The best thing that happened on my birthday this year was NOT snagging 22 balls at Camden Yards. Not even close. The highlight was receiving the following email from my friend Erik Jabs:
I remember you writing that one day you’d like to take BP on a major league field.
PNC Park is having a season ticket holder batting practice on Tuesday,
Oct 6. It’s a regular BP with the cages and screens and everything.
They also use MLB balls, and you can elect to use players’ game bats.
I’d you’d like to, you’re welcome to be my guest and take BP on that day.
I wrote a little about it last year when my blog was beginning:
Let me know,
Three weeks after I received this email, I flew to Pittsburgh with my mom (who came along just to watch) and my friend Brandon (who took all the photos you’re about to see)…
Here I am walking into PNC Park with Erik and a few of his friends:
This was my reaction after stepping onto the field:
It was nine o’clock in the morning. The sun was bright, but the grass was still wet, and it was only 49 degrees — not ideal conditions to jack one over the fence, but I was hopeful.
There were only about 100 people in our 9am-11am group, and we all gathered in the stands for the welcome speech:
The speaker thanked us for supporting the Pirates in 2009 (You’re welcome!) and explained a few basic things about how our three-group session on the field was going to be run:
Group One would be hitting first…
Group Two would be free to roam anywhere on the field and shag baseballs…
Group Three would start by lining up on the warning track in right field and catching fly balls that were going to be fired from a pitching machine…
I was in Group Three, which meant that all the balls were going to be soggy by the time I stepped into the cage. It also meant that I had to break the rules for a couple minutes and play catch at shortstop:
The rules, it should be noted, were not strictly enforced. Some people from Group Two made a beeline for the right field warning track, while others in Group Three (like me and Erik) wandered all over the place.
Here I am with Erik:
(Erik is 6-foot-4.)
The fly ball machine was positioned on the infield dirt behind first base:
It wasn’t THAT exciting to catch routine 200-foot fly balls fired from a machine, especially when I had to wait in line for five minutes between each one. What WAS exciting was simply being on the field:
Quite simply, it was a dream come true.
Finally, after more than an hour, Group Three was called in to hit. I raced to the front of the line and grabbed an aluminum bat that belonged to one of Erik’s friends. I could’ve used wood — there were more than a dozen players’ bats lying around — but I decided I’d go with metal until I put one out.
Unfortunately, that never happened (and here’s where I make tons of excuses)…
In addition to the balls being damp, I had to hit off a pitching machine that was firing most of the balls shoulder-high. Also, the late-morning sun was shining right in my eyes from straight-away center field. In addition, I only got eight pitches, which included my bunt to start the round as well as another pitch that I took moments later because it was head-high. There were so many people waiting to hit, and the guys feeding the machine were in such a rush to get me out of the cage that they only gave me three seconds between each swing to get ready for the next one. It was like, “Hurry up and have your fun and get the hell out.” (But don’t get me wrong: it WAS fun.)
Here I am taking a mighty cut at one of the only belt-high pitches I saw:
Although, as I mentioned above, I didn’t hit a ball out of the park, I did manage to hit a line drive that bounced onto the warning track. If the ball weren’t damp and heavy, it might’ve gone out, and if I’d swung about an eighth of an inch lower, it definitely would’ve gone out.
After everyone in Group Three got their eight-pitches (no one in any group even came close to hitting one out), we each got to jump back in the cage for a four-pitch lightning round. Brandon wandered out behind the mound and took the following photo of me at the plate:
It was exhilarating to get to take BP on a major league field, and
while it certainly went down as I expected, it wasn’t anything like
what I’d dreamt of so many times. In my own personal FantasyLand, I
have a stadium all to myself. The grass is dry. It’s 82
degrees. Leon Feingold is pitching BP fastballs to me with pearls, and of course I’m hitting the crap out of them.
Former big league pitcher Rick Reuschel was hanging around near the batting cage. He and I talked for a minute and then had our picture taken.
(In my next life, I’m going to be 6-foot-7.)
1) a friend of Erik’s
2) a Pirates season ticket holder
3) the owner of the metal bat I’d used
4) a member of the Ballhawk League
5) a good ballplayer
6) a great guy
As you can see in the photo above, Nick brought his copy of Watching Baseball Smarter for me to sign…which I did…with an extra big smile because it was the most worn-out/well-appreciated copy of the book that I’d ever seen. Nick told me he’d read it several times and underlined his favorite parts, which turned out to be half the stuff in it. Check out this two-page spread in the “Umpires” chapter:
The whole book looked like that.
It was lunchtime. Our two-hour session on the field had ended.
We entertained ourselves at the speed-pitch booth:
In the photo above, that’s me on the left, Nick on the right, and Nick’s younger brother Bryan in the middle. Bryan (who’s just 16 years old) threw the fastest pitch of the day at 73mph.
Then it was time to eat:
And then we wandered back down to the field:
Thanks to a not-so-secret loophole in the system, we all got to head back onto the field. Here I am, waiting for my turn to hit:
See the batting glove I’m wearing in the photo above? On this fine day in Pittsburgh, I decided to use Jeromy Burnitz’s batting gloves — the ones he tossed to me in 2004 at Shea Stadium. (Here’s my whole collection of batting gloves, in case you care.)
There were a dozen helmets lying around next to the cage…
…and none of them fit.
These were some of the bats:
I took my eight swings with Nick’s metal bat…
…and finished up with Jose Bautista’s wood bat. No homers. But I hit some deep fly balls and got a compliment from former Pirate John Wehner. Here I am with him:
Wehner said that even HE wouldn’t have been able to hit a home run with such bad balls. (I wish I had a photo of the balls, but since I don’t, let me just say this: the worst ball that you could possibly catch during BP at a major league game would be better than any ball I was invited to hit at PNC Park.) He might’ve just been saying that to make me feel better…but then again, he did only hit four career homers in the big leagues…but no, it was nice to hear.
Brandon and I wandered out to the bullpens. Here I am on the mound:
Here I am on the bench:
Here’s a sign that was on the wall out there:
Here I am clowning around on the warning track (robbing a…double?) with Bryan looking on:
Brandon and my mom and I were going to have to leave for the airport soon, so I spent my remaining time catching fly balls from the pitching machine.
Here I am getting ready to catch one:
Here I am losing my footing on another:
(We were not allowed to wear spikes or cleats.)
I failed to catch that particular ball and ended up like this:
Here’s one final photo of me and mom before we headed out:
The Pittsburgh Pirates are awesome for letting their season ticket holders take over the field for a day. By comparison, the New York Mets “rewarded” their season ticket holders by letting
them run the bases (for 20 seconds) after the final game of the season.
I have to end this entry with a BIG thank you to Erik for giving me the opportunity to do this. Check out his blog. He should have an entry up about it soon. Also…thanks to Brandon for taking all the photos.
This was the Nationals’ final home game of 2009 — a 4:35pm start — and my friend Brandon was there with his fancy camera…
When we first ran into the stadium at 2:05pm, all the Nationals players were stretching in right field, yet batting practice WAS taking place. There was some type of bonus round of BP for Nationals employees, and as you can imagine, most of them were terrible hitters. One guy, however, was good enough to reach the warning track, even with the crappy training balls that were being used, and I ended up getting two them tossed to me. The first came from a ballboy near the foul pole, and the second came from a coach named Jose Martinez who was shagging in straight-away left field. In the following photo, the horizontal arrow is pointing to me as I reached out to catch my second ball, and the vertical arrow is pointing to Martinez:
My third ball of the day was a ground-rule double — hit by the random/talented employee — that barely cleared the railing and landed in the third row. There was only one other fan who was close enough to go for it, but he didn’t move until the ball was already in the seats, so I was able to beat him to it.
Without any warning or any break in the action, Adam Dunn stepped into the cage so I raced over to the right field seats. Moments later, a ball rolled onto the warning track in right-center, and I convinced a different random employee to toss it up. Brandon was still in left field at that point, but he had his camera aimed at me and got the following photo of the ball in mid-air:
In this photo (which you can click for a closer look), the arrow pointing up shows the ball, and the arrow pointing down shows me. The guy who tossed it was moving to his left at the time, so it looks as if the ball is heading toward the other fan in the front row, but I assure you that’s not the case.
Marquis Grissom tossed me my fifth ball of the day in straight-away right field, and then 10 seconds later, he saw me catch a Dunn homer on the fly. I was standing on the staircase, six rows back. The ball came right to me. I made a two-handed catch. It was embarrassingly easy, and by the way, every single one of these balls was a training ball.
My seventh ball of the day was thrown by Marco Estrada, and my eighth was another Dunn homer. I had to run about 15 feet to my right for it, and then as the ball was descending, I climbed back over a row (in the middle of the section) and reached over my head to make a back-handed catch. A gloveless man behind me complained that I’d already gotten a ball. I responded by offering to give him the one I’d just caught, but he didn’t want it.
“Give it to a kid instead,” he said.
“You have no idea how much I do for kids,” I replied, but the guy clearly wasn’t interested in anything I had to say, so I let it go and moved on and continued to put on a snagging clinic.
(For the record, there was only one other kid in the section, and he’d already gotten a ball. It was one of those days where the players were being generous. Basically, everyone who asked for a ball got one.)
Saul Rivera threw me ball No. 9, and he did it as if he were turning a double play. He had Victor Garate throw him the ball, and as he caught it he made an imaginary pivot (as if he were a second baseman) and then fired it in my direction.
I looked at the clock. It was only 2:24pm. The stadium had been open for 19 minutes. Oh my God. I wasn’t just thinking about reaching the 20-ball plateau; I was thinking about what it would take to snag 30 and possibly even break my one-game record of 32. Meanwhile, Brandon finally made it out to the right field seats and got a cool shot of me catching my 10th ball of the day:
It was thrown by Livan Hernandez from the foul line, and as you can see in the photo above, there weren’t a whole lot of kids in the stands. Even the guy in the red jacket got a ball thrown to him. I’m telling you…there were PLENTY of balls to go around, and as a result, I was truly heading for the game of my life.
But guess what happened next…
Here, let me show you:
That’s right. It wasn’t even raining, and the grounds crew decided to (leisurely) roll out the tarp.
The good news is that there were several balls sitting in the left field bullpen, and I was able to use my glove trick to reel in one of them. The following three-part photo (which you absolutely HAVE to click) shows how it played out:
The ball was sitting underneath the overhang, so I had to swing my glove out and back in order to knock the ball out into the open. As you can see in the photo on the left, the the string angled back at the bottom of the Harris Teeter ad. The photo in the middle shows two important things (in addition to the ball itself): 1) my awesome farmer’s tan and 2) the glove being being propped open by the Sharpie. The photo on the right shows me reaching for the ball. I’m always paranoid that the ball will fall out at the last second, but it rarely does. The key is not to panic — not to rush — while raising the glove. I just try to keep lifting it up steadily.
In the middle photo up above, do you see the man in the light gray vest jacket? While I was carefully lifting up my glove, he said, “Excuse me, but your last name isn’t Hample by any chance, is it?”
I told him it was, and he told me that he owned a copy of my second book (Watching Baseball Smarter) and that his eight-year-old son loved it and that they actually had it with them and that they’d been hoping to get it signed…so of course I signed it as soon as I was done using my glove trick, and then I posed for a photo with his son. When I changed into my Mets gear soon after, three other kids recognized me and asked me to sign their baseballs. Here’s the autograph session in progress…
…and here we are with the balls:
Five minutes later, several Mets players and coaches walked out to the bullpen and tossed the remaining balls into the crowd. I got one of them from Sandy Alomar Jr.
