was our view for several left-handed batters:
Then, in the top of the ninth, I helped him sneak down to the umpires’ tunnel behind the plate. He took the right side of the tunnel, and I hung back a few rows on the left. In the following photo, the red arrow is pointing to him:
After the final out, home plate ump Jerry Layne placed a ball in Justin’s glove…
…and then he handed me a ball, too, just before he disappeared.
That was it. Justin doubled his lifetime total by snagging two baseballs, and I finished with nine — not terrible considering that the teams skipped half an hour’s worth of batting practice.
Final score: Orioles 6, Angels 3. (Nice debut for Buck Showalter as the Birds’ new skipper.)
In case you were wondering, my friend Ben Hill was nowhere near me during the game. He met up with his own friend, and they sat together behind the Orioles’ dugout. Ben has finally achieved full-time status at MLBAM (Major League Baseball Advanced Media), so he now has a pass that gets him into any non-sold-out major league game for free, and once he’s inside, he can sit wherever he wants. Pretty cool, huh? If only he had more free time to take advantage.
Ben took one final photo of me and Justin after the game:
Justin and I then said our goodbyes. Ben and I then made the three-hour drive back to New York City.
• 9 balls at this game (7 pictured on the right because I gave two away)
• 211 balls in 23 games this season = 9.2 balls per game.
• 652 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 199 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 24 consecutive Watch With Zack games with at least two balls
• 4,569 total balls
• 45 donors (click here to learn more)
• $6.49 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $58.41 raised at this game
• $1,369.39 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
This was no ordinary game. It was a Watch With Zack game with a 15-year-old kid named Mateo. He and I met on the Upper West Side at around 3:30pm, rode the subway together, and talked baseball/life for the entire 45-minute trip to Citi Field. Here we are outside the stadium, waiting to enter the Jackie Robinson Rotunda:
Mateo had snagged a total of five baseballs in his life, including a batting practice homer that he caught on the fly, so although he was inexperienced as a ballhawk, it was clear that he had some skills. It turned out that his main problem — the main thing that was preventing him from putting up big numbers — was his hesitance to call out to the players. Therefore, after I got a quick ball from Henry Blanco in left-center field, I turned all my attention toward him.
Several lefties started hitting, so we ran over to the seats in deep right-center. I set Mateo up in the corner spot next to the bullpens. Here he is from behind:
If you look closely at the photo above, you can see a long, narrow sign on the facade of the upper deck on the 3rd base side that says, “NOW BATTING – #5 DAVID WRIGHT.” Pretty cool, huh? Although I’m sure it’s been done before, this is the first time (outside of the 2007 Home Run Derby) that I’ve ever seen a stadium display the name of the batter in the cage.
Anyway, while Mateo was in the corner spot, he narrowly missed a ground-rule double that skimmed six inches beyond his reach, and then five minutes later, I got Johan Santana to toss him a ball that sailed three feet over his glove. It was just one of those
days, and since Mateo wasn’t speaking up, I continued to do all the shouting/begging. I gave Chris Carter a friendly earful about how much it would mean to “this young man right here” to get a ball, and what I said was true. Mateo had never snagged one at Citi Field. Obviously I was prepared to give him the ball I’d gotten from Blanco, but he wanted to snag one on his own. Carter acknowledged us at first and seemed to indicate that he was gonna hook us up. He turned and held up his index finger as if to say, “Hang on, I’ll get one for you,” but then he didn’t. It was strange and frustrating because he retrieved several balls within 30 feet of us and easily could have tossed one in Mateo’s direction, but for some reason he refused. At one point, a white-haired man with a glove wandered near us, and the first thing I thought was, “No way you’re interfering with my dude.” I wasn’t too concerned, though, because the man looked friendly and stayed a few feet away from us. Meanwhile, I kept calling out to Carter and trying to convince him to show us some love. Eventually, he chased a ball onto the warning track, and he turned and tossed it to Mateo. Here’s a photo of the ball in mid-air:
Mateo caught it easily and then introduced me to the white-haired man. It was his father! Here they are together:
(In case you’re wondering, Mateo’s father is not 6-foot-8. In the photo above, he’s standing one row above his son.)
When the Cardinals took the field, I lent Mateo my “PUJOLS 5” shirt, and we ran all over the place. We started in foul territory when the pitchers warmed up:
We hurried back to straight-away left field when some righties stepped into the cage:
We even headed up to the second deck when Pujols and Holiday started taking their cuts:
There were lots of other people up there who had the same idea…
…and as a result: nothing.
It was one of the toughest batting practices ever, and my other ballhawk friends agreed. Greg Barasch was there. He often breaks double digits at Citi Field, and yet he only managed to snag ONE ball before the game started. Joe Faraguna was there. So was Gary Kowal and Clif Eddens. All these guys regularly snag half a dozen balls per game, but on this difficult day, no one finished BP with more than three.
Toward the end of BP, I got Dennys Reyes to toss me a ball in left-center field. I gave that one to Mateo, and then I caught a Ryan Ludwick homer on the fly in straight-away left. Mateo was near me on that one, but it was really crowded, and he was blocked by a railing. The Ludwick home run ball had one of the biggest grass stains I’ve ever seen, and you’ll see a pic of it at the end of this entry.
After BP, there was a gathering of ballhawks behind the 3rd base dugout:
In the photo above, from left to right, you’re looking at: Dan, Mateo, me, Clif, Joe, Greg, and Gary.
During the game, Mateo and I made a point of heading out to left field for all of Albert Pujols’ at-bats. (No action there. Pujols went 0-for-5 with a strikeout.) We spent the rest of the time behind the Cardinals’ dugout, going for 3rd-out balls. The following photo shows our view. You can see Mateo (in the red Pujols shirt) sitting on the right-hand side of the staircase:
Whenever there were two outs, he inched toward the front. I stayed back and watched his backpack and had my camera ready to get an action shot, but…nothing. He came really close to a few balls, but like I said before, this was just one of those days. He wasn’t getting the breaks.
As for the game itself, the outcome was shocking. Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright entered with the second most wins (14) and the second lowest ERA (1.94) in the majors. How did he do, you ask? He surrendered a season-high six runs in five innings, and the light-hitting Mets won, 8-2.
After the game, Mateo and I attempted to get a ball from home-plate umpire Marvin Hudson. I had offered to help him get one — to shout at Hudson on his behalf and then stand back and let him catch it — but he wanted to try to get one on his own. Unfortunately, I ended up getting a ball from Hudson and Mateo didn’t. We then hurried over to the dugout to try to get a ball from the Cardinals relievers as they walked in from the bullpen. That didn’t work out, but two minutes later, when all the players and coaches were gone, a ballboy stuck his head out of the dugout and threw me a ball. It was totally unexpected. I wasn’t even wearing my glove, and just like that, my total for the day had jumped from three to five.
I showed the ump-ball to Mateo and asked him if he’d ever gotten one that was rubbed up with mud. He hadn’t, so I gave it to him. His father then took one final photo of us before we headed out:
Before we said our goodbyes, his father told me that they have a copy of my second book, Watching Baseball Smarter, and that he loves how it was written. He said that between the book and everything I’d taught them about snagging, I’d made baseball more enjoyable for them — that I helped show them a new dimension of the game. He thanked me for that, and I thanked him for the kind words. It was truly one of the best compliments I’d ever received.
• 5 balls at this game (3 pictured on the right because I gave two to Mateo)
• 195 balls in 21 games this season = 9.3 balls per game.
• 650 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 492 consecutive games in New York with at least one ball
• 354 consecutive Mets home games with at least one ball
• 16 consecutive games at Citi Field with at least two balls
• 23 consecutive Watch With Zack games with at least two balls (click here to see all the stats and records from my Watch With Zack games)
• 4,553 total balls
• 44 donors (click here to learn more)
• $6.46 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $32.30 raised at this game
• $1,259.70 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
This was a very special day…
Not only was it my parents’ 35th anniversary, but it was the first time that I walked all the way around the outside of Citi Field since that snowy day in February of 2008.
Naturally, I took photos of everything, starting with the view from the subway exit:
I headed past the Brooklyn Dodgers Rotunda…
…and walked the length of the stadium toward the left field gate:
I rounded the corner and walked to the outermost edge of the parking lot. Here’s what the stadium looked like from afar — from about a quarter of a mile from home plate in straight-away left field:
I didn’t like what I saw. It didn’t look like a baseball stadium. It looked like a jumbled mess of generic modern architecture.
I walked closer…
On the right side of this edge of the stadium, there was some type of employee entrance:
In the middle, there was a chain-link fence blocking off a huge area of loading docks:
On the left side, there was a security guard and a “DO NOT ENTER” sign:
Do you see all those cork-shaped objects poking out of the ground every four feet? Do you know what those are for? Here in New York City, they’ve been popping up on sidewalks outside of new and important buildings. They’re there to prevent extremists (i.e. Al-Qaeda, Hamas, disgruntled Mets fans, etc.) from driving too close with explosive-laden vehicles.
Several policemen eyed me suspiciously as I walked around taking photos. I eyed them right back and rounded another corner…
…and peeked through one of Citi Field’s many glass doors. This is what I saw:
In case it’s not clear, this construction zone is inside Citi Field — basically at the deepest part of center field. Can anyone explain why the stadium is still under construction six months after it opened? Do we have Bernie Madoff to thank for this? What was/is this area supposed to end up being? I thought this new stadium was supposed to be “intimate.”
I approached the bullpen gate in right-center field:
In the photo above, did you notice all the cars and signs on the left side of the road? You know what’s over there, RIGHT across from the stadium? If you were to stand with your back facing the bullpen gate and walk across the street, this is what you’d see:
Instead of paying Oliver Perez $36 million to “pitch” for three years, the Mets should’ve bought out all the auto repair centers and replaced them with a public park…with some orange and blue flowers…and a few restaurants…and fountains…and a small baseball field where people could play catch…and statues of players who actually played for the Mets.
I rounded yet another corner and headed past the right field gate:
The following photo shows where the Mets players walk in from their parking lot:
Normally (as you might recall from my entry on 8/4/09 when I got Livan Hernandez to sign my 4,000th ball), this area is gated off in order to keep the fans as far away from the players as possible. The reason why it wasn’t blocked when I passed by is that it was already 4:15pm. All the Mets players were safely inside.
