I missed Monday’s and Tuesday’s games due to prior commitments. I was able to catch part of them on tv, and believe me, it was brutal. The crowds were as sparse as I had ever seen.
On Tuesday, fellow ballhawk league member and PNC Park ballhawk league member Nick Pelescak went on a rampage. He texted me to let me know that he had caught 11 balls during batting practice. The recognized official PNC Park record was 13 – set by me, back on June 13th 2009.
As the night went on, Nick would get a toss up ball during the game from Andrew McCutchen and Brandon Moss. It would come down to the players coming off of the field for Nick. Fortunately for him, Tim Tschida tossed him a ball as he walked off the field, giving Nick Pelescak the new PNC Park ballhawk record of 14 balls snagged in one game. After just three months, my name had been erased from the record book.
I was glad for Nick – and was more motivated than ever to do my best to get the record back. Since about June 21st or so, around when the Indians/Pirates series began, I have put myself through a rigorous workout schedule. Every other day I lift weights – on the off days, I run three miles.
Today, I would forego my fitness and wellbeing to stay for the entire game, and maybe, just maybe, get that record back.
Around 2:45 PM, it started to rain hard, so I was about 95% sure that batting practice would be cancelled. At 3:30, I got a text from Nick saying the tarp was on the field. I decided that maybe I could get three balls today from pitchers and what not – and that would be a good day.
I arrived at the stadium a little after 4 PM, and faced no traffic at all on the way in. Pittsburgh is officially a ghost town for the next three days. The G20 summit is here, and it has basically transformed Pittsburgh into a military state.
I went down to the riverwalk to wait for Brandon Moss, Garrett Jones, or Ryan Doumit to send one out of the stadium. Usually, the riverwalk is bustling with people. Typically, I am asked no less than 50 times, “What are you doing? Trying to get a ball? Do they ever come out here? How many came out today? What happens if it goes in the river?”
There were military choppers flying over every so often.
And to my right.
Lots of room to run. Sometimes on Saturdays it can get quite crowded for BP, since there’s very few rows. On days like this however – there’s plenty of room to roam.
I got ball #8 in Phillips’ next round of BP. He launched a home run that hit half way up the rotunda facade. Typically, I would just stand and watch the ball, since it was directly down the line. Since no one was here, I ran over towards where the ball was going to hit – just in case of a crazy bounce. The ball would take a huge hop off of the rotunda, and fall in Section 133, where it would roll slowly down the steps up against the green wall in the picture below. I was able to pick it up.
It was about 5:45, and I had snagged 8 balls already…
However, I would get shut out for the rest of BP. I made a bad choice on two consecutive groups. I stayed in left field when there were two powerful lefties peppering the seats with homers. Then, I went over to center field for the last group, but got shut out there as well.
I decided that my new goal would be to put up double digits.
I got ball #9 in the first inning from Andrew McCutchen.
It was rather funny. Andrew finished throwing with Brandon Moss and turned to throw the ball into the center field seats. He stopped and laughed, almost as if he was thinking, “These guys again?” It was basically us four ballhawks that he sees all the time. He paused and looked at us, and then threw me the ball in Section 139. He has probably seen me the least, since I don’t typically stick around for the games.
Speaking of center field, look how unbelievably empty it was?
Thank you G20 and the Pittsburgh Media for scaring everyone away from Pittsburgh. And yes, those pictures were actually taken DURING the game!
I would try every inning for another warm up ball from an outfielder so I could record a double digit game. In the second inning, Nick caught Moss’ warm up ball.
In the third, I went back to center field, but changed my appearance, taking off my Pirates Tshirt and wearing my black under armor compression shirt. I also put on some ugly visor I had won after BP. I was hoping he wouldn’t recognize me and throw me another ball. No luck.
In the fourth, Moss threw his ball to an older ballhawk on the right field wall who misplayed it, and the ball bounced into a teenager’s hand.
In the fifth, I tried again with my altered appearance, but McCutchen threw it to some girl.
The sixth inning rolled around, and I was the only person that stood up for Moss when he looked for someone to throw it to. It helped that there were maybe 20 people sitting on the entire right field wall. After scanning the crowd, he tossed me ball #10.
Thank you Brandon!
I kept playing for more toss up balls in every inning. In the ninth, with my altered image, I was able to trick McCutchen into throwing me another one. I doubt he recognized that I was the same guy who he threw a ball to in the first inning. He lobbed it up, and I took a few steps to my right and made the catch. It was ball #11.
