My dad and I left our hotel at 9:50 this morning to see the Philadelphia Phillies take on the Pittsburgh Pirates in Bradenton FL. The plan was to get there early and attempt to snag some home run balls in batting practice. Even though McKechnie Field doesn’t have an outfield seating area, there’s a narrow walkway behind the left field fence. I was planning on standing on this sidewalk and chasing down any home runs that came may way.
If you notice in the picture below, the wind was blowing straight out to left between 30-50mph. Little particles kept flying in my eyes and I was kicking myself for not bringing my sunglasses.
I soon abandoned my plan to roam the walkway pictured above. It was too narrow, and I had absolutely no chance of seeing home run balls coming. I moved a bit more toward left center where there was a parking lot for an adjacent school. Competition was slim, as you can see in the picture below. My dad went back to the left field foul pole to watch some batting practice. I heard him yell, “ERIK!” Then I heard some crackling branches above my head. Ball #1 dropped out of the trees and I quickly pounced on it. Another minute later my dad yelled my name again, and another ball crashed through the trees and I fielded it was it bounced off a root. It was Ball #2.
Although I got the first two balls to come out this way, I wasn’t happy that I didn’t see either of them coming. I couldn’t pick the ball up by standing where I was. Before, I was standing too close to the fence. I had no contrast to pick the ball up except the light blue high. I moved farther back.
My dad came back from the foul pole and decided to patrol the area near the school beneath the trees.
This was my spot for much of BP. If you’re wondering why I’m wearing a Phillies hat, its because the only Pirate hat I brought was the one Ian Snell threw me on 9-21-08, and I didn’t want to get that one sweaty.
Soon, another Home Run Ball came out. I had crept in a bit, and that proved to be a mistake. The ball hit about 10 feet in front of me and took a huge hop over my head. My dad was in position to make the snag, but the second bounce went over his head too and hit off of the white shed in the picture below. I ran the ball down, it was ball #3.
Besides the guy in the Phillies jersey a couple pictures up, there were a few entrepreneurial ballhawks in attendance today. They were rough looking locals who caught balls and sold them on the street for $4 or $5. Whenever these guys got a ball, they would take out a brush and doctor the balls up. I was told later by some guy that they bleached the balls to make them look brand new. They also dominated balls that landed within the fence which you can see in the first picture. They had 6 foot sticks that they would inch the balls closer to the fence, and then squeeze the ball under the fence. I could’ve had maybe 2 more balls today if I had a way to get these balls. There were 3 of these guys and a little kid. They didn’t hang around for long though. I continued to wait patiently for my next opportunity.
I got Ball #4 a bit later. It was a home run ball that hit off a palm tree and had lost most of its momentum. It started rolling towards me in the parking lot with one of the hustler ballhawk bleachers in pursuit. I charged the ball like an infielder charges a slow roller and got to it just in time.
Another ball came out soon after that my Dad chased down for his first career batting practice home run ball. He is hoping to get another one tomorrow for one of his nephews.
Batting practice then ended. I had got 4 balls, but I wasn’t done yet. Next to where I had been standing was a school. The school was directly behind the left field wall. The roof of the school was completely flat, meaning balls that were hit on the school stayed on the school. Before leaving, I had looked around for any “Easter Eggs.” There was one behind the batter’s eye in Center Field, but it was a good 15 feet beyond the fence. Impossible to get. I walked over to right center field. There were a good 7 balls laying on the Pirates infield practice field. No one was around at all, but the gates were locked. I waited for a bit and then got an 8 foot long 2×4 off of a scrap heap.
I tried to reach it with the 2×4 board, but couldn’t because the roof was too high and I couldn’t get enough leverage. I needed to be able to stand on something and I would be able to get it.
My dad had the idea of moving over a wooden picnic table for me to stand on.
I couldn’t see the ball, so with my dad telling me “left, right” etc, I was able to get ball #5.
I was pleased with 5 balls
for my first time snagging in Bradenton. It was a completely different experience than what I am used to. Not being able to see the ball until it was landing made it fun to chase the balls down. It also gave those with some agility an advantage. There was also a lot of luck involved. There was some 80 year old guy walking in from the parking lot who got a home run ball that clanked off a branch, took a soft bounce on the concrete and right into his hand.
The Bradenton ballhawk experience is much like the Chicago Cubs’ Waveland Avenue experience. You really can’t see the ball until the last second, and then you have to scramble to chase it down. It was fun.
On to the game:
The Pirates gave most of their regulars the day off. The only regular today was Adam LaRoche. Many regulars were given off due to the night game yesterday. I was a little disappointed. At least the Phillies brought all of their stars. Ian Snell was on the mound for the Pirates. The Pirates ended up winning the game 10-4, fueled by Andrew McCutchen’s 5 for 5 day. There were some towering home runs in the game, including a Ryan Howard shot that cleared the batter’s eye.
I’ll close this entry with some action shots from today’s game:
Jamie Moyer vs Craig Monroe:
Andrew McCutchen close up:
Tomorrow I will head to Tampa FL to see the Pirates take on the New York Yankees at George Steinbrenner Field.