One of the perks that the Pirates offer is the opportunity to take batting practice inside of the PNC Park batting cages. The Pirates usually have an outdoor field day, where fans take batting practice on the field – I participated in that in September. In the winter, they invite the fans to take BP in the cages.
I took two rounds of BP of 10 pitches each. I went 20 for 20 hitting every ball that I faced.
Here’s a video of my second round:
There were two cages, one for grown ups which was set to fast speed, and one that flipped balls up there at about 30 mph for the kids. I went into the fast one of course.
The only thing I didn’t like was that my follow through kept hitting the net, making it a bit awkward.
After hitting Amy, Olivia and I went up into the hall of fame club to eat some light refreshments. Daniel McCutchen and Brad Lincoln were there, but I didn’t go up and say anything to them, especially since McCutchen seems to dislike the serious ballhawks.
As a benefit to being a season ticket holder, I was invited to take batting practice on the field at PNC Park on Sunday. The Pirates were out of town, so the BP was with other fellow season ticket holders. We we able to choose from Friday, Saturday or Sunday. I chose Sunday during the Steeler game, because I was hoping that I would be in a really small group and get more time to hit in the batting cage. That wouldn’t really be the case as other fans had the same mentality.
The bad part about going to PNC Park during a Steeler game is trying to find a place to park, and then walking to the stadium through the parking lots and dealing with drunk Steeler fans. Two fans directed comments towards me and my Pirates gear. The first fan said, “Dude, put the bats away, you’re scaring everyone!” I think he may have been serious.
I brought my metal bats because I am most comfortable using my own bats, and secondly, the ball travels a bit further. I wanted to put one out today.
Anyhow, the other comment directed toward me was some guy who asked his buddies three times if Daniel McCutchen had just walked past.
Maybe there’s some resemblance with the hair… I don’t know. I hope not.
Anyway, after checking in at a table outside of PNC Park, we were led down onto the field. Amy had come along to take some photos of the action.
The only problem is that there was no action. My group was assigned to ‘catch in left field’ first. We were supposed to play catch with our guest or snag balls.
I started throwing myself popups I was so bored. It was worse than a Pirates BP.
Eventually, Ian Weir showed up with his cousin Josh – two fellow ballhawks that I knew and would be able to throw some with.
We threw in left field for awhile.
Mixed in some popups and grounders.
And after a half hour, moved over to right field, where we would shag fly balls.
We got two fly balls, shot out of a pitching machine high into the air before we would rotate to the back of the line.
It was better than the last group, where we basically stood around – at least there was somewhat of a challenge, albeit an easy one for someone that attends BP every day and catches flies all the time.
Anyhow, the pitching machine was pitching the balls, so I watched and tried to time when I should begin my stride after seeing the ball put into the machine.
After 10 minutes or so, we rotated into the cage.
Here I am on deck:
And here I am taking some cuts.
I only got 10 pitches, and was forced to change my bat after the first pitch. “You can’t use a metal bat!!” shouted some teenage intern operating the pitching machine. I was pretty mad because fellow season ticket holder Nick Pelescak informed me that he had been allowed to use his metal bat in his session just two hours earlier. Lame. How about some consistency?
Anyhow, I quickly grabbed a Ronny Paulino 35 inch 32 ounce wooden bat so I didn’t murder anyone with screamers off of my metal bat (by the way, no one was allowed in the infield anyhow – I still don’t see what the big deal was about).
Out of the 10 pitches I pulled everything, hit a couple flies, swung and missed at a few, hit some grounders, and hit one bomb that landed in foul territory that would’ve probably had a chance to clear the fence had I not been out in front of it. It landed on the fly here:
I felt like Brandon Wood. If you’ve watched him in Pirates BP, you know what I mean.
Anyhow, we were allowed to get back in the cage after everyone got 10 pitches.
What was important about Forbes Field, well, Amy took me there on our first official date one year ago today.
Some pics from what’s left of Forbes Field:
At the 457 deepest part of the park:
Forbes Field Historical Marker:
Home Plate, which is in a lecture hall across the street from the outfield wall:
Two great close ups that Amy took of Olivia and I at the outfield wall of Forbes Field:
Walking down some steps, I think it was 144 steps or something like that. It was a lot.
