Tagged: zack hample

The Final Game at Sun Life Stadium – 9/28/11

I decided to take a trip to Sun Life Stadium (aka Pro Player Stadium, Pro Player Park, Joe Robbie Stadium, Dolphin Stadium, Land Shark Stadium) for the final series in this park. After I incorrectly booked my flights and got them changed, I needed to reschedule them AGAIN! Due to conflicts in my schedule, multiple flight rearrangements, and a special thanks to a friend, I finally had my trip to Florida in place. Except now, I was going to be stopping in Atlanta for one game on Tuesday to meet up with my friend Zack Hample, and would finally go to Miami on Wednesday, to see the Marlins final game in their “delightful” ballpark (football stadium). I had also been informed Mike Piazza would be at the Marlins closing ceremonies, so I was even more excited to go than before!

As a brief recap of Atlanta, in my first game there in which I attempted to get a ball (since 2009), I managed to snag 4 baseballs. My first was a homer by a Braves player that landed in the LF seats. My second was a Dan Uggla homer I chased down in the LF seats. My third ball was a toss-up from Phillies bullpen catcher(???) Ali Modami. And my fourth and final ball was a homer I caught on the fly in RF. I also managed to stupidly run into a seat, because I was paying attention, causing me to break my camera, and make the lighter in my pocket explode, and get lighter fluid all over me. Not an enjoyable feeling. I was truly scared thinking I’d burst into flames. The day had started out so good, that I was thinking I’d get 6-8 balls, but I lost about 45 minutes of BP freaking out, and I really never got back on my game.

At this game, I wore a Braves home Tim Hudson jersey, and a Phillies home cool base Roy Halladay jersey. I lent Zack a Phillies home Jim Thome jersey:

In the Top photo, you can see Zack in my Jim Thome jersey, and me just behind him in the #34 Phillies jersey. In the photo below, you can again see Zack in the Thome jersey, and me in the Tim Hudson, with my bookbag on.

Here’s two more photos from this game I really like:

And:

Now, on to Florida:

I arrived in Fort Lauderdale around 11:30am on Wednesday. I immediately picked up my rental car, and headed straight to the stadium. I got to the stadium around 1:10pm. Naturally, I was the first person on line. I was about the only person around until 1:40pm. There wound up being maybe 15-20 people there when the gates opened. I went running into the stadium as the gates opened at 2pm, which was earlier than they normally do for a 4:10pm game (normally gates open only 90 minutes before first pitch).

As I ran in, I quickly glance at the stand selling programs, and notice a commemorative ball, and assume it’s a “just for fans” ball, one that they are just selling. I get upstairs and see that the cages aren’t out on the field, and the teams aren’t taking BP. Disappointed, I wander over to the Marlins dugout and someone tells me that they are using the commemorative balls in the game. I ask how they know and they say because they asked an employee. I practically dismiss this person’s claim, and wander over to the Nationals bullpen, where there are a few pitchers warming up.

At this game, for the Marlins I would be wearing a home Mike Piazza jersey, since he is my favorite player ever, and would of course be there. Also, NO ONE owns this jersey. There may be like 5 in the world. For the Nationals, I opted not to bring a jersey, and instead wore a red Zach Day t-shirt. I chose this shirt, because I had worn it to a Mets vs. Nats game 2 weeks earlier, and had the 14 Nationals pitchers who were warming up, and a coach, notice me, and stare at me, to which I responded questioningly “What’s up guys?” One of the pitchers responded “Who the f**k is on you shirt?!?” I told them, and they began to question me about who he was. NONE OF THEM knew him, or had ever heard of him, the coach included. It was a funny scene, and got me 3 baseballs on that day.

On this day, I got my first ball from Nationals pitcher Collin Balester. As I begin to walk away, another fan sees me get the ball, and asks if it’s a commemorative ball. I say no, and he begins to tell me that they will be using commemorative balls in the game. He informs me he asked an equipment manager. At this point, I start to believe the rumors, and head back to the Marlins dugout. After about 20 minutes of not seeing anyone with any insight to this matter, I head back over to the Nationals bullpen, and get another ball tossed to me, this time from Tyler Clippard, after he completes his warm-ups.

