I needed to rebound after driving 4 hours to Washington and only getting three balls, despite a full BP. My redemption would come today.
I arrived at the stadium a few minutes before the gates opened. Although there were no easter eggs that I could find, I did end up getting on the board rather quickly.
My first and second balls that I snagged were off the bat of Jason Jaramillo. The first hit a bleacher, and I ran over and picked up, and the second was a ground rule double that bounced to me over the fence.
For whatever reason, Andrew McCutchen and Lastings Milledge were hitting in the last group today. Typically, the last group is reserved for light-hitting backups. If this trend continues, it could be very good, considering there are very few folks at BP early, and both players have home run power.
Anyhow, that was it for Pirates BP. Two balls.
The Brewers came out, and I was hoping for some action. Unfortunately, most Brewers were wearing their warm up jerseys,
so I couldn’t identify many batters, except for obvious ones like Prince Fielder, Craig Counsell or Corey Hart.
Game: 12 balls (8 hit, 3 thrown, 1 found)
Season: 39 balls (24 hit, 6 thrown, 5 device, 4 found)
Games: 7 games
Average: 5.57 balls per game
Career: 617 balls
Streak: 103 consecutive games attended with at least 1 ball snagged.
2009 through 7 games: 29 (Currently I am 10 balls ahead of last year’s career high season)
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…)
Today was a Sunday game, so one never knows what to expect. Sometimes there will be batting practice, sometimes not.
Since today was a day game following a day game, there would be a full batting practice with both teams hitting.
The Pirates hit first, but the gates aren’t open early to season ticket holders on Sundays. So, I had to stand and helplessly watch from behind the bullpen.
During this time, I watched as one usher pocketed a ball, while another picked up three and tossed them back on the field.
After waiting for 30 minutes, 11:30 rolled around, and someone from the security building should’ve come to let us in. It didn’t happen.
I watched as the staff members sat and played on their phones, as the time ticked away.
Game: 5 ball (3 hit, 1 thrown, 1 device)
Season: 361 balls (192 hit, 106 thrown, 63 device)
Games: 75 games (8 of which didn’t have BP)
Average: 4.81 balls per game
Career: 527 balls
Streak: 90 consecutive games attended with at least 1 ball snagged.
Race for 400 in 2009: Need 39 in 5 games, 7.8 per game (I need a huge day soon…)
The Pirates came home for their final homestand of the season. It is an eleven game homestand that runs through Monday, September 28th. Of the eleven games, I will only be able to attend 8 of them. So, if am I to have any shot at 400 balls snagged in 2009, I need to snag 50 balls in 8 games, an average of 6.25 per game. (However, keep in mind that 4 of the 8 that I can attend are dreaded day games) I might be able to do this….
I only got one ball during the Pirates portion of batting practice. As I was checking for Easter eggs near the foul pole, a home run hit by Robinzon Diaz landed ten feet to the right of where I typically stand.
I was able to run over quickly enough to pick it up off of the ground. It was ball #1.
Usually, I get a majority of my balls snagged in a day before 5:30. The first half hour is for season ticket holders only, and its a ghost town. However, after the Pirates finished hitting at 5:10, the entire first group of Padres hitters were all lefties – meaning no balls would be hit to left field with any authority.
To make matters worse, the pitchers in left field were extra stingy, and didn’t seem to care that I was the only Padres “fan” in attendance.
At 5:30, I ran over to center field. I ended up catching the FIRST HOME RUN hit by a Padre batter at around 5:45. They weren’t putting any balls into the seats at all. Ball #2 was a high fly ball hit by an unknown lefty that I caught about five rows deep in section 140, in center field.
Moments later, I got Sean Gallagher to toss me a ball, but he woefully underthrew the ball, and it hit a chair two rows in front of me. This guy ran over and snatched the ball out of a chair, as I was climbing over a row to grab it.
Game: 5 balls (2 hit, 2 thrown, 1 device)
Season: 355 balls (188 hit, 104 thrown, 63 device)
Games: 73 games (7 of which didn’t have BP)
Average: 4.86 balls per game
Career: 521 balls
Streak: 88 consecutive games attended with at least 1 ball snagged.