I made it all the way back around to the Rotunda:
(GOSH I love barricades!)
As I was looking for the best spot to wait in line, I ran into a new-ish friend (and aspiring ballhawk) named Ryan. He was there with his friend Keith. You’ll see a photo of them at the end of this entry.
Citi Field opened at 4:40pm, and I raced out to the left field seats. For a few minutes, I pretty much had the place to myself…
…but of course almost every batter was swinging from the left side of the plate. As a result, a ball ended up rolling onto the warning track in right-center field, so I ran over there. Ryan and Keith were standing nearby in the seats. They knew that I was there to snag that ball with my glove trick, but they didn’t mind. In fact, they even strategized with me about how I could get it without being seen by security. It was then that another ball rolled onto the track. Josh Thole jogged over to retrieve it, then tossed it to me (after I asked him politely for it) and left the other ball sitting there. Very strange. Moments later, a home run landed on the slanted area in front of the batter’s eye. Perfect! The security supervisor standing at the back of our section walked down a few rows and then climbed over the side railing to go get it. Ryan pulled out his camera and took a few photos while Keith stood next to me and used his tall frame as a shield. Here’s a pic of me getting the ball to stick inside the glove…
…and here’s another shot of the glove trick in action. You can see that I’m lifting up the ball while the yellow-shirted supervisor is wandering off in the background:
Some people consider this to be theft. My response: It’s not 1915 anymore. Fans are allowed to keep baseballs nowadays. Players and coaches (and ballboys and groundskeepers and ushers and photographers and announcers and mascots and vendors and security guards and other stadium personnel) actually GIVE balls to fans. Welcome to 2009.
And by the way, the ball that I snagged with my glove trick was a 2008 Yankee Stadium commemorative ball. The Mets are cool like that. They often use old/random commemorative balls during BP.
I headed back to left field, and once again, there was very little action. Brian Stokes walked by. He didn’t have a ball in his hand, and even if he did, I wouldn’t have asked him for it. Two days earlier, he had recognized me as That Guy who snags lots of baseballs. Normally, when players recognize me, it’s a bad thing. It means they’re not going to give me any more balls…ever. There’ve been exceptions — Josias Manzanillo, Pedro Martinez, and Heath Bell to name a few — but it’s rare. Anyway, when Stokes walked by, I shouted, “Hey, Brian, what’s up?!” He looked over and spotted me and waved, and it sounded like he yelled, “Hey, Zack!” I could be wrong. There’s a chance that he didn’t actually say my name. I might just have been hearing what I wanted to hear, but in any case, it was nice that he remembered me.
Thirty seconds later, while I was standing in the middle of the left field seats, minding my own business, watching the batter and hoping for a home run, I heard/saw someone trying to get my attention down below on the field. It was Stokes! He now had a ball in his hand, and he was making a gesture to indicate that he was going to throw it to me. I held up my glove…and…whooooosh!!! He fired a strike right to me.
“Thanks!” I shouted. “Is that for the charity?”
“I haven’t checked out your site yet!” he shouted back.
“But you still have my card?!”
“Yeah I got it!”
“Cool!” I said. “Thanks again!”
Then he waved and headed toward the foul pole, and I took a photo of the ball he’d thrown to me:
Yup, another Yankee Stadium commemorative. Brian Stokes is my new favorite player. With my luck, the Mets will trade him next year, and with the Mets’ luck (as was the case with Heath Bell), he’ll develop into an All-Star closer.
Halfway though the Mets’ portion of BP, a ball rolled onto the warning track down the left field foul line:
I waited for a minute to see if a player or security guard noticed that it was there, and when nobody went for it, I made my move. I raced over to the seats in foul territory and got as close as possible to the ball. Then I used my “half-glove trick.” That’s what I call it when I don’t actually use the rubber band or Sharpie, when all I do is fling the glove out and then yank it back in order to knock the ball closer. That’s all I had to do here because the wall was so low. Once I had the ball in my hand, I was thrilled to discover that it was a 2008 All-Star Game ball.
I headed back to left field and caught three home runs on the fly. The first — another Yankee Stadium commemorative — was hit by Jeff Francoeur, and I gloved it after running a section and a half to my left. The second was hit by Cody Ross (the Marlins had taken the field by this point) and it came right to me. The third homer? I have no idea who hit it because I was looking somewhere else and didn’t even see the ball coming until the very last second, at which point I darted to my right and made a lunging, back-handed catch.
The three homers gave me seven balls on the day. That might sound great, but I was pissed that I didn’t have a dozen. I misjudged one homer that ended up sailing five feet over my head. (I was in the middle of a section — in other words, NOT on a staircase — so I would’ve had to climb over two rows of seats while the ball was descending. It was a tough chance, but I feel like I should’ve had it.) Another home run tipped off the very end of my glove after another running/lunging attempt. Two more home runs were heading RIGHT toward me but fell five feet short. The Marlins players didn’t toss me a single ball despite the fact that I was decked out in
hideously ugly aqua-colored Marlins gear. Another home run sailed ten feet over my head and landed in a totally empty patch of seats. All it had to do was stay there and I would’ve been able to walk over and pick it up, but it ricocheted about a mile away. It was just one of those days when very little seemed to be going my way. The fact that I *did* have seven balls at that point was amazing and lucky. It shows how good Citi Field can potentially be (even though it’s nearly impossible to catch batted balls in right field). Someday…SOME day…mark my words: I’m going to snag 20 balls in a single game there. It might take a few more years of the Mets winning 45 percent of their games in order for the crowds to shrink sufficiently, but it *will* happen.
Another lame thing that happened during batting practice was that I had to deal with a hater. I was standing in the front row, getting ready to call out to a Marlins player, when I heard a man’s voice coming from the right, saying something about “running around like an idiot.” The voice was rather faint, and there wasn’t anyone standing nearby, so it didn’t occur to me that the words were aimed my way. Still I wanted to see who was talking so I looked over and saw an averaged-sized, 40-something-year-old man, sitting 15 feet to my right. He was wearing a glove and glaring at me.
“Are you talking to ME?” I asked. I wasn’t trying to start a fight. (Remember, I went to Quaker schools for eight years.) I was just taken by surprise by the whole situation, which seemed to be arising from nothing, and I genuinely wanted to know if, in fact, he WAS talking to me. It didn’t make any sense.
“Yeah, I’m talking to you!” he snapped.
I was already so annoyed by all the balls I’d missed that I was ready to explode, but I thought better of it and just shrugged it off and went about my business. Ten minutes later, when there was a lull between rounds of BP, I was still bothered by the whole thing. Why did the guy have a problem with me? I didn’t know him. I’d never talked to him. He obviously didn’t know me, so what the hell was his problem? I decided to confront him — but in a nice way. I walked over to his section. He was facing the field. I approached him from behind (since the front of the section was packed) and climbed over several rows of seats. As I sat down right behind him, he turned around quickly and noticed me and flinched, ever so slightly. That amused me. He obviously wasn’t expecting to see me again, and I swear, I just wanted to have a conversation with him and get to the bottom of his mysterious hostility.
“How’re you doing,” I said warmly but firmly. (This wasn’t a question. It was a statement.) “I was just wondering what exactly it is about me that you find idiotic.”
The guy was reasonably nice — as nice as he could be while telling me why he thought I sucked. He gave two reasons. First, he accused me of bumping into a kid, but then he admitted that he hadn’t really seen it, and that he HAD seen me pat the kid on the back after the kid got a ball. (In truth, the kid was a bit out of control and had bumped into me, but having once been an out-of-control kid myself, I let it slide.) Second, the guy accused me catching too many balls and therefore preventing other kids from getting them.
“Did you know,” I asked him, “that I give away balls to kids every time I go to a game?”
“I’ve never seen you give one away here,” he said.
“That’s because I usually wait until after the game to give balls away.”
“Well, that’s nice of you,” admitted the guy.
“And did you know,” I continued, “that I’ve been raising money for a kids’ charity this season with all the balls I catch at games?”
“I did not know that,” he said, now softening up.
I proceeded to tell him all about Pitch In For Baseball, and how I’ve gotten 123 people to make pledges for each ball that I snag, and how I’ve raised over $10,000 which will be used to ship baseball equipment to needy kids all over the world.
By the time we were done talking, the guy apologized to me and shook my hand. I also apologized to him for doing anything that might have given him the wrong impression. And that was that.
Right before the game started, several Marlins played catch in front of the 3rd base dugout:
In the photo above, the player on the left is Hanley Ramirez, and the player on the right (wearing No. 12) is Cody Ross. Ramirez finished first and tossed his ball to another fan one section to my left. Ross wrapped it up soon after, walked toward the dugout, scanned the seats for a cute little kid, and when he couldn’t find one (school is back in session, heh heh) he settled for tossing his ball to me.
I had a GREAT time during the game because I’d gone on StubHub earlier in the day and splurged for a ticket in the fancy “Sterling Level” seats behind home plate. At the beginning of the season, those seats were selling for hundreds of dollars apiece, but now, with the Mets embarrassing themselves, I was able to find one in the $70 range. That’s much more than I usually spend on tickets, but every now and then, I like to treat myself, and besides, I’d never been to that part of Citi Field, so I figured it was worth it to experience it once.
I headed out through a door on the field level concourse and then walked down a set of stairs. I don’t often get to go below field level, so this was quite a treat. This is what it looked like as I headed down. The red arrow is pointing to the Sterling Level entrance:
(Can we get some artwork on the walls? Maybe a big Mets mural? Or some old photographs? Maybe a trophy case? Something? ANYthing? Who the hell designed this place, and why wasn’t I consulted?)
Once I got through the doors, I felt incredibly out of place. I was wearing sneakers, cargo shorts, a T-shirt, a Mets cap, and a baseball glove. (And socks and underwear, in case you were wondering.) Everyone else there looked like…wait…was I even in a baseball stadium? This was the view to my right…
…and this was the view to my left:
A well-dressed employee approached me and said, “You look lost.”
It took an effort to explain (without losing my patience) that I was intentionally lost…that it was all part of my plan…that it was my first time down there…that I just wanted to be left the hell alone to wander and take photos and soak it all in.
I got some funny looks as I hurried through the club toward the seats. The game (there WAS a game, right?) was about to start…and…what? There were people sitting at a bar:
I was excited to be in the fancy club, but I didn’t like it at all. “Sterling Club” should be renamed “Sterile Club.” It was clean and spacious and luxurious, I suppose, if that’s your idea of luxury, but there was no charm or character or purpose. Not to me, at least. Why would anyone want to go to a baseball game and then sit at an air-conditioned bar watching it on TV? Am I missing something? Were all these other people there for the first time, too? It was like an airport lounge.
I was about to lose my mind. I had to get to the seats. This is how I got there:
My view for the game — or rather “for left-handed batters” — was outstanding. Check it out:
My actual seat was in the middle of a row somewhere, but since the section was half-empty, the friendly usher told me I could grab a seat at the end of a row.
After the top of the first inning, I recognized a security guard at the bottom of the section — a guy who was always really nice to me at Shea Stadium — so I got permission to go down there and talk to him. I couldn’t go ALL the way down to the protective screen. The seats there are separated by a “moat” (which you’ll see a bit later) and are reserved for people like Mrs. Beltran (yes, she was actually there). So, I went down to the first row behind the moat. I talked to the guard. We were glad to see each other. Last year at Shea, he had told me that Citi Field was going to be “a separation of the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots.'” I didn’t believe him at the time, or at least I didn’t think that the separation was going to be all that noticeable, but he was absolutely right. Citi Field is an elitist club that was built for millionaires (as opposed to the new Yankee Stadium, which was built for multi-millionaires); the average die-hard fan is an afterthought. This night confirmed it. Once the bottom of the first got underway, I sat down and kept talking to the guard. Angel Pagan, batting leadoff for the Mets, lifted a high foul pop-up that was heading 10 rows back and a full section to my left. I jumped out of my padded seat
and raced up the steps and cut through an empty row and came much closer to snagging the ball than I should’ve. There weren’t ANY other fans wearing gloves. I settled back down near the guard at the bottom of the section just as Pagan hit another foul ball. This time, it was heading into my section. I raced up the stairs and came within five feet of it as it landed. The ball then bounced back toward me and sailed one foot over my glove as I jumped and reached for it. I turned around and noticed that the ball had come to a rest against the bottom of a seat several rows below me. Normally, I wouldn’t have had a shot at it, but here in Moneyville, everyone else reacted in slow-motion. I bolted back down the steps, squeezed past an old man wearing moccasins, and dove on top of the ball. I was very careful not to bump into anyone; the only person who got banged up was me. I scraped my knuckles and slammed my right knee on the ground. There was a little blood. Nothing serious. But most importantly, and as I already said, NO ONE was hurt except me. I can’t stress that enough. It was a controlled dive on my part, if that makes sense. There was another fan approaching from the opposite direction, and I knew that he was going to reach the ball first unless I laid out. So I did. And I got it. And then he dove on top of me! I wasn’t expecting that. I don’t know what he was thinking. He actually tried to grab the ball out of my hand after I clearly had sole possession of it. I mean, it wasn’t even close. It wasn’t like a “held ball” in basketball where two guys grab it at the same time. No way. I had the ball in my bare hand when his hand was at least six inches away. I used all my strength (as I lay sprawled out on the concrete) to grip the ball and prevent him from prying it out of my hand. This was my first foul ball at Citi Field, so there was no way I was going to have it taken from me. I won the battle and finally got up — my camera had gotten banged up too — and returned to my aisle seat at the back of the section. I made eye contact with the guard at the bottom. He didn’t know whether or not I’d gotten the ball, so I held it up and he shook his head in disbelief. Moments later, my phone rang. It was Clif (a former Watch With Zack apprentice; aka “goislanders4” in the comments section) who was sitting behind the Marlins’ dugout. He’d seen the whole thing.
I caught my breath, tested my camera (it still loved me!), and inspected the ball. It had a beautiful patterned marking on one part of the cowhide. I can’t describe it or explain it. I can only show it:
The area with the marking was slightly — almost negligibly — rougher than the rest. How could this have happened? Is it possible that the pattern was imprinted when the ball first landed on the concrete steps in the stands? That’s my best guess. One thing I learned last month in Philadelphia when I got a lesson on how to rub mud on game balls is that the subtle patterns and abnormalities in the cowhide will be accentuated when the mud is rubbed on. Still, I can’t imagine that this pattern could’ve found its way onto the ball through mere rubbing alone. (BTW, if you want to see photos of other weird markings and defects, click here.)
When right-handed batters came up after that, I moved to the other side of home plate. There was lots of room to run…
…but nothing came my way.
During inning breaks and pitching changes, I explored the rest of the club. Here’s what the concession area looks like. I took this photo from the edge of the concourse that runs between the Rotunda and home plate…
…and here’s the concourse itself, if it can even be called that:
It’s really more of an entrance, although it DOES connect the left and right sides of the Sterling Level clubs.
At some random point in the middle innings, I felt a stinging sensation on the outer edge of my right wrist. I took a look at it. There was a small scrape. It took me a moment to realize that it must’ve happened while I was scrambling for that foul ball. This made me happy. It was the sign of a good injury; I was having so much fun and the adrenaline had been so high that I didn’t even know where I’d been hurt. Two days have passed since this game, and I *just* noticed that I have a larger scrape on my left shin. After careful review and analysis, I have determined that it’s the result of having lunged across the concrete ledge for the half-glove trick.
Anyway, on with the tour…
Here’s the Sterling Level patio seating:
That’s a good foul ball spot for righties, although there’s very little room to run.
Are you wondering about the bathrooms? I sure was, and since there weren’t any signs pointing to them, I had to ask a restaurant staff member to point me to them. I didn’t whip out my camera in the men’s room. (I was tempted to photograph all the marble and fancy appliances, but that just would’ve been creepy.) Instead, I took a photo just outside the men’s room, which shows where I had to walk to get there:
(WHY ISN’T THERE ANY METS STUFF ON THE WALLS?!?!)
Speaking of the restaurant, here it is:
At the far end, there were a couple tables near a window:
Those tables overlook the visiting team’s batting cage…
…but don’t get too excited. This type of “sneak peek” exists in a number of other new stadiums, including Citizens Bank Park, which is better than Citi Field in every conceivable way (except for all the Phillies fans) and opened five years earlier.
Way way WAY over, on the far end of the Sterling Level (on the 1st base side of home plate), there’s a window overlooking the Mets’ batting cage:
That crazy pitching machine was filled with tennis balls, each with small colored numbers printed in several places. The Mets (and perhaps other teams as well) run a hitting drill in which these balls are fired at the batters, who try to identify the numbers on them. I tried to take a close-up photo of the balls, but my camera wasn’t good enough. (Or maybe *I* wasn’t good enough.) You can see the photo here on the right. I apologize for the blurriness, but it’s the best I could do. And let me further explain something about the balls, since it might be impossible to see it for yourself: there aren’t different numbers on each ball. Instead, each ball has the same number in several places. Does that make sense? Good. Here’s a photo of another bar, taken from the corner near the batting cage window:
The TVs over the bar were showing both the Mets and Yankee games as well as a live match from the U.S. Open.
Here’s a photo that shows the enormity of the club. This is only about one-fifth of it:
I went back to the seats and stayed there. Here’s that moat I was talking about:
Late in the game, I ran into SportsNet New York reporter Kevin Burkhardt. He and I had met briefly last season, and he already knew about me then. This time, we got to talk for a full inning. I told him some details about my baseball collection, filled him in on the charity, and gave him a glove trick demo. While we were talking, I had chances to snag two more foul balls, but I came up short. I took a bad route on one and misjudged another because of the crazy backspin (long story) but Kevin was impressed just by the way I raced after them. He gave me his email address and told me to drop him a line next time I’m going to be at Citi Field, and he said he’d interview me during the game and plug my web site and mention the charity. The Mets only have 10 more home games, and I’ll only be free/motivated to attend a couple of them, so we’ll see…
After the game (which the Mets lost), I got a ball from Scott Barry, the home plate umpire, and then I raced over to the Marlins’ dugout where I got Fredi Gonzalez to give me his lineup cards. Unfortunately, when he tossed them to me, the wind separated them, so I was only able to grab one of the two. BUT…I’m happy to report that the one I grabbed happened to be the Mets’ card.
A few minutes later, I met up with Ryan and Keith:
Ryan (wearing the Marlins gear) had snagged four balls, which was quite an accomplishment considering that his lifetime total entering the day was just two! (Hey, you have to start somewhere. I remember when I only had two baseballs. It was 1990. I was in 7th grade. I hated it. That was probably the worst year of my life. But I digress.)
Here’s a look at the lineup card:
Notice how the switch-hitters have an “S” drawn next to their names? And how the lefties have an “L”? And how there’s a pitcher on the Mets named “Stoner”?
(If you want to see my complete collection of lineup cards, click here.)
Just before I headed up the steps, I pulled a ball out of a special compartment of my backpack. It was the ball that had been tossed to me by Josh Thole. I’d decided when it first came into my possession that it was going to be my give-away ball. Now the time had come for me to find a worthy recipient. I noticed a young kid with a glove heading up the steps with his dad. I caught up with them. The kid’s glove was empty. I handed the ball to him and told him how I’d gotten it. He was thrilled. His father shook my hand. They both thanked me and then disappeared into the night.
• 418 balls in 50 games this season = 8.36 balls per game.
• 619 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 483 consecutive games in New York with at least one ball
• 348 consecutive Mets games with at least one ball
• 133 lifetime game balls (not counting game-used balls that get tossed into the crowd)
• 18 different stadiums with at least one game ball
• 4,238 total balls
• 123 donors (click here and scroll down for the complete list)
• $25.03 pledged per ball
• $250.30 raised at this game
• $10,462.54 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
This was a Watch With Zack game, and my client was a 13-year-old Mets fan named Ross. (I need to come up with a better word for “client.” It sounds impersonal. Any suggestions?) Here we are outside the Jackie Robinson Rotunda, waiting for the gates to open:
Ross’s parents and 18-year-old brother also attended this game, but the day was all about him; it was a present for both his birthday (which was in August) and Bar Mitzvah (which he had celebrated the day before).
Earlier in the week, Ross had told me that his goal for this game was to snag 10 balls — a rather lofty goal given the fact that a) his lifetime total entering the game was 10 balls and b) his single-game record was 3 balls. I told him I’d help him snag as many balls as possible, but I warned him that it’d be really tough to reach double digits. First of all, I explained, we’d be attending a weekend game which meant there’d be a zillion little kids competing with him for balls. Secondly, it was going to be a day game which meant that there might not be batting practice. And third, the Mets were going to be facing the Cubs, a team with a HUGE fan base, which meant that our Cubs gear wouldn’t exactly make us stand out.
Ross changed his goal to six balls after that — still a significant challenge, but certainly more reasonable.
When we ran inside the stadium and got our first glimpse of the field, this is what we saw:
This was good news and bad news…
BAD: There wasn’t a player in sight.
GOOD: At least the batting cage was set up.
Pat Misch began playing catch with Josh Thole in deep right-center field. Ross and I ran out to the nearest section of seats, and I set him up in the corner spot near the entrance to the Mets’ bullpen:
Just as Misch appeared to be finishing, I helped Ross come up with the politest possible request for the ball — when you’re all alone in the seats, the way you ask for a ball is going to be much different from when you’re buried in the crowd — but Misch held onto the ball and took it with him into the bullpen. He had to do some more throwing, and I had a good feeling that if Ross waited patiently in the corner spot, he’d get rewarded at the end. Meanwhile, the rest of Ross’s family caught up with us, and we all posed for a photo. Pictured below from left to right, you’re looking at: me, Ross, father Steve, mother Cindy, and brother Ethan:
See the box that Ethan is holding? It was Frankie Rodriguez bobblehead day. I gave them my bobblehead.
Anyway, as I predicted, Misch finished his bullpen session and then threw his ball to Ross. In the following photo, you can see the ball sailing toward him:
Ross reached up and made a nice one-handed catch and then posed with his souvenir:
Did you notice the logo? It was a Citi Field commemorative ball. Nice.
A few minutes later, another fan (who recognized me and knew about my glove trick) pointed out a ball that he thought I might be able to snag. Do you see it in the following photo?
Here’s a closer look:
Finally, there was a tangible reason for the existence of those fugly white canopies over the bullpen. The most difficult part of snagging the ball wasn’t the use of the glove trick itself. Oh no no. The challenge was waiting for all the security guards to look the other way simultaneously. They were swarming all over the place, and you can even see three of them two photos above, standing behind the railing at the top of the section. For some asinine reason (which I would SO love to discuss with the Wilpons), the security guards at Citi Field have been instructed not to let fans use ball-retrieving devices, even for balls that are trapped in random/harmless places far away from the field itself. It truly makes no sense. The way I saw it…I was going to do a service for the Mets by snagging that baseball. If not for me, one of the guards (or hapless maintenance workers) was going to have to climb down there or set up a ladder in the bullpen or find a long
pole to poke the ball out. It seems like such a hassle, and you know, the Mets have already endured enough stress this season, so yes, I was going to help out, rules or no rules, by snagging the ball. I slowly made my way up the steps and headed to the side railing and peered over at the ball down below. It was nice and rubbed up with mud, and I could see that it had a Citi Field commemorative logo. My back was turned to the guards, so I waited until I got a signal that the coast was clear — or at least as clear as it was going to be. Then I lowered the glove down over the ball. Boom! It only took five seconds, and as soon as my glove touched the canopy, I heard one of the guards yelling at me from behind. He was demanding that I bring my glove back up, so I did…slowly…with the ball nestled snugly inside. He didn’t even know that I had the ball, and with all the other guards now heading over to deal with the situation, I managed to secretly slip the ball out of the glove and hide it underneath my cupped palm and stick it in my back pocket. The security supervisor then gave me a whole speech about how I’d been warned before and blah-blah-blah and this-and-that and you-should-know-better. Then he cut the string off my glove — Oh no, not my precious string! — and sent me on my way. Another fine job by Mets personnel.
The Mets pitchers were already throwing along the right field foul line, so Ross and I ran over there and I helped get Brian Stokes to throw him his 2nd ball of the day. We were standing about 10 rows back because the front row was so crowded. I had shouted at Stokes and waved my arms to get his attention, at which point he lobbed the ball right to Ross over all the fans standing in front of us. It was beautiful.
When the Mets finally started hitting, Ross and I headed back to left field. I set him up in an empty row and then moved a section over so we wouldn’t get in each other’s way. In the following photo, you can see him at the end of my row in the orange shirt:
I think the Mets managed to hit two home runs into the seats during their entire portion of BP. Okay, fine, the wind was blowing in, but it was truly pathetic. There just wasn’t any longball action, so Ross squeezed into the front row…
…and focused on getting balls tossed by the players, but he didn’t snag anything there. It was a tough day to be a ballhawk.
Ten minutes later, I noticed that Stokes was tossing a ball up and down near the wall in left field to tease the fans. I ran over near the spot where he was tossing it, and I ended up catching it when he threw it a little too close to the stands. He immediately recognized me as THAT GUY who gets all the balls, so he told me to give the ball to the kid on my right…which I did. (Yes, that ball counts in my collection.) Then he asked me why I need so many baseballs. He was very friendly — genuinely interested in the answer — so I told him that I’m raising money for charity by catching balls at games.
“Which charity?” he asked.
“Pitch In For Baseball,” I told him. “They provide baseball equipment to needy kids all over the world.” He kept looking up at me so I kept talking. “I’ve been getting people to pledge money for every ball I snag this year at major league games. So far, I’ve raised over ten thousand bucks.”
He asked me if I had any info about the charity. I told him I could give him a card that would direct him to my web site where there was a link on the home page. He waved at me to indicate that I should toss one down to him, so I did, and as soon as he caught it, he looked at it and asked, “Are YOU Zack?”
“That’s me,” I told him, and then I mentioned that Heath Bell had made a pledge.
“Cool,” he said, “I’ll check it out.”
The Mets finished batting practice soon after. Unfortunately, the Cubs did not hit, but Ross and I still changed into our Cubs gear:
All the Cubs pitchers were hanging out along the left field foul line, and I *do* mean hanging out. They seemed to be doing more talking than throwing. It was strange:
That’s Ross on the lower right of the photo, looking out at the field. It was painfully crowded (as you can see). There was nowhere to go, and we didn’t get anything from the pitchers.
During the half-hour lull before the game, Ross and I caught up with his brother and parents. It was then that I learned more about his Bar Mitzvah. Inspired by my work with Pitch In For Baseball, Ross decided to snag baseballs to raise money for Project A.L.S. (A.L.S. stands for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, aka “Lou Gehrig’s Disease.”) But instead of making it a season-long project, he was raising money at this game only. During the speech at his Bar Mitzvah, he announced his plan and solicited pledges from his guests. Then, during the party, he had a
poster on the wall that featured 1 pictures of me, 2) info about ballhawking in general, and 3) additional info about his charity plan. He also had slips of paper on which people could fill out their pledges. (Wow!) He told me that he’d gotten 20 pledges, ranging from $1 per ball all the way up to $25 dollar per ball, and that when all the pledges were combined, it added up to $102 per ball. He also told me that the pledges applied for my baseballs! That meant he had already raised $408. I was more determined than ever to help him pad his totals…
Shortly before the game started, I positioned Ross in the corner spot behind the tarp and helped shout at the players for their warm-up balls. Ross did end up getting a ball thrown to him, but it didn’t come from a player. It was thrown by some trainer-type-guy — possibly the team’s “Strength and Conditioning Coordinator.” It’s hard to say. All I can tell you is that Ross made another nice catch as the kid next to him made his own attempt to snag it. Here’s an action shot, which I took just after Ross squeezed his glove around the ball:
It was Ross’s third ball of the day, and he wasn’t finished. When Anderson Hernandez flied out to center fielder Sam Fuld to end the second inning, Ross bolted down the steps toward the Cubs’ dugout where the ball was tossed to him. There were so many other fans reaching for it, however, that it deflected off his glove and bounced back into the dugout. Ross turned around and looked at me and threw his arms up in disgust. I made a “V” shape with my middle and index fingers and pointed at my eyes, then pointed the “V” back at the field as if to say, “Turn around and be on the lookout.” I knew there was a chance that the ball could get tossed back into the crowd for a second time, and sure enough, five seconds later, it was. Guess who snagged it: my man Ross. Here’s a photo that shows the ball heading toward his open glove:
Ross had broken his single-game record, and he managed to do it at a game when one of the teams hadn’t even taken BP. Not too shabby.
By the end of the game, there were some empty seats farther down, so we moved even closer to the dugout. This was our view:
Ross had a chance to snag another third-out ball. He managed to squeeze into the front row and he got Derrek Lee to toss it right to him, but he got robbed by a grown man who claimed he was going to give the ball to his son. That really sucked.
After the final out, Ross and I worked our way down to the tunnel where the umpires walk off the field. I gave him a few pointers on how to ask Fieldin Culbreth, the home plate ump, for a ball. The following photo shows Culbreth pulling a ball out of his pouch, half a second before placing it in Ross’s outstretched glove:
This ball (along with Ross’s first ball from Misch and the third-out ball from Fuld) had the Citi Field commemorative logo. It also gave Ross FIVE balls on the day.
Could he reach his goal of six? There was one final chance.
Ross and I raced back to the Cubs’ dugout, just as the relievers were walking across the field from the bullpen. At the last second, John Grabow threw a ball right to him, but Ross was robbed again, this time by a middle-aged woman who didn’t have a glove or a kid! What the hell?! It was a frustrating end to an otherwise great day. Overall, Ross was pretty happy with his total of five balls — so happy that he didn’t bother to change out of his Cubs gear for our post-game photo:
(No, that’s not a man-boob on me, I swear. It’s just the shirt. Really. And also, not that it matters, but the Mets beat the Cubs, 4-2.)
• 2 balls at this game
• 408 balls in 49 games this season = 8.33 balls per game.