I now figured if there really are commemorative balls being used, well, the Nationals certainly wouldn’t be warming up with them, so I headed over to foul territory in right field, where a few Marlins pitchers were warming up. I thought maybe they would be using them. After about 15 minutes of being ignored by the Marlins pitchers, I went downstairs to the booth where I originally saw the commemorative balls being sold. Turned out, this was the ONLY booth in the entire stadium selling them. How ridiculous is that?!? Just goes to show what it’s like in Florida.

When I arrived at the booth, I noticed a sign:

The sign actually says “Ball Used by the Florida Marlins in Their Last Game at Sun Life Stadium!”

So it was true, the Marlins WERE in fact using these balls in the game. Unbelievable. NO ONE knew about it. I made a few phone calls, and ultimately heard back from my contacts, who contacted their contacts at MLB and at Rawlings, that these commemorative balls would be used in the game, and they were a late addition to MLB’s lineup of commemorative balls for the season.

These balls seemed to be flying off the shelves (well, shelf, as there was only the ONE booth), so I bought one, just in case I didn’t get one. I figured my chances of getting one were VERY slim, so I wanted to ensure I had one.

There were no other ballhawks at this game. No one tends to go to Florida, especially not on a Wednesday, in September. So I knew I had to get one. And believe me, I desperately wanted one.

When I went back upstairs, it was about 20 minutes before the start of the game, and I saw a few Nationals warming up in LF, so I threw on my bright red Nats t-shirt, and quickly got Brian Bixler’s attention as he was heading to the dugout. He noticed me, and even pointed right at me. He was about 60 feet away, and threw me a perfect strike. That would be my third ball of the day.

I now had to get on my game. I normally don’t run around during games. I tend to sit behind the visiting team’s dugout, and stay there for the whole game. But on this day, I knew I needed to maximize my opportunities to get a 3rd out ball. I figured this would be my best shot at a commemorative ball.

Since there are ushers that prevent you from getting any closer than the 8th row, and you needed a special ticket to get down in the first 7 rows, I knew I needed some special assistance. Normally, I wouldn’t worry, but on this day, the seats behind the dugouts were actually filled up. I basically fooled the guy behind the Marlins dugout into letting me be there, and sitting on the aisle by confusing him, and making him think I was there the whole time. I attempted to get a third out ball from the Marlins after the top of the first, but there were tons of kids, and people, so I knew being at the Marlins dugout was going to be a struggle all day, and may prove to be useless.

I now headed over to the Nationals dugout. I tend to always play the 3rd base end of the visiting dugout, as opposed to the home plate end, but with Stephen Strasburg pitching, I expected there to be a fair share of strikeouts. Sure enough, in the bottom of the first, he struck out Greg Dobbs to end the inning, and I looked around and noticed I was the ONLY one asking for the ball, and better yet, the ONLY one in a Nationals jersey. I could feel it. Ivan (Pudge) Rodriguez was heading back to the dugout with the ball and he was going to notice me. But then, he stopped. He yelled to some kid, who wasn’t even paying attention, and threw the ball at him, around the screen behind home plate. He missed, completely, and the ball wound up sitting on the field, at the backstop. A ballboy went to retrieve it, and shatter my hopes.

The second and third innings were more of the same at the Marlins dugout, basically no chance in hell. Too many people. Over at the Nationals dugout, Roger Bernadina recorded the 3rd out to end the second inning, and tossed it into the crowd in LF.

In the bottom of the 3rd inning at the Nationals dugout, Omar Infante grounded out 5-3, to end the 3rd, and 1st baseman Chris Marrero wound up with the ball. I knew I had a decent shot with him, because 2 weeks earlier at a Mets game, he unsuccessfully attempted to toss me a third out ball. I was again sitting on the home plate end of the dugout, and knew I’d have to work a little harder than normal to get Marrero’s attention. He headed towards the dugout, and fortunately for me, he strayed towards my end. He received the infield warm-up ball from Trent Jewett, and had the third out ball in his bare hand. He noticed me, and lofted the ball in my direction. I was standing in the front row, and realized at the last second this ball was high. Really high. But all I knew was I needed THIS ball. THIS was my chance, and I could NOT screw it up. So I lept, leaning backwards, and bless my glove, and every inch of my height plus my vertical, that I was able to snow-cone the ball with my glove.

