Before I started going to games at Target Field at the end of the 2012 season, Nationals Park definitely felt like the closest thing I had to a “home” ballpark. So in not having been there since August 21 of last year, I was almost okay with my first game back being during rivalry week, when I knew there would be a ton of Orioles fans packing the Nationals Park seats. But now coming to the ballpark from a new location where the bus arrives only every half-hour, I made sure to give myself more than enough time to get to the gate and as a result got to the gate way before even I usually get there:
Right as I got in and headed to the left field seats, Gio Gonzalez hit a ball to my left, so I ran after the ball, caught it on the fly:
but in my deceleration, managed to trip on one of the seats and take a tumble. I felt fine, so I got up, but I first noticed that I had some scratches on my legs and then I felt something on my ear. I tapped my cap on my ear and this is what I saw:
I then felt my ear with my hand and even more blood was coming out. I wasn’t the only one who noticed it either. An usher saw my ear bleeding, and so he got another employee to take me up to first-aid, which literally opened just as we got there. I think it’s probably the fastest after the gates have opened that they have ever had to serve a person. Of course they took their time with cleaning up my ear, but all I could think of was all of the opportunities I was missing for snagging baseballs. All I wanted to do was get the blood off, maybe get a band-aid if it was necessary, and get back out into the stands. It was almost a joke to me how seriously they were taking this. I remember that right after examining my ear, the first-aid worker said, “It doesn’t look bad enough for you to need stitches; I think you can stay for the game.” I thought of replying with a super-sarcastic “Wow, thank you. I thought I was going to die any minute now because I cut my ear.” I was just that frustrated because getting on the board early was being completely wasted by the fact that I was being held up forever in first-aid. After they cleaned up my ear and let me go, one of the workers said, “Okay, now no more chasing baseballs.” Again a sarcastic “Okay. Maybe for the ten seconds it takes me to get back into the outfield seats.” popped into my head, but I realized that this was my first game back here at a place I would be the whole summer, and it’s beneficial to me to try to make as many friends and as few enemies in the ballpark as possible.
My second ball of the day came in the Red Seats in center field when I politely asked Craig Stammen if he could toss me a ball:
That would be my last ball of Nationals BP. I didn’t really flub anything, but the excess crowd that was here for this game just went to all of the spots that I would have normally played the Nationals hitters at, so I was forced to pretty much camp out in the Red Seats where there didn’t end up being that much action.
When the Orioles began their batting practice, I headed down the third base line to try to get a ball from the position players and pitchers warming up, and managed to get a ball from who I figured out several days later with the help of Avi Miller was Troy Patton:
I then headed off to left field, where I’d have to say my main challenge wasn’t necessarily the volume of people, but the amount of people wearing bright orange t-shirts:
See I have a black Orioles shirt, so I don’t really stand out. It’s only when I’m the sole Orioles fan talking to a player that it really helps me. Given this, I headed over to right field, where there weren’t quite as many Orioles fans. And it ended up paying off when Jason Hammel tossed me a ball that I almost immediately gave away to a kid next to me with a glove:
Then at about 6:20, I realized batting practice was going to be wrapping up, so I headed to the Orioles dugout to try and get a ball when the Orioles were packing up their baseballs. When I got there, there was only one problem: there were too many people down there by the dugout with their Orioles gear on (It became my goal half-way through that sentence to see how many “there”s I could pack into one sentence), but the rain that had been holding off all batting practice couldn’t have come at a more perfect time. It started pouring just as the Orioles were finishing, and thus driving all the people who had been lining the dugout away, leaving me practically the only one in Orioles gear:
And as a result of this, when the Orioles cleared the field, I was the only one who recognized Rudy Arias, so when I said his name, he almost looked shocked that someone recognized him, and tossed me the ball that he had in his glove for my fifth of the day:
A semi-long rain delay followed this, so I took advantage and sat in this seat at the beginning of the game:
But I didn’t stay there long as I soon joined my mom and a coworker of hers that had made it out to the game–since both of our phones were dead–effectively capping my ball total at five baseballs for the night.
- 5 Balls at this Game (4 pictured because I gave 1 away)
Numbers 527 to 531 for my “life”:
- 85 Balls in 19 Games= 4.47 Balls Per Game
- 5 Balls x 35,664 Fans=178,320 Competition Factor
- 82 straight Games with at least 1 Ball
- 129 Balls in 29 Games at Nationals Park= 4.45 Balls Per Game
- 21 straight Games with at least 1 Ball at Nationals Park
- 5 straight Games at Nationals Park with at least 2 Balls
- 3 straight Games at Nationals Park with at least 3 Balls
- Time Spent On Game 2:46-12:32= 9 Hours 46 Minutes
A normal person would come back from a weekend trip to Chicago where he had attended baseball games each day of the trip and relax for the rest of the day. I am not a normal person. No; when Sean dropped me off at my dorm from Chicago at 2:30, I immediately started readying myself to go see the White Sox in action for the third straight day. This time against the Twins at Target Field:
I’m holding up four fingers because this was now my fourth game in a row despite the fact that I had traveled about 800 miles by car in those four days. The look is because I had no idea how this was going to pan-out for me. I’m glad to say now that it went well.
The day started off on a great note when a program vendor came down the steps to hand a ball to a kid. I had gotten to know this kid and his dad pretty well over this year since they also try snagging baseballs and I had given the son a couple tips during the Angels series. Anyway, right after she handed him a ball, I noticed she had another ball in her hand. I then asked her if she could give me that ball, which she then did for my first ball of the game before I even entered the gate:
With that snag, I had now snagged as many baseballs outside of Gate 3 as I have outside of Gate 34, which is ironically held as the far-superior gate for snagging baseballs before it opens.
Once I got in, I made a beeline for the left field seats and managed to misplay the only ball that I possibly could have gotten. I actually didn’t end up getting any baseballs until the White Sox started hitting and I headed out to right-center field. There, I got Matt Lindstrom to toss me what was probably the hardest thrown toss-up I’ve ever received despite the fact that he was about twenty feet below me:
Somewhere prior to this game, I messed up my ball count, so I thought that the ball I had gotten outside the gate was my 500th career ball (which I kind of regretted at the time), but after the fact, I realized that this ball Lindstrom had just tossed me was my 500th. Anyway, the point is that even though I got
I then headed back over to left field. The reason was because a new group came up who consisted of White Sox lefties who I didn’t think could hit anything over the wall was coming up, and since groups usually spend the first round or two of BP hitting the ball to the opposite field, I thought I should head over there and play for toss-ups. Ironically, though, my next ball was hit. See I was playing almost all the way down the line by the left field foul pole to try to get Jose Quintana to toss me a ball using our Colombian connection when Dewayne Wise hit a ball that I could tell was going to both fall short and to the right of where I was standing. However I knew that with its trajectory, the ball was headed for the warning track, where it could then hop up over the wall. My first instinct was to catch it directly on the bounce, but I reached as far to my right over a railing and still came up short. The ball then landed in the camera well right by the foul pole. I knew I probably wasn’t allowed there, so I hesitated for a good ten seconds before opening the latch up, quickly grabbing the ball and getting out with my third ball of the day:
I then headed over to right field because I knew that a couple of the White Sox players had seen me get the ball, and got Nate Jones to toss me a ball. I didn’t know his name, so I just went with the generic “Can you toss me the ball, please?” At which point he looked up, saw my White Sox hat, and tossed me the ball:
I turned to my right and gave the ball to the first kid I spotted with a glove on. I then headed back to left field, because I figured I could get a ball from a pitcher who was patrolling left-center field.
Turns out I was right and got a ball from Jesse Crain pretty quickly after I got down there:
That would be it for batting practice itself, but as I was in left field foul ground just as batting practice ended, I ran to the White Sox dugout just as the ball basket was being brought to the dugout. As he was doing so, Mark Salas tossed a ball randomly into the seats behind the dugout, and I managed to be the first one to run and get it:
As you can maybe tell from the picture, the White Sox then took fielding practice. I believe they are one of two teams I have ever seen do it after BP, but I have seen them do it multiple times.