• 618 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 482 consecutive games in New York with at least one ball
• 347 consecutive Mets games with at least one ball
• 19 consecutive Watch With Zack games with at least two balls
• 4,228 total balls
• 123 donors (click here if you’re thinking about making a pledge)
• $25.03 pledged per ball
• $50.06 raised at this game
• $10,212.24 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
Ross finally changed out of this Cubs gear. Then he and I played catch in the parking lot:
When Yankee Stadium was getting ready to open yesterday at 4pm, there were at least 1,000 fans waiting to get in at Gate 6 alone. The fans (myself and Jona included) had formed mini-lines in front of the dozens of guards and doors. For some reason, however, only TWO of these doors were opened, causing 10 minutes’ worth of congestion while everyone was forced to head to that one spot from various directions. Look at this mess:
I truly don’t understand it.
To make matters worse, I felt a few raindrops as soon as I forced my way inside, but thankfully the grounds crew left the batting cage in place. Batting practice hadn’t yet started so I headed toward the Yankees’ dugout, picked a spot behind that horrendous partition, got the attention of hitting coach Kevin Long, and got him to throw me a ball. Here I am reaching for it (with a red arrow pointing to the ball):
I was hoping that the ball would have a commemorative logo…and it did…but it wasn’t the one I wanted.
Check it out:
I’d already gotten a bunch of these Metrodome balls earlier in the season. (Here’s a better one.) What I really wanted was a ball with the new Yankee Stadium logo. I’d only snagged one of those all season (on May 21st) and it ended up getting water-stained because of a terrible mishap. Quite simply, I needed another.
Nevertheless, I was still glad to have the Metrodome ball because a) any commemorative ball is cool and b) it was my 300th ball of the season. Here I am posing with it:
Finally, at around 4:25pm, the Yankees started taking BP. I headed to right field and briefly had the last few rows to myself:
Five minutes later, the whole section was packed and I had to fight (not literally, although that wouldn’t be a stretch at Yankee Stadium) for both of the balls I caught out there. The first was a home run by Hideki Matsui with another Metrodome logo, and the second was a regular ball hit by Nick Swisher. Here I am catching one of the balls:
The photo above might make it look like I’m trampling that poor woman, but that wasn’t the case at all. At Yankee Stadium, there’s a good amount of space between rows, so I was able to step carefully in front of her and reach up at the last second. She’s not flinching because of me; she’s flinching because she was scared of the ball and didn’t see it coming. Even though it wouldn’t have hit her, she thanked me on three separate occasions for saving her life. You
know whose life I *did* save? Jona’s. As you can kinda tell based on the photo above, she was sitting two rows directly behind the spot where I reached up.
After the catches, several fans recognized me and asked me to sign their baseballs and to pose in photos with them. I obliged their requests only when right-handed batters were in the cage.
I moved to left field when the Tigers started hitting, and it was nearly a total waste. The only ball I snagged during their entire portion of BP was a fungo that sailed over an outfielder’s head and landed in the third row. And, of course, since the Tigers are too cheap to use real major league balls, this is what I found myself holding:
(In case you’re wondering, this ball counts in my collection because it was used by major league players in a major league stadium.)
At the end of BP, I noticed that there was a ball sitting in the corner of the left field bullpen:
I’d been planning to take Jona for a scenic tour of the stadium, but once I saw that ball, I had to stay and wait until someone came and got it. While I was standing around, I saw a teenaged kid hurdling seats and running toward me.
“OH MY GOD!!!” he shouted. “ZACK HAMPLE!!! ZACK HAMPLE!!!!!!!!!!!”
At first I thought he was making fun of me with sarcastic enthusiasm, but he turned out to be totally serious. He was just…excited to see me, apparently. His name is Jon Herbstman. (We’d met once before on 7/8/08 at Yankee Stadium.) Here we are:
Fifteen minutes later, a groundskeeper wandered into the bullpen, and Jona got a real action shot of him handing me the ball:
It was another International League ball, and yes, it counts. As long as another fan doesn’t give me a ball, it counts, and would you believe that that actually happened yesterday? One of the guys who’d been waiting for my autograph snagged a home run ball that I would’ve gotten had he not been standing there. He obviously felt guilty about getting in my way (it was my own stupid fault for having misjudged it) so he scooped it up and flung it to me in one motion.
“I don’t want this,” I said as I tossed it back to him, “but thanks.”
I’ve probably had 10 to 20 fans randomly try to give me balls over the years. I’ve never accepted a single one, although I now realize I should’ve taken them, NOT counted them in my collection, and used them for my own BP in Central Park.
Shortly before the game started, I got Adam Everett to toss his warm-up ball to me over the partition. (That was my sixth ball of the day.) The four-part photo below, starting on the top left and then going clockwise, shows how it all played out. The arrows in the final three photos are pointing to the ball in mid-air:
This ball had the regular MLB logo.
My goal during the game was simple: Hang out behind the Tigers’ dugout and try to get a 3rd-out ball tossed to me over the partition. Having seen the Tigers for four games in April, I remembered that their first baseman, Miguel Cabrera, had a habit of tossing balls deep into the crowd. I felt good about my chances. All I needed was a third out to be a ground out.
It didn’t take long. With two outs in the bottom of the first, Tigers starter Lucas French induced Jorge Posada to roll one over to 3rd baseman Brandon Inge. I crept down the steps as Inge fired the ball to first base and waited for Cabrera to jog in.
He tossed me the ball!!!
But it turned out to be a regular ball. GAH!!! Cabrera, as some first basemen have started doing, pulled a little switcheroo and threw me the infield warm-up ball.
It was a major letdown.
But at least the game itself was entertaining. The highlight was the 57-minute rain delay in the bottom of the eighth because it chased away 90 percent of the “fans.”
Here’s a photo I took during the delay when everyone was hiding under the overhangs and in the main part of the concourse:
The way-too-narrow center field concourse was eerily quiet:
I love having a stadium to myself, or at least feeling like I do, especially when that stadium is typically packed beyond belief.
I was in left field when A-Rod came up in the bottom of the 8th. If EVER there was a time when he should’ve hit a home run in my general vicinity, this was it. I had empty rows on both sides of me. No one else was wearing a glove. Blah blah. But of course he struck out to cap his 0-for-5 performance.
Mariano Rivera pitched the ninth:
He allowed a one-out double to Placido Polanco, then retired the next two batters on two pitches. He’s so good. And classy. It pains me that he’s on the Yankees because I’m forced to root for them whenever he’s in the game.
Final score: Yankees 5, Tigers 3.
During the game, I had used Jona’s iPhone to look up the box score. I learned that Tim Tschida was the home plate umpire. After the final out, I moved one section to my left, to the approximate spot where he’d be exiting the field. I was still trapped behind the partition, so I shouted “MISTER TSCHIDA!!!” as loud as I possibly could. To my surprise, he actually looked up, at which point I took off my black, MLB umpires’ cap (thank you very much) and waved it at him. Was I going to be able to get him to pull one of the Yankee Stadium commemorative balls out of his pouch and chuck it to me over half a dozen rows of fans from more than 50 feet away? It seemed unlikely, but I went for it and continued shouting my request. While walking toward the exit, he pulled one out and under-handed it to me (!!!) but it drifted to the right, and I leaned way out over a side railing to try to make the back-handed catch, and I watched helplessly as it sailed less than a foot past my outstretched glove. NO!!! I looked back at the field, figuring he’d be gone, but he was still there…and he was watching! He had seen some other fan get the ball, so he pulled out another. At this point all the other fans realized what was going on, and they all crowded toward me, so I climbed up on a little concrete ledge just behind the partition and waved my arms. Tschida flung the second ball toward me. It was heading in the right direction, but it was sailing too high, so I waited until the last second and then jumped up off the ledge and made the catch and landed right in the middle of a big puddle in the drainage-challenged front row. Water splashed everywhere, mostly on me, and I was over-JOYED. I was holding a game-rubbed commemorative ball:
As soon as I caught it, a little kid three rows back started chanting, “Give it to the kid! Give it to the kid.”
“I don’t think so,” I told him, then headed up the steps and handed one of my regular baseballs to a different kid who happened to be walking past with his dad (and with an empty glove on his left hand) at that exact moment.
• 4 different types of balls at this game (might be a world record)
• 307 balls in 35 games this season = 8.77 balls per game.
• 604 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 133 consecutive Yankee games with at least one ball
• 4 consecutive games at the new Yankee Stadium with at least four balls
• 4,127 total balls
• 114 donors (click here and scroll down for the complete list)
• $24.59 pledged per ball
• $196.72 raised at this game
• $7,549.13 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
Another day with Jona at my new favorite stadium…
The weather was perfect–no complaints there–but I wanted to kick someone when I ran inside and saw this:
The Royals weren’t taking batting practice, and they clearly weren’t in any rush to start:
It really killed me. I pretty much had the whole stadium to myself, and I could feel my opportunities slipping away.
Finally at about 4:45pm–fifteen excruciating minutes after the gates had opened–the first batter stepped into the cage, and it didn’t take long before I got on the board. Kyle Farnsworth was shagging in right-center, and as soon as he fielded a ball, I shouted for it.
The following four-part photo (starting on the top left and going clockwise) shows what happened next. The three vertical arrows are pointing to the ball in mid-air:
Yeah, that’s right. The damn thing sailed over my head, and since I was trapped against that railing in the middle of the walkway, I couldn’t move. If I’d been able to run to the back of the walkway, I probably would’ve been able to make a leaping catch, like an outfielder robbing a home run, but instead I could only watch the ball splash into the fountain.
I whipped out my trusty water-retrieval-device…
…and fished out the ball before it had a chance to sink. (The photo above is blurry because it’s a screen shot from a low-quality video. The video itself isn’t worth sharing because the ball was never in view. It floated right below me and hugged the concrete wall, and Jona wasn’t able to see it from her angle. The fan in the background is named Garrett. I wrote about him in my previous entry, and you’ll be hearing a lot more about him in this one. Also, FYI, the water is a bit murky, but since it’s only a few feet deep, you *can* see balls that sink to the bottom, but those balls seemed to be cleared out daily.)
I was in such a rush at this point to run over toward the bullpen and try to get Roman Colon to throw me another ball that I neglected to pose with the one I’d just snagged. Why is that a big deal? Because that first ball had extended my consecutive games streak to 600–a streak dating back to September 10, 1993, during which I’ve snagged at least one ball at every single game I’ve attended.