Race for 400 in 2009: Need 45 in 7 games, 6.43 per game
I could’ve taken my choice of going to Cleveland, or staying in Pittsburgh today. The weather in Cleveland was forecast to be very nice, with a 5% chance of rain. Pittsburgh was predicted to have a 50% chance. I had to make a decision where I was going by 1 PM. After that time passed, I wouldn’t be able to make it to Cleveland by 3:30, thereby leaving me with PNC Park as my only option.
At 12:45 PM, this was the hourly weather forecast. It looked like there may have been a chance to at least get some BP in. I figured I’d save the gas and take the chance.
Wow, were they ever wrong.
It started pouring around 2:30ish, and didn’t stop.
McCutchen looked into the “crowd,” locked onto my location, and tossed a ball in my direction. The ball was coming in high. I had to jump up to make the catch. It was ball #1. My
streak had been preserved and extended. What a relief.
I spent the rest of the night going back and forth from right field to left field to center field (on occasion), trying to get another warm up ball.
Brandon Moss picked me out in the 6th inning and threw a ball right at me. The ball was intended for me. However, some random guy without a glove came running across the row and intercepted the ball. There was nothing I could do. Here he is:
Who sits like that at a baseball game anyway?
After the game was over (the Pirates won – finishing a sweep of the Brewers), I went down to the dugout. There, I watched the umpire toss a ball to a kid, which he dropped (the ball fell to the tunnel below and disappeared). Then, the umpire tossed a second ball to the same kid, which he also dropped down into the tunnel. What a waste. Luckily for Butterfingers, Bob Davidson came along and got one of the balls out of the tunnel and handed it to him.
I ended up with one ball, but did meet two readers of this blog after the game. I had noticed them prior to the game with their gloves and roster complete with player numbers and thinking, “They’re more prepared than I am.” I asked if they had snagged any balls on the day, and gave a ball away (one of the extras I bring from home) to one of the girls who had been shut out. There’s nothing worse than trying for a ball all day and coming up empty.
Here’s the McCutchen ball:
Which I somehow managed to screw up and number off-center. Argh.
Game: 1 ball (1 thrown)
Season: 294 balls (151 hit, 90 thrown, 53 device)
Games: 62 games (7 of which didn’t have BP)
Average: 4.74 balls per game
Career: 460 balls
Streak: 77 consecutive games attended with at least 1 ball snagged.
I had been in a slump over the past two days, botching or missing opportunities on 9 balls. Usually, when players go into slumps, they break out of it in a big way. That’s what happened to me today.
I was the first one into the bleacher area. I was looking for Easter Eggs, but couldn’t find any. Just then, I noticed a ball roll into foul territory and up against the fence near the handicapped seats in foul territory.
As I got to the spot, I noticed a ball in this somewhat creepy hallway.
I quickly grabbed ball #1, caught a glimpse of something at the end of the hallway, and made my way to the field area to grab the ball that originally brought me into foul ground.
Someone had left this utility fence open,
After a few fly balls, he turned and flipped a ball, no-look style, into the crowd. Most of the people around didn’t see it at first. I did, and grabbed ball #10. Double digits. Ballpark domination.
I caught ball #11 on one of Van Slyke’s over hit fly balls. I had to stand up on a bleacher to catch the ball. I had tied my pe
Then, some d-bag came and said, “Alright, you’ve got your share. I’m going to shut you down. I need one for my son. See Jimmy, I’ve got him boxed out.” I just stared at the guy. He was some 5’7″ guy wearing a yellow Pirates shirt, and he didn’t even have a glove. I stared right at him. He had no chance against me. I’m 6’5″.
His son kept screaming, “Give me the ball!” I was hoping he wouldn’t get one.
Soon, Van Slyke over hit another ball. I didn’t have to move much, and caught the ball once again, with the assistance of standing on the bleacher, for ball #12.
I made sure to rub the ball up and carefully inspect it in front of the d-bag that was going to “shut me down.” He just looked and then moved around me to the other side that I had just caught the ball.
His son then got a ball from Joel Zumaya. It was an International League ball, a minor league ball. The kid started whining and complaining.
I stayed in this area for almost the entire batting practice. A few minutes later, Zumaya started trying to rob home runs. Van Slyke over hit another one. I was right there, catching ball #13 on the fly. At this point I could hear people around me whispering, “How many is that for that guy?”
Zumaya and Jackson took their home run robbing act a bit over into left field and away from the 410 sign near the bullpen, where I had just snagged those 4 balls. I was going to follow them, but it was insanely crowded.
Seriously, I’ve never seen a batting practice this crowded at PNC Park.
Not even on opening day was it this crowded during batting practice. I’m used to having an entire row open to my left and right, so I can have some range. There would be none of that today.
Batting practice ended a few minutes later. I tried to get balls during the game, but it wasn’t happening.
There was a near sell out crowd. Over 31,000 were in attendance.
The left field bleachers were packed.
The center field and right field seats were packed.
Heck, the whole stadium was packed.
Which is something we’re not used to here in Pittsburgh.
I left after the 5th inning to get some dessert for my wife and I.
Here’s a look at today’s baseballs:
And the sweet spots:
Top performances at PNC Park: (double digits)
1) 13 Erik J 6-13-09
2) 11 Erik J 4-21-09
2) 11 Matt G 9-20-08
3) 10 Bryan P 6-1-09?
3) 10 Erik J 5-5-09
Game: 13 Balls (12 hit, 1 thrown)
Season: 174 Balls (84 hit, 67 thrown, 24 device)
Games: 33 Games (4 of which didn’t have BP)
Average: 5.27 Balls per Game
Career: 340 Balls
Competition Factor: 408,343
Today was game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals featuring the Penguins vs the Detroit Red Wings. Unfortunately, all the fans that weren’t able to get tickets to the game in Detroit seemingly decided to take the the 5 hour trip to see this baseball game. There were Detroit fans everywhere. Many of them were probably making the pilgrimage to see PNC Park for the first time, since its an interleague game, its not often that the Tigers come to Pittsburgh.
If today was a test of my ballhawking abilities, I would’ve failed. Despite being the first one into the bleacher area, I didn’t notice an Easter Egg that was right in front of my friggin face, I had two home run balls pop out of my glove, and I half heartedly went after a ball that ended up bouncing over the fence and skipped past my glove by about two feet. Had I actually gone for the ball, it would’ve been an easy catch. 4 balls – botched.
I did get one ball during the Pirates portion of batting practice. Craig Monroe hit a home run to my left that I could tell was going to be way over my head. I ran to my right and up the stairs under the bleachers. The ball bounced and hit off the concourse roof and settled near a garbage can. I reached down and grabbed ball #1.
Ball #2 came from an unknown Tigers batter. It was a deep fly ball that bounced on the warning track and right into my glove 4 rows back. I received a couple awkward high fives from Detroit fans, “That’s how we roll in Detroit,” some guy said. He must have thought I was from Detroit on account of my Tigers hat and shirt.
After misplaying two balls, I caught a Miguel Cabrera home run on the fly in the second row of section 136. I made sure that I squeezed ball #3 so it wouldn’t pop out.
That was all I got during batting practice. It was becoming annoying crowded.
To make matters worse, Andy Van Slyke was messing around the entire batting practice with the pitchers. He was hitting deep fly balls to the wall so that the pitchers could leap and make home run robbing catches. He must’ve hit 20 balls into the crowd. I’ve never seen anything so stupid and dangerous. Edwin Jackson, Joel Zumaya, and Dontrelle Willis were all taking turns risking their bodies and careers by jumping against the fence and robbing these home runs.
I tried to catch one for about 5 minutes, but I was too annoyed because it was real crowded around the area that Van Slyke was hitting to (left center field, near the bullpen). I was waiting for one of the pitchers to twist an ankle.
It was distracting because it was almost as if two batting practices were occurring simultaneously.
After batting practice ended, I didn’t get another ball until the 4th inning.
I sat on the right field wall for the first four innings.
Game: 4 Balls (3 hit, 1 thrown)
Season: 161 Balls (72 hit, 66 thrown, 24 device)
Games: 32 games (4 of which didn’t have BP)
Average: 5.03 Balls per Game
Career: 327 Balls