Then it started raining, and for some reason, someone in the bullpen tossed a ball into left field. The arrow in the following photo is pointing to it:
I found out later that the ball had been used by Pat Misch during his bullpen session, and that when it started raining, it slipped out of his hand and sailed high above the catcher and hit a railing and ricocheted sideways all the way onto the field. Of course I wouldn’t be telling this story if I hadn’t ended up snagging it. Randy Niemann eventually tossed it to me while walking in from the bullpen:
Abe Lincoln was not impressed:
It got sunny again by 4pm, and with the game set to start on time, I headed to the seats near the Mets’ bullpen. There was lots of activity out there. It just seemed like the place to be. Bullpen catcher Dave Racaniello was warming up Tim Redding in left field. Omir Santos was playing catch with Alomar on the warning track. Several relievers were standing around with baseballs in their hands. Ken Takahashi tossed a ball to the kid on my right. Then Brian Stokes (who has recently gotten to know me) spotted me and tossed me the ball that he was holding. Here I am reaching out for it:
In the photo above, Stokes is the guy who’s standing still and cradling his glove against his chest.
Another thing about the photo above…
On the left side, you can barely see a catcher sitting down. He’s mostly chopped out of the picture, but just above the red flowers and the green edge of the outfield wall, you can see his black shin guard curling up over his knee. Right? Well, that was Santos, and when he headed into the bullpen one minute later, I leaned over the side railing and asked him for his ball in Spanish:
This was the result:
He flipped it up directly from his glove. It was my 15th ball of day. It had a Citi Field commemorative logo on it. Yay.
Josh Thole and Nelson Figueroa started signing autographs along the 3rd base line, so I headed over there and got them both. Thole signed my September 30th ticket, and Figueroa signed one from the previous day. Here I am after getting Thole…
…and here are the autographs themselves:
Right after the national anthem, David Wright tossed me his warm-up ball at the dugout:
I was tempted to stay behind the dugout and go for 3rd-out balls — I only needed four more balls to reach 20 — but the temptation to catch a home run was even greater, so I headed back out to left field. Here’s where I sat:
I had empty rows on both sides. There were very few fans with gloves. The circumstances were ideal. But of course nothing came anywhere near me.
Halfway through the game, when Nationals starter John Lannan came to bat, I noticed a statistical oddity on the scoreboard. Can you spot it? I’ll tell you what it is after the photo:
His on-base percentage was higher than his slugging percentage, which means that over the course of the season, he’d collected more walks (two) than extra bases via hits (one).
In the middle of the 7th inning, I got my 17th ball of the day from a Mets reliever in the bullpen, and I’m ashamed to admit that I couldn’t identify him. I think it was either Tobi Stoner or Lance Broadway, but I’ll never know for sure.
In the bottom of the 9th inning, Brandon and I moved to the third row behind the Nationals’ dugout. This was our view:
Francisco Rodriguez was pitching. The Mets had a 4-2 lead. The left side of my brain (or maybe it was the right) figured he’d nail down the save. The right side of my brain (or maybe it was the left) figured he’d blow the game. Either way, I was convinced that the Nationals’ dugout was the place to be. As I mentioned at the top of this entry, it was the Nats’ final home game of the season; I thought the players might be extra generous and throw some bonus items into the crowd.
Alberto Gonzalez led off the bottom of the 9th with an infield single. Then Mike Morse was called upon to pinch hit and took a called first strike. The second pitch was a 55-footer. Omir Santos blocked it and handed it to Kerwin Danley, the home plate umpire. Danley inspected it and handed it to the ballboy, who’d jogged out with a supply of fresh baseballs. As the ballboy returned to the dugout with the scuffed ball, I simply stood up and made eye contact with him and flapped my glove, and he tossed it to me. (HA!!!) Four pitches later, Morse ripped a ground ball single up the middle. Willie Harris followed with a sacrifice bunt and Elijah Dukes walked on a full count to load the bases. Ryan Zimmerman came up next and struck out on three pitches. There were two outs. The Mets were still winning, 4-2. The bases were still loaded, and then Adam Dunn walked on another full count. This forced in a run and trimmed the Mets’ lead to 4-3. Justin Maxwell, who had entered the game as a pinch runner in the 8th inning and remained in center field as a defensive replacement, stepped up to the plate. He took the first pitch for a ball and then watched the next two pitches zip by for called strikes. The fourth pitch was a ball. The count was even at 2-2. Then he fouled off the fifth pitch and took the sixth to bring the count to 3-2. Everyone in the stadium knew that Rodriguez was going to throw a fastball; the right-handed Maxwell, however, was so geeked up that he swung too soon and yanked a monstrous drive over the 3rd base dugout. On the next pitch — another 3-2 fastball — he swung too late and lifted a foul pop-up into the seats on the 1st base side. It was the most exciting at-bat I had ever seen in my life, and on the following pitch — the 9th pitch of the battle — Maxwell’s timing was perfect. He centered the ball and launched it into the flower bed in left field for a walk-off grand slam:
Final score: Nationals 7, Mets 4.
After all the celebrating and shaving-creaming was done, the Nationals DID toss a bunch of stuff into the crowd. They must’ve thrown 100 T-shirts (leftovers from the T-shirt launch) and two dozen balls. One player (not sure who) threw his batting gloves over the dugout. Incredibly, I didn’t get any of it. Not one damn thing. It was quite a letdown, but obviously I was still happy about the overall outcome of the day — that is, until Brandon and I made it back outside and walked to the parking lot. I’ll show you what I’m talking about after the stats…
• 523 balls in 57 games this season = 9.18 balls per game.
• 626 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 180 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 120 lifetime games with at least ten balls
• 4,343 total balls
• 126 donors (click here and scroll down for the complete list)
• $25.26 pledged per ball
• $454.68 raised at this game
• $13,210.98 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
As I was saying, the parking lot…
When I parked my parents’ gray Volvo there earlier in the day, it was in perfect condition, and when I returned eight hours later, it looked like this:
That’s me in the photo above, crouching down to assess the damage while holding a cell phone up to my ear and telling my dad about it.
When I ran inside Yankee Stadium yesterday, I was glad to see that the grounds crew was in the process of setting up batting practice:
Why was I glad? Because BP was not guaranteed. Not only was there a “flood watch” in the forecast, but this was a dreaded weekend day game–the absolute toughest time to snag baseballs. If it were up to me, I would not have attended this game. But it wasn’t up to me. I had Watch With Zack clients, and this was the game they picked. The photo on the right shows me with the two of them, and yes, they’re both grown-ups.
This photo was taken at about 11am. By that point, batting practice still hadn’t started, and the right field seats (as you can see) were already packed. Not good.
As for my clients, the man standing next to me is named Eli (pronounced “Ellie”), and the woman on the right is his wife Kathryn. They’ve been married for 20 years. She grew up in Kansas City and went to a ton of games there. He grew up in Israel and only recently got into baseball. This was just the fourth game he’d ever been to, and it was the first time he’d ever arrived in time for batting practice. Needless to say, he’d never gotten a ball from a game–and neither had she, but that wasn’t why she had hired me for the day. I was, in effect, Eli’s surprise birthday present. (Kathryn always orchestrates some type of surprise for his birthday; last year she flew a bunch of his friends in from Italy.) I was there strictly to teach him about baseball and to help him understand all the rules and strategies and nuances and statistics, etc.
Anyway, batting practice, afterthought that it was…
The Yankees finally got started at around 11:30am. I had two close calls but ended up empty handed. (The sun got in my eyes on one; a security guard got in my way on the other.) No big deal, right? I’d snag a bunch of balls during the Athletics’ portion of BP…right?
The Athletics didn’t take BP, but no problem, right? I’d just get a ball from one of the pitchers playing catch in left field…right?
Even though I was decked out in a rather eye-catching Athletics costume, no one threw me a ball. And then the grounds crew took the screens down and started preparing the field for the game.
Crap. (And then some.)
My streak was in serious danger of ending. I’d gotten at least one ball in each of the previous 606 games I’d been to–a streak dating back to September of 1993. And now I could feel the whole thing slipping away. In fact, I was convinced that it was going to end, and not only that…I was going to have to refund the $500 fee that Kathryn had paid me. That’s part of the deal with a Watch With Zack game: No ball = epic fail = full refund for the client.
Somehow, despite my inner turmoil, I was able to pull myself together and smile for a photo with this guy:
His name is Stuart Jon (check out his web site) and he’s been reading my blog for quite some time. After many many emails (and his pledge of three cents per ball for my charity), this was the first time we’d met in person. Knowing I would be at this game, he brought both of my books and asked me to sign them for his one-year-old boy named Charlie.
Finally, at around 12:45pm, there was a promising sign of life on the field:
The A’s players had come out to stretch and run and throw. THIS was going to be my chance to get a ball, but it wasn’t going to be easy. I couldn’t go in front of the railing (the one with the drink holders in the photo above), so I was somehow going to have to get the players’ attention and convince one of them to launch a ball over eight rows of seats and dozens of fans. I had done it before, but it was always tough.
There were only two balls in use. I screamed my head off for the first one, but Adam Kennedy tossed it to a little kid in the front row. Daric Barton, the starting first baseman, ended up with the other ball, and I was sure that he’d hang onto it and use it as the infield warm-up ball, but I shouted for it anyway. What else was there to do? I shouted and he ignored me, so I shouted again, and he looked up into the crowd, so I shouted once more and waved my arms and he looked right at me. I flapped my glove, and he turned and fired the ball. It was falling a bit short. I knew that I’d be able to reach it, but I was afraid that the man in front of me would reach up and intercept it…but it barely cleared his hands, and it smacked right into the pocket of my glove. It was the biggest relief EVER. The ball had a Yankee Stadium commemorative logo (like this) and I immediately handed it to Eli:
Five minutes later, a few outfielders began throwing, and I got a second ball (also commemorative) from Rajai Davis! I gave that one to Kathryn. Here she is with it in her hand as she was filling out the starting lineups on her score sheets:
My streak was alive. They both had a ball. I could relax…and that was great because there wasn’t much I could’ve done during the game anyway. We were sitting in the middle of a long row, one and a half sections from the end of the 3rd base dugout. Great seats to watch the game? Yes, of course. Great seats to catch a foul ball or a 3rd-out ball? Erm…no. I’d bought the tickets off StubHub, which unfortunately doesn’t provide seat numbers so there was no way to find out (until the transaction was complete) if we’d be on the aisle. So yeah, we were all trapped there, but given the fact that I’d snagged those two baseballs, it was actually nice to sit still and focus on Eli and not have to worry about adding to my total.
This was our view.
This was my lunch:
This was also my lunch:
I don’t have good luck with waiter-service-food at baseball games. This was only the second time I’d ever ordered it. The other time was at Turner Field nearly a decade ago. I’d snuck down into the fancy seats with a friend, so we ordered food and before it arrived, we got kicked out by security. We’d already paid for it, and thankfully we were allowed to wait at the top of the section (in the cross-aisle) until it arrived. It was highly embarrassing.
I sat next to Eli during the game and explained stuff nonstop from Watching Baseball Smarter. He already knew quite a bit (including the infield fly rule), so it was a challenge at times to come up with things that were new, but I found a way.