Oh well. I got caught up in the moment. What can I say? At least I got Colon to show me some love. Here’s a photo that shows the ball in mid-air:
Perhaps I should’ve drawn a red arrow pointing to myself. In case it’s not clear, I’m standing just to the right of the fan in the red shirt.
It’s obvious why the Royals are struggling: their pitchers suck. Farnsworth had airmailed me and Colon’s throw fell three feet short. Luckily it traveled just far enough that I was able to reach over the railing and make a back-handed catch:
I used the glove trick to snag my third ball of the day off the warning track in left field. Yeah, security had told me twice the previous day not to do it anymore, but this was a brand new day. Maybe the rules had changed overnight, and even if they hadn’t, I didn’t have anything to lose. This was my last game at Kauffman Stadium. I was done with all my TV interviews. I was going to be flying back home to New York City the next day. If I got ejected, so be it.
In the following photo, you can see me going for the ball. The vertical arrow on the left is pointing to a man who was leaning over the wall to see the balls below because he, too, had a device. The other arrow is pointing to the kid who caught that random ball flying through the air:
Even while I was doing my thing, there were still lots of other balls to go around. Keep that in mind as you continue reading. I don’t want you to think that my snagging prevented other people from getting balls. That wasn’t the case at all. I missed out on countless balls because they were tossed to kids, and that’s how it should be.
Coco Crisp hooked me up with my fourth ball of the day in left-center field, and then I used the glove trick to pull two balls out of the gap behind the center field wall. Here’s a close-up photo of the first ball in my glove…
…and here’s a shot of the second one, taken by Jona from the other end of the gap:
Both of those balls were BP homers by Billy Butler, but whatever. Do you see all the other balls that were sitting down in that gap? GAHHH!!! It was maddening to see them and not be able to reach them. The photo above doesn’t even show all the balls that were down there. There were like…twice as many. It was insane. They’d been there for two days, and I’d asked several different ushers about them.
How often do the balls get cleared out?
Who actually goes and retrieves them?
What would happen if I jumped down in there?
No one had a definitive answer. One usher said that the groundskeepers probably retrieve the balls, but he wasn’t sure. It was strange, and it had me thinking, although I didn’t really know what to think. There was still one more ball down in there that I could reach with my glove trick, so I started going for it, and that’s when security shut me down. The guard didn’t threaten me or confiscate my glove or eject me. He simply made a polite request that I stop. He even apologized and insisted that the order had come from his supervisor. How could I argue with that? It was frustrating, of course, but at least I’d gotten to use the trick three times on this final day.
As I began untangling the string, the kid standing next to me inspected my glove…
…and then asked me for a ball. That annoyed me. First of all, he didn’t even have a glove (which indicated that he wasn’t serious about snagging), and secondly, as a general rule, I never give balls to people who ask. The way I see it, other fans should focus on getting balls from the players and not from…other fans, especially during BP when there are tons of opportunities. Therefore, I politely told the kid that I was not going to give him a ball. Instead I gave him a few pointers to help him snag one on his own, and wouldn’t you know it, less than two minutes later he grabbed a home run ball that landed near him in the seats. I congratulated him and then saw him snag FOUR more balls after that!
Once the Diamondbacks started hitting, I changed into my red D’backs shirt and got Eric Byrnes to toss me my seventh ball of the day in center field. In the following photo, you can see the ball in mid-air against the dark green batter’s eye:
A minute after I got the ball from Byrnes, I saw Tom Gordon walking toward a couple balls on the warning track in right field, so I sprinted around behind the batter’s eye and hurried down to the lower level of the Pepsi Party Porch, and I got him to toss one of the balls to me. Then, back in left field, a home run landed in the fountain. It was time once again for the water device. The four-part photo below shows me getting it ready and swinging it out…
…and here I am reeling it in:
That gave me nine balls on the day, and it didn’t take long for me to reach double digits. Some righty on the D’backs (no idea who) launched a deep line drive toward the seats in left-center. I
bolted through the empty walkway behind the four rows of seats and watched the ball take a series of unlikely bounces. It’s hard to describe exactly what happened so I took a photo later on (which you can see here on the right) to help illustrate this story. Do you see the concrete ridge that extends perpendicular from behind the walkway into the fountain? Somehow, this home run ball ricocheted out of the seats, landed on the ridge (which is only about a foot wide), caromed off the back wall of the fountain, landed back on the ridge, took a couple small bounces, and squeezed back through the railing into the walkway. It wouldn’t have mattered if the ball had fallen into the water because I still would’ve snagged it. In fact, I was kind of disappointed that I didn’t get to use the water device, but it’s probably just as well that the ball stayed dry. Anyway, yeah, crazy bounces, and I grabbed it.
It was a challenge to keep up with my notes…
…but I had to find moments here and there to keep a list of how I was snagging all my baseballs. Otherwise, I never would’ve remembered. (In the photo above, the guy wearing the long black pants is the one who gave me a hard time about the glove trick the day before. Watch out for him if you plan on using a device at Kauffman Stadium.)
About 10 minutes later, I caught two homers on the fly in the walkway behind the “102” sign in straight-away left field. I’m not sure who hit the first one, but I know that Byrnes hit the second. I caught them back-to-back within a 30-second span, and it had the whole section buzzing, but really there was nothing to it. Both balls came RIGHT to me, and okay, the seats were a bit crowded by that point, but so what? It really doesn’t get any easier than that.
At the end of my previous entry, I mentioned that I saw Diamondbacks pitcher Clay Zavada in Denny’s after the game. Remember? Well, I’d been hoping to get a ball from him for three reasons. First, his last name begins with a zee, which we all know is the best letter. Second, he has an awesome moustache. And third, after reading that New York Times article about him, I became an instant fan. The only trouble is, he’s not the most outgoing person. Over the previous two days, my few ball requests directed his way went ignored, but on this third day, I had an angle. I waited until he was about to pick up a ball in left field, then raced down to the front row and yelled, “Clay!! I saw you in Denny’s last night but didn’t want to bother you!! Any chance you could hook me up with a ball, please?!”
He ignored me, so I waited for him to chase down another ball and then I shouted something similar. It worked. He turned right around and spotted me and flipped it up, and let me tell you, it felt great to have gotten inside his head for a moment.
Toward the end of BP, I had another noteworthy interaction with a Diamondbacks pitcher. This time it was Esmerling Vasquez. At one point, a bit earlier in the day, I’d asked him for a ball in Spanish. He turned around and smiled but didn’t throw me the ball, so I responded with a crude but common curse in Spanish. As soon as he heard that, he whirled back around and looked at me and dropped his jaw in an exaggerated manner as if to say, “I can’t believe you just said that, and I hope you’re joking.” I immediately smiled and made a gesture to indicate that I was only messing around, and he seemed to appreciate my playful attitude. Later on, when the D’backs were close to wrapping up BP, Vasquez jogged over to the warning track in left-center to retrieve a ball. I walked down the steps and got his attention and asked him for it in English.
“In Spanish,” he said so softly that I had to make sure I understood.
“You want me to ask you for the ball in Spanish?”
He nodded, so I made a dramatic request with lots of prayer-like gestures and a few English words sprinkled in. It went something along the lines of: “Por favor, senor, da me la pelota. Solamente una pelota and then I will callate.” The English translation of that ridiculousness is: “Please, Sir, give me the ball. Only one ball and then I will shut up.” That’s pretty much all I know how to say in Spanish. (Well, that and a lot of bad words, courtesy of an all-Dominican baseball camp staff that coached me for three full summers in the early 1990s.) But it worked. Vasquez smiled big and tossed me the ball–my 14th of the day–and that was it for batting practice.
Just before the D’backs left the field, I gave my heavy backpack to Jona and raced to the 3rd base dugout and got some equipment guy to toss me a ball as he was dumping all the balls from the basket to the ball bag. Hot damn. I’d snagged 13 balls at my first game of the series, 14 balls at my second game, and now 15 balls at my last game. BEST. STADIUM. EVER. And finally, it was time to explore it. I’d heard all about the $250 million renovation. I wanted to see what all the fuss was about.
Just as my stadium tour was about to get underway, I ran into Garrett and asked him if he wanted to wander with me. It was 40 minutes ’til game time. There wasn’t anything else to do, so he came along. We started by walking into the spacious tunnel that leads to the dugout concourse…
…and I was very impressed with what I saw at the other end:
I just felt bad that such a nice stadium was so poorly attended, but hey, from a ballhawking perspective, the low attendance was great.
Garrett and I walked through the main concourse behind home plate…
…and headed up to the upper deck. Gorgeous! Look at the concourse:
The whole stadium was clean and spacious, and there was lots of natural light, and best of all it was understated, unlike a certain new ballpark–ahem, in the Bronx–that’s sickeningly grandiose.
We climbed up the steps to the top row of the upper deck, and I took a few photos to make a panorama:
Below are four more photos of the upper deck…
TOP LEFT: The huge “tunnel” that leads from the concourse to the seats. Brilliant stadium design. That’s all I can say about that. No other upper deck, as far as I know, has anything like it. People tend to appreciate light and air and space to move around. Kauffman Stadium delivers it. TOP RIGHT: The open-air portion of the concourse along the RF foul line. There’s nothing wrong with simplicity. BOTTOM RIGHT: The front row. Nice. More simplicity. There’s no reason for an upper deck to have two or three different tiers of seating. BOTTOM LEFT: A chain-link fence at the back of the seats. One word: quaint. All the architects out there can take their fancy facades and shove ’em. I prefer watching baseball in ballparks, not palaces or malls or museums:
I couldn’t stop raving about Kauffman Stadium. Garrett got a kick out of that.
We headed down to the main concourse…
…and made our way around the outfield. Here’s the view from the top of the fountains in right field:
The outfield concourse has an inner and an outer area. (Another great use of space.) The following photo was taken between the two…
…and when I walked into the outer area, I couldn’t believe how much stuff was back there. The following SIX-part photo shows it all, starting on the top left and then going clockwise: 1) A concert stage. 2) Miniature golf. 3) A playground and carousel. 4) Batting cages. 5) A baserunning challenge. 6) A small baseball field.