I’m planning on going to Cleveland on Thursday after work…
However, we didn’t stop to look around, as we were on a schedule to get to Miller Park about an hour and a half before the gates opened. This would give us time to buy tickets, park, and familiarize ourselves with the exterior of the stadium, and find the correct gate to go into.
There wasn’t really anywhere to park around the stadium, but the stadium lots, so we parked for $10 and then walked about six minutes to the stadium. There’s a nature trail that runs along the stadium, and a bridge spans a stream on the way to Miller Park. We paused to get a quick photo.
You can see the large domed structure in the background, which of course is Miller Park. By the way, the weather in Milwaukee was absolutely miserable. It was 44 degrees with constant rain and drizzle. The biting wind made it feel like 37 degrees, so needless to say, we couldn’t do much outside during our two days in Milwaukee.
I was very disappointed to find out that the gates to Miller Park wouldn’t open until 90 minutes before the first pitch. Even though this was a SATURDAY. The only way to see the Brewers take batting practice was to go into Friday’s restuarant, so that’s just what we did.
I went out to the Friday’s deck after a few minutes, which is just above the left field wall. You’ll also notice that there’s a gap between the outfield wall and the deck, creating a perfect place for baseballs to fall into.
So, I lowered my glove and glove tricked it for my first ball of the day.
I was wrong.
Rickie Weeks drilled a line drive home run that struck a table and stayed in the deck seating area, so I ran over and picked it up. It was ball #2.
Another ball would land in the deck, but bounce back onto the field. I really couldn’t run around in there with some people seated and eating.
while the pitchers threw in the outfield near the front row of Friday’s. Chris Resop recognized me and waved.
He shook his head and shouted, “Don’t you get enough at home?!”
The only other interaction I had with a Pirates player was with Evan Meek, who saw me and asked if I had family in Milwaukee. He also asked how long of a drive it was and who I came with. Here he is looking up at me.
Once the gates opened, I ran upstairs to try for a home run ball in left field. The Pirates were already batting, and the first group contained Andrew McCutchen, Ryan Doumit, and Jose Tabata. I figured they’d be able to reach the seats.
I made my way over to right field for the rest of the Pirates batting practice, since a majority of the team is left handed. When I entered the bleachers, there were already several dozen fans there, but they all overlooked a ball that was in the front row, again, hidden under a bleacher.
It was ball #4 on the day.
However, Euclides Rojas was in the bullpen unpacking gear, so I decided to wait. Unfortunately for me, he then made his way over and picked up all four. I politely asked for one, but despite being the only Pirates fan in right field, I was denied. Every time I’ve ever asked Rojas for a ball, I’ve been glared at. I miss old bullpen coach Luis Dorante.
He tossed many balls into the crowd, and was, as usual, going all out to catch every ball hit within 200 feet of him. He had to throw the balls back in left handed, since his shoulder is injured. His toss to me was also left handed. It was inaccurate, over my head and to my right, but I was able to track it down before other fans got it. “I got it Ross!” I called down. “Thank you!” He smiled and waved.
Near the end of batting practice, I glove tricked a ball in the Pirates bullpen. It was at least 20 feet below, so it was pretty noticeable to everyone in the stadium. The section below could be heard chanting “Go! Go! Go! Go!” as I slowly pulled my glove up with the ball tucked inside. BP ended right after I glove tricked the ball, so I put on my backpack and went to meet up with Amy.
We ended up sitting near the top of the stadium in the upper deck near the right field foul pole.
Game: 6 balls (1 hit, 1 thrown, 2 device, 2 found)
Season: 137 balls (55 hit, 34 thrown, 27 device, 20 found)
Games: 21 games
Average: 6.52 balls per game
Career: 1,259 balls
Amy took tons of photos. Here’s the top three that have nothing to with my ballhawking, but were quality pics by my lovely fiancee:
#1 Daniel McCutchen has pitched really well this year and was recently promoted to set up man to Joel Hanrahan. The reason for his effectiveness? This wildly distracting face upon delivering the pitch:
I took my first trip to Cleveland on Friday. Last year, I made 19 trips to Cleveland and was a 20 game season ticket holder. I didn’t renew my tickets and plan on making fewer trips this year, even though Progressive Field is one of my favorite stadiums to ballhawk in.
