It rained for most of the morning in Pittsburgh, in fact, it was still raining when I arrived at the ballpark at 11 AM. This could mean only one thing: no batting practice. I was faced with possibly being shut out for the first time since August 2008.
When the stadium opened the gates to the seating areas at 11:30, I went over to the left field foul line. The rain had subsided. Several bullpen pitchers from the Pirates were warming up. I placed myself behind John Grabow and Ross Ohlendorf and waited for an overthrow.
Directly to me. I didn’t even have to move.
Its not like he randomly tossed the ball up and I got into a scrum and stole the ball away from ticketed patrons. He usually picks out people. I caught the ball, waved thanks, turned and left the section. I could hear some snooty lady and her rotund husband getting on the usher. “He doesn’t have a ticket. He shouldn’t be allowed to do that. Don’t let him back in here. Check his ticket.” Blah blah blah.
I went over to left field for the fourth inning to try and get a warm up ball from Nyjer. I avoided the right field seats thanks to the afore mentioned rudest-usher-in-PNC-Park.
Left Field has a lot more sections and people, so I had very little chance. The ball went to a group of people near the foul pole.
Inning 5. I went back to center field. I stood at the far edge of Section 140, away from the snotty lady. I looked over and they were both staring directly at me. I stared right back at them. I should’ve walked over and offered their spoiled kid a ball. “Excuse me, would you like a ball? ….. Then bring a glove!” and walk away. That’s what I felt like doing, I was in such a bad mood.
I didn’t get the 5th inning ball because it was tossed to the second row. Predictably, the ball fell back onto the field. The same thing happened in the seventh inning. That’s why Nate prefers to throw the ball deep.
Anyway, the miserable family got on the usher again after the fifth inning because 3 of us ballhawks entered the section. The usher came over and told me that I wasn’t allowed to try for warm up balls anymore. He said come back and try tomorrow when there’s different people around. He told Nick and Bryan the same thing. If you’re wondering, here’s what those “folks” looked like:
(To be civil, I am editing this paragraph from what I originally wrote. I’ve taken out most of the colorful adjectives I originally had written.) Its the guy eating, his son, and the lady in the orange.
I could’ve tried in the seventh and ninth, but out of respect for the ushers, I went and sat behind the Reds dugout to see if I could get some foul balls. There are nice ushers at PNC Park, the ones in center field were just doing their job because the supervisor somehow got involved.
I didn’t get any foul balls, and I got shut out at the Reds dugout, so my day ended on a sour note.
To make it worse, the Pirates looked awful again, getting shut out. They haven’t hit a home run now in a week.
Adam LaRoche’s body language tells the whole story:
A few shots from the game:
Johnny Cueto deals to Nyjer Morgan:
Evan Meek (a big Dave Matthews Band fan):
Jesse Chavez (tossed me my first ball of the day:
And the sweet spots:
Game: 3 balls (3 thrown)
Season: 67 balls (26 hit, 34 thrown, 7 device)
Games: 14 games (11 with BP, 3 without)
Average: 4.79 balls per game
Career: 233 balls
When the gates opened, I ran into the bleachers and immediately found ball #1, laying in the front row of section 138. I walked around in each section before turning my attention to the action on the field, and found another Easter egg in Section 136 about 5 rows back, it was ball #2.
The Pirates were hitting for about 10 more minutes, and then the Reds were going to hit. Near the end of the Pirates portion of Batting Practice, Karstens threw a ball to a kid about 6 rows back. Either the throw was a little off, and the kid completely missed the ball. It ricocheted right to me, ball #3. I was then faced with the choice of keeping the ball, or giving it to the kid. I decided to be charitable and glove flipped the ball to the kid, who thanked me.
The Reds then came out to hit. At the end of the Pirates portion of batting practice, a Pirate had thrown a ball into the crowd that someone misplayed. The ball was laying on the edge of the warning track. I didn’t even think about doing the glove trick, because it was directly in the sight line of a security guard.
I changed into my Reds gear, and stood in the front row directly in front of the ball, and waited. Jerry Hairston came over to left center field.
He walked over, and without hesitation flipped me ball #4.
Game: 8 Balls (4 hit, 4 thrown)
Season: 58 Balls (23 hit, 29 thrown, 6 device)
Games: 12 Games (10 with BP, 2 without)
Average: 4.83 Balls per Game
Career: 224 Balls
I was faced with the decision today of attending the Pirate game or skipping it. This is the weather forecast as of 1PM.
Batting practice would surely be canceled. I may get shut out for the first time since Sunday August 31st, 2008. I decided that since I am now in a competitive ballhawk league, that I had to go and at least try. I knew that my average balls per game would probably take a hit.
I went with my wife Holly and we arrived at the gates around 4:40 PM. The gates open during the week at 5 PM. Walking past the Stargell statue, I peered into the park and saw that sure enough, the tarp was covering the field. There was no batting practice today.
I entered the bleacher section at 5 PM and looked around for some Easter Eggs. There was nothing to be found, since it had been raining and drizzling all day long. Around 5:20, the Pirates pitchers came out to stretch. I followed a group of 6 other ballhawks up the escalator to go into the seating bowl to possibly catch an overthrow. Usually there are security guards that don’t permit entrance until 5:30, but there were none around. When we got to the front row right behind Matt Capps, Tyler Yates and company, a field security guard walked over and told us to go back to left field. Even though it was 5:24, he wouldn’t let us stay.
Meanwhile, the Astros pitchers came out to stretch. I decided that I might have a better chance getting a ball from them since there was a couple little kids and four high school kids watching the Pirates pitchers.
I decided to take the chance. I took off my Pirates sweatshirt exposing my black Astros shirt and donned my Houston hat and headed over to right field.