After they went through fielding practice, the coaches returned to the dugout. I had assumed Salas had seen me get the ball, so I didn’t ask him for one of the baseballs he was carrying, but when I made eye contact with him, he tossed me a baseball without me even asking for my seventh on the day:
As for the game, I started out behind the dugout:
But that only lasted two innings when I realized Alexei Ramirez wasn’t going to toss me a baseball and that it would be cool to snag a game home run at Target Field before I headed back to New York. Long story short: I didn’t snag anything during the game and was at 7 baseballs for the day when the game ended. That said, when it ended, I first got a ball from home plate umpire, Manny Gonzalez because I was the only one who even had a clue what his name was at the dugout (he didn’t even toss any of his other baseballs up, but said “Here you go,” when I asked him for a ball by name:
If you wonder why I never have the umpire in the pictures with the balls I snag from them, it’s because by the time I snag the baseball and pull out my phone to take the picture, the umpire has already walked through the tunnel. The same goes with any player/coach headed who tosses me a baseball on his way to the dugout. Such was the case with my next ball. Let me just preface it with a bit of back-story from the game. Aaron Hicks, who was touted as a super-prospect at the beginning of the year but had been doing absolutely dismal up until this game, (And by dismal, I mean that he was hitting below .100 a majority of the season leading up to this game and was still below .150 at the beginning of this game) had the game of his young career. First Mr. Hicks hit a home run into the batter’s eye in center field. He then proceeded to rob Adam Dunn of a home run en route to hitting a second home run. Despite the fact that he had been getting booed constantly by Twins fans–who are not prone at all to booing players–he was called out for the first standing ovation at Target Field since Jim Thome. An ovation, which I can imagine I looked very strange giving since I was wearing a White Sox hat. Why am I telling you all this? (Besides the fact that I can now brag about being at Aaron Hicks’ first truly great game.) It’s because both of Hicks’ home runs made their way into the White Sox bullpen, where I didn’t see either get tossed up into the crowd. My ninth ball of the day came from Addison Reed, a reliever, who had obviously come from the bullpen. He rolled the ball to me over the dugout roof:
And without even considering the possibility that the ball could have been one of Hicks’ home runs, I gave the ball away to a kid on my right:
So yeah. There’s a chance I gave away a home run ball. Granted it wouldn’t have counted in my “stats” as a game home run ball even if I were certain it was the ball, but it would have been so awesome to say that I owned one of Aaron Hicks’ home runs from his first two-home run game. Actually, I take that back, this was Aaron Hick’s first two-hit game ever, so it would have been even cooler. But as is the case with how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop, the world may never know.
However, I didn’t stumble onto that possibility until after the game, at this point I was focused on one thing: snag my tenth baseball of the game. Only one person ever (Zack Hample) had snagged over ten baseballs at Target Field ever (12). And with him having snagged half of those before the public was even allowed into the stadium, with a tenth ball, I could say that I had snagged the most baseballs at Target Field ever after the gates of the stadium opened. Well I guess I could already have said that, but there’s something special about going double-digits. I had only ever done it at Nationals Park and Oriole Park at Camden Yards, so doing it at a much tougher stadium would have been an affirmation of sorts after doing terribly over the weekend at U.S. Cellular. There was just one problem: all of the players and coaches had left the field and were already in the clubhouse. That’s where what I most appreciate in Minnesota away from New York comes into play: I would have been kicked out of the section the second the White Sox bullpen people went into the dugout. Actually, there’s a chance I would have been even earlier. Here in Minnesota, you can stay behind the dugout pretty much until the ushers themselves have to leave. In staying there, I managed to see the dugout/clubhouse attendant, Mario, pop his head out of the dugout. He recognized me by this point in the season and obviously was looking for kids to give a baseball to and not me, but given the fact that pretty much all other fans had left the section, I asked him if he had an extra baseball, and he then tossed me my tenth ball of the day:
It felt so good I immediately felt the need to brag about it to someone and told an usher in the section that I have come to know. She knows I snag baseballs regularly, but even she was impressed when I told her how many baseballs I snagged that night. That night I went home happy and full of thoughts of what I could do if I went to a stadium where I wouldn’t have to get 9 baseballs tossed to me to make double-digits.
- 10 Baseballs at this Game:
- 62 Balls in 13 Games= 4.77 Balls Per Game
- 10 Balls x 25,605 Fans= 256,050 Competition Factor
- 75 straight Games with at least 1 Ball
- 2 straight Games with at least 2 Balls
- 2 straight Games with at least 3 Balls
- 113 Balls in 25 Games at Target Field= 4.52 Balls Per Game
- 23 straight Games with at least 1 Ball at Target Field
- 3 straight Games with at least 2-4 Ball at Target Field
- Time Spent On Game 3:26-11:52= 8 Hours 26 Minutes
Age as of November, 30, 2012: 20 (January, 25th, 2012)
Home Stadium: PNC Park
Home City: Pittsburgh, PA
Throws: Left (It’s really more of a “catches right” thing, because obviously one does not throw a ton while ballhawking, but no one says “catches right”, so yeah. Zac is actually one of the very few ballhawks who is left handed. The only other one who comes to mind is Alex Kopp.)
