Today was going to be a large crowd due to a post game performance by KC and the Sunshine Band. I enjoy weekday games much more – its almost like having your own personal batting practice because there’s no one there.
The first 30 minutes of each game are for season ticket holders only – and I would go on to get a majority of my balls in that time frame today.
Upon entering the stadium, I ran to look for Easter Eggs in left field foul territory. That turned out to be a bad choice. Not only did I find any, I found out that there were a couple in the left field bleachers. Bummer.
I got ball #1 of the day from Denny Bautista. I asked him for a ball in Spanish. He looked at me, turned around for a minute – then turned back and threw me the ball. I then told him, “Gracias. Buena suerte hoy.” I waved his hand. I do believe that’s my first career ball from Denny.
I soon got ball #2 of the day off the bat of Andrew McCutchen. He hit a high fly ball towards the bleachers. I positioned myself in the fourth row back, and waited for the high hop off of the warning track.
Ball #3 was a home run off the bat of “Mr. Smooth” Luis Cruz. He hit a shot that I chased down to my right. My wife snapped a picture of me on the way back.
Then wanted me to pose with the ball, but I was afraid to take my eyes off of the batter’s cage.
Game: 5 balls (5 hit, 1 thrown)
Season: 316 balls (166 hit, 92 thrown, 59 device)
Games: 65 games (7 of which didn’t have BP)
Average: 4.86 balls per game
Career: 482 balls
Streak: 80 consecutive games attended with at least 1 ball snagged.
The Pirates were back in town today, facing the hated Brew-Crew.
This was my view from 4:15-4:55.
My friend Nick and I noticed a ballhawk running by who stands on the Riverwalk on a daily basis, waiting for home runs. Since he does it regularly, he must have at least some luck out there. (The guy stays out there the entire BP, even after the gates open). So, with nothing better to do, we decided to join him.
There was indeed one ball that came out in the time we were there. It bounced off of the concourse behind section 140, and went through the trees towards the river. The guy ran over and made a nice backhanded pick of the ball, just before it skipped into the Allegheny River.
Ballhawking on the Riverwalk is tough. You have to be very patient, and extemely focused. If you look away for a minute, or listen to a passerby’s comments, you’ll be distracted and miss a possible opportunity.
At one point, a photographer walked by and asked me what I was doing. I told him that batting practice was going on, and we were waiting for a ball to come out. He the proceeded to take pictures of the three of us ballhawks for the next fifteen minutes, from all angles. He never asked permission, or told us if he was affiliated with any newspaper. (I assumed he was with the Post Gazette or Tribune Review) In the picture below, you can see him sitting on the ground, snapping photos of Nick Pelescak.
He threw me ball #3. (It probably helped that I was the only fan in Brewers gear for the first 30 minutes).
One guy, who watched me get those balls tossed, made a few comments about how I “have all these shirts in the back of my car.” I couldn’t tell if he was trying to make fun of me, or not, but he went on to say the same line about five more times throughout the day to people around him.
I got ball #4 via the glove trick in left field. I struggled with this one, probably taking almost two minutes to reel it in. I had to first knock it closer, and then the rubber band wasn’t quite right. I had to adjust it several times. As the rubber band gets used, it becomes more stretchy, and needs adjusted differently. I was almost foiled by Brewers coach Joe Crawford. When I finally got the ball to stick in the glove, Crawford hurled his glove from about forty feet away, in an attempt to knock the ball out of my glove. Luckily, I had just begun to pull the ball up, and it narrowly missed it. He came over to get his glove, and had a huge smile on his face. “This wall is too low here. Its too easy for you guys to do that.”
A little while later, I caught ball #5 on the fly. It was a can of corn. However, Jody Gerut watched me make the catch, and immediately started screaming at me from left field. “That’s TWO for you now. Do the right thing!” I nodded. He screamed about three more times, “Do the right thing, Do the right thing, Do the right thing.” At this point several Brewers were staring at me, and Gerut pointed me out to them, probably telling them that he had just tossed me a ball moments earlier.
I quickly went into my backpack and took out one of my decoy balls. (Balls that I have that I didn’t personally snag and don’t count in my stats or my collection. These are MLB balls that friends have given to me in exchange for tickets).
I held up the decoy ball for Gerut to see and tossed it to the nearest kid with a glove. He gave me a thumbs up. I yelled to him, “That’s a Pirate ball from earlier.” I wanted him to keep the impression that I was a huge Brewers fan and wanted to keep just the Brewers baseballs.
I spent a few minutes in center field and chickened out on a very glove trickable ball. The nice ushers weren’t in center field today, and I didn’t feel l
ike getting yelled at. Plus, I had struggled mightly with ball #4, and didn’t want to go through that again.
After Claudio Vargas picked up the ball that I should’ve glove tricked and tossed it to a kid, I headed back to left field.
There, I made almost back to back catches of home runs on the fly. They were hit in the same general area, and only about 30 seconds apart. I have no idea who hit them.
I caught ball #6 on the fly in a completely empty row B. As I made the catch, some old guy made a feeble attempt at the ball, and crashed into me. Like a pillar, I didn’t budge. Since he went down fairly hard, I asked him if he was ok – and he was.
The second home run was hit soon after, and I had an entire empty row to my right, so I took off quickly and ran about 50 feet to my right to snag ball #7. I made the catch in front of a group of teenagers. Feeling they had been robbed, having seen me catch the other home run seconds before, and feeling anger at the Brewers gear I was sporting, they booed me mercilessly for about 20 seconds.
I just looked at them and smiled.
I had to leave at 6PM to attend a varsity head coaches meeting, that didn’t end until 9PM. My phone had very limited service, so I wasn’t able to get updates on the game.
I was squirming in my chair more than John Russell does when Matt Capps enters the game in a save situation.
Game: 7 balls (4 hit, 2 thrown, 1 device)
Season: 288 balls (146 hit, 89 thrown, 53 device)
Games: 60 games (6 of which didn’t have BP)
Average: 4.80 balls per game
Career: 454 balls
Streak: 75 consecutive games attended with at least 1 ball snagged.
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.