And there it was. I had a Marlins final game commemorative ball. And here it is:

 

And a view of the logo:

No, it’s not pretty, but I own one. And then, as my friend Greg Barasch pointed out, I was the ONLY person in the world of ballhawks to get one of these balls. The ONLY one!!! What a rare commodity! No other ballhawk can say they own a Marlins final game commemorative ball. Sure, there are other people with this ball (though not many), but none that it means as much to as it means to me. I could now relax.

I went up to the club level in an attempt to snag the final HR at this stadium. I put my money on Mike Stanton, but he left me high and dry. No one actually homered in this game. I tried for an umpire ball after the game, but they went to a different entrance than they usually go to. So that would be it for me. I got four balls at this game, including a Marlins Final Game Commemorative ball.

After the game, there were post-game ceremonies, honoring former Marlins. I managed to get a t-shirt tossed to me by Alex Fernandez, and then by Preston Wilson. Also, Antonio Alfonseca and his 6 fingers on each hand were there. I have pictures to share, but I currently have no way to upload them, so they shall follow later.

What a game!

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Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati 7/27

This, was a record-setting day for me. It was as if I stepped in dog poop, while a bird pooped on me. EVERYTHING went my way!

My day began with winning obscenely cheap tickets on ebay – $5 for a pair (I had to even out after the previous day’s $60 splurge). I went to the stadium around 4:10pm to pick up my tickets, then made my way into the museum for the early batting practice tour. When I entered into the museum, there was a man who looked right at me, and waved me over. I ignored his gesture at first, as I assumed he was gesturing towards someone else. I tend to ignore when people I don’t know, or know well, gesture towards me, because I simply assume they are not talking to me, and I was once very, VERY embarrassed when I assumed someone was talking to me. Anyhow, he then said something to me, and I asked “Are you talking to me?” I was quite confused because I didn’t know anybody in Cincinnati. But then, as I walked over, I saw he was with another person, Mike Sachs, who had just contacted me via twitter a couple of days earlier. You can see Mike’s blog here, and you can see his blog entry about THIS GAME here. The man, turned out to be Rocco Sinisi. They introduced themselves to me, and we started talking. They basically told me they’d take me around, and show me the ropes, and boy, did they EVER! But more on that later.

I hadn’t yet bought my BP tour ticket, and I really didn’t feel like paying another $15 to do this tour again, so I nearly committed to passing on it. But then, I decided not to give up so easily. And I remembered I’m from New York. We’re good at talking our way into things. And sure enough, 2 minutes later, I talked my way into the BP tour. So I just turned what should be a $30 day (minimum, so far) into a $5 day.

As we entered into the stadium, I immediately found my first ball of the day. Rocco and Mike were nice enough to let me choose where I wanted to go and stand. It was sitting in the bleachers in straight away right field. Ball #2 was a home run that was hit into the stands, that was hit near Rocco, but he had his head down, and didn’t notice it, so I ran past him to where it was hit, and scooped it up.

My 3rd ball of the day was a homer that was hit into the seats just behind me in the right field bleachers. I asked an usher if there was a kid he wanted me to give it to, and he chose one, so I gave that ball away. My next ball was a homer I caught on the fly. So far, I had 4 balls because of the BP tour. Thank god I can talk my way into things.

The stadium had now opened for season ticket holders, and the Reds were just about finished with their batting practice, when a ball rolled to the wall and was retrieved by Reds reliever Bill Bray. As he walked over to get it, I politely asked him for the ball, and he smiled and said “I’ve seen you get a few out here already.” I didn’t deny it, and said “You’re right, I have. But if you give me the ball, I’ll give it away to anyone you choose.” Still with a smile on his face, he looked around and saw two teenaged girls. He tossed me the ball, nodded in their direction, and said “Give it to them.” As he tossed me the ball, I heard one of them say “awww” in disappointment that they did not get the ball. But as I started to walk towards them, one of them said “No way!” When I did in fact give the ball to them, they were super excited, and shocked. They couldn’t believe it, and thanked me immensely. I then turned towards Bill, thanked him, and he gave me a wave.

My 6th ball of the day came mere moments later. The Mets were now on the field, and I had switched into my Mets gear, and Scott Hairston ran out to the warning track in RF to retrieve 3 balls. First, he went over to the teenage girls, and they asked him for a ball, and he saw one of them had one, and they explained that they got only one ball, because I gave it to them, and pointed at me. I walked over, and told him that in fact only one of them had a ball. He gladly gave the other girl a ball. He then gave the 2nd ball to a young boy with his dad. I then asked him for the third and final ball he had, and explained that his brother, Jerry Hairston Jr. had once given me a ball, and I’d really like a ball from Scott as well, so I could put the two together. He then tossed me the ball. What a great guy!!!

(The photo is not from this game, I just deemed Scott deserving of a photo!)

5:40pm quickly came around, and it was time for the rest of the stadium to open. I raced out to left field and quickly retrieved two baseball that were sitting around. I may have jumped over a railing for one, and be threatened to be kicked out of the stadium, but that’s neither here nor there.

My 9th ball of the day came via a toss-up from D.J. Carrasco. I had noticed something earlier in the day about Carrasco earlier in the day, and was also aware of the fact I had never gotten a toss-up from him. So my request went something like “D.J., may I have a ball, PLEASE?” He looked at me, smiled, and tossed it right to me.

At this point, I knew I had tied my own personal record of 9, and the Mets had just began BP, so I knew I had a good chance at breaking my own record, and obtaining double-digits. Sure enough, 5 minutes later, I get my 10th ball of the day from Chris Capuano, with another polite request. I then raced back to right field, as a new group of hitters came to bat, and as soon as I got there, I raced down the steps, because I saw Manny Acosta had a ball. I politely shouted to him, and he turned and tossed me my 11th ball of the day. I gave that ball away to a teenaged girl who was standing by, watching. She seemed like she wanted to ask, but didn’t know how to.

I moved a few sections over towards the foul pole to talk to Mike, and in comes a homer, headed right to me. I caught that, my 12th ball, on the fly. That was the end of batting practice. Afterwards, me, Mike and Rocco got a photo together:

You can see the Mets towel on my shoulder, because it was one of the hottest days I’ve ever experienced in my life. In fact, that whole period of about 8 days, beginning with Tuesday, July 19th in Minnesota, ending with this game in Cincinnati, were the hottest days I’ve ever endured. I was constantly feeling heat exhaustion, and that towel did not leave my side. Needless to say, it was disgusting.

Well, as for the game itself, the Mets won their 3rd straight against Cincinnati. I sat near the Mets (3rd base) dugout, and had 2 more opportunities for balls- A Jason Bay 3rd out toss-up to ME, the ONLY Mets fan around, in the 1st inning, but a guy who was about 8 feet tall reached up in front of me. And at the end of the game, the final out ball from Mike Pelfrey’s complete game shutout. The ball was knocked away by someone pushing into me. Disappointing, but I was far from upset. I ended the game with 12 balls!!! My all-time record!!!

Now, it was off to Detroit!

Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati 7/26

So, now that I was settled in Cincinnati, I was actually able to make it to the game early for batting batting practice. The Reds museum offers a ticket to what they call a “BP tour.” Basically, they charge you $15 so you can get into the stadium at 4:30pm for batting practice, as opposed to 5:15pm for season ticket holders, or 5:40pm for everyone else. Is it worth it, you ask? Well, let’s see…

The first day I did this, when we entered into the stadium, there was no one on the field. The cages were set up, but no one was taking batting practice. And it wasn’t until about 4:50pm that players started to come onto the field to begin batting practice. The Reds weren’t hitting many balls into the stands, but finally when Jay Bruce was hitting with the second group of hitters, he lifted one just over my head, which I ran up the stairs to retrieve from a seat. But that was it.