Amy was along with me for a weekend trip, that included a stop in Cleveland, and then two games at Miller Park in Milwaukee on Saturday and Sunday.
When we arrived, the rain had stopped, but when I peeked into the stadium, I saw the tarp out on the field, which is never a good sign – but it was negated by the fact that the cage was up, and there were several Indians out throwing. The only thing that the rain had ruined was early batting practice, meaning easter eggs would be unlikely.
Amy got in line at Gate C, and even though we arrived at 3:50, we were still first in line. I was hoping that maybe batting practice had started so there would be some balls in the seats, but it didn’t.
It ended up costing me a couple balls, because some balls landed in the seats, and I was more focused on finding balls than tracking them. It was an error, but luckily Travis Hafner was in the cage, and he was in fine form today.
Perez has thrown me more baseballs than any during batting practice. He’s probably THE most generous pitcher in terms of distributing souvenirs to fans that I’ve seen. Although Livan Hernandez of the Washington Nationals is a close second. Thanks Chris!
Another teenaged ballhawk had beaten me down there as he was in the section by the bullpen, but he couldn’t find the ball anywhere.
So even though the Indians BP was great, and I started out on fire, it all got evened out by that cold stretch, as I failed to snag another ball during the Indians portion of batting practice.
Luckily, the Seattle Mariners feature a ton of lefties, so my chances of getting a few more would be decent.
Ichiro was the first batter for the Mariners, and he didn’t disappoint. He put ball after ball into the seats.
It was an easy glove trick ball. All I’d have to do is fling my glove out a few feet, knock the ball closer to the wall, and it’d be mine. The only problem was that a security guard was thirty feet down the line, staring directly at the area where I’d have to do the glove trick.
I decided to go and just do it quickly. I went and snagged the ball, as planned, and the security supervisor marched down and demanded that I give the ball back. I did. But it wasn’t the same ball. It was a beat up decoy ball that Nick and I use to play catch with on the Roberto Clemente bridge. I kept ball #8 in my possession.
Back in right field, ball #10 was a clean catch that literally saved some lady’s face. I ran over and caught the ball on the run directly in front of an elderly woman who wasn’t paying attention at all. Amy didn’t get the picture because it was obstructed, but here I am labeling the ball.
Amy was sitting probably about twenty rows back taking pictures, when one of the lefties hit a bomb that landed a section over from her. There was no one in the vicinity but her, so as several other fans raced in to claim it. She got up and acted like she was going to go snag the ball. This caused the other fans to lay off, and gave me enough time to go get the ball. Amy knows that if she had picked it up, it wouldn’t have counted, so that’s why she left it there for me to get. She gets a huge assist on ball #11.
It was picked up in row R under a seat
It was a line drive home run that smacked an elderly man directly in the chest, knocking him down into his chair. I picked the ball up a row behind him and gave it to him. It would’ve been nice to have kept my thirteenth ball, but given the situation, I felt I had to give the ball up.
Amy and I left right after batting practice to head to Milwaukee.
Game: 13 balls (9 hit, 2 thrown, 1 device, 1 found)
Season: 131 balls (54 hit, 33 thrown, 25 device, 18 found)
Games: 20 games
Average: 6.55 balls per game
Career: 1,253 balls
For the fifth year in a row, I decided to make the trek to Spring Training in Florida. However, this year, I would travel with my girlfriend Amy instead of my dad, who is recovering from surgery.
There was some early airport drama, where we arrived at the security checkpoint 12 minutes prior to the boarding of our plane due to flooding of rivers in Pittsburgh which led to the closing of 376 west, the highway that leads us to the airport. However, Amy did some smooth talking to a TSA agent and got us moved to the front of a lengthy security line, and we arrived at our gate just as the plane began boarding.
We arrived in Tampa at 10:30 and awaited our first spring training game the next day.
We arrived at McKechnie Field bright and early at 9AM and took the obligatory picture in front of the stadium:
And in front of a Spring Training sign posted there:
After taking several more photos, we walked around to the back of McKechnie Field, where I would do my ballhawking for the day.
We actually got there too early, as the cage wasn’t even up yet,
and the players were just starting to stretch
and have a meeting in the outfield.
