Like I mentioned yesterday, I decided that I didn’t want to waste four hours of my day standing around at a run down parking lot behind the left field wall of McKechnie Field. With my girlfriend Amy, we decided to make better use of our time in Florida and head to a different beach.
There were thousands of sea shells on the beach, so we wrote something in ‘shelligraphy.’ Here’s the finished product. I wrote ‘Amy.’
After some beach fun, which included swimming in a cold, empty ocean, we headed to the Orioles Spring Training complex on the way to Bradenton.
He and some coaches were picking up the balls in the outfield.
I called out to one of the coaches and asked if he could toss a ball over. He did.
Then he asked, “How tall are you?” “About 6’5” I answered. I must’ve looked way taller because my whole head was above the six foot fence. I think there must’ve been a tiny mound or something I was standing on. “You look way taller than that!” The coach replied.
There were some cool trees bhind the center field wall:
And a woodpecker that kept drilling holes in the trees above us:
A view of Ed Smith Stadium off in the distance:
A look at the area behind the fences:
A baseball graveyard, protected by barbed wire:
One that didn’t make it:
Here’s a short video of the area where I got the ball at:
After a few minutes, we headed back to our illegally parked car (we weren’t going to pay $9 for 15 minutes of standing outside of a baseball practice field). We then made the trip to Bradenton.
When we arrived, these are the lineups that both teams would put on the field today:
The Red Sox lineup was pretty disappointing – no David Ortiz, no Carl Crawford, no Adrian Gonzalez, no Dustin Pedroia.
We got there just as the game was starting and Mike Cameron was digging in for the Red Sox.
Here was a view of our seats. Notice the large crowd? It was the largest crowd ever in McKechnie Field’s 42 year history.
Here’s some pictures from the game, taken courtesy of Counting Baseballs’ official blog photographer, Amy:
Jose Tabata, the Pirates starting left fielder, awaits a pitch. Hopefully Tabata can improve on his power numbers this year:
Josh Beckett, Boston’s ace, took the mound for the Red Sox.
Here’s a short video of Josh Beckett battling Garrett Jones:
Panorama of a packed house at McKechnie Field:
Pedro Alvarez prepares to react to a pitch:
The Grandstand at McKechnie Field:
John Bowker’s home run swing, as he watches a towering fly ball clear the right field fence:
Brad Lincoln delivers a pitch:
JD Drew, one of the very few regulars from the Red Sox, at the plate:
Another long time Red Sox player, Jason Varitek:
Before we left, we checked out the Pirates’ clubhouse store. Check out the new Pirates hoody this year. Amy is going to get it for me at PNC Park and use my Pirates’ clubhouse store discount.
After the game, we headed back to the ocean for some beach fun.
Later, we had an epic game of miniature golf. On the way back to the hotel, we passed a miniature golf place. Trash talking ensued, and it was on.
The course had a big lake with fountains in the middle of it along with live gators.
By the third hole, I had a slim lead, and was feeling confident.
However, Amy, who typically slugs the heck out of the ball as if it were a driving range, started putting like a PGA pro golfer.
This video just demonstrates my bad luck:
I managed to hold a three stroke lead through the first 9 holes. I had a little bit of trouble in one of the mini golf caves,
but bounced back with a ridiculous hole in one soon after, the only one of the day.
I managed to keep a two stroke lead through most of the game, but started to get too overly confidant.
Another cave brought more bad luck for me.
I tried to distract Amy by pretending that I thought that the caves were actually real and that the golf course was built around the caves. The distraction didn’t work, as she worked her magic and tied up the score.
The game came down to the very last hole. The score was tied up. I went first and the ball came to rest several feet from the hole. Amy came up and used pin point precision to put the ball 8 inches from the hole. It was an easy tap in for her. There was no way she could lose. I had to sink a long put just to tie and keep my non-losing streak in tact. I can’t remember ever losing in miniature golf to a girl. That would all change today, I missed the putt, lost the game, and a private bet between Amy and I.
It was almost 11, so we went back to the hotel to relax before another day in Florida tomorrow.
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: