Keeping Up With A Legend – Balls 126-133 (June 11, 2013)

Little did I know (let alone plan) that my first time back to the stadium – after nearly a month away – would be with the man who holds nearly every ballhawking record, Zack Hample.  I was nervous about being rusty, and to tell the truth, I thought I would end up being embarrassed – possibly even putting up a goose-egg.  I don’t know why I was so concerned, since I really do not care THAT much – let’s face it, ballhawking is a fun hobby and a complete first-world privilege.

On my way to the field, I took a new route and ended up walking past this photo on a fence.  Recognize that face?  That’s Trevor Plouffe in 2011.  this was taken on the last game of the year when he hit his walk-off winner to prevent the Twins from triple-digits in the L column.

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I got to the gates at about 3:30 and within about 2 minutes I saw 2 balls given away by workers… and none of them were to me, they went to the only other 2 people hanging around the gate.  I stood there, at gate 34, until about 4:15, then I went over to gate 29 to see if they had a BP viewing group.  Answer: there was one, a LARGE one… so I decided to hide midway in the line.  My “I don’t know what I’m doing” attitude paid off and I got to enter the ballpark at 4:30 instead of waiting for gates to open at 5:30.  I found a prime spot in the section of the overhang (the only area you are allowed to watch from in the Early BP program) closest to centerfield.  There was a barrier between these sections, but a slight break in the railing, meaning that I would be able to jump over if on went into the “Powerball Pavilion” seats.

Ball #1:

After only a couple of minutes watching BP, I flashed my glove to Mike Pelfrey and was rewarded with ball number 126 of my career.  Remember how I said I picked a prime spot?  Well, it was also in a nice corner of the overhang, so he really only could see me.

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(Mike Pelfrey is the furthest right.)

Ball #2:

I fall back on my seat choice yet again.  this time the ball landed in a flower pot in the section just to my right.  I hopped over quickly and retreived a rather dirty ball.  It was a bit buried, but not too bad (like Jim Thome’s homer the last time the Phillies were in townlook it up, I’m too lazy to provide a link laziness corrected after much needed sleep).

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This was a Justin Morneau blast.  It felt good to break my LONG toss-up streak.  Was this my first non-toss-up of 2013?  Again, I’m too lazy to look it up – sorry, but it’s going on midnight now.

Ball #3:

This is the last time that I can praise my seat choice for the Early BP, because this was the last one I’d get before the gates officially opened.  This time it went a few sections further over in the Powerball Pavilion, but I jumped over and got it before anyone could stop me (though I was asked to let the ushers get it for me “next time”).

Sorry for the lack of picture for this ball, but I went back to concentrating on the last of the BP before gates opened.  This blast was hit by Joe Mauer and landed in an empty flower pot, much easier to find.

Ball #4:

I saw two balls that were blocked by a screen down the first-base line.  I thought I might be able to reach over for one, but it was about 6 feet out.  I contemplated trying for HRs, but wanted to let Zack run free, since he doesn’t get to frequent Target Field much.  I knew that if I was patient I had a very good chance of reaching a respectable 4th ball.  Sure enough, when BP ended an unknown (to me at least) Phillie came running in from the outfield and I yelled to get his attention.  By this time there were 3 balls just sitting there, and since he was late to run in, there was no more bucket to toss them in.  I doubt he would have tossed them though, because he immediately tossed me one and then the other two to the girls not too far away.

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See?  I told you there was a screen involved!

***EDIT: I cannot believe I skipped it, but this was my 100th career ball at Target Field!  I had that in the back of my mind while hawking at the game and even writing this entry, but after realizing ball #1 of the day wasn’t #100 I let it slip my mind.  Whew, that’s a load off my chest.***

Ball #5:

After BP was completed by both teams, I decided to run over to Zack who very nearly got three HRs on the fly in the Powerball Pavilion (not too far from where I was located earlier).  Unfortunately for him, the balls carried a bit deep and ended up in the second deck.  In case you were curious, Target Field is not a great ballhawking park.  Sure, you can get plenty of toss-ups, but the park was not designed to roam free and catch on the fly.  I am sure that Zack will talk about this more though.

We chatted and wondered over to the bullpen area and I told him about how someone (security guard, bullpen catcher, grounds crew) usually tosses up a handful of balls, so he decided to test it out.  He very nearly tried his glove trick, but the security guard was watching closely and he decided not to risk it.  He then decided to hit the restroom before his interview with FSN, while I stayed over by the bullpen and hoped for a ball.  that’s when a new first for me (and possibly many ballhawks) happened.  I shouted at TC the Bear (our stupid mascot… don’t get me started, I think Twins should have TWO of something, but that’s a whole separate post) and motioned for a ball and pointed to the half-dozen plus that were scattered in the bullpens.  He looked back at me a few times and then caved; that’s when he walked over to the balls and a MASCOT tossed me my 5th ball of the evening.

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You can see TC going back to work in the background.  What a surreal experience.  Zack was in disblief when i told him what went down in the 3 minutes he was away.