I loved these kid-friendly attractions because they weren’t in the way. You know what I mean? They were essentially hidden at a far edge of the stadium. I’d been at The New K for two days and didn’t even know that any of that stuff was there, so my point is: it doesn’t interfere with the baseball experience. It’s just there in case people want to go and check it out, but if you’re a true baseball fan and you’re glued to the game and you don’t want to be bothered with anything else, it’s not in your face. Most of the games back there cost a bit of money to play. You have to buy tokens. I’m not even sure where you’d buy them or how much they cost. I didn’t have time to investigate. The game was almost set to begin, so I hurried over to the 3rd base dugout and stopped along the way to take a photo of the cross-aisle that runs through the field level seats:
Anyone can walk through this aisle at any time. It doesn’t matter where your ticketed seat is.
The stadium is so pretty and simple and laid-back. I was in heaven.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get a ball tossed to me after the pre-game throwing (I picked the wrong end of the dugout), so I headed to the outfield just in time for the first pitch. I was dying to catch a game home run, and it seemed that my chances here were as good as they’d ever be at any game in any stadium. Look how much room I had out in left field in the top of the first inning:
(Normally the ushers don’t let people stand in that walkway during the game, but they made an exception for me.)
Look how much room I had in right field in the bottom of the first:
OH MY GOD!!! This stadium was built for ballhawks. The only problem was that there was SO much room to run that I ended up running nonstop and got completely sweaty. Embarrassingly sweaty. Just like the day before. Check it out:
I didn’t realize until I saw the photo above that I was still wearing my D’backs cap. I didn’t want to offend the locals (not that anyone cared what I was wearing) so I gave it to Jona and got my Royals cap back from her. Here she is after we switched caps–this is where she sat during the game:
Did you notice all the balls sitting in the gap behind her? Here, have a closer look:
What in the world was going to happen to all those balls?
In the top of the sixth inning, I was hanging out on the RF porch with my new friend, Bob Buck, when Gerardo Parra lined a home run into the bullpen. Naturally I ran over to see what was going to happen to that ball, and to my surprise, no one bothered to pick it up. It just sat on the ground, right in the middle of the bullpen, as various players and employees walked back and forth:
It’s like they were all trying to tease me. The ball sat there for a full inning! I couldn’t leave, and I was worried about missing other opportunities elsewhere.
Finally I shouted at the Royals’ bullpen catcher and got him to toss it up, but he flung it lazily and didn’t really AIM for me, and as a result, the ball sailed five feet to my left. Bob was standing to my left at the time, and he managed to get a hand on it, but there were a bunch of other people also reaching for it, and they all bobbled it, and the ball dropped right down into the aisle at our feet, but I WAS BLOCKED and couldn’t reach it. I’m sure there are some people who would’ve just plowed everyone over in order to grab that ball, but that’s not my style. All I could do was stand there helplessly and watch some gloveless fan snatch it. That really hurt.
In between innings, Bob asked me to sign a ball, and then his wife Kathi took a photo of us:
(Two questions: Do you like my farmer’s tan? And…on a scale of 1 to 10, how much does Bob look like Alec Baldwin?)
In the top of the eighth inning, Eric Byrnes hit a home run into the D’backs bullpen down the LF line. When I ran over to see where it went, an usher told me it had rolled right into the bathroom. Another fan started shouting at Jon Rauch for the ball. Rauch was the closest one to the bathroom, so what did he do? He got up and closed the bathroom door and sat back down. What a guy.
My frustration was mounting. I’d been putting up huge numbers in BP, and I was doing EVERYthing it took to put myself in the perfect position to catch a game home run, but it just wasn’t happening. There was a grand total of three homers hit during this series: none the first day, one the second day (which I nearly snagged even though it landed a full section over from where I’d been standing), and two on this third day, both of which landed in the bullpens. Unreal.
In the middle of the ninth inning, just after I’d changed back into my D’backs gear, an usher came running over and told me that a ball had just landed in the fountain. WHAT?! I hadn’t seen a ball land there. Was he messing with me? I knew that the ball wouldn’t float long, so I didn’t question him. I just ran over and took a look…and sure enough, there was a ball bobbing in the water. I pulled out my device, flung it out, and reeled in the ball on the first shot. Here I am with it:
It was my 16th ball of the day, and I learned later that it was Parra’s warm-up ball. He had thrown it to some fans but his aim was way off and the ball sailed all the way over the section and landed in the water. Bad for the other fans. Good for me. At that point, I was thinking that I still had a chance to get few more balls. Maybe three more? Maybe even FOUR more? Whoa…it occurred to me that I had an outside shot at reaching 20. I’d only snagged that many three times before, so this was a big deal. I wasn’t sure if it was possible, though. Since the D’backs were going to win the game, and since the umpires exit the field on the third base side of the dugout, I figured I could get a ball from the home plate umpire (that would be No. 17), then race back to the home plate end of the dugout and get a ball from one of the players or coaches (that would be No. 18). Maybe I could get one a couple minutes later from the guys coming in from the bullpen? That would be 19. And then…get this…out in that center field gap, there were two balls that were reachable with the glove trick–one on the left side of the gap and another on the right side. I wasn’t sure if I could get away with using the trick after the game ended, but it was something I’d been considering all night. I figured I’d have to wait until security was gone, or wait ’til they weren’t looking…but this was a major league stadium. Someone is ALWAYS looking. (I learned that the hard way on 9/2/08 at Dodger Stadium.) I was getting ahead of myself. First things first. I got into position near the dugout and waited impatiently for the game to end. Final score: Diamondbacks 12, Royals 5. (The Royals are
absolutely terrible, BTW. They have a glorious stadium, but most of their starters wouldn’t even be on the Yankees roster. I don’t like the Yankees. I’m just sayin’. It was like watching college baseball. The defense was indecisive and clumsy. But I digress.) I wasn’t sure who the home plate umpire was. (I learned later it was Dale Scott.) Jona had my bag, and she was waiting for me in the outfield…and in my bag was a complete MLB umpire roster. Damn! And then, to make matters worse, three kids ran down to the spot where the umps were going to walk off the field. I watched as the ump handed balls to all the kids, and then I said, “Hey, Blue, how about a ball for a big kid?” He looked up at me, took one last ball out of his pouch, and flipped it into my glove. Yes!
I raced to the other end of the dugout, just as I had planned, and right after I got there, someone on the team (I think it was Rauch) flung a ball well over my head and deep into the section. Crap. I turned around to see who it had been thrown to, only to realize that the seats were empty! I was trapped in the middle of a row, so I had to climb over the seats. There was one other guy on the aisle who was also running for the ball, and he beat me there easily. That deflated me. Now, even if I somehow managed to get both of those balls out of the gap (which seemed highly unlikely), I’d still fall short of 20.
I headed back through the cross-aisle toward the outfield. A security guard stopped me and told me I had to leave. I told him that I need to meet up with my friends in left-center field, and it was true. Jona, of course, had my backpack, and Garrett was out there too, along with Bob and Kathi. They all wanted to see how this was gonna play out.
My eyes lit up when I approached the left field bullpen. For some reason, the Diamondbacks had left TWO balls sitting on the mound, right below the overhang of the front row of the seats, but how was I going to use the glove trick and not get caught? A groundskeeper appeared out of nowhere and started walking toward the balls. There were a few little kids standing right near me, so I was pretty sure I was screwed. No way the guy was gonna toss one to me. I just knew it, and sure enough, the first ball was tossed up to the kid on my right. Somehow…miraculously…the ball fell short and bounced off a railing and trickled along a little concrete ledge, right toward me, on the center field side of the bullpen. That’s where I was standing. It’s kind of hard to describe, but anyway, I lunged over the railing, and scooped up the ball in the tip of my glove and immediately handed it to the kid. I don’t think I even took it out of my glove. I just reached over and opened the glove and let the kid reach into the pocket and grab it. Even though the ball wasn’t intended for me, and even though I didn’t end up keeping it, it still counted. It was my 18th ball of the day. After that happy twist of fate, I really felt like I had a chance, and then another miracle happened: the groundskeeper left the second ball sitting there. The other fans had asked him for it, but he said he couldn’t give it away (sure), so most of them left. It was just me and Jona and Bob and Garrett and Kathi and a couple other people who were still lingering. I moved over to the front row of the overhang and quickly unleashed my glove trick. Way off in center field, I could see a yellow-shirted security guard walking toward me.
“Form a wall!” I yelled at my friends as my glove dangled 15 feet below. “Form a wall and block his view!”
Jona and Bob both moved to the side edge of the bullpen, and they both took photos of me as I went for the ball. In both of the photos below, you can see that I wasn’t even looking down at the ball. Instead I was looking off to the side to keep an eye on the security guard…
…and I managed to pull up the ball when he was less than 50 feet away. Phew! I had my 19th ball of the day. Just one more! I quickly coiled up the string and used my body to shield the glove so the guard wouldn’t even see it, and then he walked us all up the steps to the main concourse in deep left field. Once we all reached the top, the guard just walked off. He didn’t tell us we had to leave. (He just assumed that we would, I suppose.) So we found a bench and sat down and contemplated the next move.
There were still a FEW other fans milling about at that point. Mostly, though, there were just concession workers and seat cleaners passing back and forth. No one stopped to ask us who we were or what we were still doing in the stadium. No one told us to leave. At one point, we noticed a security camera mounted high across the concourse. That made us a bit nervous, but no one ever came out to confront us.
I grabbed an extra Sharpie from my backpack just in case, then left my bag with my friends in the concourse and began my solo mission. I had to go alone. One person was less likely to be seen/caught than five, so they waited, out of sight, as I walked briskly down the steps, proceeded through the walkway behind the seats and headed to the edge of the gap on the left field side of the batter’s eye. I was there. No security in sight. So far, so good. It was showtime…like playing golf. No competition. Just me versus the course. I struggled for a couple minutes with the first ball. Not good. It was a few feet too far out for me to have a straight shot down, and it was also trapped up against a small rock. Still, I couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t able to get the ball to stick inside the glove. This was the absolute WORST time for a malfunction. I’d used the trick hundreds of times. Why was it giving me a problem now? I had no choice but to raise the glove back up and readjust the rubber band. Maybe it was too loose? That had to be it, so I took a look, and nearly had a panic attack. The rubber band had broken and was dangling off the glove! It’s a good thing it hadn’t fallen into the gap because I stupidly hadn’t brought an extra one with me down into the seats. I had half a dozen bands in my backpack, but as I mentioned, the bag was
with my friends in the concourse. I thought about hurrying back up there, getting a new band, then going back down into the seats, but that seemed insane. It’s like I would’ve been ASKING to get caught, so I took the band and tied the broken ends together. It was my only shot. And then I lowered the glove back down into the gap. Well, it took another minute or so, but then I got the ball to stick inside my glove! Twenty balls (with twenty exclamation points)!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I thought about just getting the hell out of there at that point, but that one last ball was too tempting, so I headed up the few steps, walked quickly behind the batter’s eye, and headed down beside the right field edge of the gap. There it was, my potential 21st ball of the day, sitting there, looking up at me, waiting to be rescued. I hoped that the rubber band would hold…and it did…but once again, the ball was a few feet too far out from the wall, and in my attempt to knock it closer, the Sharpie fell out of my glove. Extra Sharpie! Thank God I’d brought it.
I didn’t know it at the time, but Bob had crept out of the upper concourse, just far enough that he could see me way off in the distance, going for this ball. This was his view:
Did you see me in the photo above? Here’s a closer look:
After another minute (during which I must’ve cursed about 20 times), I managed to snag the ball. Woo! Twenty-one!
Upon my return to the concourse, I posed with balls No. 20 and 21 and felt invincible:
I needed a moment to recover…to just sit there and label my last two balls…to add to my long list of notes…to think about what I wanted to do next. There weren’t any other fans in the ballpark, but there were still a few employees walking around. After a few minutes, we saw an entire group of people in yellow shirts walking out the gate in right field. It was the security guards! They were all leaving!
What to do…
I was thinking about those balls in the gap. There were still ELEVEN balls down in there, and it occurred to me that I might be able to get away with climbing down in there and grabbing them and then running like hell. Meanwhile, it was getting late. Bob and Kathi had to take off, so we said our goodbyes, and then it was just three of us: me, Jona, and the 17-year-old Garrett.
For the past two days, I’d been talking about climbing down into the gap, but it was more of a fantasy than a reality. I had to do TV interviews, and I didn’t want to jeopardize that by getting in trouble, but like I said before, this was my last day. My last night. There was nothing to lose. Well…if I got arrested and thrown in jail, that wouldn’t have been good, but it’s not like I’d be running out onto the field or vandalizing any property. It was just about the balls. And about the charity. And about doing something daring. And about breaking my one-game record! I had managed to snag 28 balls in one day on 4/10/08 at Nationals Park. I didn’t think that record would ever be broken, but now I actually had a chance to do it…and not just squeeze past it by a hair, but actually surpass the 30-ball plateau. If I climbed down into the gap and grabbed all the balls and managed to get away with it, would my record be tainted? Would it have an asterisk? I wasn’t sure, but I knew for a fact that several legendary ballhawks on the west coast, like T.C. and Lee Wilson, had snuck down after games into the gaps behind the outfield walls and grabbed actual game home run balls that they counted in their totals. And I know that some of the all-time great ballhawks in Chicago, especially Moe Mullins, used to climb down into restricted areas of Wrigley Field to do the same thing. I thought about all the balls I’d snagged that I didn’t count for various reasons, and I thought about all the balls that security had prevented me from snagging over the years. I thought about the guard at Shea Stadium, back in the mid-1990s, who would stand on the field, right in front of me in foul territory during BP, and kick the foul grounders away before I had a chance to reach over and scoop them up. I thought about the on-field guard at Yankee Stadium who once jumped up and swatted a ball out of mid-air that a player had thrown to me, simply because he didn’t like me and didn’t want me to catch it. I thought about every single injustice that I had ever experienced inside a major league stadium, and I thought, “Here’s my chance to make up for it.”
But wait, how was I actually going to pull it off? Would I go alone? Would Jona and/or Garrett come with me? Would I need help climbing back out of the gap? How would I carry all the balls? Would I take my backpack? Would I have to climb out with that heavy thing on my back? What about labeling the balls? Would I actually stop and mark each one as I grabbed them? Or would I put them into different pockets and pouches and try to remember which one was which? If I actually managed to climb down there and grab the balls and escape without getting caught, would I then talk about it on my blog? Could I get in trouble after the fact? I had reasons to go for it. I had reasons to chicken out. I had an endless array of questions and–
“I really wish you would just do it already,” said Jona.
I was GOING to do it. I made up my mind. Now I just had to make some quick decisions about how it would all go down. First of all, I decided to turn my shirt inside out. That Mario logo was way too eye-catching. Secondly, we all decided that the three of us would go back down into the seats together. Garrett would toss my backpack down to me after I climbed into the gap and then he’d meet me on the other end and I’d toss it back up. Jona would follow us and film the whole thing. I didn’t know what I would ever do with the footage, but I knew it had to be documented. As for the issue of labeling the balls, I decided that I had to sacrifice that part of my process–that I just had to throw the balls in my bag as quickly as possible and get the hell out, but I knew I had to keep the last ball separate. I needed to know which ball was THE final ball…the record-establishing ball.
And just like that, we were off.
The following images are all screen shots from Jona’s video.
Here I am with Garrett, heading through the walkway at the back of the LF seats. The ground was wet because the fountains were overflowing, presumably on purpose as a way to clean the section:
Here we are heading down the steps next to the gap:
Then I climbed down into the gap:
Garrett tossed me my backpack, and I reached up to catch it:
I hurried to the middle of the gap and picked up the first ball:
Every time I grabbed a ball, I kept counting: twenty-two, twenty-three, twenty-four, twenty-five, twenty-six, twenty-seven, twenty-eight, twenty-nine! Then thirty. I decided to stick that one in my right front pocket. Then thirty-one. That went in my left front pocket. And finally thirty-two. That went in my back right pocket. If I’d remembered, I could’ve grabbed the Sharpie that had fallen out of my glove 20 minutes earlier, but my mind was elsewhere.
Here I am climbing out of the gap:
There were metal beams on back of the outfield wall, so I stepped on those and hoisted myself up without Garrett’s help. Ahh, to be young and fit! I normally take it for granted, but now I finally appreciated it and realized that when I’m 90 years old, similar shenanigans will be much more difficult.
Jona headed up the steps and hurried behind the batter’s eye to catch up with us…
…and then we walked through the upper porch in right field…
…and headed up the steps…
…and ran like hell through the concourse…
…and made our way out the open gate…
…and walked around to the back of the stadium:
We did it!
I had snagged THIRTY-TWO baseballs!
This was my reaction:
Here I am with Garrett and the 32nd ball:
I hope I don’t get busted for blogging about this after the fact. In my defense, I was doing it for charity, and also, the way I see it, I did the Royals a service. Not only did I risk my own life, free of charge, to climb down in there and clean out the balls so that one of their employees wouldn’t have to do it, but I’ve simultaneously encouraged baseball fans all over the world to visit Kauffman Stadium. No joke. I’ve gotten at least a dozen emails this week from people who’ve told me that after reading my blog entries and seeing my photos of the place, they’re dying to go there.
Don’t you love my logic?
Two of the balls from the gap caught my eye. First (pictured below on the left), there was my 30th ball of the day, which had a really cool series of streak-like markings on it, and second, there was a ball (one of the eight that I didn’t label, pictured below on the right) that was rubbed up and un-scuffed, just as a game-used ball would be:
So the question is: Is it possible that I grabbed a game home run ball and don’t even know it? When I first entered Kauffman Stadium on Tuesday, June 16th, there were already half a dozen balls in the gap. Who knows how long they’d been there? Why couldn’t a game home run have landed there? Does anyone know if any players hit homers to dead center field in the days before June 16th? It would be interesting to know, and if the answer is yes, I might need to recruit a forensic scientist to determine if there are woody fibers on the ball that match the fibers on that player’s bat.
My 32nd and final ball of the day was not interesting in comparison to the two pictured above, but obviously it was the most meaningful, and I had to find a special way to photograph it. At first, this was the best I could come up with…
…but then Garrett had an idea. He told me and Jona to get in his car, and he drove around to the other side of the stadium. It was well past midnight by this point. He had to be at work at 6am. Jona and I were exhausted and starving. I was tempted to take a few quick pics of the ball and go back to the hotel, but when I mentioned the option of using the balls to actually spell out the number 32 (aka “balligraphy”), Garrett convinced me to do it.
Here I am, setting them all up in the middle of the road…
…and here’s the fruit of my labor (and of Jona’s patience):
In case you’re wondering, the three balls on the right are in Ziploc bags because those were the balls I fished out of the fountain. They were soaked to the core, so I kept them sealed until I could properly dry them out. And of course there are only 31 balls in the photo because I gave one away.
Thursday, June 18, 2009: wow…
• 32 balls at this game
• 279 balls in 31 games this season = 9 balls per game.
• 600 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 166 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 107 lifetime games with at least 10 balls
• 47 lifetime games outside of New York with at least 10 balls
• 4 lifetime games with at least 20 balls (all of which, surprise-surprise, were outside of New York)
• 4,099 total balls
• 110 donors (click here and scroll down for the complete list)
• $24.16 pledged per ball
• $773.12 raised at this game!
• $6,740.64 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
A few final thoughts…
1) It occurred to me that I probably would’ve snagged more than 35 balls if I’d been going for foul balls and third-out balls all night, but I did what I had to do. I was in a home run haven, and I stuck to my game plan, never even contemplating my one-game record until the very end.
2) It also occurred to me that this is the first time I’ve ever out-snagged my age. You follow? I’m thirty-one years old, and I managed to snag thirty-two balls. I’d have to say it’s pretty rare for anyone to out-snag their age. Think about it. How likely is it that a five-year-old could snag six balls? Not very. How likely is it for anyone to snag 15 or 20 balls? Or 30? Again, not likely. I’d say the only people who have a real shot at out-snagging their age are probably young teenagers. By the time someone is 13 years old, he (or she) is just getting big enough and athletic enough and strategic enough to be able to make some good plays and outsmart the competition. Have YOU ever out-snagged your age? I think we might have a new category here–something ultra-rare, like hitting for the cycle. I wonder if I’ll ever do it again.
3) This blog entry, for those keeping score at home, is 7,714 words and has 83 photographs (if you count the collage pics separately). These too, are records.