Traveling to dozens of professional ballparks for my website, TheBallparkGuide.com, has yielded some pretty amazing experiences over the past two summers. This is a story about my best ballpark souvenir ever and how it led to a pro ball player’s best Christmas.
Last summer, in the midst of a 12-day, 13-game road trip, I visited Arthur W. Perdue Stadium to watch the South Atlantic League’s Delmarva Shorebirds play the Greensboro Grasshoppers.
In the second inning, as I sat on the third base side, Delmarva Shorebirds left fielder Jeremy Nowak stepped to the plate and dug in against Greensboro starter Rett Varner. Varner had already struck out two Shorebirds in the game, but Nowak jumped on the pitch and launched it over the fence in left-center field.
During pre-game batting practice, I’d managed to snag 12 balls behind the outfield fence. As I watched Nowak’s shot disappear over the fence, I wondered if another fan or a team employee would go retrieve the ball. Or, perhaps, would the ball be sitting on the grass undisturbed?
This question lingered in my mind as I watched the game unfold, and at the end of the eighth inning, I decided to duck out early and see if the ball was still there.
I quickly made my way out the gate, along the fence down the first base line and eventually behind the outfield fence. When I got to the area that I figured Nowak’s ball must’ve landed, it stood out easily:
My first home run ball!
When I got back to my hotel, I checked the box score to see how the game ended. It turns out that Delmarva lost 2-1; Nowak’s home run was the only run the Shorebirds scored. I also took a look at Nowak’s stats to learn a bit about him. A 13th round pick of the Baltimore Orioles in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft out of Mount Olive College, he spent 2010 with the Short-Season A Aberdeen IronBirds. He began the 2011 season in Aberdeen, too, but after collecting eight hits, two home runs and six RBIs in his first eight games, Nowak earned a promotion to Delmarva. I also saw that he hadn’t had any South Atlantic League home runs before the one I saw. All this is a long way of saying the home run ball sitting in my backpack was Nowak’s first at the South Atlantic League level.
I weighed my options. Part of me wanted to give the ball back to him, but another part of me was pumped to have my first home run ball. I finally decided it would mean more to him than to me, so I sent these Tweets to the team around 11 p.m. that night:
I was driving to Baltimore the next morning, but I wondered if I could leave the ball at Perdue Stadium’s ticket office for Nowak to pick up. Ideally, I would’ve loved to meet him to hand over the ball, too. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a response.
Fast forward to the middle of December, when I received an email from Alicia, who is Nowak’s girlfriend.
My boyfriend Jeremy Nowak recently showed me your Ballpark Guide website. Jeremy plays outfield for the Delmarva Shorebirds. You visited his stadium back in June and wrote an article about your experience on your website. Jeremy said that he randomly stumbled upon your blog one day when he was fooling around on the computer and googling his name. He was so shocked to get to the end of the article and to see that you found his home run ball! He told me that he would love to have the ball.
As soon as Jeremy said that, I knew that I wanted to try to get the ball back for him because I know it would mean so much to him. I just bought a beautiful case to hold and display the ball and I plan on getting it engraved.
I would LOVE to give the ball back to him for a very special Christmas gift! If you could please contact me and let me know what you think, I would *really* appreciate it! Thank you so much for your time!
Wow! Nearly six months after I got the ball and tried to get it back to Nowak, (who I’ll call Jeremy from now on) here was another opportunity. I emailed back and forth with Alicia and arranged to send her the ball, as well as email her some photos I’d taken of Jeremy that she wanted to use for a collage. Before packing the ball up, I took a few last photos of it …
… and then put the ball in the mail the next day and kept my fingers crossed it would arrive before Christmas.
On Dec. 22, I heard back from Alicia:
The ball came in today!! I’m so happy it came in on time!! I put the pictures you sent me in a cute frame and then I put the article you wrote in a nice binder. Have a great holiday! I will talk to you soon. Thank you again for everything!
I have to admit that over the holidays, I thought about how Jeremy might like the ball on Christmas Day, and looked forward to hearing all about it. Alicia also said she’d send some photos of Jeremy with the ball to use on my blog.
On Jan. 4, Alicia emailed me:
Jeremy literally described this Christmas by saying, “This is the best Christmas I have ever had!” The whole thing went awesome!! I gave him a few other Christmas gifts I bought for him then I pretended that I was done with his gifts, so he gave me my gifts. When I was done opening mine, I acted like our gift exchange was over.
About two or three minutes later, I was like “Oh, Jeremy, I almost forgot … I have one more gift for you!” He was so confused! I tied a scarf around his eyes and made him sit on the ground. I placed the ball (which was in the case with the engraved plate) on the coffee table.I turned him toward the coffee table and took the scarf off his eyes. He looked at the ball, read the plate, and was like “Oh my god! It’s my ball!! How did you get it?! This is so awesome!”
He just kept looking at the ball and at me in a state of amazement! After that, I told him that I had another surprise for him. I put your article in this binder and added a cute little note in the beginning and end of it. He absolutely loved it!!
The article in the binder worked out great because later in the evening when he went to show everything to his family and friends, he showed them the article first and then the ball … which made the story really great!
After he looked through the binder, I told him that I had one last surprise for him! He was like “Alicia, are you serious?!” I made him this frame with the pictures that you sent me, the box score, and this cute motivational quote that he loves. Jeremy was so surprised and happy! He was like, “Does anyone in my family know you did this?” I was like,“No, I kept it a total secret!”He literally could not wait to get home and show everyone because his family and friends already knew the story about your article. It was seriously such an amazing Christmas!This Christmas was honestly my favorite Christmas too! It was great to give Jeremy such a special gift and to see his reaction toward it. I cannot thank you enough Malcolm!! This Christmas was honestly perfect! THANK YOU SO MUCH AGAIN!!
In the photo above, you can see the case Alicia bought and had engraved. Here’s a close-up:
Alicia included a photo of Jeremy with the display she’d made, which included a few of my photos:
One with Jeremy and the binder that included my blog entry about the whole adventure:
And finally, one of Jeremy and Alicia — with the ball, of course:
A couple days later, Alicia told me that she and Jeremy had put a thank you package in the mail for me, so I anxiously awaited it. When it arrived a week later, it felt like another Christmas morning for me. I carefully opened the envelope and inside, I found four things:
A thank you note from Jeremy:
A signed rookie card featuring Jeremy with the IronBirds:
A Tim Hortons gift card:
And a photo of Jeremy crossing home plate after he’d hit the home run. Somehow, Alicia had tracked down the photo from another fan who was in attendance that day. (She later put the photo in the blank spot on the collage.)
Strangely enough, I’m actually in the background of the photo above. See the guy with the yellow shirt and black cap who’s sitting alone in the top row of the section with the green seats? That’s me.
I have to say, this whole experience was extremely rewarding for me. It’s obviously amazing to get the generous package from Alicia and Jeremy, but it feels amazing to see that Jeremy was so excited about getting the ball back. As much as Alicia and Alicia have thanked me, I thank them equally for allowing me to be a part of such a great experience. Obviously, I’m excited to follow Jeremy’s career and hopefully see him in action again soon!
A full guide to Arthur W. Perdue Stadium is available on my website, as are guides to 15 other parks I’ve visited. Your visits and clicks help pay for my travels!
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