Total Baseballs as of November, 30, 2012: 434
In only his fourth year of ballhawking/snagging baseballs, we can see that Zac is on the steady upwards climb in terms of his ballhawking — still not having a season where he hasn’t improved his per-game average from the previous season. This is comes at no surprise to anyone who knows of Zac’s work ethic.
Yes, it’s very top heavy. Some may use this as a criticism of Zac, but what naysayers fail to recognize is that getting 37 or 29 baseballs from the same person requires something admirable in one shape or from. Getting that many baseballs from one person requires 1. A dedication to ballhawking long enough so that you could get that many baseballs from one player or coach without him recognizing you. or Zac’s approach: 2. Foster a good relationship with him so that he’ll toss you that many baseballs. Zac has his charity initiative (which you can read about if you click this sentence), so he brought it up with both Heberto “Herbie” Andrade and Euclides Rojas, and they feel as though they are doing good by tossing him baseballs — which they *are*. This might seem cheap, but Zac had to start the charity in the first place, and can you really look negatively on a person for starting a charity? At that point, I think you are just looking for reasons to dislike a person. In addition, he also fosters the relationship between Andrade and Rojas by speaking to them in Spanish. Learning Spanish, of course, not being something you just learn in a day.
Top-5 Locations of Snags:
The ballpark all of these snags should come as no surprise, since PNC Park is by far the park Zac has attended the most in his career as a ballhawk. However, the location of the balls he snags within PNC Park is very odd. Of the eight ballhawks on mygameballs.com who list PNC Park as their home stadium and have snagged more than 5 baseballs in 2012, Zac is the only one whose highest “snag location” isn’t the left field bleachers. While this makes sense, since left field is the place where the season ticket holders are restricted to in the first half-hour of the gates opening, it means that once the rest of the stadium opens, Zac –more so than anyone else — takes advantage of this fact and flees the left field bleachers. As one reader put it:
” … Zac [plays] a completely different strategy than all of the other PNC regulars. For God knows what reason, all of the other regulars seem to battle it out for BP homers in the LF bleachers. Those seats seem to get fairly packed out there. Meanwhile, every single game I’ve seen him at Zac ends up in the handicapped seating area (or seats right behind it) in the RF foul corner. I am 100% on board with this strategy. There is almost no competition, or very little. And it gives you great access to the visiting team’s pitchers — which actually results in a lot of the “competition” being autograph collectors. [Down] the RF line, you can scoop up foul grounders over the short fence. There is very little foul territory and it is very easy (and frequent) for foul balls to hop into the crowd. I have no clue why more [people] don’t go down there…”
Breakdown of baseballs year-by-year:
From this we can see that he has a pretty steady ratio of hit balls to thrown balls. While people — like with the people who threw him the most baseballs — might see the surplus of thrown balls when compared to hit balls as a negative, this again is not necessarily the case. Sure, hit balls may be worth more to some people, but they aren’t objectively harder to obtain or anything like that. Zac’s style has just lent itself more to snagging thrown balls. Along with going elsewhere besides the left field bleachers when the stadium opens-up, Zac also does his homework when it comes to the players so as to increase his odds of tossing out a nugget that gets a ball tossed to him. Additionally, he has one of the main attributes of a hit-ball ballhawk down: speed. So it’s not completely the case that he is unskilled at getting hit baseballs, but his ballhawking just doesn’t pan-out that way as to snag a ton of hit balls.
I’ve pretty much covered this. I could do something further on this with another ballhawk in future profiles (if I do others), but Zac has snagged a total of 10 baseballs outside of PNC Park, so it would be pretty redundant to do it here.
Those aren’t bad highs for a career 3.12 Balls Per Game; not bad at all. If you want to check them out, the links to his blog entries on those games, they can be found 1. Here, 2. Here, 3. Here, 4. Here, and 5. Here.
Finally, if you want to check-out Zac’s blog in general, it is: