I’m sure by now-if you’ve been keeping up with me on my blogs-you’d know that I’m a professional Ballhawk. Nearly six years ago, I snagged my first baseball at Kauffman Stadium with the help of an usher during my mid-tour leave from combat in Iraq. Since then, I’ve progressively snagged more and more baseballs each year.
Last week I was contacted by Meggie Zahneis, a youth reporter for Major League Baseball, and was invited to participate in an interview about Ballhawking. It was a lot of fun to answer some of the questions and sort of explain the idea behind Ballhawking.
If you’re interested in reading the article, click this link and enjoy!
I’d like to start this blog out by saying some great things about Dan Uggla. Not only did he sign autographs for about 15 people outside of the stadium on his way in, but he also signed for about 15-20 minutes inside the stadium prior to game time. So Id like to pay some serious respect to Dan Uggla. He gives a lot. He also signed about 15 autographs AFTER the game as well. I usually get to the stadium pretty early so I witnessed a lot of the Florida Marlins baseball players walking to the stadium.
Renyel Pinto walking towards the stadium. If you want Marlins autographs, and youre ever in St. Louis they stay at the Hilton across the street from Busch Stadium. On sunny days most of them walk in. Renyel, and I exchanged “knucks” and parted ways.
It was a great day for baseball. I, of course, was the first one inside the stadium. The security guards opened the gates late, and the ticket checker guy with his electronic ticket scanner wasnt even turned on when the gates were opened. So that delayed me about 2 minutes getting down to my spot. But it didnt matter. The crowd was small. Once I got down to the third base line I started to scout for easter eggs. I looked up to see a young man dressed like he just came out of the trash can hollering at the Cardinals players that were on the field. He was yelling that he wanted a baseball. I watched for a moment as I took my time walking down to the railing, and then I continued my search for easter eggs. Moments later I heard one of the Cardinals say…
” Hey, you want a ball? Here you go buddy!” And then I heard the ever so familiar sound of a baseball clanging around against the seats. I looked over to the noise, and I caught a glimpse of the white gem bouncing around in the seats. What was going on? Was that meant for me? I looked around for a second, and nobody was really persuing the ball. I figured there were going to be a mob running the ball down. So I casually walked down the row, trotted up the stairs, walked up through the aisle looking for the ball. Once I found it, I looked back to the field, and then around me again. Wow. Too easy.
So batting practice was kind of a loss. Nothing really came my way. I got out hawked by a guy that came 30 minutes into it, and then really everything else was out of reach. As I was standing there I waved to Chris Coghlan a few times, and he finally acknowledged me. He held up a ball, and I waved for him to throw it to me. One hopper, and into my glove. Nice. I thanked him, and continued to play the third base side. Nothing was really going into the outfield anyway. Chris Coghlan was the National Leagues Rookie of the year last year. So it was a real honor to get a baseball from him. The rest of batting practice was pretty boring. I had two baseballs.
Dan Uggla came off the field after stretching, and started to sign autographs. So I capitalized on that since I only had two baseballs.
There were two Marlins fans behind me, and they were saying how much Uggla was their hero, and saying he was Superman in disguise. Hence the smirk on Dan’s face. He truly is a great guy. He talked with the fans, laughed, and joked, and made it really special for a lot of baseball fans. Really a remarkable guy. So I asked for a picture with Dan, and heres how it turned out.
The picture is really great. The fan that I asked captured the St. Louis Arch in the background, and Dan even put his hand on my shoulder. The guy is really short but he has massive hands, and arms. I mean, hes like an animal. It was great. He shook hands with fans, and I got my patented “knucks” from him, and moved on. Thanks Dan Uggla! You made my day!
So I made my way to my seat after the players were all warmed up, and were off the field. I sat on the Cardinals side, first base side about 20 rows up. Foul ball territory. But not one ball came remotely close to me. I only got up once to chase one, but it landed on the railing, and took a wicked bounce way to my right. No chance. The Marlins started beating up on the Cardinals about halfway through the game. Then it started to drizzle a little bit so I knew that people would start clearing out to go home. I needed that to happen, because I was going to get passed security, and get down behind home plate. I wasnt happy with two baseballs. It was time to break out, and try to get some work done.
By the eight inning, the Marlins were up 4-0. In the previous inning, Uggla, and Maybin hit home runs. So a lot of Cards fans were out the door. I made my move. I walked the concourse looking for a security guard that was just kind of hanging out. You see…at Busch stadium, all the sections behind home plate have red fences guarding them so you have to go through in a single file line. That way no one can get passed security if they dont have a ticket to be in those sections. Its really criminal stuff. But I caught a security guard that was engaged in a conversation with about five fans. They were all hundled around her like they were trying to help me out. A squeeze play! I made a break for it. I scurried in passed her, and headed on down the stairs, broke to my right, and sat in the first seat of the row. Feewww!!