I ran to RF when the rest of the stadium opened at 5:40pm, and found a ball in foul territory in LF down the line. Then, I decided to hang out in the LF bleachers, where I caught a HR on the fly from an unidentified Mets player, who was hitting in the 3rd and final group. At the conclusion of batting practice, as I was walking up the stairs, an older man, who was at the game with his grandson pulled me aside and asked me if I’d sell him the ball I caught, and how much I wanted for him. I told him that I wouldn’t be able to sell it to him, but instead, I gave it to his grandson. He was overwhelmingly grateful and shook my hand twice, and really couldn’t thank me enough.

I always love to give away balls, especially when it means so much more to other people, and they truly appreciate the kind gesture.

For the game itself, I decided to splurge on a ticket. I spent $60, which is the most I’ve ever spent on a ticket to a regular season game. I’ve gone to a few Yankees vs. Red Sox games in Fenway, and spent $50, but that was years before the age of stubhub. Nowadays, I rarely even spend $20 on a ticket. This is how close I was:

In the picture above, you can see I’m sitting on the railing, directly above Jose Reyes. In the picture below, you can see that I’m directly behind the camera crew, on the 3B side of home plate.

Well, the purchase of this seat paid dividends! In the top of the 4th, Justin Turner fouled a ball back, and in was retrieved by Carlos Beltran in the on-deck circle. He then tossed it right to me!! That was it for balls from the game, but my day wasn’t done yet.

In the picture above, you can see Terry Collins sitting on the top step. Well, I had a post game request for him. When the game ended, with the Mets victorious, I waited to see him come out of the dugout to step onto the field to shake hands with everyone. When he emerged from the dugout I shouted his name, and he looked at me. I asked for the lineup card. He looked at me confused, and sorta shrugged his shoulders. When he returned to the dugout, I was unsure what the result was going to be, but about 7 seconds later, he sought me out, and this was the result:

FRIGGING AWESOME!!!!!

2011 MLB All-Star Game and Festivities in Arizona

This year, I went to my first ever Home Run Derby and All-Star game. It
certainly was an adventure! I’d been to one other All-Star Sunday- 2001 in
Seattle- but I was 16 back then and didn’t know jack. But after being a part of
the All-Star festivities this year, I now want to go every year!

I arrived in Phoenix on Sunday around 11am. I went straight to the stadium, and
got myself some balls (4) and some autographs (Ozzie Smith and Bryce Harper).
Not a bad day, if you ask me. I did, unfortunately miss out on the ONLY reason I
went- Mike Piazza. No autograph from him (though he did sign) and no
acknowledgment whatsoever. I don’t blame him, as there was a massive crowd
surrounding him, it was just a disappointment.

Monday, brought a new day of craziness. First, I went to FanFest, and got to
meet and take a picture with Mandy Moore (Thank you Zack Hample, even if you
don’t know who she is)! Then, I went to the Home Run Derby, and despite having
hats for 22 different teams, and 12 different jerseys/t-shirts, I consider
myself lucky to have gotten a ball. I had to leap for a ball James Shields
tossed in my direction, even though I was decked out in Rays gear. For whatever
reason, ushers demanded you stay in your ticketed seat in batting practice. I
was trapped a few rows back from the front, and there were even fans who harassed me for trying
to move closer.

Now Tuesday, the All-Star game itself, was a whole different monster. Despite
the fact you were allowed to go wherever you wanted for BP, the place was
packed.

Game 4 of the 2009 World Series between the Yankees and Phillies in Philadelphia
was the most hostile game I’ve ever been to. The first game at Shea Stadium
after 9/11 is the most emotional game I’ve ever been to. The final game at old
Yankee stadium was the most sentimental game I’ve ever been to. Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS
between the Mets and Cardinals at Shea was the most intense, and ultimately disappointing game I’ve ever been
to. The 2009 one-game playoff between the Tigers and Twins at the Metrodome is
the loudest game I’ve ever been to.

This game, sadly, felt like, it was the fakest game I’ve ever been to. Fans were
excited to be there, but no one seemed to give a damn who won. The majority of people
appeared to be Diamondbacks fans, and they were loudly booing Prince Fielder when
he came up to bat. When he hit his 3-run homer, they were the same people
immediately cheering him. So to say the least, it was an experience.

