My first game of the 2009 season was a Pirates vs Reds game at Great American Park. I figured the best way to close the season was by making my final game of the 2009 season a Pirates vs Reds game at Great American Park.
I left my house around 11 AM, and arrived just before 4 PM.
Unfortunately, the gates at Great American don’t open until 90 minutes before the first pitch, so I would have to wait around until 5:40 to get in. I was thinking, “I should’ve gone to Baltimore.” (To see the Blue Jays vs Orioles).
I sat outside the center field gate, read the newspaper, checked scored on my phone, and waited for the gates to open. While there, Cincinnati natives tried to engage me in conversations about the NFL and the Steelers, a subject that I didn’t really care to talk about at a baseball game. Unlike most Pittsburghers, I’m pretty indifferent when it comes to the Steelers and Penguins.
When the gates finally did open, I ran in and snapped a quick picture.
I had a whole TWENTY FIVE MINUTES of ballhawking. No wonder I
didn’t do so well here earlier in the season (eight balls over two
If I hadn’t had bought a ticket directly behind the Pirates dugout, I
may have left to get back to Pittsburgh at a decent hour. Plus, 411
isn’t a great looking number to me. I wanted to get one more ball.
I walked around the stadium and snapped a few more pictures:
Before the game began, I got Andy LaRoche to toss me his warm up ball, except right before he was about to release it, he pump faked upon seeing a four year old girl with her glove up, two rows behind me. He paused and pointed at the girl and underhanded the ball. The ball floated two feet to my right. I should’ve reached out and grabbed it, and given it to the girl, but I didnt. I watched it float slowly by and land in the little girl’s glove. I started kicking myself for not catching it – it would’ve been ball #7 of the day.
I would have to try and get a ball by some other means.
In the second inning, Pirates’ first baseman Garrett Jones tossed me ball #7 as he came off the field. I was a bit disappointed that he had switched the warm up ball tossed by the coach with the game ball that he was bringing in towards the dugout.
I watched in subsequent innings as he did the same thing.
With the Pirates trailing by a large margin, I left in the 6th inning to make the four and a half hour drive back to Pittsburgh. I got home sometime after 1:30AM.
Was it worth the trip for 25 minutes of batting practice? I’d say so. I ended the season on a positive note, with seven balls, and 412 snagged during the 2009 season.
Coincidentally, 412 is also my telephone area code, which is somewhat cool.
Game: 7 balls (6 hit, 1 thrown)
Season: 412 balls (217 hit, 125 thrown, 70 device)
Games: 81 games (10 of which didn’t have BP)
Average: 5.09 balls per game
Career: 578 balls
Streak: 96 consecutive games attended with at least 1 ball snagged.
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…)
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.
Today was a bounce back day for me. After nearly being shut out yesterday, I got on the board quickly today.
Within the first 30 seconds of being in the park, I had a ball. Upon entering the bleacher area, I checked in the general admission bleachers (upper bleachers). Balls rarely go up there, but every now and then a power hitter will reach them, or a ball will bounce on the concrete and settle up there.
I ran up the steps and found ball #1 waiting for me in the front row.
I got ball #2 off the bat of Jason Jaramillo, who was hitting right handed. He hit a high fly ball to my right. I ran over a section, but lost the ball in the sun momentarily. The ball landed on a bleacher and settled near my feet, and I was able to reach down and quickly grab it.
Ball #3 came from Brandon Moss. He fielded a ball and looked to the bleachers. I held my glove up, and he fired the ball at me.
The Pirates wrapped up their portion of batting practice a bit early. There was a ball up against the outfield wall that I was waiting to use the glove trick on. I wasn’t going to do the trick with the Pirates in the field, because they all recognize me by now, and I don’t want to look greedy. Luckily, the Pirates jogged off the field, leaving the ball at the wall. I sprang into action and reeled in ball #4 with the glove trick.
The Cubs came out to hit, and Alfonso Soriano began shagging in left field.
Luckily, he was only focused on the balls that a coach was hitting him, and didn’t bother himself with any BP balls hit his way. A Cubs batter hit a line drive that trickled to the edge of the warning track. It was glove trickable, but not without drawing lots of attention to myself from throwing my glove a good 15 feet or more out onto the field. I decided to let it go.
Then, a grounds keeper walked by and kicked the ball to the base of the wall. “Maybe they’ll toss it up to one of yinz,” he said.
Game: 7 balls (4 hit, 1 thrown, 2 device)
Season: 224 balls (117 hit, 75 thrown, 32 device)
Games: 45 games (5 of which didn’t have BP)
Average: 4.98 balls per game
Career: 390 balls
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
Throughout the day, I thought for sure that batting practice would be canceled. It was raining this morning when I left for work. Raining when I went to lunch. Raining when I left work. Drizzling when I left for the game. So, imagine my surprise when I walked past the left field gates and saw the screens and cage being set up. (The Pirates needed the extra BP after not hitting a home run in more than a week and getting shut out yesterday).
Upon entering the stadium, there was one Easter Egg ball, but another ballhawk got to it first. The Pirates portion of batting practice was slow for me. I got ball #1 when Jason Jaramillo tossed me a baseball before the Pirates finished up at 5:15. Jaramillo was very gracious to all three regular ballhawks in attendance, hooking us each up with a ball.
A few action shows:
Paul Maholm deals:
Yovani Gallardo to Nyjer Morgan:
Gallardo throws a pitch:
After Matt Capps blew the save and gave up 4 runs in the 9th, I went to the Pirates dugout. (the Pirates lost their SIXTEENTH game in a row to the Brewers).
I usually get shut out at the dugout, having only received one ball there this year before today. The umpire, Bob Davidson came off the field and tossed me a really nice rubbed up game ball. Ball #7.
Not a bad night after all.
Here’s today’s balls:
And the sweet spots: (the 4th ball from the pitcher in center had MVP written on it)
The umpire ball is at the front and center.
Game: 7 balls (2 hit, 5 thrown)
Season: 74 balls (28 hit, 39 thrown, 7 device)
Games: 15 games (12 with BP, 3 without)
Average: 4.93 balls per game
Career: 240 balls