I lined myself up behind Russ Ortiz and Geoff Geary. I was the only one in the stands behind the Astros pitchers. I had 20 feet to my left and right without a soul in sight. There were 4 balls in play, as 8 pitchers were throwing. Jeff Fulchino finished his tosses and had a ball. I asked him for the ball and he made eye contact with me. He didn’t say anything, but went and talked to a fellow pitcher. A couple minutes later, Fulchino tossed me ball #1.
There were still 3 balls in play. Wesley Wright finished his tosses and gave his ball to a fan a little further down the line. It was a 10 year old kid wearing Pirate gear. Tim Byrdak was joking around and told the kid that he wasn’t done with the ball yet and to toss it back. The kid just stared at Byrdak confused and horrified. Byrdak urged him to toss the ball back. The kid then turned and ran away. It was rather amusing.
Jose Valverde and LaTroy Hawkins finished their tossing next. I asked for the ball. Again, I was the only fan with Astros gear on, so Valverde looked at me and tossed me ball #2. There was one ball left and it was being used by Geoff Geary and Russ Ortiz. I snapped a picture on my cell phone.
The Pirates got some good relief work from their bullpen and ended up losing the game 4-1. Adam LaRoche accounted for the Pirates only run with a Home Run in the 9th inning. It was too little too late.
I tried to get a ball at the dugout after the game from an umpire and the Pirates pitchers, but failed to do so.
As I was ready to leave, I decided to walk around for a minute and collect a ticket stub or two. I notice in Section 124, about four rows back, a circular white object laying on the ground. Seriously? Could this be a ball? Since I waited for the bullpen coach to come in, it took some time and the stadium was basically vacant. I looked closer and sure enough, it was a major league baseball. How did this get here? Was it some little kid who didn’t really even care about it? Did someone catch it and it trickled out of their glove during the game? It was weird. I looked around and didn’t see anyone looking for a ball. There were only a half dozen fans left, waiting down at the dugout. So, I picked the ball up, making it ball #4 of the day. Usually, Easter Eggs that are found count as hit balls, but since there was no batting practice on this day, and it didn’t look like a game ball, I decided it was probably someone’s warm up ball. I’ll chalk it up under the thrown category.
I’m glad I went to the game despite the rain.
Here’s a look at today’s results: ( the media guide was free for being a season ticket holder. The bobblehead was won at a spin-a-wheel g
ame where they are giving away all of the left over promotions from 2008)
And a closer look at those Astros balls.
Game: 4 Balls (4 thrown)
Season: 17 Balls (7 hit, 8 thrown, 2 device)
Games: 4 Games (3 with BP, 1 without)
Average: 4.25 Balls per Game
Career: 183 Balls
Hit List: 183 ties me with former Pirate Chris Duffy for #3769 on the all time hit list.
I attended today’s game with my best friend from my childhood days, Joe Filipowski. We got to the gates about 10 minutes before they were to open. I hate how the gates don’t open until 90 minutes before the first pitch. At 11:40, we were finally let inside. The Pirates were already in mid batting practice.
I checked for Easter eggs in left field, but there was nothing there. With some of the Pirates better hitters coming up and being left handed, we headed over to right field. I was shocked at how amazingly rude the Pirates were towards their own fans. I got totally ignored by Zach Duke, Jesse Chavez, Craig Monroe, Eric Hinske, Brandon Moss, and Donnie Veal in right field. I asked each of them for a ball on more than one occasion, but was ignored. The irritating part was that they were giving balls to little kids with Reds gear on, even though I was completely decked out in Pirates gear, including their new alternate batting practice jersey. It looked like it was going to be one of those days.
I decided to try and get a batted ball from one of the left handed power hitters. Nate McLouth hit one, but it was over my head and some guy just barely beat me to it. My friend Joe got the first ball of the day, but gave it away to a little kid. Jesse Chavez pointed the kid out and tossed it to him several rows up, but the kid missed it. Joe ended up catching up, but out of kindness gave it to the kid. He later said he regretted giving it away, it being the first ball that he’d snagged since the 1994 Home Run Derby at Three Rivers Stadium.
Moments later, Brandon Moss launched a deep fly ball to right field. I drifted over about 5 seats and camped out underneath it. The ball landed squarely in my glove. It was ball #1 of the day for me, and my first ball of 2009. It’d been over 6 months since I last snagged a ball, so it was good to finally get one. If you can find the #1 below, that’s the exact spot I snagged Moss’ Home Run.
I didn’t take any pictures during batting practice because I felt like having my camera around my neck would be a distraction for me and make moving around a little tougher. After Adam LaRoche and Brandon Moss’s group hit, I decided to move to left field. It would prove to be a little late because Andy LaRoche was absolutely raking balls into left field while we were in right.
I made my way over to where Matt Capps, Tyler Yates, and John Grabow were standing in left center field. I asked several times for some balls, but was ignored by Yates. At least Grabow looked at me, but decided to throw the ball into the bleachers instead. I made eye contact with Capps. He got a ball and pointed at me and tossed it. Out of no where, a Reds fan dives in front of me and steals the ball before it reached me. (I was in the second row, he was in the first). Luckily, another ball was hit to Capps. He turned around and made sure I caught this one, arching it perfectly. It was ball #2 of the day.
I then decided to move to the left field line where Ian Snell and Craig Hansen were hanging out. Since catching a HR ball would prove tricky here, I decided to try and ask every Pirate I could for a ball. I settled into the second row in one of the sections near the line. I chose an empty row so I could somewhat move. Moments later, Craig Monroe lauched a line drive in my direction. I barely had to move. There was some competition for the ball from some people in the front row, but since I am 6’5″, I was able to outreach them and made the snag for ball #3 on the day. The below picture shows the exact locations of balls #2 and #3:
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.