” Hello.” Said a voice. I was busted. Damn!
” Hey…no I dont have tickets for this row. Sorry, Ill move.” I was defeated. I knew who it was. No one says “hello” in such a sarcastic voice than security.
” You can stay, just move back a row.” She said, and walked away.
So I did. I moved back a row. But now I was in the middle of the row. This was unacceptable. If anyone else showed up I wouldnt be able to hurry out of the row, and down to the dugouts. It wasnt minutes later, and a group of five college kids sat down right next to me. Damn!! I had to move. Security had already told me once not to sit here, but I had to risk it. I moved one row ahead. The row I had orginally been kicked out of.
” Listen..I already told you once. You cant sit in this row.” The voice said in minutes.
” Sorry! I wasnt trying to disrespect your authority. I just need a quick exit to get down to the dugouts to get a ball after the game.” I said.
” Well, you cant sit in this row. And you wont be getting a ball either.” She explained.
” Why not?” I chuckled.
” Because that rarely happens. Players dont give out baseballs after the game.” She said.
” Ill move. Im sorry to have troubled you.” I said. I gathered my things, and down the stairs I went. I sat two rows back from where the umpires leave the field. I couldnt believe that security guard! She really doubted my baseball getting skills. Unreal!
The game ended. Finally! I let the row clear out in front of me, and I moved down to the front. I called to the umpire, and two more people showed up. He nodded to me, reached into his side pouch, and delivered a clean toss right to me. I squeezed down on it, and tipped my hat to him. Gah! I still had my Cardinals hat on! If I were to get anything from the Marlins, Id have to ditch this Cards hat, and fast!
I started to make my way to the Marlins dugout, switching hats on the fly. I didnt care who saw me at this point. Make your comments, who cares. I was on a mission. The bullpen players were enroute to the dugout, and as soon as they got into ear shot, I started making hand gestures for them to throw me a baseball, and calling to them. Chris Volstad, and Leo Nunez both pulled their hands out of their jackets, and showed me they had no baseballs. Dang. Three it was. Oh well. I had a memorable picture taken with Dan Uggla, I sat in great seats, and I came away with three baseballs. It was a battle but I did it.
Game: St Louis Cardinals Vs Florida Marlins May 19th 2010 7:15pm
Game Balls: Three
Back at Busch Stadium for another round of torture. I felt a little better today. My mind was slightly more clear, which always made a difference. When I cant think straight I get frusterated, and thats when things go south. The weather was supposed to rain all afternoon, and into the early evening. When I got to the stadium it was overcast, windy, and slightly humid from last nights thunderstorms. Miserable conditions. I really thought they would cancel batting practice. I figured when I got to the stadium the tarp would be over the field, and that would that.
If you look close enough you can see the batting cage was on the field, and Cardinals BP was in full force. The rain threatened off, and on. I thought at one point it would let loose, and they would tarp the field. They never did. ( Sorry about the picture. I use my iphone camera ) I panicked though. I witnessed a Cardinal player throw two baseballs into the seats behind home plate. What should I do?! I continued to ask myself that question. I could get some easter eggs, but what is the faster route over there? Still thirty minutes before the gates opened, and I had to make a decision. Go to my regular spot, or try something new. Well, after going to my orginal spot I witnessed four easter eggs being picked up. I kicked myself. So I made it a point to get a little education about the stadium before I left today. I had nine innings to do it in anyway.
Batting practice was in full swing. The sun broke out of the clouds, and it was like a breathe of fresh air. The Cardinals were only on the field for only a few minutes before the Astros started coming out, and warming up. Wilton Lopez took up a position directly in front of me with Gustavo Chacin. Not only did Gustavo Chacin overthrow a ball, but it hit some little girl right in the head. Of course that earned her a free baseball. Id take a baseball to the head for a free ball anyday. It really concerns me that nearly 90% of these little kids that line the baseline walls are without supervision. It kills me to see these kids just standing there unaware that a baseball that travels 120mph or faster could be hit right to them.
I had a great position on the base line. Not one adult was near me. The stadium was barely even full. My first baseball of the day was a grounder that had a little bit of spin to it. So it was curving more to my right. I got a good position on it, and boxed out anyone to my immediate right. I didnt field it cleanly though. It hit off the top of my glove as I went to stick the ball. It rubbed up against the wall, and didnt go far so it was easy to retrieve. After that happened, two more came my way but were too far to my right. They both ricocheted off the wall, and back onto the playing field. I tried to play them on the rebound but thats pure luck to get one like that.
