Our third day in Florida brought us to Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota FL.
We got there a little before 10AM, which gave us over an hour to explore the exterior of the stadium and pick up our tickets at the will call window. The stadium had received a complete renovation over the offseason, and it showed. This was one of the nicest Spring Training stadiums I’ve visited.
She noticed baseballs in the bottom of the gate, along with ‘BB’ for baseball.
She also pointed out baseballs in the supports of the awning above home plate.
I pointed out to her that the gates looked the exact same as the ones in Camden Yards in Baltimore.
Here is a look through the gate at the inside of the stadium:
It looked really nice for a Spring Training stadium.
The landscaping and exterior work was great.
Check out the giant planters pots with palm trees. Nice touch.
We walked back to the area behind left field, where there was a gate area that allowed a view into the park.
Upon peeking in, this is what I saw:
Cages were up, and the Orioles were out warming up.
This was the area in front of the gate area.
I decided that there was a chance that a ball could hit the concrete and leave the stadium, so Amy and I spent the next 45 minutes standing in the parking lot beyond left field.
I was able to see ball after ball fly through the air, many of them hitting inside of the left field area just in front of the gate in front of me, but getting caught up on chairs, trees, railings, or whatever.
Eventually a ball cleared everything and landed inside of a gated area to the left of the left field pavilion. It settled right up against the fence so I went over and worked it around to the middle of the gate and pulled it through.
It was my first ball of the day.
We stood around for the next 45 minutes and waited.
Nothing else came out.
Eventually, it was time to go in, so I set up in the second row area.
It turned out to be a big mistake. The Orioles have lots of right handed power, and the first ground was pounding ball after ball over my head landing in this area:
Amy took lots of pictures of the Orioles’ batting practice:
A view from left field of the stadium:
Some of the Orioles players. Its a shame that some players still wear their pullovers during BP, making it tough to identify them.
Orioles batters kept ripping home runs,
but many of them were sailing into the area just out of reach to the left of the left field pavilion.
The Orioles are stacked with right handed power this year, such as Vladimir Guerrero, Mark Reynolds, JJ Hardy, Derrek Lee, Adam Jones, and Nolan Reimold.
I got to see about the last 25 minutes of Orioles batting practice. I was sure that I’d be able to snag a few baseballs during the Pirates batting practice, but for whatever reason, the Pirates weren’t even at the ballpark yet.
There was no trace of them anywhere.
The groundscrew came out and took the screens and cage away, ending batting practice.
I had only snagged one ball at Ed Smith stadium, and it was before the gates even opened. It was a shame, because the left field area could’ve been pretty good for ballhawking. Check it out:
Anyway, here’s the concession stand behind left field:
At that point, I decided to take a brief video to show you all that area:
Here it is:.
Amy and I got our picture taken behind home plate before heading to the inner concourse and out of the sun.
Before heading out though, we took a panorama of the field:
Under the bleachers, there was a welcome sign near the Home Plate area:
Orioles Team Store:
A giant tree:
At this point, we decided to leave the game. We didn’t feel like waiting around for an hour and a half for the game to start. So, we left.
To this point in the trip, I had snagged five balls over three days. Last year, I snagged 32 balls in three days. This trip became about much more than ballhawking. Ballhawking had taken a back seat to Amy and I enjoying our time together in Florida and squeezing the most out of every minute we had.
We decided to head back to Fort DeSoto beach, where we had spent a good chunk of time on Friday. On the way back though, we stopped at Pirate City in Bradenton.
The Pirates were wrapping things up on a practice field when we drove by, presumably before busing the short distance to Sarasota.
Here’s a shot of the living quarters at Pirate City that Amy snapped:
We parked here,
and walked the very short distance to the entrance to the Pirate City practice Fields.
here’s the entrance way. Notice the baseballs on the tops of the posts. Unfortunately, they aren’t major league baseballs. They are generic.
Upon walking in, I was looking at the practice fields and the players off in the distance that had just finished their workout, when Amy noticed something.
Three baseballs just out of arms reach all in one area.
Well, it was glove trick time.
After untangling the string, I tossed it over the fence and knocked one of the balls closer so that I could reach right under the fence and grab it.
The second ball took a little more effort, but I was able to get that one too.
The third and farthest ball took awhile. There was a slight slope or indentation where it had settled, so it took probably fifteen or so attempts before getting it close enough to reach under and grab.
After snagging those three balls, we started looking around the practice grounds.
There were probably like six or so practice fields, with no action on any of them.
We looked around anyhow.
Eventually, we came to a roped off portion beyond the practice field fence. See the sign on the ground on the right hand side of the picture?
It said this:
It must’ve been posted on the rope at some point. But since it wasn’t, we kept right on going and were now on a golf course.
See the ball in the photo below? Well there was also a couple in those bushes, and one in that open shed area.
Here’s a couple more:
We eventually came to a maintenance area, that we didn’t go into, although there were probably more ‘Easter Eggs’ back there. Eventually, a man on a golf cart told us we couldn’t be back there and told us to leave. We did. But not before finding 8 balls back there.
That made it a double digit day!
After the twenty minutes or so that we spent at Pirate City, we went back to the beach. It was crowded, but we found some secluded spots to relax.
The spot was only reachable by crossing some rough terrain. The only visitors we had to worry about were birds.
We then moved back to the regular beach area.
And laid out for awhile, then went into the water, since it was much warmer today.
It had been an amazing, relaxing trip. We had kept busy every minute of the trip, which had really tired me out.
Unfortunately, our time in Florida had come to an end, as it was time for us to head back to Tampa International Airport, back to Pittsburgh and the cold. I’d like to thank Amy for such a great time in Florida and keeping me happy though out the trip. Ballhawking really took a back seat to her on this trip, but that’s not because of her. It was all me, wanting to leave the games to go other places. Will my diminished ballhawking drive continue into the regular season? Who knows. Do I have any goals for the regular season yet? Nope. Will I attend more games in 2011. Probably not. Will I improve upon my 544 ball season from last year? I’d say the chances are slim. Amy will be with me in two weeks as I open the season on the road. Keep an eye out for that.
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:
Today was our last day in Florida. When I looked out my hotel window, it was overcast and drizzling. Not good.
We still went to the field early just in case there was batting practice, and sure enough, there was. The rain had let up.
Spring Training Statistics:
Game: 10 balls
Trip: 32 balls
Spring Training Career: 40 balls in 6 games
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.