Now, I had decided that for this game, since I got a ball in BP from Kevin
Correia (Thank you Kevin!!! Go Pirates!!!), that I would sit in my seat in
Section 204, and simply enjoy the game. Sure enough, when Adrian Beltre came to bat in the top of the second, he fouled a ball off in my direction. I was watching the flight of this ball, thinking, wow, that’s gonna be close to here…ohmygod, it’s coming right to me………WHERE’S MY GLOVE?!?!?!!?!

Well, much like a foul ball I had caught earlier this year, I was sitting 2 seats away from where the ball landed. In that situation, I was wearing my glove, and made an easy one-handed catch. This time, with no glove on, I really had no chance to reach out and attempt to catch it. Instead, the man sitting on the aisle, reached out, barehanded, and deflected the ball into the lap of a woman sitting in the seat directly behind me.

Talk about devastating.

For about the next 4 innings, I was just simply in a haze. I took a walk to try and snap out of it, but all I could think about was the foul ball I should’ve caught at the all-star game. I couldn’t believe that I cost myself the ball, all because I didn’t take my glove out. I didn’t even need to be wearing it, it just should have been available to me.

Well, fortunately I was sitting with some wonderful friends, Jesse, Ian and Ian’s dad Jeff, who made forget about it. It really was a great game, and enjoyable to watch with them. (It didn’t hurt that 6 rows back of us in a luxury box, were Ozzie Smith, Lou Brock, Ernie Banks and Larry Fitzgerald).

Now I needed to focus on my next task, and that was to get to the NL dugout as quickly as possible when the game ended. They had a 5-1 lead going into the 9th, so I felt it was a safe bet to predict they’d win. I made my way down to the field level, and got as close as possible before the final out. I of course ran into Zack as I got down there. We hung out for a minute, and once the final out was made, proceeded down to the dugout, since we each had an agenda.

At the dugout, players were tossing things into the crowd, such as batting gloves, hat, balls, and even a bat! I failed to get any of these things, despite my immense wardrobe with which I could please any team’s players.

All the players had now cleared the field, except Prince Fielder. He was the MVP, and therefore was being interviewed. He hit a 3-run homer in the 4th that gave the NL the lead for good. Zack had left at this point, and told me to come out to left field, where a bunch of us were meeting to take pictures together. Well, just as I was getting ready to leave, it occurred to me, that not only did I have a Brewers hat, but I also had a Brewers shirt. Better yet, a Prince Fielder shirt!!! So, once I put that on, I was not going to leave until he headed into the dugout. In fact, I put the shirt on backwards so he would see his name on my shirt. I had planted myself right at the entrance of the dugout, so I was assured that Prince would see me.

Well, his interviews went on for about 15 minutes, and between Zack, and Greg Barasch, I must’ve received 10 phone calls/texts to get out to left field. But I knew I was NOT leaving until Prince left the field.

Finally, after kissing his wife and kids, Prince headed for the dugout. Now, leading up to this, there were 3 things I noticed. A. I was the only Prince Fielder fan in the crowd. B. I was the only Milwaukee Brewers fan (by appearance) AT ALL, in the crowd. And C. Prince Fielder had batting gloves in his back pocket. (Look closely at his back pocket!)

As he approached the dugout, he IMMEDIATELY noticed me, and pointed at me and gave a head nod. I shouted his name back, but there were a lot of people shouting, so I didn’t know if he could hear me. Once he entered into the dugout however, and got as close as he was gonna be, I quickly yelled “Prince, can I have your batting gloves?” I wasn’t sure whether or not he heard me, but two seconds later, I notice a cameraman point at me. He then looked back into the dugout, and Prince reappeared and tossed his batting gloves right to me!!! His beautiful, #28, All-Star batting gloves. His batting gloves which he used to hit a 3-run homer and ultimately win MVP.

OH HOW SWEET IT IS!!!!

I finally ran out to left field, and as I arrived I couldn’t hold back my excitement. I immediately apologized saying “Sorry for making you wait guys, but I was busy getting PRINCE FIELDER’S BATTING GLOVES!!!!” Everyone was enamored by them, and what a great snag it was.

My trip was memorable, but those, will forever be unforgettable.