Batting practice wouldn’t even get started until about an hour later around 10AM, as the players would do some baserunning drills and infield work first.
That left us ample time to explore the area behind the outfield wall. There were a few changes from last year in the area behind the fence.
First, there were a bunch of picnic tables installed, which would lead to crazy bounces and limited range if a ball hit in that area.
Second, the garage where two mechanics used to work on cars had apparently been bought out by the Boys and Girls Club, as evidenced by the logo on the side of the building. This would lead to decreased competition, as the mechanics would typically try and compete for baseballs and subsequently sell them for $3 each at their garage.
Finally, an orange fence was installed to protect bus windows from being shattered by baseballs, and a basketball hoop had been erected in the area.
We made our way behind the old garage,
and over to the area behind the batter’s eye in center field.
All the while, I was keeping an eye out for easter eggs, but there were none.
In the area behind the wall in right center field, there is a small practice field.
After a while, Pirates pitchers came out to do some PFP, Pitcher’s Fielding Practice. Working with pitching coach Ray Searage, the pitchers first worked on taking grounders and making a throw to second base.
Then, they fielded bunts and threw the balls to third base.
Finally, the pitchers took line drive comebackers. The players appeared to be having fun, but none as much as Searage who was extremely cheery and enthusiastic.&nbs
This was my view from the security fence. I didn’t bother any of the players by calling out to them or getting their attention, I just stood and watched.
My girlfriend took a video, about halfway through or so, Evan Meek recognizes me and waves to me. You’ll also see Joel Hanrahan say hello to me. Both of the pitchers were very kind to me at batting practice and have had conversations with me on several occasions.
Check it out in Amy’s video:
There still wasn’t much going on, so I took a video of the area behind McKechnie Field.
Check it out:
Batting practice wouldn’t start for another 30 minutes or so, and the waiting took forever. There was a lot of standing around.
Followed by some pacing.
It allowed Amy to take some random photos, such as this one of a squirrel:
Or this one of an inch worm.
When batting practice finally got underway, it was more of the same. Standing around.
At McKechnie Field, you can’t see the ball until its about to leave the field. I absolutely hate it. It’s very tedious. Imagine doing that for two hours. I was kind of frustrated with the whole process, but I had my girl there to keep me calm.
There were only two competitors there with me. A man in a Barry Bonds shirt,
and his friend.
The two worked as a team. Later, they would be seen selling the balls on the street as we exited the stadium.
They stayed close to the secondary fence and had that whole area covered thanks to a 20 foot long ball retrieving device:
Since they played up, I waited back for any balls that would clear both fences. Unfortunately, there was NO wind at all today, so most fly balls died in left field before even reaching the fence.
I did get my first ball of the day near the end of the Pirates’ batting practice. Amy spotted it first and shouted “Erik! Erik! Erik!” and pointed towards the building. A ball had landed on the roof.
It rolled off the roof and I raced over to scoop it up before ballhawk #2 could get there.
Their session was ama
zingly disappointing. Since the Phillies had a split squad today, they brought all of their scrubs, and very few home runs were hit.
To pass the time, the guy in the Barry Bonds shirt offered to play catch with me.
Near the end of the Phillies’ BP, a batter crushed a home run that bounced on the pavement and into the cypress tree moss above. I crouched down and used my glove to snag it on the bounce.
Moments later, presumably the same batter struck again and ripped a home run that landed in the same place as ball #1, on the roof. I raced over and grabbed ball #3.
That would be all that I would get today. Three balls. I had fun with Amy, but I really disliked ballhawking in this venue. Not being able to see anything takes away a lot of the fun and skill needed. Despite having tickets to tomorrow’s Red Sox / Pirates game, I vowed not to return to McKechnie to ballhawk again.
Some pictures from the game:
The field from our seats, in Sec 8, Row 1.
Ahead of us was Pirates president Frank Coonelly who looked visibly agitated at the amount of runs given up, as well as four misplayed balls by outfielders during the first three innings.
I really like Ross Ohlendorf, but he didn’t have his best stuff today, and four missed catch-able balls by outfielders didn’t help his cause. Keep your head up Ross. That’s what Spring Training is for.