After catching each warm up ball, I switched the ball with an extra ball I had brought from home. In the past, I had been given guff by ushers or non friendly season ticket holders for catching too many outfield warm up balls. Now, I make sure that I hand the “decoy” balls to a little kid right in front of an usher or supervisors. I’m hoping they’ll think, “That guy’s alright.” I’ve got a whole box of them at home. They are balls given to me by friends who agreed in the past to pay for their tickets to games with the balls they’ve caught. Those balls obviously aren’t marked and don’t count in my stats. Their sole purpose is to use to give away.
After getting McCutchen’s warm up ball, smoothing keeping it in my glove, while slipping the decoy ball out of my pocket and tossing it to a kid, I left the outfield with Nick to go to the dugout area. On our way towards the main concourse we were stopped by a kind usher. He told me something along the lines about how nice it was that I gave a ball to a kid and offered me a ball. Of course I took it. It counts. An usher is a paid employee of the Pirates, not a fan, and balls given away by ushers, trainers, security guards count. It was ball #12. He told me that he had retrieved the ball from center field earlier and that it had gotten soaked when it rained earlier this morning. The ball was certainly heavy, so I put it in my bag, and will hold off on numbering it until it dries out.
Nick was with me and noted, “You’re only two away now.”
I would need a miracle.
Enter Jayson Nix.
I sat down in the box seats and waited for the game to end.
Nix would foul off a 1-0 pitch from Virgil Vazquez that would land in an aisle of the Lexus Club seats.
As soon as the ball was hit, I was off. The ball bounced off the concrete, and took a high hop in the air. I was closing in on the ball and reached out and caught the ball out of the air. It was my first career foul ball, and my first game ball of 2009.
Not only that, but it was my 13th ball of the game.
Even more, it was my 200th hit ball snagged of 2009.
Guess what else? Remember Nick Pelescak? Guess who hit his first career foul ball which he caught earlier in the season? Yeah, Laynce Nix. And who’s PNC Park single ball record was I chasing? Nick Pelescak’s. Somehow fate had taken over.
Here’s a shot from Reds TV of where the ball landed. I’m wearing the black under armor shirt with my hat on backwards:
And a shot from FSN Pittsburgh, as I’m reaching out to make the catch:
I just needed to get a ball from Bob Davidson, and I would have my name back in the PNC Park record book, sharing Nick’s record.
The Pirates would go on to lose the game, and I tried my best to get Davidson to toss me a ball. He looked directly at me, but tossed four balls to other kids.
I quickly ran over to the Pirates dugout to try and get a ball from someone.
I waited for the Pirates bullpen pitchers to come in. Only Matt Capps had a ball, and he tossed it to a little kid.
All of the players had exited the field.
All of the fans had left the stadium.
A security guard came over and told me I had to leave. However, I noticed that Herbie Andrade, the bullpen catcher, still hadn’t come in. I bargained with the security guard to just let me wait for “that player,” and then I would be gone.
Herbie walked slowly in, lugging a huge bag of equipment over one shoulder, and carrying another burdonsome bag in the other.
The entire stadium was basically empty now, except for me (standing in the front row above the tunnel), and Nick, who was standing a few rows behind me.
Herbie probably wondered, “What the F is wrong with these guys?”
I felt awkward, so I spoke to him in Spanish.
“Tienes algunas pelotas extras para mi, Herbie?”
He paused and fumbled around with the bags. Noticing that he was going to give me a ball, I continued, “Muchisimas Gracias. Eres el hombre.”
He the tossed me ball #14. I bid him farewell with, “Hasta manana.” Seriously, Herbie is an awesome guy.
My friend Nick couldn’t believe my luck. Within 1 inning, from the beginning of the 9th to the end of the game, I had snagged four balls.
I wanted one more shot at snagging a ball. There was only one place to go.
Outside to the tall grass that was buzzing with insects.
I stomped around hoping to step on a ball.
I continued to search.
After about 10 minutes of searching, fearing I would be arrested as a suspected g20 terrorist, and feeling bugs crawling on my legs, I relented.
Did the thought of jumping into the river and swimming 17 feet down, feeling around for a ball, and grabbing it to get 15 for the night cross my mind? Yes.
Did I jump in the river and actually try it? No.
Nick and I would share the PNC Park record of 14.
Here’s today’s PNC Park record tying and personal best baseballs:
And the sweet spots: (the usher ball is not numbered yet because it is soaked):
And a look at my first career foul ball snagged, and first game ball of 2009:
Game: 14 balls (8 hit, 6 thrown)
Season: 375 balls (200 hit, 112 thrown, 63 device)
Games: 76 games (8 of which didn’t have BP)
Average: 4.93 balls per game
Career: 541 balls
Streak: 91 consecutive games attended with at least 1 ball snagged.
Attendance: 15,980 (couldn’t have been more than 2,000-3,000 that actually showed)
Race for 400 in 2009: Need 25 in 5 games, 5.0 per game (This could be do-able…)