Finally I had some competition show up. Booo! I dont know who the guy was but he was aggressive, and had skill. He was an older gentleman probably in his early 50’s. He positioned nearly on top of me in a strategy to box me out if anything came down the line. Well, he had his chance. A three hopper came scorching down the line, and he got his glove up in front of mine. I caught a sharp elbow to the brim of my hat that caught me off guard, and I ended up taking a step back. Well, I was able to slap his glove with mine which in turn made him miss the catch, and the ball ended up in the stands at my feet. With my hat in my face, and didnt see where the ball went until he started going for it. I kicked my left foot back, made contact with the ball, and a youngster behind me ended up getting it. HA! Thanks for using your elbow, sir! What a jerk. But if he wanted to play dirty thats fine. I can play dirty.
As soon as the kid came up with the ball my competition started in on me.
” I had that!” He hollered.
I ignored him. I kept focused on the batter in the cage.
” You hit my glove! Why did you do that?! I had that one!” He insisted.
I continued to ignore him.
” I would have had that ball, you know. That ball had my name all over it!” He grumbled.
Ignoring. Watching batter in cage.
” Why did you smack my glove?!” Shaking his head in disbelief.
Just then another ball was hit our way. It was a can-`o-corn popup. But it didnt have the distance. During the one-sided conversation an usher had came over to make sure there wasnt going to be a fight over a baseball, and guess who ended up catching the ball two feet from the wall. The usher! Really? These guys stand around all day, and regulate ridiculous rules, kick people out of areas they dont have a ticket for, scold people for running through the concourse, and NEVER give baseballs to adults that ask for them, and now we got an usher catching baseballs during batting practice that a fan SHOULD have caught namely ME! I was furious! And so was my competition! He started complaining the moment the usher caught the ball. He insisted that he should get the ball, but the usher didnt hangout much longer. He made up some excuse that he had to give the ball back to the players, and off he went. What bullcrap.
The next ball was another popup, and it had some curve to it. I knew this one didnt have the distance either, and my competition was all over it. He reached out, boxed me out, and made the scoop. But while he was doing that I made myself visable to Matt Lindstrom. ( if you read my blog from the previous night I asked him for a ball, and he denied me ) I put my hands up, and pretended to throw a ball his way. He nodded, and tossed me a ball. One hopper, right into my glove.
” Thanks Matt!” I shouted, and tipped my hat. HA!
I looked to my competition, and smiled. After that we started talking about ballhawking techniques, different stadiums, security issues, etc etc. Turns out the guy was a decent fellow. He told me the most baseballs hes even gotten at a stadium was three. Nice enough guy. So I forgave him about the elbow, and moved on after batting practice ended. I sat out in the outfield seats for the game, and I watched the game silently. I needed a break. I didnt run down to the dugout after the game or harass any of the umpires for a ball. I just held onto my two prizes from the day, and went home.
My last blog about Cellular field, and their fans was kind of harsh, I suppose. I had a bad experience. You know what they say about first impressions. Well, the WhiteSox were hosting the Kansas City Royals for a three game home stand, and I always have great success with the Royals throwing me baseballs. So I figured I would try my luck with them on the road. Since it was a weekday, and both of these teams were struggling to maintain a decent spot in the division, I figured the crowd would be minimum. I checked Monday nights attendance, and it was somewhere in the low 20,000 range. Perfect.
Finally arriving at U.S Cellular field, I made my way around the stadium. It was such a beautiful day but very windy. I had to pull my baseball cap down over my eyes to keep it from blowing off of my head. Like many games before I was the first fan at the stadium. I feel thats probably the first step in success in getting as many baseballs as possible at a game. Being the first person in line. Also, in the picture above do you notice something with the gates? Yep. That specific gate was open, and no security around. I wandered over for a closer look.
Yes folks. This gate was unlocked, open, and no one around to guard it. I quickly went into daydream mode. I thought about going inside, and having the whole stadium to myself. I dreamt about going down to field level, and claiming all the easter eggs in the seats. I got endless autographs. I got endless baseballs. My bag was filled to the brim, and I could barely zip it up. I had to take it to my car, and unload baseballs into the truck of my car.
” Hello? Hey, hello? HELLO?!” Snapped the man with a WhiteSox shirt on. I quickly snapped back to reality.
” Yes?” I answered.
” You here for the game, or what? You cant enter here.” He said in a sharp tone.
” Oh, I know. Yeah, Im here for the game. Im just killing time.” I answered back, and walked away with a smirk. In the first picture on the left side of it you can see a security camera. Thats probably why the man came out. It was fun dreaming anyway.
I continued my trek around the stadium. What kind of bothers me about this stadium ( like many ) is you cant walk completely around it. Busch Stadium in Saint Louis is the same way. Im not sure why that is. Maybe its because they designed it that way because the old stadium was in the way. But didnt they just upgrade, and renovate New Comiskey Park to U.S Cellular? I mean, you can walk around Cellular Field, but you end up on the main road, and before that you have to cross through the projects. I wasnt up for a long walk anyway. I turned back around, and headed towards home plate entrance. There was a band setting up, and doing sound checks for pre-game festivities. There were a few WhiteSox, and Royals fans lingering around, but not much else was going on. I couldnt believe there were Royals fans in Chicago.
Finally a small crowd started to show up at around 5:00pm. The gates open 90 minutes before game time on weekdays at Cellular Field. Just like Kauffman. The WhiteSox arent winning, and they arent drawing the crowd. So thats why the gates open 90 minutes prior to game time rather than two hours. As I stood in line a small crowd of autograph collectors started to gather at the front next to me. At least eight finally showed up but I knew they werent any competition. These guys show up early like me, but they run down to the dugouts, and reserve those spots to get autographs during batting practice. No threat whatsoever. If they all wanted to get in front of me I wouldnt have a problem because Id beat them down to the field anyway. Ticket ready to go, the gates went up, and we were in.
Okay folks. Its time to learn about a stupid rule U.S Cellular Field has that I was not aware of. In fact, I think this is a brand new rule they just made up. If you have been following my Blogs youll know I was at Cellular Field on April 24th 2010. Well, apparently between April 24th, and May 4th fans can no longer stand in the first row directly behind the visiting teams dugout. I dont know about the WhiteSox dugout because I never went over there. I didnt even look when I was told to either stand in the aisle one row back, or stand behind the front row seats. But its okay to go sit directly next to the dugout to get autographs. Im trying to understand these rules, and Im trying to understand the logic behind them, and Im also trying to understand who is making them, and Im also trying to understand why they are being made, and Im also trying to respect them. But its hard to do all of that. The front row was completely empty. It was just me, and the usher that was standing on top of the dugout. Ridiculous.
So there I was standing in the aisle exactly one row back. I inched forward and stood inline with the front row seats eventually. These rules were stupid so I compromised. I cant remember if the usher left, or I simply blocked him out but eventually I was standing in the front row again with no one bothering me. I called out to a Royals coach that I couldnt recognize, and asked him for a baseball. I was told that the Royals were short baseballs today, and he couldnt throw me one. I thanked him for his time, and I tol dhim I would hit him up once “we” got back to Kansas City. He nodded, and assured me he’d hook me up at the K. I moved on. ( Obviously wearing my Kansas City Royals cap. )
The Royals had a good 45 minutes or so left on the field, and I traveled down the first base line to see if I could snag some foul balls. Within minutes of moving down there a ball was hit my way but out of reach. I stayed on it, and Kyle Davies came over to retrieve it. I asked him if I could have it, and he tossed it to me. Bing! Ball number one. I quickly put it in my bag, and continued to wait on more. It really didnt hit me that I had my first ball of the day until moments later. Its almost as if Im expected to get at least one. Especially after the game at Busch on April 30th 2010. What an utter disaster that game turned out to be. So I felt pretty good about today after snagging that one.
I continued to wander around the baseball field. The nice thing about Cellular Field is you have instant access around the entire field. There arent gates, and railings, and shields, and ushers, and guards to keep you from moving around. So I moved out into the outfield for a while to see if I could catch a home run ball. Well, the Royals were hitting, and they dont have any real power hitters except maybe Billy Butler, Scott Podsednik, and MAYBE Jason Kendall. I played straight away center field, and a few came my way but way too short. Fortunatly, I identified 2009 Cy Young Award Winner Zack Greinke as he came running full speed to the wall while trying to field two baseballs. I asked if he could please toss one of them up to me, and he looked up at me with a smile after stopping himself against the wall. He backtracked off the warning track, and underhanded me one. Bing! What a stand up guy! The Royals werent throwing a lot of baseballs into the crowd so I felt fortunate enough to get these two that I had. I guess they really were short on baseballs or they just didnt like WhiteSox fans.
The Royals had plenty of right handed hitters coming to the dish so I sprinted to the third base line. Minimum competition. Mostly fathers with their kids encouraging them to catch baseballs. I held my ground but nothing really came my way. One ball came screaming passed everyone, and no one had a good position on it so it just rolled to the corner. I contemplated assembling my glove for the glove trick, and as soon as I started to make my way towards the corner to get the ball this guy had already started lowering his ball retrieving device! Within seconds he had the ball! I ran after him to speak with him, and he acted as though I had the plague. I finally caught up with him.
” Excuse me.” I called after him.
” Oh, I thought you were security. I heard a voice, so I started to make a run for it.” He laughed.
” No, I wanted to know if youve seen Zack Hamples ball retrieving device.” I laughed, as I spoke to him.
” The guy on Youtube? Yeah, Ive seen that. Its pretty impressive. Most people see me use this cup so they run up to the concessions stand, get a cup, come down, and it doesnt work because they arent doing it right.” He explained.
” And security hates me. Everytime I use it they come running after me to try, and get my device. Its insanity.” He chuckled.
” I know. Last time I was here I tried to use my ball retrieving device, and security stopped me. I got the ball anyway but still.” I said.
” Yeah. I hear ya. Well, happy hunting. Ill catch you later.” He said as he jogged away. I waved, and started to head back over to the third base line. Then I went back over to the first base line.
I stayed on the first base line for the remainder of batting practice. Which wasnt much longer. After being rejected by Willie Bloomquist in the outfield for a baseball, I had another chance to get another from him. He sent a soft line down the line into foul territory. When the ball landed it died out immediatly. I knew it wasnt going to roll all the way to me. Id have to go get it, and I figured a whole mess of kids were on their way to get it. I had a young couple sitting in the front row directly to my left that were in my way. I stood there for a half a second waiting for one of them to jump up, and get it. Niether of these things happened. I couldnt believe it. No one was going after this ball? It was two feet away from these two people! TWO FEET! It rolled to the wall, and just sat there. I excused myself, moved passed the happy couple, and scooped up the ball.
” Who hit it?” Asked the security guard ten feet away.
” Willie Bloomquist.” I answered back. What an easy grab. It doesnt get any easier than that, folks. I know at Busch Stadium that ball would have been swallowed up by a fan before it even reached the wall. So that was number three on the day. As soon as I got that ball, I wandered down the line towards home plate to call out to Bruce Chen to toss me number four. No dice. Batting practice ended, and I made my way up into the concourse for some food, and drink. I still couldnt believe that no one went for that last ball.
During the game here is where I sat.
Great seats for $35.00. Unfortunatly, I was in the middle of the row, with people on both sides of me. Two foul balls came my way. If I had been sitting on the aisle one of them would have been mine. It landed about five feet from me on the stairs, and rolled underneath the seats. The next foul ball came later in the game, and it came right at security. ( Security were the ball boys ) All I saw was security run out of the way, the ball took a hard bounce up into the seats, and nailed a guy right in the face. The ball hit so hard it put him on the ground, and flew back out onto the field. Scott Podsednik fielded the ball, and tossed it into the stands. The guy that got hit was okay, but was taken by EMS to make sure. And that was it. After the game I chased down to the Royals dugout to try, and get one more ball. No dice.
Worth mentioning. This game was Ozzie Guillens 1,000th as a manager for the White Sox. Congratulations Skipper!
Also for you Ballhawks that are chasing homerun balls here is a list of players that are close to their milestones;
Alex Rodriguez- 585
Andruw Jones- 397
Derek Lee- 297
Alfonso Soriano- 297
Albert Pujols- 373
Game; Chicago WhiteSox Vs Kansas City Royals May 4th 2010 7:05pm
Game Balls; Three
In the above picture on the top shelf are my first ten baseballs Ive snagged from four different stadiums. Busch Stadium, Kauffman Stadium, Great American Ballpark, and Safeco field. I only attended a handful of games last yearbut when I went I never left a game without a baseball from the stadium. The second shelf holds my first 20 autographs from Major League Baseball players. This season I am now up to 72 autographs, and 28 baseballs from five different Major League Stadiums. Some of my current streaks are as follows;
10-game streak of getting at least one ball outside of Busch Stadium.
13-game streak of getting at least one ball during a game.
5-game streak of getting at least one ball in a different stadium I havent been to.
Current average of baseballs at a game- 2.0 Baseballs a game.
Probable Future Games;
May 4th Cellular Field
May 11th Busch Stadium
May 12th Busch Stadium
May 18th Wrigely Field
May 19th Cellular Field
May 22nd Kauffman Stadium