The game itself was thoroughly entertaining. There were several lead changes, and there was only one home run. (Home runs bore me if I’m not in a position to catch them. I wish the MLB Network would show highlights of triples instead.) When Mariano Rivera entered the game (for a four-out save) and “Enter Sandman” started blasting, a fan in the upper deck was shown headbanging on the Jumbotron. I’ve seen this guy before. He’s hilarious:
During the 9th inning, Kathryn asked me to sign the baseballs to her and Eli. I suggested signing one ball to the two of them so they could keep the other ball pure. She was fine with that, and this was the result:
The “4142” represents my current ball total. That’s how I sign everything snag-related.
Kathryn and Eli had their own copy of “Watching Baseball Smarter,” and after the game I signed that too. Here we are:
Final score: Yankees 7, Athletics 5.
Here are Kathryn’s score sheets:
Very impressive. (“I’m a semi-serious geek for a girl,” she told me.)
On our way out, I stopped to get a pic of the Great Hall…
…and when we got outside (and because Kathryn and Eli’s camera battery had died), I took one last photo of them, which you can see below on the right.
• 2 balls at this game
• 322 balls in 38 games this season = 8.47 balls per game.
• 607 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 135 consecutive Yankee games with at least one ball
• 6 consecutive games at the new Yankee Stadium with at least two balls
• 18 consecutive Watch With Zack games with at least two balls
• 4,142 total balls
• 114 donors (It’s not too late to make a pledge. Click here to learn more…)
• $24.59 pledged per ball
• $49.18 raised at this game
• $7,917.98 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
I expect to snag at least 10 balls at every game. I talked about that in my previous entry, remember? I also said that something has to go wrong in order for me not to snag that many.
Well, yesterday, something nearly went horribly wrong at the start of the day, and then I had to deal with two unexpected challenges soon after.
Speaking of the start of the day, here I am outside the left field gate:
The stadium opened at 4:30pm–two hours and 40 minutes before game time–and soon after I ran inside, I nearly sprained/broke my ankle. What happened was…I stepped onto a little concrete ridge on the upper concourse, not realizing that it WAS a ridge. I thought it was a platform that extended out at that height, so when I took a step forward, my right foot rolled off the edge, and as a matter of instinct, I gave with it and nearly fell down in the process. The right side of my ankle hurt a little bit right after, and I was scared out of my mind. It seemed to be okay, but I wasn’t sure if there was going to be a delayed reaction of pain, or if it was going to get worse as I kept running around.
Jona was with me (she’s the one who took all these photos) and she told me to “be careful” and “take it easy,” but those are phrases that mean nothing to me when I’m inside a major league stadium–especially one as awesome as the New K–so I just started doing my thing and running all over the place as if nothing was wrong. Somehow, thankfully, the slight pain in my ankle actually went away.
I started off by running out to left-center and peeking over the outfield wall to see if there were any balls on the warning track:
Nope. Nothing. And I should probably mention the first of my two challenges: the Royals hadn’t started hitting yet. The previous day, when I ran inside, batting practice was already in progress, but this time the place was dead.
That turned out to be a good thing.
I headed over to the lower level of the Pepsi Party Porch in right field…
…and ended up playing catch with Kyle Farnsworth for more than five minutes! I’m not exaggerating. I just asked him straight-up if he wanted to play catch, and he tossed me the ball he was holding. Then, after I caught it, he held up his glove to indicate that he wanted me to throw it back. (Normally, when I ask guys to play catch, they’ll toss me the ball and then just let me keep it right away.)
Here’s a photo of Farnsworth throwing the ball to me…
…and here I am firing it back:
I didn’t have much room to work with; after every throw I had to make sure not to follow through all the way so that my hand wouldn’t whack the metal railing.
I managed to avoid getting hurt, and all I can say about the whole thing is…it was amazing. Jona switched her camera to movie mode and got several minutes’ worth of video. When I have more time (perhaps this coming weekend), I might put it on YouTube. I don’t know yet, but anyway, I’ve played catch from the stands on many occasions, and the only time that rivals this one was the Heath Bell Experience on 9/29/05 at Shea Stadium. THAT was awesome because Bell was shouting playfully at me and crouching down and calling balls and strikes, and there was a small audience of fans that gathered near me in the seats…but this throwing session with Farnsworth was great because it was calm. Once we started, he and I never talked. We were just two guys throwing the ball back and forth. Nothing needed to be said. Baseball was our common, silent language.
As I expected, we stopped throwing as soon as BP started and of course he let me keep the ball.
I headed to the upper level of the Porch and got Luke Hochevar to throw me a ball:
His aim, however, was off and the ball sailed over my head and landed in the fountains. No big deal. I just pulled out my little water-retrieval-device and reeled it in.
The four-part photo below (starting on the top left and then going clockwise) shows how it all went down:
Someone left a comment on my previous entry and asked if it’s possible to reach over the railing and grab baseballs out of the water. As you can see in the photos above, the answer is no…although at one point, over in left field, a fan climbed over the railing and sprawled out on that green/gray concrete ledge, and he grabbed a couple balls out of the water before I had a chance to snag them with my device. Security wasn’t around when he did that. That’s how he got away with it. I don’t recommend climbing over. I talked to a few different ushers who said that fans who go in the water are punished just like fans who run on the field: a night in jail and a $1,500 fine. It’s not worth it for a BP ball, but for a walk-off grand slam? I’d consider it.
Back to the Hochevar ball…
After I reeled it in, I put it in a Ziploc bag so it wouldn’t soak everything else in my backpack:
See the plastic shopping bag in the photo above? First of all, it’s a Fairway bag. Best food market ever. There’s one right near me in NYC on Broadway and 74th Street. Secondly, I brought it with me to the stadium so that I could keep the device from leaking all over my backpack as well. Water management is key.
My ankle was totally fine, and I ran nonstop all over the place:
Back in left field, I got Coco Crisp to toss me my third ball of the day. You can see it in mid-air in the following photo:
Just a few minutes later, Ron Mahay tossed me Ball No. 4, and then I headed back to right field to use my glove trick.
Remember those two challenges I talked about earlier in this entry? The second challenge was security. There was one guard in particular who wasn’t too fond of the trick, and he hurried out to the Porch while my glove was dangling:
At some stadiums, like AT&T Park, fans are allowed to bring all kinds of crazy contraptions inside, and security doesn’t care AT ALL if people pluck balls right off the field. I realize, however, that not every owner/stadium/city is as cool as San Francisco. If security doesn’t want fans to take balls off the field, fine. I still don’t think it’s “stealing” but whatever. They have a right to draw the line somewhere, so I wasn’t too upset (or surprised) when the guard came over and made me stop. What DID make me mad was when he stopped me from using the trick five minutes later for a ball in the gap in dead center field. There’s nothing in that gap. You know those seven balls that were there the day before? They were STILL there. No one goes back there. There’s no camera. No equipment. Nothing. I strongly feel that fans should at least be allowed to retrieve balls from gaps like this. The guard’s explanation? He didn’t want ME to lower my glove on a string because it would encourage other fans to do it too.
Well, guess what. I have news for that guard: his job is about to get way more stressful. Not only did FSN film me using the glove trick the previous day, and not only did they broadcast that footage for the whole world (okay, maybe just Missouri) to see, but there’s also this wonderful invention called the internet. And then there’s this blog. And then there’s a whole blog entry I wrote a few years ago that shows people exactly how to use the glove trick. Want to see how to do it? Click here. Then take your glove trick to Kauffman Stadium and wreak havoc and tell ’em Zack sent you. (You might need to specify that it was Zack Hample and not Zack Greinke. He’s still the more famous Zack, but I’m working on it.)
The outfield seemed worthless to me at that point, and I seriously thought my day was going to end with a grand total of six balls, so once the rest of the stadium opened at 5:30pm, I headed to the Royals’ dugout on the 1st base side:
The Royals were about to finish their portion of BP. I thought I might be able to get someone to toss me a ball on the way in. (In the photo above, do you see the other fan walking through the seats with the white Greinke jersey and the blue backpack? His name is Garrett. More on him in a bit.) What I didn’t consider was finding a ball in the seats:
Did you notice how sweaty I was?
I felt great after finding that ball and then I got Roman Colon to toss me my 6th of the day a couple minutes later:
After that, I changed into my Diamondbacks gear, headed out to left field, and snagged two more balls within the next ten minutes or so. The first was tossed by Chad Qualls near the foul pole, and the second was a Mark Reynolds homer that landed in the last row in straight-away left field and then conveniently plopped right down at my feet. There were a bunch of other fans out there at that point, so it’s a good thing the ball didn’t ricochet elsewhere.
Then I heard Jona shouting frantically to get my attention. I was way over near the batter’s eye, and there was a ball that had landed in the fountain. I don’t know how I missed it. It must’ve been thrown because I was paying close attention to the hitters.
I ran over to the ball, knowing that it might sink at any second…
…and then I lowered my device into the water…
…and got it!
Moments later, another ball landed in the water (it was a home run and I don’t know who hit it), and I fished that one out as well.
Hoo-haaaa!!! Just like that, I had reached double digits.
Toward the end of BP, Blaine Boyer tossed me a ball in left-center…
…and then I used my water gadget to fish another ball out of the fountain. It was a home run that I absolutely would’ve caught on the fly, but some guy (who had no business even thinking about catching it) bumped into me at the last second, and the ball deflected off my glove as a result.
That gave me 12 balls.
Garrett, who had recognized me the day before from YouTube, asked me to sign his scorebook, and then we took a photo together:
As soon as BP ended, I hurried to the restaurant at the upper concourse in right field and met up with a few guys from the FSN crew. It was time for my pre-game interview. I was drenched in sweat, so I changed into my Royals shirt and hoped that the camera wouldn’t see the embarrassing sweat stain on my butt:
The sweat stain actually went all the way around my waist, several inches below my belt, but the shirt was just long enough to cover it. You have no idea how hot and humid it was, and how much running I’d been doing during BP. I think I drank three 20-ounce bottles of water during BP, and I never had to use the bathroom. My body just absorbed all that water and sweated out the rest.
The photo above, by the way, was taken as I was being led to the interview location on the left field side. The guy walking next to me (in the black shirt and light tan pants) is named Nate Bukaty. He’s the one who interviewed me. Here we are, right before we went live, down in the camera well next to the bullpen:
Here’s a photo that Jona took during the brief interview itself:
I was so amped up at that point (from running around for two hours and snagging a dozen balls and playing catch with a major leaguer and being reprimanded by stadium security) that I ended up being all jittery in the interview. It also didn’t help that I was told right beforehand that the whole interview was only going to last 90 seconds. There was so much I wanted to cover. I wanted to talk about how I’m snagging baseballs for charity, and I wanted to mention my books, especially Watching Baseball Smarter. At the time, I just thought I was being all energetic and fun, but now that I’ve had a chance to watch the tape, I really don’t like how I came off. In fact, I’m downright embarrassed by my performance. I just needed to stand still and slow the HELL down, and I’ve been interviewed enough by now that I should’ve had the presence of mind to take a deep breath and step back from it all for a moment and just…collect myself.
Oh well. The other interview I did during the third inning went better. But before that one took place, I signed a few more autographs…
…and got Diamondbacks coach Glenn Sherlock to toss me a ball along the left field foul line:
(No red arrows in the photo above. You can figure out what’s happening.)
I ran back and forth from right field to left during the first two innings, and of course there weren’t any home runs hit.
Then it was time to make my way over for my in-game interview. For some reason, the TV announcers (Ryan Lefebvre and Frank White…yes, THE Frank White) weren’t doing the game from up in the booth. Instead, they were set up on the Pepsi Party Porch near the right field bullpen:
It’s really a shame. I was looking forward to getting a media credential and then wandering all over the stadium as soon as my interview was done, but because all of my interviews took place in the stands, there were no credentials to be had. Still, it was a total thrill to get to be interviewed during the game. I can’t count the number of in-game interviews I’ve seen where some lucky stiff gets to put on a headset and stand between the announcers and talk about his charity or whatever. Now, for the first time in my life, *I* was going to be that stiff. HA! And unlike all the other stiffs, I was actually going to be fun. I just knew it.
Here’s a look at the announcers from above…
…and here’s a view from the side:
That’s Frank White shielding his eyes from the sun. He won eight Gold Glove Awards. Wow.
Here’s a shot that Jona took of me from above, right before I went on the air…
…and here I am, being interviewed during the actual game. DAMN it was fun:
I was told that I was only gonna be interviewed during the top of the third inning, and of course, just my luck, the invincible Zack Greinke was pitching. I was sure he was gonna mow down the D’backs one-two-three, and that I’d be told to take a hike as soon as FSN went to a commercial break.
My prediction was half-right: Greinke DID retire the side in order…BUT…two good things happened:
1) Felipe Lopez had an eight-pitch at-bat to lead off, and Justin Upton worked a full count two batters later. So…the three outs took a bit longer than usual.
2) As the third out was being recorded, and as my heart was sinking faster than a baseball in the fountain, Lefebvre said ON THE AIR that I would be sticking around for another half-inning. That came as a total surprise, and I was ecstatic.
It gave me a chance to be a human being and discuss ballhawking without having to rush through my talking points. During the interview, I could hear some producer’s voice in my ear. He was making occasional comments and suggestions to all of us. At one point, he told Lefebvre what to ask me, and another time, he pointed out the fact that I’d been turning my back to Mister Frank White. We were in a commercial break at that point, so I turned and faced White and put my arm around him and offered a sincere apology and told him that since his partner was asking all the questions, I had just been facing him out of instinct. White wasn’t offended, and we laughed about it, and then during the bottom of the inning, I made sure to look at both guys as I told my various stories. Another thing that I did during my interview was…whenever the ball was put into play (or when someone struck out), I had to stop talking and give Lefebvre a chance to do the play-by-play. No one told me to do this. I wasn’t coached at all for this interview. I just did that because I’ve seen enough interviews to know that’s how it’s done.
Here’s another photo taken during the interview:
Lefebvre and I were both wearing our gloves. White didn’t need one.
“Mine are all made out of gold anyway,” he said. (Awesome.)
The bottom of the third saw five men come to the plate (yay) but two of them hit the first pitch (boo). So…it wasn’t THAT long of an inning, but at least I had a little extra time to do my thing.
Here I am with Lefebvre and White after the interview:
No, I didn’t ask for White’s autograph. I probably could’ve had him sign all 12 of my balls during the commercial break, but I just didn’t care. I’ve become less and less interested in autographs. It was the experience the mattered. I got to shake his hand three times. Yes, I counted. Yes, I have since washed my hand. And yes, I meant to say “12 of my balls” and not 13; I forgot to mention that after the pre-game interview, I gave away one of the balls to a man in a wheelchair. Normally I only give balls to kids, but this guy was wearing a glove, and he had a leg missing. I couldn’t NOT give him a ball.
For the rest of the game, I kept running back and forth for potential home run balls. Jona sat next to the batter’s eye and held my backpack:
Mark Reynolds was the only guy who went deep. I should’ve gotten the ball but I was playing him too far toward left-center and he hit it to straight-away left. The ball didn’t reach the walkway. It landed in the second row, so it would’ve been tough, but I still feel like I should’ve had it. And that was the only action for me during the game.
Greinke was very hittable. He struck out nine guys in 6 2/3 innings, but he allowed six runs–four earned–on eight hits and two walks. Not great, but his ERA is still dazzling at 1.96.
Final score: Diamondbacks 12, Royals 5.
I raced to the D’backs dugout with two outs in the bottom of the ninth and:
1) Got coach Jeff Motuzas to toss me my 14th ball of the day
2) Found a crumpled up dollar on the ground as I headed up the steps.
An hour after the game ended, I was in a Denny’s restaurant near the stadium with Jona, and who walked in? Clay Zavada.
The end. Gotta run back to Kauffman for my third and final game. I’ll get those interviews up on my site at some point soon so everyone can see them. (I’d put them on YouTube, but MLB would take them down for copyright infringement. Duh. I need to have a word with Mister Selig about that…)
• 14 balls at this game
• 247 balls in 30 games this season = 8.23 balls per game.
• 599 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 165 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 106 lifetime games with at least 10 balls
• 46 lifetime games outside of New York with at least 10 balls
• 4,067 total balls
• 110 donors (click here and scroll down for the complete list)
• $24.16 pledged per ball
• $338.24 raised at this game
• $5,967.52 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
I woke up in Chicago, took a 90-minute train ride to Milwaukee, and found my friend Nick Yohanek waiting for me outside the station:
Nick is an extremely skilled ballhawk who’s known as “The Happy Youngster.” He has his own website and blog, and although we’d been emailing back and forth for a couple years, the first time we met in person was 20 days earlier in Toronto. (One great thing about being a ballhawk is that friendships often develop fast with other ballhawks. Three weeks ago, I barely knew Nick…and now here he was, picking me up at a train station and letting me crash at his place for a night.)
Nick gave me a scenic tour of Milwaukee (which even HE would admit is an oxymoron) on the way to his place. We drove past Miller Park…
…and pulled into his driveway less than 10 minutes later:
As much as Nick loves the Brewers, he loves the Green Bay Packers even more. His basement is basically a memorabilia shrine for the two teams. Check it out below. Here’s one wall of stuff…
…and here’s another:
In the photo above, the home plate-shaped display case holds all 48 game home run balls that Nick has snagged. Truly remarkable. On the lower left, you can see his trademark t-shirt: Glove + Ball = Happy. (Nick is a police officer and has a very effective way of protecting his memorabilia collection. I’ll explain in my next entry.)
We headed to the stadium at around 3pm–plenty of time for me to wander all the way around the outside of it and take some pics. But first, here’s one that Nick took of me:
Nick then walked me out to a nearby spot in the parking lot and showed me this:
It says: “This marks the landing location of the final home run of Hank Aaron’s career, #755, hit at County Stadium on July 20, 1976.”
That final home run ball, by the way, caused a LOT of controversy. It was retrieved by a groundskeeper, and when the team asked the guy for the ball, he said he wanted to hand it over himself to Aaron. The team refused, so he was like, “Fine, then I’ll just keep the ball.” What did the team do? They fired him AND they docked him five dollars from his final paycheck for the cost of the ball. True story. (Shame on the Brewers.) I’ll be writing more about this in my next book, along with a bunch of other ball-related controversies. The last thing I’ll say about it for now is that the groundskeeper eventually got the last laugh.
Nick followed me as I kept wandering and taking pics. Miller Park is very nice, but the surrounding area is, in a word, nondescript:
Two edges of the stadium are slightly elevated above the surrounding land, so there’s a railing around the perimeter:
Now…I know that the people in Milwaukee are passionate about their bratwurst, so as I made my way around the stadium with Nick, it saddened me greatly to see the following:
I can’t explain it. It was just…there.
Here’s one final look at the outside of Miller Park. This is the home plate entrance (and you can see Nick in the yellow shirt):
As for the inside of Miller Park…
I met a fellow ballhawk named Shawn and his mother Sue (who also snags her fair share of baseballs). Shawn had a copy of my first book, How to Snag Major League Baseballs, and Sue had the new one, Watching Baseball Smarter:
I signed the books for them and then got my snagging underway.
Ball No. 1 was tossed by Brewers coach Joe Crawford, and it had something strange written on it. Check it out:
I’ve snagged a lot of marked balls over the years, including this one from the Brewers back in the 1990s, but I’d never seen anything like this. Within the last year or two, I’d been hearing stories about how the Brewers were writing random stuff on their practice balls, so it was great to finally get one.
When the Pirates took the field, there were still a few of the Brewers’ balls laying around on the warning track, and I got Zach Duke to toss one to me. (The line I used was, “How ’bout a ball for a fellow Zack?” First time I ever used that line successfully. I even offered to show him ID, but he took my word for it. Zacks are just cool like that, as are Zachs.) This second ball also had something written on the sweet spot, and when I ran over the right field bullpen and used my glove trick to reel in the following ball…
Here are those first three balls I snagged, logos up:
Now, here they are with the sweet spots up…
…and let me just stress again that I did NOT write this stuff on the balls. They were like this when I caught them.
I managed to glove-trick another ball from the bullpen before security shut me down. There was just one usher who seemed to have a problem with my device, and when he told me I might get ejected if I used it again, I decided to move my operation to the second deck in left field.
I didn’t expect to catch much up there, but it turned out to be a great spot. First, Brandon Moss threw me a ball, and then I snagged a home run that flew 10 feet over my head and landed in the mostly empty benches. Several minutes later, John Grabow tossed me my seventh ball of the day, and soon after I snagged another home run off the steps.
That wasn’t it.
While I was labeling the balls and scribbling down some notes about how I’d gotten them, I noticed that Craig Monroe was getting ready to throw a ball to some fans in the front row about 30 feet to my left. As he fired it up, I bolted to my left and cut through my row. The ball sailed over the fans’ heads, landed several rows behind me, hit the back of a bench, and bounced right back to me as I was cutting across. It was beautiful. I ended up giving that ball away, but it was still fun to catch it, and of course it counts in my stats and for the charity.
Nyjer Morgan then threw me another ball. I hadn’t even asked him. He just looked up into the seats and spotted me, so I pointed at him to acknowledge that I was ready. He fielded a ball moments later and immediately turned and fired it up at me. Perfect aim. Embarrassingly easy. And just like that, I had reached double digits.
I made it to the Pirates’ dugout just before the end of BP and a got my 11th ball tossed to me by coach Luis Dorante as everyone was coming off the field. It was a real beauty:
Nick and Shawn were also down by the dugout, and since security is so laid-back and awesome in Milwaukee (with the exception of that one guy who’s anti-glove trick), we sat down and hung out for about 20 minutes. Turns out we were captured by the Pittsburgh TV cameras. Thanks to Erik Jabs for passing along the following screen shot. You can see Nick on the left, Shawn in the middle, and me on the right:
My plan for the game was simple: Go to the second deck behind the plate, stay there all night, and catch a foul ball. Miller Park has THE best spot for foul balls in the Major Leagues. By far. The only other time I’d ever been to this stadium was on June 11, 2003. I snagged 17 balls that day including two foul balls during the game in that section.
What’s so good about it?
This was my view of the field (I was hearing Bob Uecker’s voice all night)…
…and this was my view to the left:
Is that not THE most glorious cross-aisle you’ve EVER seen?
The height and distance of the section is perfect. The protective screen at the backstop is not too tall. Heaven, I tell you! If I were going to custom-build a stadium, just for myself in order to have the best possible chance of catching a foul ball, this is what I would’ve come up with.
Surprisingly, there wasn’t any action during the first third of the game, but I got my chance in the top of the 4th. Brian Bixler fouled one back and to my left. It was heading toward the “family section” portion of the “KOHL’S” sign in the photo above, so I took off running. I couldn’t reach the ball in time to catch it on the fly, but because the aisle was completely empty, the ball smacked off the blue wall, ricocheted back and hit a seat back, then rolled back toward the wall…and that’s when I swooped in and scooped it up.
Check out the mark on the wall/ball:
Sadly, that was the only ball that came back there all night, but I was satisfied. I mean, what kind of jerk would complain about “only” snagging one foul ball during a game? (Don’t answer that.)
The Brewers had a 10-5 lead heading into the 9th inning, so who did they bring in? All-time saves leader Trevor Hoffman. He’d been hurt. This was his Brewers debut. The crowd went nuts, and I ran down to the dugout…
…just in time to see him record the final out.
Five minutes later I realized that the foul ball I’d snagged was my 100th ball of the season. (I’d started the day with 88 and the modest of goal of snagging 12 balls combined in the two days I’d be at Miller Park.) Here I am with the ball at the Pirates’ dugout:
You can see a closeup of the ball in the photo down below on the right. I’m pretty sure that the smudge (on the seams to the right of the MLB logo) came from the bat. The blue mark on the sweet spot (shown three photos above) obviously came from the wall. But what’s with the smeared logos in two different places? You can see that “Rawlings” is smeared on the top of the ball, and so is the word “baseball.” Very strange. I’ve never gotten a game-used ball with that many markings.
• 12 balls at this game
• 100 balls in 13 games this season = 7.69 balls per game.
• 12 consecutive seasons with at least 100 balls
• 582 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 152 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 126 lifetime game balls (not counting game-used balls that get tossed into the crowd)
• 3,920 total balls
• 96 donors (click here and scroll down for the complete list)
• $18.17 pledged per ball
• $218.04 raised at this game
• $1,817.00 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
I just found out that my book Watching Baseball Smarter has been translated into Taiwanese and is coming out this spring.
Check out the front cover:
(Is it just me, or is the runner being called safe before touching the plate?)
Here’s the back cover and the spine (which I hear will be 1.2 centimeters thick):
It appears that this version will have a dust jacket, and it appears that these will be the inner flaps:
Now…in case you’re wondering what all this Taiwanese text means, I got a translation from my editor:
A great book for baseball fans
By Zack Hample
translated by Tzu-hsuan Chen, Tang-yao Kao & Chi-jen Chen
James Wang, Anchor, Major League Baseball on FTV
Chun-da Lin, Anchor, Videoland Sports
Cheng-dian Yang, Anchor, Videoland Sports
Ching-long Yang, renowned baseball commentator and coach,
Keith Hernandez, 1979 batting champion and MVP, World Champion in 1982
About the translator:
Assistant Professor, Department of Journalism, Shih-hsin University
PhD, Mass communications, University of Wisconsin – Madison
Master, Department of Journalism, Shih-hsin University
Graduate student, Department of Journalism, Shih-hsin University
Ready for a few sample pages from Chapter One? Here goes:
And so on.
Anyway, that’s it. Just wanted to share.
There are more idiotic rules at Dodger Stadium than there are baseballs in my collection. I lost count of the exact number, but I can definitely tell you the worst. Ready for this? You might want to get a cold beverage and sit down. Okay, here goes: the parking lot opens at the same time as the stadium itself. Since the colossal parking lot surrounds the stadium on all sides–and since most living creatures aren’t able to be in two places at once–it’s technically impossible to get inside for the start of batting practice.
Of course there’s a way to get around anything, and at Dodger Stadium you can drive into the parking lot at any time if you tell the guard that you’re there to buy advanced tickets. Sometimes, if you’re lucky enough to be there without a car, you can walk right in without dealing with him. The entrances are multi-lane roads with numerous tollbooths, and when you get there early in the day, there’s only one guard at the far right booth. If he’s busy dealing with stadium employees (who have to drive in early) he won’t notice you or have a chance to stop you–or he might just assume you’re an employee–if you walk in on the left side.
That was my situation. No car. I got dropped off by a friend and walked right in, two-and-a-half hours before the parking lot AND the stadium were scheduled to open. I wasn’t breaking any rules, however. I actually did need to buy a ticket–two tickets, in fact, because of Stupid Rule No. 867. At Dodger Stadium, you see, the bleachers (aka “pavilions”) have their own separate entrances. You need a pavilion ticket to enter the pavilion, and once you’re there, you can’t move into the main part of the stadium. This was going to be my final game in L.A. I wanted total access. I wanted to be in the left field pavilion for batting practice and then be able to roam freely for the rest of the night.
I walked past several employees on my way into the parking lot. None of them said a word or even looked at me, so I pulled out my camera and started taking pictures.
In the four-part photograph below, starting on the top left and going clockwise, I’m a) on the outskirts of Dodger Stadium property with the mostly vacant tollbooths in the distance, b) just past the booths and finally able to see the stadium, c) at the edge of one of the many sections of the parking lot, and d) approaching one of the many staircases:
Dodger Stadium was built into a hill. Not only do the pavilions have their own entrances, but every seating level in the main part of the stadium does as well. Therefore (and here comes Stupid Rule No. 1,644), you can’t enter the Field Level without a Field Level ticket, nor can you even walk around the outside of the stadium without climbing stairs.
I finally made it to the Top Deck. That’s where the ticket office is located. I waited in line for five minutes, then bought a $13 pavilion ticket and a $60 (ouch!) seat on the Field Level.
Then, since the gates were wide open and there were other fans chilling in the seats, I walked inside. In the following four-part pic, you can see a) the beautiful pavement outside the Top Deck as well as one of the open gates, b) the concourse inside the stadium, and c) a shirtless man in right field shagging balls during d) early BP.
I knew there was a way to snag baseballs before the gates opened (I described it in my previous entry), so I decided to head all the way down to the bottom. First, though, I had to take a couple pics that I could later combine in Photoshop to make a panorama…
…and while I was doing that, I noticed that a home run ball landed in the left field pavilion.
I exited the Top Deck and a) headed down yet another staircase toward the Reserve Level, b) saw that all the gates there were wide open as well, c) walked inside for a look at the concourse, and d) and snuck a peek at the field:
No harm done. No one even saw me, and even if they had, whatever. I didn’t feel like I was breaking any rules. I was a paying customer, and if I wasn’t supposed to keep walking inside, then stadium security should have kept the gates closed.
After that I a) headed down to the Loge Level, b) said hello to an iPhone-sized lizard along the way, c) entered another set of wide-open doors, and d) documented the contrast in light between the concourse and the field:
I made it down to the area outside the left field pavilion, and all the gates were open:
I should mention that I was on the phone with a fellow ballhawk at this point–a ballhawk who shall remain nameless. I told him I wanted to walk into the pavilion and look for that home run ball. He told me not to do it.
“What’s the worst that could happen?” I asked.
“It’s too risky,” he said.
I told him I wanted to break double digits and that this was a good way to start.
He told me it would be “the caper of the century.”
I considered taking off my shirt before walking inside. Or removing my hat. Or briefly wearing my dark blue Padres shirt over the white shirt I was currently wearing–anything to change my physical appearance in case someone was watching from afar.
And I found it:
“I see the ball,” I told my friend.
“This is nuts,” he said.
“I’m walking toward it…”
“Oh my God.”
“…and I just picked it up…”
“Caper of the century!”
As I exited the pavilion, I noticed a security camera mounted high on one of the walls. Yikes…but at the same time…oh well. There was nothing I could do about it now, and anyway, maybe the guy who’s job it was to look for people like me had been taking a dump.
I headed toward the main part of the stadium. The Field Level gate, like all the others, was wide open…
…so I walked in, noticed another security camera, and sat down in the last row behind the left field foul pole:
“Excuse me,” said a voice from behind, “do you work here?”
I turned around and saw a security guard.
“No sir,” I said.
“What are you doing here?”
“Oh,” I said innocently, “I’m from out of town and I was just walking around and happened to notice that the gate was open so I thought I’d just come in for a minute and take a quick peek at the field.”
“Okay, well the stadium isn’t open yet–”
“–no so I’m gonna have to ask to you leave and wait outside until 5:10.”
“Okay, I’m really sorry about that. I had no idea.”
“No problem,” he said as he started leading me back to where I had entered. Then, for good measure, he closed the gate behind me.
It was 3:30pm. I still had lots of time to kill and didn’t know where to go. If my foot hadn’t been in so much pain, I would’ve headed back to the Top Deck and looked at the field for the next 90 minutes, but it almost hurt just to think about that, so I walked back to the left field pavilion and sat in the thin strip of shade just outside the gates which were now closed.
I pulled out my phone and called my friend with an update, and less than a minute later, a security SUV rolled to a stop 40 feet in front of me. The driver lowered the passenger window and shouted something.
“I’m gonna have to call you back,” I told my friend quietly. “I might need you to bail me out.”
I walked over to the SUV and said, “I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you before. What was that?”
“Who are you?” demanded the uniformed man.
“Umm, I’m just a fan and–”
“Were you walking around inside the stadium earlier?”
“Okay, well, we saw someone on our security cameras walk inside here and pick up a ball.”
“I’m just waiting for the stadium to open.”
“Where are you parked?”
“I’m not parked anywhere.”
“How did you get here?”
“I was dropped off earlier by a friend.”
“Who’s your friend?!”
“My friend? He’s…just some guy from San Diego. I’m from New York and I’m out here visiting, and we made the trip together.”
“Do you have a ticket for tonight’s game?”
“Yes,” I said and immediately regretted it. Should I have said no? Should I have pretended to be completely lost? Would I have been in less trouble then? Would he have directed me back to the advanced ticket window? Crap crap crap.
“I’m gonna need you to get inside the vehicle.”
“You’re not allowed to be on the premises,” he continued, “until the parking lot opens at 5:10pm. I’m going to drive you to the edge of the property, and you are to wait there until that time. Is that clear?”
I got into the back of the SUV, closed the door behind me, and put on my seatbelt. I felt like I was being sent to the principal’s office. I wished my dad were Bud Selig.
The security officer, a middle-aged white man with a gray mustache, drove for about 20 seconds and then slowed down to a rather abrupt stop.
“Do you mind if I search your bag?” he asked.
“That’s fine,” I said, “but I want you to know that I *did* bring a baseball with me to get autographed.”
“Let me see it,” he said, reaching his hand toward me.
I fumbled around in my bag and pulled out the ball. I’d barely gotten a chance to see it myself. I noticed that it was partially scuffed, no doubt from where it had landed on the concrete steps in the pavilion, and I feared that the officer might get suspicious. What autograph collector would try to get a scuffed ball signed?
The officer took the ball and inspected it thoroughly, as if it were an apple that I’d dared him to eat.
And then he handed it back to me. I could tell by the look on his face that he knew he was being lied to, and yet I’d lied too well (which is a rarity) for him to do anything about it.
As he drove me back down the big hill and deposited me at the tollbooths, I resisted the urge to ask for a ride back when the parking lot opened. Instead I just got out (and waited for him to drive away) and unleashed a string of obscenities that would’ve put Blink 182’s “Family Reunion” to shame.
Half an hour later, my friend T.C. (aka “tracycollinsbecky” if you read the comments) showed up–this is not the friend I’d been talking to earlier–and I told him what had happened.
He suggested that we wait a bit and then walk back in.
So we waited.
That’s when I removed my Dodgers cap and put on my Padres shirt–just to be safe and make it look like I really was from out of town. And then, finally, after 15 minutes, we cautiously headed back in, but before we even made it to the top of the hill, the same security officer appeared out of nowhere and made us get into his SUV.
“What are you doing back in the parking lot?!” he yelled. “I thought I told you to stay out!!”
“My friend called and said he needed an extra ticket so I w–”
“Your friend doesn’t mean ANYTHING to me right now!!!”
T.C. and I sat in silence as we were driven to the bottom of the hill, and then the officer issued a threat: “If I see you in here again before 5:10, you won’t be going to the game!”
We walked back in at 4:50.
We knew we were taking a chance by not waiting, but we refused to accept missing the first few minutes of batting practice. Luckily the officer was nowhere to be found, and by the time we made it to the area outside the left field pavilion, there were already a dozen other fans standing around. They must’ve used a different entrance. Some of them were even talking about running inside and looking for easter eggs, but as it turned out there wasn’t a single ball to be found.
I played the staircases for the first 20 minutes of BP (you can see the stairs in my previous entry) and snagged two baseballs during that time. The first was a home run hit by a righty on the Padres that I caught on a fly halfway down the stairs, and the second was a ground-rule double hit by a lefty. After it cleared the outfield wall, it took one bounce in the gap and smacked the back of a beer cart–you know, one of those rolling concession stand thingies–and plopped down into a pile of clutter on a shin-high shelf. The vendor who was setting up the cart had no idea what was happening and probably freaked out a bit when I led the stampede from behind.
I only snagged one more ball during the rest of batting practice, and it was another home run that I caught on a fly. I have no idea who hit. It was a righty. Possibly a September call-up. Doesn’t matter. The staircases had all become crowded by that point so I’d been playing several rows back and had five feet of empty space on all sides when the ball met my glove.
At 6:05pm, I spotted Heath Bell (aka “my new BFF”) in left-center field and asked him if this was the last round of batting practice. He told me it was, so I exited the pavilion, used my Field Level ticket to enter the main part of the stadium, and sprinted around the concourse to the Padres’ dugout on the first base side.
This was my view as I waited for BP to end:
My plan was to get one of the Padres to throw me a ball as they left the field, and (Stupid Rule No. 2,108) even though I had to stay behind the concrete partition, I was able to do just that. I’m not sure who threw it. It was a coach. Might’ve been Craig Colbert. I wish I knew, but there was no way to be certain. All that really mattered, though, was that I had the ball–my fifth of the day.
After that I headed up to the Loge and checked out the seats (including the entire dugout partition) on the right field side:
Then (Stupid Rule No. 3,659) I was forced to show my ticket to get back into the Field Level where I took a pic of the concourse:
What was so special about the concourse? Nothing really. I always photograph concourses because they’re part of the stadium and every stadium is different.
row of booths because there was actually a sensible usher who was able to think for himself and use something called judgment. He saw my
Padres cap, Padres shirt, Sharpie, and glove. I wasn’t trying to hide my intentions. I just walked up to him and asked if there was any possible way I could go down to the front row, even for two minutes, to try to get a ball or an autograph or even to take a few pictures. He was like, “Well, you’re not really supposed to be there without a ticket but…I guess it’s okay for a few minutes.””I promise I’ll be gone before the game starts,” I told him, “and you won’t see me again for the rest of the night.”
He appreciated that and let me do my thing, and while I was down at the front, I looked back at him every so often and gave a little “thank you” nod.
Not only did I get two more balls–one from Will Venable and another from Kevin Kouzmanoff less than a minute later–but I got Edgar Gonzalez and Matt Antonelli to sign my tickets:
Double digits? Was it possible? Would I be able to get the players to toss me third-out balls over the dugout partitions? It had been easy to get the ball from that Padres coach after BP because there weren’t any other fans in front of me. But during the game? I didn’t know what to expect.
The first inning was a complete waste, but when Juan Pierre ended the second by grounding into a 3-6 fielder’s choice, I waved like a lunatic and caught the eye of shortstop Luis Rodriguez and got him to toss me the ball, right over the heads of all the Dodger fans sitting in front of me. It was beautiful.
The following inning, when Casey Blake made the third out by grounding into a 5-4 fielder’s choice, I got that ball as well from Antonelli. It almost seemed too easy. Before I ran back up the steps to the concourse, I pulled out one of the balls I’d snagged during BP and handed it to the nearest kid.
The sixth and seventh innings were dead. There was no action behind the dugouts, and I managed to miss the action on the field; Andre Ethier led off the bottom of the sixth with an opposite field homer (that T.C. nearly caught) but I didn’t see it because I was still limping through the concourse back to the first base side.
That was the story of my night, but all my suffering eventually paid off. Russell Martin ended the eighth inning by grounding into a 6-4-3 double play, and I got first baseman Adrian Gonzalez to toss me his infield warm-up ball on his way in. Gonzalez had done the same thing on 8/31/08 at PETCO Park. Apparently he has a thing for switching the game-used ball with his warm-up ball and tossing THAT one into the crowd instead.
Despite all the stupid rules and evil security guards at Dodger Stadium, it IS incredibly easy to enter any section once you’re in the Field Level. I didn’t get stopped once the whole night, even when I was wearing Padres gear and wearing my glove and running down the steps to a seat in the first row behind the partition.
Anyway, I’d reached double digits–a sign that I’d conquered the stadium–and the game was almost over so I made my way to the home-plate end of the Dodgers’ dugout. That’s where the umps walk on and off the field, and when Joe Beimel retired Sean Kazmar for the final out of the Dodgers’ 8-4 win, I kept my eye on Jerry Meals and got him to toss me my final ball of the day. Hoo-HAAAAA!!!
Adios, Dodger Stadium.
• 11 balls at this game
• 423 balls in 56 games this season = 7.6 balls per game.
• 552 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 138 consecutive games outside NYC with at least one ball
• 90 lifetime games with at least 10 balls
• 35 lifetime games outside NYC with at least 10 balls
• 20 different stadiums with at least one game with 10 or more balls
• 17 double-digit games this year (which is a personal record)
• 3,700 total balls
By the way, I forgot to mention this in my earlier entries from this trip, but while I was in San Diego, I visited the Barnes & Noble in Hazzard Center in the Mission Valley area and signed their only two copies of “Watching Baseball Smarter.”
Did you know that you can snag baseballs at Dodger Stadium even before the
gates open? Just hang out in deep center field, and with a view like
this you might get lucky:
Did you know that once the gates open, you’re allowed to stand *ON* the
actual warning track during batting practice? And that you can bring
your glove and run around and yell at the players and try to catch
balls? And that you don’t even need a ticket for the game?
That said, don’t be fooled. Dodger Stadium is still the most confusing and annoying stadium I’ve ever been to. By far.
Even though I had a ticket for the left field pavilion (where several
balls landed before the gates opened), I decided to check out the
warning track for the first few minutes. My friend and fellow ballhawk
T.C. (aka “tracycollinsbecky” if you read the comments on this blog)
had told me that it was the place to be early on.
We both ran in together. He headed to the right-center field portion of
the fenced off area, and I went to left-center. Cool. I was standing on
the field. I had to take some photographs, so I started pulling out my
camera, and just then I heard T.C. shout my name. I looked over at him
and he was pointing back at me.
He pointed down, so I looked down.
What was I supposed to be looking at? Ants?
He kept pointing so I kept looking, and then I realized that a ball was
sitting against the white plastic barricade! I tried leaning over–I
couldn’t jump up on it and balance on my stomach and reach down because
it was too flimsy–but my arm wasn’t long enough, so I lifted the
barricade a couple inches and slipped the ball underneath it.
Then I took a photo…
…and then I watched in horror as several fans stormed into the
pavilion and picked up at least a dozen balls that were scattered throughout
the rows of ugly yellow benches. One guy, I later learned, had grabbed five.
Why hadn’t T.C. gone for it? Well, he might’ve if he’d known what type
of ball it was, but basically he’s only interested in catching home run
balls (and occasional ground-rule doubles).
The warning track quickly got crowded–the best thing about it, I
realized, is that it keeps people out of the seats–so I headed into the
The following four-part photo (going clockwise from the top left) shows
what it looks like under the stands and behind the left field wall.
There’s a) the concourse, b) the approach to one of the staircases, c) the view behind the outfield wall from the bottom of the stairs, and d) the view from the top of the stairs.
I’d only been in the seats for two minutes when my friend Brandon showed up with his fancy camera.
Here’s a photo he took (with me in it) of the view from deep left-center field:
That was my initial spot for all right-handed batters, but after seeing several balls clear the outfield wall and fall
short of the seats, I started playing the staircases exclusively. Here I am, halfway down one of them, with Heath Bell’s cap on my head and a very crowded warning track in the background:
I stayed as far down the stairs as possible while still being able to
see the batter. That way, I figured, I’d be able to make it all the way
down if another ball barely cleared the wall or all the way up if someone hit
a bomb. This was my view:
At one point when there was some action closer to the foul pole, I
moved a couple sections to my right and got Chase Headley to throw me
my second ball of the day. (It hit the padding on top of the wall and
bounced to me.) Then I received ball No. 3 from Mike Adams, and Brandon
snapped a pic as it headed toward my glove:
I only snagged one more ball during BP and Brandon once again captured the action. Cla Meredith tossed it TO ME so I didn’t feel bad about using my Big Hample Butt to box out the fan on my left. I could’ve moved down a few steps and lined myself up with the ball, but that would’ve enabled him to move with me and interfere, so I held my ground with my lower body, knowing that I’d still barely be able to reach the ball and that the other guy wouldn’t. Check it out:
Here’s another shot that was taken a split-second after the ball entered my glove. I had wisely turned my head to avoid getting elbowed…
…and by the way, the man wearing the “FAN SINCE 53”
jersey was extremely rude and hostile. That’s all I’m going to say
about him. This is just a little heads-up for anyone who’s planning to visit
Dodger Stadium and snag more than one ball in the LF pavilion.
I found T.C. after BP. He’d only snagged one ball…
…but it was a home run that he’d caught on a fly, so he was happy. I had witnessed the catch, and I have to say it was pretty sweet. I was standing halfway down a staircase in left-center when a righty launched a ball that was clearly going to sail way over my head. I raced up the steps and started cutting through one of the narrow rows of benches and realized I had no chance of reaching the ball. That’s when I saw T.C. casually jogging to his left ON one of the benches, and at the last second, he flipped his glove down and made an effortless one-handed basket catch at his hip. You want cool? THAT’S cool.
Meanwhile, I was stressing about the fact that I’d only snagged four balls–and that the pain in my ribs (from my accident on 8/30/08 at Angel Stadium) and the blisters on my toes were getting worse. I wanted to wander all around Dodger Stadium and take pics and try to snag more balls, but I just wasn’t feeling up to it.
And then there was the fact that I would’ve had to exit the pavilion and buy a new ticket in order to enter the main part of the stadium.
Screw it. That was my attitude. Brandon had purchased a pavilion ticket (so he could hang out with me during BP) and also had four seats in the Loge for himself and three friends. I decided to stay in the pavilion all night and try to catch a Manny Ramirez home run–and to recover.
Before the game started, I forced myself to explore the pavilion. In the four-part pic below, you can see a) Steve Lyons and Kevin Kennedy and some other guy doing the pre-game show on FSN, b) just how narrow the rows between the benches are, c) the Dodgers’ bullpen, and d) the dingy area outside the bathrooms.
Dodger Stadium opened in 1962, which means it’s now the fourth oldest ballpark in the majors behind Fenway Park, Wrigley Field, and Yankee Stadium. It always looks spacious and pristine on TV, but again…don’t be fooled. Many areas in the stadium are actually cramped and downright gloomy. The same is true for Fenway and Wrigley. Everyone thinks those places are awesome, and in many ways (for those who enjoy living in the past) they are, but they’re not exactly comfortable. Yankee Stadium? Same thing. It holds 55,000 people, but the cross-aisle that cuts through the seats in the upper deck is wide enough for one. Shea Stadium, which opened in 1964, resembles Dodger Stadium in that it’s cavernous and yet still somehow manages to induce claustrophobia.
Anyway, Brandon got a good shot of Greg Maddux warming up…
…and another shot of me (no longer wearing my Padres shirt) after I failed to get Russell Martin to throw me his warm-up ball. You could say I wasn’t too happy about the way things were going:
At least I had a great view during the game:
Here’s a photo that Brandon took of me from his seat across the stadium:
I actually did have a decent view, but mainly I liked my spot because I truly had a chance to catch a Manny mash. Alas, he only went 1-for-2 with a single, a walk, and a sac fly, but it was still fun to dream. As for Maddux, he limited the Padres to two runs in 5 2/3 innings for his 354th career win, tying him with Roger Clemens for eighth place all time.
Final score: Dodgers 5, Padres 2.
William, holding How To Snag Major League Baseballs, has left a
few comments as “dealwatcher.” Anthony, holding Watching Baseball Smarter, has commented as “AutographHound.” We all hung out for a few minutes, during which my friend Matt (who you might remember from 7/28/08 at Yankee Stadium) caught up with me and offered some key pointers about how to maximize my snagging the next day in the main part of the stadium.
? 4 balls at this game
? 3 beach ball hits at this game
? 412 balls in 55 games this season = 7.5 balls per game.
? 551 consecutive games with at least one ball
? 137 consecutive games outside NYC with at least one ball
? 3,689 total balls
As I headed to this game with my friend Brandon, I told him that my goal for this entire trip was to snag 20 balls–but perhaps I should’ve been more optimistic. Good things tend to happen to me at PETCO Park. The last time I was there, I caught Barry Bonds’ 724th career home run, and now I was back to be filmed by Steve Smith for San Diego’s Channel 10 News.
In case you’ve forgotten (or are new to this blog), Brandon is the guy who photographed me the day I brought my Big Glove to the Rays-Jays series at Champion Stadium. Thankfully, he likes using his camera more than his baseball glove, so he followed me around the stadium and documented the action.
Moments after the stadium opened, I convinced Padres manager Bud Black to throw me my third ball of the day, and yes, you read that right: third.
Before the stadium had opened, I’d found a way to get inside and snag a couple balls. Rockies pitcher Jeff Francis tossed me the first, and a female security guard hooked me up with the second. That’s all I can say. The place I went to is kind of a secret spot–more of a well-guarded secret, really, and the person who shared it with me did so only after I promised not to tell anyone else. Sorry.
Soon after I got the ball from Bud Black, I spotted Heath Bell walking by in right-center field and I shouted, “Heath!!! It’s me, the baseball collector, from New York!!!”
Heath looked up and immediately walked over and made his best attempt to shake my hand through the chain link fence. He had gotten to know me when he was an under-appreciated middle reliever with the Mets–and he has remembered me ever since. (One time, while he was still with the Mets, he played catch with me at Shea Stadium. He was on the field. I was in the stands. He even crouched down like a catcher and called balls and strikes. It was awesome. That was also the day Ryan Speier gave me his glove, and you can read about it here. As far as I’m concerned, Heath Bell is BY FAR the nicest major league baseball player.)
“What’re you doing out here?” he asked as Steve walked up with his camera.
We talked on and off for the next 15 minutes. The only reason it was “off” was because I had to race back from the fence to chase a few more balls. At one point, I got one tossed to me by someone I couldn’t identify–until I asked Heath and he told me it was Chad Reineke.
“Did you know I have a new book?” I asked.
Heath said he didn’t, so I asked if he had another minute to spare.
“I’m not doing anything right now,” he said.
“Cool, wait just a moment,” I said. “I have a copy in my bag. I’ll run and get it.”
I ran back to the first row of the bleachers and grabbed the book, and as I was about to run back, a right-handed batter hit a deep drive toward right-center that I knew had a chance to reach the warning track and bounce over the outfield fence…so I bolted to my left as the few other grown-ups in the section did their best impressions of statues, and finally, as the ball cleared the fence and bounced to the back of the sandy area, everyone started chasing it. The ball ended up hitting a concrete wall and ricocheting back toward the field as I cut across at just the right angle to scoop it up and keep running back to Heath:
Moments later, Heath had the book in his hands:
At around 4:55pm–five minutes before the rest of the stadium was going to open–I asked Heath if he was going to give me a “welcome to San Diego” ball.
“Just hang out here,” he said. “I’ll get you one.”
“Well, actually, I was planning to head over to left field at 5pm.”
“No problem,” he told me, “I’ll get you one before that.”
Less than a minute later, he got one of his teammates to throw one to him, and then he flipped it to me:
We kept talking about a million things after that. He told me he’s hoping to get the closer’s job after Trevor Hoffman retires…and that he gets heckled for being fat…and that I inspired him to be more creative with the ways in which he gives balls to fans…and that Pedro Martinez is a cool guy. It was the BEST conversation. Oh my God. It seemed like the conversation wasn’t ever going to end. I was enjoying myself so much that I sacrificed the first few minutes of BP in left field–and definitely lost a few balls as a result, including an easter egg I heard about later from my friend Leigh (aka “padreleigh” in the comments section), but it was totally worth it.
Steve filmed me running to the left field seats and kept the camera rolling after I got there. In the four-part photograph below, starting on the top left and going clockwise, I’m 1) hurrying back into position after trying unsuccessfully to get a ball in the left field corner, 2) scribbling notes about all the balls I’d snagged, 3) giving a glove trick tutorial, and 4) showing how I labeled one of the FIVE balls that I plucked off the warning track.
It was crazy. I kept pulling up one ball after another, and the ushers weren’t saying a word. Were they giving me a break because I was being filmed? Or because they were distracted by the guy who got hit on the nose by a home run ball and was bleeding all over the place? I had no idea. I just kept doing my thing and Brandon kept taking pics. Here are some highlights:
I got Brian Fuentes to throw me my 12th ball of the day and then used the glove trick to snag No. 13. It was then that an usher finally walked down the steps and informed me that security had been watching me on various cameras and that I had to stop. So I did.
There was still half an hour left in BP when Steve decided he’d already gotten enough footage and took off. Ugh. I’d been planning to give away a ball or two right after BP, as I often do, and I was looking forward to having Steve film that. I wanted the world (or at least the people of San Diego) to see that I’m not a total ball hog…but…so much for that.
The Rockies were hitting bombs into the second deck in left field, and since I couldn’t use the glove trick anymore, I went up there. It would’ve been great if I didn’t have to share the terrain with a legendary ballhawk named T.C. (aka “tracycollinsbecky”), but that’s his regular spot for right-handed batters so I gave him some room. He caught several balls up there, and I only got one–a ball that he would’ve had if not for a silly/lazy mistake on his part. Someone on the Rockies crushed a deep home run over the aisle, and T.C. beat me up the steps. The ball landed on the steps and bounced all the way to the back of the section to where we couldn’t see it. T.C. assumed it had bounced over the back railing and into the concourse down below so he gave up and headed back down to the aisle.
“You don’t think it’s there?” I asked?
“I don’t know,” he said as if he didn’t have a care in the world. “You can check.”
I did check. And the ball was there, waiting for me in the last row.
Several minutes later, Brandon got a cool action shot as a home run sailed into the seats below. Check it out. I’m on the far left, leaning over the edge of the second deck, watching as a guy in the front row makes a leaping catch in front of Leigh and next to a woman ducking for cover:
After BP ended, I got Jeff Francis to toss me my 15th ball of the day at the Rockies’ dugout, and Brandon got a couple great photos. Here’s the first one. It shows Francis as he’s about to under-hand the ball to me:
Here’s the second pic, which shows the ball in mid-air, about a foot from my glove:
Brandon took some photos of me with my 15 balls (the best pic turned out to be the one he took two seconds before I was ready)…
…and then I gave one to kid (who had a glove!) who was sitting a few sections over with his dad.
What did Brandon look like on this fine day? See below:
Earlier in the day, I’d met a kid named Timmy (aka “holdsworthtimmy”) who’s been reading this blog for a while. When I ran into him after BP, I found out that he’d snagged almost as many balls as me! Here we are with Leigh who’d also snagged a bunch.
Soon after this pic was taken, four Rockies began playing catch along the left field foul line. Timmy ended up getting one of the balls, and I was left to try to talk Troy Tulowitzki out of the other. When he finished throwing, he tucked the ball in his glove and walked
over to sign a few autographs. Instead of asking him to sign anything, I asked for the ball, and when it appeared that he might not give it up, I said, “In all seriousness, Troy, it would be a real honor to get a ball from you.”
“Why is that?” he asked as he finished signing and backed away from the wall.
I thought fast and said, “I just love how you play the game. I played shortstop too.”
He then nodded and flipped me the ball.
Several Padres had just started playing catch across the field, so I raced around to the RF foul line and got there just in time. Will Venable, who’d been called up from the minor leagues earlier that day, ended up with one of the balls, and I got him to toss it to me…but the ball fell a bit short and tipped off the end of my glove as I reached over the wall for it. Then it rolled about six feet to my left and a security guard started walking toward it. I quickly let out some string and flung my glove to the left, got it to land just beyond the ball, and then tugged the string to jerk the glove back and bring the ball with it. It worked on the first shot! The ball rolled back along the warning track, right to the spot in front of me, and I was able to lunge over the wall and grab it with my bare hand.
Brandon got a pic of this too. In fact, he got about two dozen pics, but I won’t share them all–just the best one:
I had 17 balls at that point. I needed to get three more, and my plan was simple: snag a third-out ball during the game from each dugout, then get a ball from the home plate umpire after the game.
Just then, by some miracle, the man sitting to my right made a comment about my glove and said he wanted me to protect him from foul balls.
“I’d love to,” I replied, “but I actually don’t belong in this section.” I then told him I had to run over and visit a friend behind the other dugout and asked if I could possibly borrow his ticket stub for “five to ten minutes.” Naturally he didn’t want to hand it over so I offered my book as collateral.
That did the trick.
“Wait,” he said as I headed off. “You WROTE this?”
I nodded and told him to enjoy it and that I’d be back half an inning later.
I raced around to the third base side and called Brandon. He understood the situation, and because he’s so awesome, he was willing to trade ticket stubs and sit out in left field with Leigh. (No offense, Leigh, but your view can’t compare to dugout seating.)
I didn’t get anything after the first inning because Gonzalez struck out, and I was in the wrong spot.
In the top of the second inning, I used the borrowed ticket stub to get back down into the seats behind the Padres’ dugout. How many more innings could I keep this up? The back-and-forth business was stressing me out. I absolutely NEEDED to get a ball this time, but I was at the mercy of the action on the field…and when Rockies pitcher Aaron Cook came up with two outs, I didn’t like my chances. I was convinced he was going to strike out, and when he fell behind in the count 0-2, I seriously thought I was doomed. But then another miracle occurred: he made contact! He stuck his bat out and punched a weak grounder to shortstop Luis Rodriguez. YES!!! Gonzalez took the throw at first base and jogged off the field with the ball. When he approached the dugout, he looked up and rolled it across the roof a foot to my left. I reached out and scooped it easily with my glove…and then realized I was surrounded by little kids who had apparently charged down the steps behind me after the out had been recorded. I felt kinda silly, towering above all those kids, so I handed the ball to the smallest one I could find and got a big round of applause from the entire section. That was my 18th ball of the day; remember that I still count balls even when I give them away.
Atkins, the Rockies’ first baseman, kept ending up with the inning-ending balls, but he was tossing them all over the place to fans who were several rows deep. He was hard to predict, but I didn’t outsmart myself. I just ran down to the front row every inning and hoped that eventually he’d toss one right to me…and he did at the conclusion of the fifth inning after Cook induced Rodriguez to bounce into a 4-6-3 double play. SWEET!!! I only needed one more ball, and for the rest of the game I tried like crazy to catch a foul ball behind the plate–but nothing came close.
Fast-forward to the bottom of the ninth. The Rockies were clinging to a 9-4 lead. This meant I was going to have (at least) two more chances to snag ball No. 20–one from umpire Dana DeMuth who’d be exiting the field at the home plate end of the Rockies’ dugout, and of course another chance from the Rockies themselves.
Brian Fuentes fanned the first two batters in the ninth and then got Josh Bard to pop up to second baseman Clint Barmes to end the game.
I bolted down to the corner spot at the far right end of the dugout and got my 20th ball from DeMuth. WOO!!!
Less than a minute later, all the Rockies players and coaches walked in, and I spotted Fuentes with the ball in his glove before he even crossed the foul line. I knew he wasn’t going to keep it because a) it wasn’t a special ball (he hadn’t used it to record a save), and b) he throws lots of balls into the crowd. Well, sure enough, I got him to toss it to me, and just like that, I’d tied my second highest single-game total ever. (The other time I got 21 balls was on 9/19/07 at Chase Field.)
Here are the last two balls I snagged:
Here are the 19 balls I kept:
Here are the notes I’d frantically scribbled throughout the day (so that I’d be able to remember the details later and write this entry):
Here’s one final pic that Brandon took. He’d taken a bunch of shots from across the field as I was snagging those last two balls. This one shows me jumping for what would’ve been ball No. 22. Glenallen Hill tossed it five feet over my head on his way in, and if you look closely you can see the ball in mid-air as it’s about to sail over my outstretched bare hand:
Oh well. I won’t complain about that one getting away.
? 21 balls at this game (tied my second highest one-game total)
? 385 balls in 52 games this season = 7.4 balls per game.
? 548 consecutive games with at least one ball
? 134 consecutive games outside NYC with at least one ball
? 87 lifetime games with at least 10 balls
? 32 lifetime games outside NYC with at least 10 balls
? 3 lifetime games with at least 20 balls, all of which occurred outside NYC (of course)
? 3,662 total balls
I left New York City at 10:30am, blasted my iPod in the car the whole way up, got stuck in traffic half a dozen times, and finally parked in the garage behind the Green Monster at around 3pm. As soon as I walked down the garage ramp onto Lansdowne Street, a college-aged Red Sox fan walked up to me and asked if I was Zack Hample.
In my previous entry, I had mentioned that I was going to be there, and sure enough, this
guy had seen it. His name is Garo. He’s a semi-regular at Fenway Park. And the first thing he did was show me how to get a sneak peek inside the stadium. Check it out:
There’s a new restaurant/bar tucked underneath the seats in center field. (The entrance is right on Lansdowne.) This was it. Pretty simple.
Fenway wasn’t going to open until 5pm, so when the Red Sox started taking batting practice at 4:30, Garo (wearing the red shirt in the photo on the right) and I went to the roof of the garage and camped out for home run balls. Of course nothing came over, so at 4:55 I left empty-handed and ran over to Gate A.
This was another Watch With Zack game–my second of the week and fourth of the season–and my clients still had not arrived at that point. They were from Tallahassee and included two 13-year-olds named Lars and Cody, as well as Lars’ grandmother Jean who had gotten in touch last year after hearing me on NPR. Even though we’d planned this game months in advance, they waited until the last minute to make an appearance. Lars and Cody had the basics–baseball gloves and Red Sox caps–but we didn’t have time to discuss any specific strategies for BP. All I could do was give them each a sheet with the rosters of both the Sox and A’s and tell them to follow me as soon as everyone was allowed in. With 30 seconds to spare, I asked them how many games they’d been to. Lars said he’d been to “one or two” major league games, and as for Cody…this was his first professional game! What a way to start. (Jean said she’d been to about 50 games, going back to the days of the Milwaukee Braves. And by the way, if there’s anyone from Tallahassee who’s reading this, or
even anyone who’d just like to talk baseball in general, Jean would
love to hear from you. Leave a comment and let me know, or email
me and I’ll put you in touch.)
When the stadium opened, several dozen fans got in ahead of us, but we were still the first ones to reach the seats along the left field foul line. Sweeeet!!! I grabbed the corner spot and positioned Lars and Cody about 20 feet apart against the wall in the middle of the section. You can kinda/almost see them leaning out with their gloves in the following photo:
Here’s a close-up. Cody is the one wearing blue, and Lars is in black:
Once the A’s took the field, I told Lars and Cody to turn their hats backward so the players wouldn’t see the logo. (I think Cody turned the logo toward me just for the photo and then quickly switched it back.) This simple form of trickery worked for Lars; he used the roster to identify pitcher Lenny DiNardo and then got him to toss up a ball. Cody, on the other hand, wasn’t as lucky. He had a few close calls during BP but didn’t end up with anything to show for it.
As for me…
Two minutes after the stadium had opened, Justin Masterson tossed a ball to a kid ten feet away, but his aim was off and the ball sailed high and landed in a patch of empty seats. There was a mini-scramble for the souvenir, which I ended up snagging as it trickled down the steps…and yes, I felt a bit guilty. Under normal circumstances, I would’ve handed this ball to the kid for whom it was intended. But this day was special. I had my own “kids” to take care of, so I held onto it, and as it turned out Masterson went and got another ball and hooked up the original kid. Everyone was happy.
Before the Sox finished hitting, I got a second ball by using what I refer to as the “half-glove trick.” I didn’t need the rubber band and magic marker. I only needed the string because the ball was just a few feet out from the wall…in a spot where the wall was nice and low…so I let
out a bit of string and swung my glove out and knocked the ball closer and then leaned over the wall and grabbed it. Easy.
Despite the fact that I had a green and yellow A’s shirt to match my green and yellow cap, I couldn’t get a single player or coach to toss me a ball. I partially blame myself for not being able to recognize anyone, but seriously…Joey Devine? Dallas Braden? Sean Gallagher? Jerry Blevins? Who the hell ARE these guys?!
I managed to get one more ball during BP. It was a rocket-shot, pulled on one hop a few feet to my left. I wish the fan behind me had been holding a radar gun. I’d say it had to be traveling 80 to 90mph. Maybe even more. According to Hit Tracker, some balls fly off the bat in excess of 120mph, so there’s no telling how fast this one was traveling. I was about 200 feet from home plate, and it couldn’t have taken more than a second to reach me. Anyway, I half-dove and half-lunged over the wall and reached way out and half-snared the ball between my upper palm and the pocket of my glove. Yes…ouch. But I had it and that’s all that mattered. Between the ball that Lars snagged and the three that I got, there was exactly one ball for each of us.
After BP, Cody and Lars and I each got an autograph from Greg Smith…
Then Jean joined us and we posed with our loot:
There were a few more snagging opportunities that we passed up…like, for example…when the A’s were playing catch before the game along the left field foul line, the four of us were eating pizza in the fourth row on the opposite side of the stadium. That’s where our seats were. Check out the view:
This game was Jason Bay’s first as a member of the Red Sox–or the “Bayston Red Sox” as one fan’s T-shirt read–and the ovation he received during his first at-bat gave me goose bumps and
almost made my eyes a little misty. It was THAT thunderous and heart-warming. I didn’t get the sense that anyone at Fenway missed Manny. He’s behaved so poorly that even I (a longtime Manny supporter with a personal connection to him) have a tough time rooting for him now. On the other hand, Jason Bay is one of those quiet/professional types who consistently puts up solid numbers but gets no respect because he plays in Pittsburgh. I felt so happy for him. After five years of rotting in baseball hell, he was rescued and thrust into a pennant race in front of 37,832 fans who were truly thrilled to have him. With all due respect to the four million-plus fans who’ve been filling up Yankee Stadium each of the past few years, I have to say that the people in New England are without a doubt more passionate about their team than ANY fan base I’ve EVER encountered. There’s no comparison. It’s not even close.
Bay ended up drawing a five-pitch walk in the bottom of the second (you’ve never heard such loud cheers for a walk), moving to third on a J.D. Drew double, and scoring the game’s first run on a sacrifice fly by Jed Lowrie. Tim Wakefield and Justin Duchscherer matched zeros after that, and it looked like the Sox were going to hang on for 1-0 win until Jack Cust (who’s on pace to strike out 205 times this season) hit an opposite field bomb off Hideki Okajima to tie the game at 1-1 in the eighth.
Jean knew a lot about baseball, and in fact, so did Lars and Cody because they’d read my book. I don’t know if they tried to memorize it or what, but I was blown away with the amount of facts and details they remembered. We all wore our gloves, but since there wasn’t much action in the foul ball department, we focused on watching the game. They asked dozens of questions and I explained everything…from the stats on the scoreboard to the Pesky Pole (which was less than 20 feet to our right) to double-play depth…and on and on and on. I had lots of fun, and I’m pretty sure they did as well.
As the game headed into the 10th inning, I was surprised when hardly any fans left the stadium. Six outs later, however, a few seats opened up so I led Jean and Cody and Lars toward home plate…and this is where we settled down:
With two outs in the bottom of the 11th, I took Lars and Cody to the third base dugout and explained exactly how to get a third-out ball. We were all set to charge toward the front row and yell at whichever A’s player ended up with the ball…when Kevin Youkilis took a called third strike and the catcher rolled it back to the mound.
Five outs later we were back in position, but we didn’t get another shot. Bay hit a towering fly ball high off the Monster for a triple, Drew drew an intentional walk, and Lowrie punched a weak grounder past the left side of the mound that allowed Bay to score the winning run. Final score: Zack 3, Red Sox 2, Athletics 1.
Lars and Cody and I still went down to the dugout (even though I knew the A’s would be in a foul mood), and it paid off…sort of. We got some gum and seeds from one of the bat boys. He was carrying a few boxes of it, and after I called out and asked him if we could have some, he walked over and held it out and let us grab whatever we wanted. The photo on the right shows what I took. Cody and Lars each got their own stash.
We all lingered inside the stadium as long as possible, then headed outside and I told them where they might be able to get a few more autographs. I didn’t stick around for that, however, and they understood why. It was already well past 11pm, I’d been up since 8:45am, and I had a 211-mile drive ahead of me. Before we parted ways, Jean told me she might send me to a game at Citi Field next season with her son who was born on the day that the Mets won their first World Series…
? 3 balls at this game
? 273 balls in 39 games this season = 7 balls per game.
? 535 consecutive games with at least one ball
? 128 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
? 9 consecutive Watch With Zack games with at least two balls
? 3,550 total balls