Pedro Alvarez has put on some weight and his range looks very limited, but I only saw two balls hit to him that he didn’t get to, so I’ll have to see a larger sample size to say for certain if he’ll be a liablilty at third.
Lyle Overbay, the Pirates new first baseman. Hopefully he brings a line of .275-20-85 this year at least. We’ll see.
The Phillies didn’t bring many of their regulars, but at least Ryan Howard was there.
Ryan Howard at bat:
Pedro Alvarez digs in. I’m hoping for 35 home runs from Pedro this year, but I fear it may come with a .240 average and lots of strike outs. He’s still young though.
Neil Walker, the Pirates’ second baseman at the plate:
And finally a panorama of McKechnie Field from our seats:
We left after a few inning
s to go enjoy ourselves in Florida.
We headed to the beach.
There weren’t too many people there.
We went for a long walk. And found lots of sea shells.
We eventually came to parts of the beach where there weren’t any people around. So we went exploring.
The second best highlight of going back there was finding a Sting Ray skeleton. Check it out:
We found it here:
I was invited to a season ticket holder event at PNC Park tonight.
However, first we headed to the zoo to spend the final day of my Thanksgiving break.
Since I don’t live as close to Pittsburgh anymore, the plan was to go to the zoo for a few hours, and then head over to PNC Park for a batting practice event.
I hadn’t been to the zoo in years, probably not since 2000.
Afterwards, I was really happy with how I hit.
We then made our way over to the Pirates clubhouse, where I checked out the Pirates bathroom:
and ate some food in the Pirates locker room:
We peeked in the Pirates weight room:
and trainer’s room:
Today was Memorial Day, and there was an autograph session of former Pirates that would begin at 11:30 when the gates were to open. So, the line to get into batting practice was easily the longest I’ve seen it all season.
And I was near the end of it.
When I finally got in, I managed to get two balls rather quickly from the lone pitcher who was in the outfield, Chris Jackubauskus. He tossed me ball #1 from about 100 feet away or so, then began tossing balls to the other folks in the outfield. The second ball came when he overthrew a group of people in the front row. I was right there to pick it up.
Game: 4 balls (1 hit, 3 thrown)
Season: 152 balls (88 hit, 36 thrown, 10 device, 18 found)
Games: 24 games
Average: 6.33 balls per game
2010 Game Balls: 3
Career: 730 balls
Streak: 120 consecutive games attended with at least 1 ball snagged.
The day didn’t start off on the right foot, as I was a few minutes late to batting practice. Fellow ballhawk Nick Pelescak already had seven balls by the time I entered the stadium. Amazing.
I had some work to do to catch up, as we began the week tied atop the standings of the Ballhawk League (BHL).
As I mentioned in yesterday’s blog, Andrew McCutchen and Lastings Milledge have been hitting in the last group of Pirates. So, for the 10-15 minutes that we get to see the Pirates hit, at least there’s some right handed semi-power hitters in the group.
I got ball #1 off the bat of Andrew McCutchen. It was a home run that landed in an empty section to my right that I ran over and grabbed.
Soon after, Lastings Milledge hit a ball onto the Rotunda that I ran up the ramp to snag as it slowly rolled down towards me. That would be it for the Pirates portion.
Luckily, the Brewers have been good to me lately. I changed into my Brewers gear.
And then would get started on a nice roll in an empty park.
“I’d better get my glove on,” I thought. No less than seconds after I had my glove on my
hand, Duke delivered his second pitch of the game. Weeks hit a slicing fly ball foul, directly at me. I immediately stood up and went into ballhawk mode. I took several steps to my left and made the clean catch on the fly. It was my first foul ball since snagging my first last year on September 23, 2009.
Upon catching the ball I did a fist bump and a little bit of celebration, which must have caught the eye of Tim Neverett and Bob Walk, who commented on the catch. It was also enough to get FSN to cut back to me.
Someone in the Pirates brass must have seen the catch, because moments later I was approached by a Pirates representative with a mic in hand. He introduced himself, congrulated me on my catch, and explained that he would like to invite me to be on the PNC Park game show “Know Your Buccos,” at the end of the second inning.
As instructed, I went over in the middle of the second and chatted with Joe Klimchak, who explained the game that I would be participating in. Basically, four ‘fun’ facts about a Pirate are presented, and the participant must eliminate the false answer.
