Well, I did. Why would I spend so much time in such a random place you ask? Let’s find out.
I left my girlfriend’s house at around 2:30 a.m., and hit the road for Lowell. I arrived around 5:30, and headed to LeLacheur Park, home of the Lowell Spinners: and as you could imagine, there wasn’t a soul to be seen anywhere in sight: After a few minutes, a man came out and introduced himself. His name is Mike Davison, and he is a test flight engineer for the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration). Why was he there? Well, as you probably have heard by now, Zack Hample was attempting his helicopter ball drop stunt for a second time in Lowell, and he was gracious enough to invite me to come along. He attempted the stunt last year, and came close to pulling it off.. but it was called off due to strong winds (more on that in a bit). Zack was traveling up with Ben, his girlfriend, and a few other people, so I met them there. I was early though, and Mike led me onto the field: I thought it was very cool to be one of the only people inside a professional ballpark, let alone be on the field. The only other time was in 2008 for the All-Star Game. After a few minutes, I had to get off the field because something was flying in for a landing: Yes, that’s a helicopter. See the time? It was very early. But I was having a good time. After a few minutes, Zack and his crew arrived, and it was time for Mike to give his safety briefing: To help you out, the guy wearing jeans and the tan baseball cap is Bob Cloutier, the helicopter pilot. According to Zack, he and Mike and Bob were the only people who could call off the stunt at any time during for any reason. The man to the right of Bob in the BIGS shirt is Logan Soraci, who works for the company as a brand manager. The man to Logan’s right was one of the paramedics, and to the right of him, you can see two police officers. According to Zack, Mike had arranged for them to be there, on BIGS’ dollar to block the pedestrian walking path that is behind the outfield wall. This was a precaution, just in case a baseball happened to land outside the stadium. This way, it wouldn’t kill anyone. If this happened, Mike said that if a ball did land there, he would call off the stunt.
And the rest of the onlookers: On the left, that’s Jen (Ben’s girlfriend), who is eating Dunkin’ Donuts (please don’t kill me for the picture), Ben, Zack’s girlfriend Hayley, and Zack’s friend Andrew, who was going to be up in the helicopter photographing the altimeter every time a ball was dropped to verify the height in case Zack caught the ball. Did I forget to mention I was in the Spinners dugout? And after a few minutes, the helicopter was off: And as you can see, we were all very excited: Here’s how the view looked up in the helicopter: That photo was taken by Andrew. How cool does that look? I’m somewhere down there in the dugout: I’m in the No. 5 jersey, Mateo is in the grey t-shirt, the guy in black is Nathan, who was recording, and in red is Dennis Link, a member of SABR — the Society for American Baseball Research. He know a TON about the history of the stunt… dates, names, times, results… it was great talking with him for a few minutes. I wish I could type it all down. After the helicopter was ready, it was time to start the stunt. First, a ball was going to be dropped from 550 feet, mainly to warm up and see where/how the wind was blowing. Then, the helicopter was going to climb to 1,000 feet. I’d say it took about 25-30 attempts, but Zack wound up catching the ball. A YouTube video of it is up on his account of the days events, located here. Everyone thought that it was the 1,000 foot attempt, and proceeded to storm the field. It was only 550 feet, so back to the dugout it was. Before each ball drop attempt, we all as a group had to count down from 5 to 1 loud enough so Zack would know the ball was coming. After the 550 foot drop was completed, the helicopter rose to 1,000+ feet: (Photo credit: Andrew)
Back on the ground, Zack was going over some last minute strategies: And now, it was time to get the show on the road. The stunt was considerably harder, given that the helicopter was higher, the ball would have more of a mind of it’s own, getting caught up in the wind. Also, the ball took almost 12 seconds to completely drop, so keeping your head up for that long x 50 leads to fatigue. To get an idea of what it was like to catch the balls, here’s what Zack had to say about it:
According to Bob, the wind was blowing 23 miles per hour at 1,000-plus feet *and* it was blowing in different directions at various altitudes. Not only was it challenging for him to keep the helicopter stable, but it was tough for me because the balls didn’t fall in a straight line. They’d start drifting one way, then another . . . and sometimes another and another. And there was no pattern. For example, there were a few balls that initially appeared to be heading toward the warning track, so I started running in that direction — but then the wind took them back toward the infield and I had to scramble back toward the spot where I’d started. After that, I made sure to stay near the infield, assuming that the balls would blow toward me . . . but then the wind completely shifted, and the balls DID end up near the track. I didn’t mind the challenge, and in fact, I thought it was fun. The only thing that concerned me was losing my opportunity to make a successful catch. We were going through lots of balls, and of course if any of them landed outside the stadium, that was it. Game over. One ball landed on the pavement in the stands on the 3rd-base side and bounced about 50 feet in the air. You’ve never seen a ball bounce that high before. It was pretty cool, but served as a sobering reminder of how fast it was actually falling.