Ball #6:

I have gotten a few balls from Nate Dammann, Twins bullpen catcher extraordinaire.  Since Mr. Hample didn’t have to be interviewed for another 10 minutes or so, we decided to try to get his attention and squeeze in one last ball before the game started.  I am happy to say that we were both successful!  We were so successful and prepared that I even took a not-so-good video of it going down!

Wow, I was blown away at my “skills.”  I was not far off the Zack Hample pace!  I would have set a goal of 50% of his total if you would have asked me, so to have two-thirds was a win!

After the Nate toss-ups we headed over to the FSN area for Zack’s interview.  I took a crap-ton of photos for him and tried my best to be his photography scab.  Here’s the view from my phone:

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Yep, he was being interviewed by a World Series champion and showing his balls on cable TV (sorry for the use of a low-hanging joke, I HAD to).

Ball #7:

After eating some food like this (see below) and getting the “meat sweats”…

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(I also had pork tenderloin, not shown.)

And after enjoying scenes like this:

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(Self-pimping, AGAIN, follow me on Instagram.)

I was rewarded with my first gamer of the night.  Yep, you heard that right, FIRST!

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This was a 3rd out ball to end the 6th inning.  Humberto Quintero tossed it to me after I shouted his name and flashed my catcher’s mitt.  Funny thing is that I didn’t even use the glove, since it was tossed so lightly and to my right side.  The ball was a pitch from Cole Hamels to strikeout Oswaldo Arcia.

As you may have seen on my Twitter feed, here is the photo of Zack’s SECOND (of three) 3rd out balls from the end of the 3rd inning:

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Sorry, that was a little out of order (chronologically), but I wanted to cover my first gamer before going into someone else.

Ball #8:

The final ball of the night.  After staying by the Phillies edge of the Champions Club, I tested out the Twins side, since they had just taken the lead in the 8th.  I wanted to try to hit up one last gamer or get a post-game ball.  I was not disappointed; I ended up getting the 2nd out ball, a John Mayberry, Jr. flyout to centerfield (Clete Thomas) pitched by Glen Perkins.

Again, I failed to get a picture of a ball, but in the next photo there is a 87.5% chance that it is included.

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Don’t ask me why, but for some reason I only could find 7 of my 8 balls.  And yes, they are in plastic bags, I have tinkered with the best way of doing things, and since I do not want to spend a buttload in ball-cubes just yet, I found a temporary fix in plastic bags.  The bags can also be brought to the field for storage immediately, so it’s a win-win!

The Twins ended up winning, 3-2.  The weather was perfect and it was truly a pleasure to meet Zack.  I wasn’t sure if the nice things that are said about him were true or just smoke screens his loyal followers put up, but I can attest to the fact that he was a very cool guy and I’d love to have the opportunity to do it again.

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There it is, in its entirety, the grand, record-tying haul.

 

If you are new to the blog, I have a tradition of thanking people at the end of my entries.  It’s my little way of keeping things positive and trying to give back a little to the people have given me something.  Since it was a big night, my list will be long and I will keep it as a bullet-pointed list.

  • Early BP employees – Thanks for letting me in!
  • Mike Pelfrey – Thanks for extending my streak.
  • M&M boys (Morneau and Mauer) – Thanks for the show you put on for us Early BP people.
  • Unknown Phillie-man – Thank you mystery outfield wanderer!  I am sorry I do not know your name.  Why can’t guys just wear their BP jerseys only?!
  • TC the Bear – Never thought I’d be thanking a mascot, especially for a toss-up, but OK!
  • Nate Dammann – You continue to treat me well, and for that I am thankful.
  • Humberto Quintero – From one wanna-be catcher to a pro-catcher, thanks for hooking me up!
  • Dominic (Twins Bat Boy) – You are always kind.  I cannot stop expressing my gratitude.
  • Zack Hample – As I said before, you were a pleasure to talk to and I hope it’s not the last time we cross paths.  Goo dluck on your adventures and keep living the dream!

And now that it is officially my mom’s birthday – meaning it’s June 12th – I choose you, Mr. Soft-Warm-Bed!  Nothing good happens after 1 am, so I must retire with only minutes to spare.

PS: Final Score: Zack Hample – 13, Tony Voda – 8  (RESPECTABLE!!)

6 Comments

Very cool about the TC toss up! Weirdest one I ever got was at a Tigers side field during spring training … was hanging out and one of Prince Fielder’s kids made eye contact with me and (unprompted) picked up a ball and tossed it over the fence to me.

Enjoy you blog – Go Twins!

Thanks for reading, Dave! That’s a very cool story, you don’t hear about getting toss-ups from the CHILDREN of players very often. Prince seems to be friendly to the fans, so it must rub off on his kids.

Thanks for all the kind words — lots of fun to see myself featured here. Also (and this is long overdue), I finally saw the *handwritten* blog entry that you mailed to me. HOW COOL. Photo captions written on the back . . . ha! Love it. Amazing to see Target Field so empty, but that’s what a doubleheader (and 39-degree) weather will do. Thanks for making the time/effort to put it together. Great meeting you at this game, and keep on snagging . . .

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