When we went live, Joe introduced me, telling the crowd about the foul ball I had just snagged, and explained how I could win the fabulous prize (a $65 Pirates sweatshirt.)
I had to figure out which of the following facts were false regarding Ronny Cedeno:
I knew the Vizquel fact was probably true, given they are both Dominican. I also figured that Old School sounded like a type of movie that a man of Cedeno’s age would enjoy. I was torn between the First Job and the name of his cat.
I thought it over and just thought, “Who would name their cat Meow?” “Come here Meow… that would just sound stupid.” So I eliminated the cat named Meow.
After a few pressure filled seconds, it was revealed that Ronny does not have a cat named Meow, I had eliminated the false answer, and won the $65 jacket.
If you’d like to check out a video of my Know Your Buccos spot, you can check out the youtube link below.
I went back to my seat and watched the rest of the game, glove in hand.
Lightning wouldn’t strike twice. Would it?
Well it did.
Andrew McCutchen came up to bat in the fifth inning.
He fouled off a pitch in the same spot as the Week’s foul ball. I shot up out of my chair immediately when I saw the angle the ball took off the bat. This time, the ball was dying on me. It didn’t quite reach me, as it was about a row and a half ahead of me. I reached down and got it to hit my glove and knocked it into the row directly below me. I would liken the play to a catcher smothering a ball in the dirt. The ball came to a dead stop and I picked up my second foul ball of the day. Amazing.
Would I go on to catch my thirteenth ball of the night? A third foul ball in the game?
It was certainly empty enough for it to happen, as the Pirates were getting blown out, and the weather had turned cold.
There’s probably more fans at high school baseball games, but that’s Pittsburgh on week nights for you. Low, low attendance, especially after 10PM, like it was in the picture above.
I would end the night with those two foul balls, a sweatshirt, twelve total balls snagged, and probably the best ballhawking performance of my career.
Game: 12 balls (10 hit, 1 thrown, 1 device)
Season: 51 balls (34 hit, 7 thrown, 6 device, 4 found)
Games: 8 games
Average: 6.38 balls per game
2010 Game Balls: 2
Career: 629 balls
Streak: 104 consecutive games attended with at least 1 ball snagged.
2009 through 8 games: 31 (Currently I am 20 balls ahead of last year’s career high season pace)
It was time for my return to Progressive Field in Cleveland. Of the ballparks that I’ve traveled to, I enjoy ballhawking most at Progressive Field.
I arrived at 3:30 and was second in line behind fellow Pittsburgh ballhawk Nick Pelescak.
When the gates opened, I was hoping to fill my pockets with Easter Eggs. Alas, I only found one ball, despite looking in virtually every row and seat. At the very least, I was on the board.
Game: 7 balls (3 hit, 1 thrown, 3 found)
Season: 24 balls (13 hit, 3 thrown, 5 device, 3 found)
Games: 5 games
Average: 4.80 balls per game
Career: 602 balls
Streak: 101 consecutive games attended with at least 1 ball snagged.
2009 through 5 games: 20 balls (Four balls ahead of last year’s pace)
I’ll close with another brief youtube video that I took from left field:
I decided to take a little road trip this weekend. My first stop was Baltimore’s Camden Yards.
I had been to the stadium several times last season, with little success. My best showing was a six ball day against the Mets, but other than that I have had terrible luck there. Luckily, at least the weather had decided to cooperate, as it was a nice spring day.
I left about half way through the game to drive to Philadelphia. The
plan was to stay overnight in Philadelphia, and then wake up early the
next morning and drive the rest of the way to New York City.
I was able to watch the Pirates at Diamondbacks live on the drive from Baltimore to Philadelphia.
MLB At-Bat for the Iphone. Love it. Don’t worry, I took this photo moments before leaving the Orioles’ parking lot, I wasn’t driving at that point. Also, I did put my seat belt on after taking the photo.
Game: 3 balls (3 hit)
Season: 12 balls (8 hit, 0 thrown, 4 device)
Games: 3 games
Average: 4.00 balls per game
Career: 590 balls
Streak: 99 consecutive games attended with at least 1 ball snagged.
2009 through 3 games: 13 balls, 1 behind last year’s pace.