At one point, one of the balls cleared the outfield wall, and we could hear it hit the walkway/trees behind the fence. I tried to make a note of where it landed so I could grab it later. Mike went out and asked where it had landed, and to make a long story short, Zack coerced him into letting the stunt continue. Which was great for me, because I surely didn’t drive all the way there to see a cancellation.
After about another 15-20 attempts….
Success! After a large celebration, it was time for a Gatorade bath of sorts, but with seeds: After interviews and the like, we all kid of had time to just hang out. I went out into left field, and took a few pictures:
The picture above is what happens when a ball was missed. It made a mini-crater in the ground. I know I wasn’t *supposed* to show this, but I just couldn’t help it! (Sorry Zack.) The head groundskeeper did a great job fixing it. It was good as new. Zack tried one more time to catch a camera from the helicopter to get a cool point-of-view perspective, but it didn’t work out as planned. Then, we took a group picture in front of the helicopter: Good times.
There was a good hour or so where we just… hung out more or less. I had a catch with Casper (the guy above in the hoodie in front of Mateo), who was in charge of dropping the balls out of the helicopter, then I had a catch with Zack:
(It’s ok, I asked for it.) I also found a ball in the dugout…. so, I counted it for my 1st ball of the day. It’s a cheapie, but we all come across a cheapie every now and again.
Eventually, it was time to leave because there was a baseball camp using the field, and there was a game to be played that night (more about that later). Mateo tagged along with me in my car, and we all headed over to The Owl Diner for a meal:
And one more opportunity to say thanks to Zack for A: taking the tab for breakfast, and B: inviting me. It’s an experience that can’t accurately be put into words for this post, and something I’ll remember for the rest of my life.
After breakfast, I learned that Mateo didn’t really have a ride home. So, I decided to invite him to stay for the game that night, and since I was going to Queens the next day for the Futures Game, I offered to drive him back to the city. We spent the next few hours blogging in a Starbucks, and sleeping in my car. Eventually, it was time to wander around the block back to the stadium: There’s Mateo on the bottom of the scoreboard, on the phone currently scoring us free tickets. We took a lap around the stadium. I peeked under an opening on the outfield wall to see if BP was going on: As you can see, the cages were out, but no players as of yet. The surrounding area of LeLacheur Park was odd, but interesting. Past the right field wall you have a bridge/park/street to contend with:
And if you continue around the back, there is a walkway for pedestrians: For perspective purposes, the base of the wall on the field is at the top where the concrete meets the green fence. So in a way, we were below the field. Below the fence to the right, is a bunch of this: That’s Mateo waiting for a home run. As you look forward while you’re down below, this is the view: So, as you can see, catching a home run can be quite difficult. You have to keep your head up for a while, and even then you almost need to have your eyes on a “widescreen” view to watch for balls flying over. There was one, and Mateo got to it before me, searching in the bushes. We rotated back and forth between the lefty and righty batters. When the lefties came up to hit, I set up across the street: …and nothing happened. After a while, it was game time: After getting a sneak peek at the seating layout earlier, the 1st base side seating jutted out to the foul line, so there was a decent chance at a easter egg or two there. I decided to take that end, and Mateo went to the other end. As luck would have it, Mateo got one and I didnt. Here was the view from where I was: As for BP, it ended and Jamestown was taking infield: Of course, that didn’t stop me from getting my 2nd ball of the day, which was also a bit of a cheapie:
During the game, we took turns rotating sides of the stadium. I kept missing foul balls barely, and it was getting frustrating. The concourses were too crowded, and there was bad bounces. Here was some of the game: And who could forget the help of these lovely folks: They sang the national anthem, but I don’t recall why they were dressed as colonial soldiers. On the other side of the stadium, we had these guys: I don’t know.
The architecture of the field was a bit interesting: For starters, right field is 301 down the line, the right field seats are diagonal to the playing field, and the press box is incredibly close to the playing field. It should be moved back more above the concourse. The day was dragging, and we needed some excitement. So, we went outside the stadium and played for foul balls: One went out right as we went out there, but another ballhawk was out there and got it. We went back and forth for each batter since we listened for names, and just as we thought the game was about to end, another inning began. Maybe we were delirious from being tired. Who knows. I checked my phone and somehow it was going to the 9th inning. So, we snuck inside through the smoking area, and found myself here: …and I failed to get another ball. Final score:
I headed over to the Jamestown dugout, and asked the manager for the lineup card. He was more than happy to give it to me: Afterwards, we headed to Albany for the first leg of a long trip back to NYC for the All-Star Futures Game. For my troubles, Mateo gave me one of the balls he got in BP. I counted it. (Judge me.)
- 3 balls at this game
- 130 career balls
- 5 straight MiLB games with a ball
It’s funny how things work sometimes. I was really on the fence about going to this game. The night before, I decided I was too tired to go so I stayed home. Also, for some reason a Yankees game vs. Kansas City was way more expensive than it should’ve been, given the talent being put on the field that night. Same thing for tonight’s game. The Yankees had a day game after a night game, so there’d *likely* be no BP there. So last second, I decided to go to the Renegades game vs. Jamestown. I’d never seen the Jammers before, so I figured why not.
…are you kidding me? So ugly. Anyway, I got to the stadium decently early. It was replica home jersey night, so the crowd would fill up fast, at least for a minor league game. When I got around to left field, I was pleased to finally see a team out taking batting practice at the Dutch: I figured I’d ask the players for a ball later. I wanted to check the woods for any Easter eggs, plus the off chance that someone actually hit one out while I was there. I headed over a little to the left into the woods. As I was walking, I happened to check the support beam for the scoreboard: Well, that was easy. But wait, there’s more! I headed into the woods a few more feet and found these two: That was even easier. I found a few more… by a few I mean 4 more. This put me to 7 on the day. I already broke my personal record of 6. You might be saying, “yeah but you had it so easy.” Not quite the case. If you ever ballhawk at a Minor League game, you’ll know that it almost is more difficult than a Major League game. There’s less space to move, less accessibility, and easier ways to be recognized. I usually have a tough time at Dutchess Stadium, so I was relishing this opportunity to really do some damage. I quit searching in the thorn-ridden woods (my legs learned a lesson from last time), and took in some BP. As luck would have it, someone on Jamestown sliced one down the line. It rolled right out of the stadium into my hands for my 8th ball of the day. One of the players actually asked me if I could give it back to him, which I thought was weird. So I did. Personally, I count this as a snag. But at the end of the day, I don’t officially “count” it in my career totals. I number every baseball I get, and since I threw this one back, I can’t number it and there will always be a missing ball for that number in my collection. Catch where I’m going here? What would you do? Throw it back? Keep it and run away? Count it and skip one? A few minutes later, Elvis Escobar (no way that’s his real name) fielded a liner: …and I clapped my hands and he tossed it to me for my 9th ball of the day. I decided enough was enough when a random employee came over and told me I couldn’t stand there, even though that guy I’ve previously mentioned (7 year season ticket holder) always rummages back there for balls, that I headed inside, picked up my replica jersey (which seems to get cheaper every year) and headed over here for the remainder of BP: and later got Jeff Roy to throw me my 10th ball of the day. As you can see, even though the Jammers have those lovely green and purple shades for team colors, they are wearing Pirates apparel since they are a Pirates affiliate. Makes sense. I thought it’d be cool to get the warm-up ball from the pitcher, so I headed over to the Renegades side of the field which I haven’t done much this year. This year’s squad doesn’t seem too friendly.Last year’s bunch were very friendly and fan oriented. I built a loose relationship with a few of them, and a few of them even Facebook friended me. Here is where they were: The pitcher on the left is Austin Pruitt, and the catcher on the right is Omar Narvaez. Neither of them threw the ball to me. I went back over to the Jammers side of the field: but nothing much was going on over there either. I feel like I got my luck out of the way early in the day. Eventually, the game started, and I positioned myself here for a game ball: but I didn’t have any luck there either. The catcher for Jamestown seemed like he didn’t speak much English, and in the few innings that ended in strikeouts, he ran straight into the dugout.
The object of the game was to play the popular game, “cornhole,” but on a larger scale. This was using pillows. I apparently was “on fire” according to the PA announcer, and “thumped” the opposing player 15-7 and won a lovely duffel bag which I am using right now.
I also played foul balls outside for a little as well. The idea is to watch them as they go out here from the bleachers: …so you can see where or what car the ball lands on or rolls under. Of course, none were hit on this side, so I headed down to the 1st base area to watch a late Renegades rally fall short. I DID, however, get umpire Matt Winters to toss me a perfect, no smudge, mud rubbed ball to make it 11 on the day and close the night out:
- 11 balls at this game (Kept and officially counted 10)
- 127 career balls
- 4 straight MiLB games with a ball
Also if you notice, another three MLB balls made it into Single-A ball.
As I finish this post, I’m sitting in a Starbucks outside of Lowell, MA. Mateo Fischer is sleeping in my car. Why you ask? Check back for my next post and find out!