Amy and I checked out of the hotel around 11:30, and met up with Nick, who had gone out for breakfast. We had five hours to kill before the gates of Progressive Field would open at 4:30, so we walked around Cleveland.
I originally wanted to find a park so I could sit down and read the paper and get out of the sun for a bit. So, we began walking toward Settler’s Landing Park, which I saw on a map on my Iphone. It looked like it was on a little river, which turned out to be a canal. I thought there would be some trees, picnic tables and benches.
I was wrong. We were greeted by a hulking, rusting bridge that looked like it had been swept up by a tornado and driven into the ground vertically. It was such an eyesore.
I guess decades ago it was a drawbridge from a rail line which obviously no longer exists.
We walked around the park, and found nothing but homeless people, and giant sized mushrooms.
After a couple photos of the underside of Cleveland,
we headed toward lake Erie, and walked around the Cleveland Browns Football stadium.
Nick then headed to get lunch and to the ballpark, while Amy and I explored the perimeter of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame,
and visited the Cleveland Science Center, where we grabbed a bite to eat at a Pizza Hut express, and brushed up on our periodic table of elements. Can you name all of them in the photo?
When it came time to enter the stadium, things got off to a tough start. I only got one ball from the Indians. Chris Perez threw a ball toward a couple of fans in the front row, but they interfered with each other and both missed it. You’ll see me standing there, several rows back.
The ball bounced on the concrete and ended up maybe ten rows back, where I grabbed it to get on the board:
The Indians finished hitting at 5:05. When the Pirates came out, the bad luck continued, and I still only had one baseball when 5:30 rolled around and I headed to left field:
Over in left field, my luck changed as Dusty Brown tossed me ball #2 of the day.
I was hoping that my Pirates gear would make me stand out over the other fans.
I headed back over to center field for the Pirates second group, which featured several lefties.
While there, I caught a Lyle Overbay home run on the fly. It was a full extension leaping catch in this area.
The next batter, Garrett Jones, hit a home run that I caught the next section over, also on the fly for ball #4.
I headed back over to left field for the final group, where Jose Tabata tossed me my fifth ball of the day. He’s on the right, talking with Jose Veras:
I finished batting practice in left field, and ended up with five baseballs on the day.
After batting practice Amy and I spun the Prize Wheel. She won a Duncan Donuts buy one get one free iced coffee coupon, and I won a free drink from Circle K stores. Both garbage prizes. Blah.
After that, we got ice cream cones as we made our way to our seats in the upper deck.
It was a losing battle against the ice cream, which melted faster than we could eat it. Amy’s hands were a mess.
After running to the bathroom to get wet paper towels for us to clean up, it was time for the first pitch.
Our seats were in Section 556, Row X, which was the very last row in the upper deck, and they were great. There was a strong breeze the entire time we were there, and it really kept us cool.
I wish we could’ve stayed for the entire game, but we had to leave around 7:40 to walk back to the bus stop to catch our bus headed back to Pittsburgh.
Game: 5 balls (2 hit, 3 thrown)
Season: 232 balls (89 hit, 52 thrown, 56 device, 226 found)
Games: 38 games
Average: 6.11 balls per game
Career: 1,354 balls
Today was Mother’s Day, and my mother-to-be fiancee Amy had to work this game, so I was there too. Luckily, even through it was a day game following a night game, there was a full batting practice.
Upon entering the stadium, I snagged my first ball of the day on the Riverwalk, or outfield concourse. Fans can’t enter the stadium until 11:30, they can only access the Riverwalk, which is the area behind the right field wall. It’s kind of dumb to open at 11 AM, and just make everyone stay out there, but whatever.
Chris Snyder threw me my first ball of the day over the iron gate. He’s on the left in the picture below, talking to Lyle Overbay.
I called out for a ball from Neil Walker
but so did this guy:
(I didn’t realize we were at a Steeler game…)
Anyway, I snagged the ball over him, and he wasn’t too happy. He started boasting about how he ‘can jump’ because he ‘plays basketball,’ and the next ball thrown out, he was getting.
I didn’t wait around to see, as it was 11:30, and I ran into the left field bleachers. There, I found ball #3 by the bullpen, and continued my search into foul territory.
There were no balls there, but a cool groundscrew member tossed me a ball that was laying in front of the tarp.
My fifth ball of the day came from Evan Meek. He handed me a ball after we had a nice five minute conversation about everything from Amy, my upcoming baby, Mother’s Day, his recovery, etc.
I only snapped a picture as they ran off the field.
The Astros then came out, and Dave Clark started hitting balls to the relief pitchers, encouraging them to rob the home runs, or injury themselves and end their careers. Just ask Ruben Niebla.
It worked out though, as Clark over hit a ball into the stands that I snagged off a bleacher in this area.
My seventh ball was a Hunter Pence home run catch on the fly caught on the far end of the section by the handicapped seats.
I caught it while running, and spun around after making the catch doing a 360 spin. One of my better catches this year.
Ball #8 of the day was thrown to me by Jose Tabata in the 8th inning. I snagged it here.
I had to run down a few steps to snag it from other fans who were reaching from it, but I’m pretty sure it was to me, just under thrown. It was directly in the middle of the aisle. Luckily, no one batted it away from me.
After the game, I took Amy out to dinner at one of our favorite restaurants, Old Mexico located in Washinton PA.
Here are today’s eight baseballs:
Game: 8 balls (2 hit, 5 thrown, 1 found)
Season: 91 balls (33 hit, 25 thrown, 21 device, 12 found)
Games: 15 games
Average: 6.07 balls per game
Career: 1,213 balls
Unfortunately, I lost half of my pictures from the beginning of batting practice due to a malfunction of my camera. I must’ve left it on in my pocket, and when I went to take a picture half way through batting practice, it was in Chinese. The format option must’ve been pressed, and everything got erased from my camera.
So, ball #1 was a home run hit by Ryan Braun to the handicapped seats in left field. I jumped over a railing and picked it up for my first ball of the day.
My second ball was snagged in the ivy in center field.
Ryan Braun hit it there about 5:20, and I kept my eye on it the whole time, thinking it might be reachable. It was, and at 5:30 when the rest of the stadium opened, I ran over and grabbed it.
My third ball was pointed out to me by one of the ushers in center field. Both ushers in center field are really cool guys.
Ball #4 was fielded off the bat of Craig Counsell. I decided to head over to foul territory for a bit as there were three weak left handers up, and there was no screen protecting third base. I figured that they would try to go the other way a few times. The strategy paid off, as Counsell sliced a grounder right at me.
Ball #5 was a ground rule double off the bat of Wil Nieves. I chased it down and grabbed it with my barehand as the ball was rolling all over the place under the bleachers:
That was it for batting practice. Five baseballs. It was pretty disappointing, but the Brewers were focusing on a opposite field approach, perhaps expecting Paul Maholm to work them outside all night.
As for the game itself, I wandered around and took a picture from the upper deck during pregame.
Then I sat in the club section for a couple innings waiting for a foul ball that wouldn’t come.
I then returned to the outfield areas hoping to snag a warm up ball.
An inning later, I snagged Jose Tabata’s 8th inning warm up ball for ball #7.
The ball was bobbled by these college aged kids in the front row.
I seized the opportunity by snatching it with my glove as it was being dropped by one of them.
Season: 54 balls (21 hit, 11 thrown, 14 device, 8 found)
Games: 8 games
Average: 6.75 balls per game
Career: 1,176 balls
I got to the ballpark around 4:45 pm, and this was the scene at the Riverwalk.
The stairs leading down were blocked off with caution tape because the Allegheny River was overflowing. However, I went down anyway. One ball bounced out as I arrived. Had I been five seconds earlier I would’ve had it, but it wasn’t meant to be.
Here’s a different angle:
My first ball of the day once the stadium opened was snagged here. It was a home run that I chased down here:
The Pirates batting practice continues to be less than stellar, as they fail to reach the seats very often. Once the Pirates were done hitting, I changed into my Brewers gear, and the action began.
The Brewers first group contained Carlos Gomez, Jonathan Lucroy, Ryan Braun, and Prince Fielder. They hit a bunch of homers.
I snagged my second ball in section 134 off the bat Jonathan Lucroy.
My third ball was a home run hit by Ryan Braun. I could tell that it was going to be way over my head, so I ran back under the bleachers and snagged it under the rotunda.
My fourth ball was glove tricked right next to the Pirates bullpen door.
I also saw this there:
However, it was 5:28, and I had knocked it snug against the wall and couldn’t see it anymore, as I couldn’t lean out over the wall because of the fencing. I gave up and let it go. Totally forgetting about it.
I checked in right field for an easter egg or two, but there was nothing there, and I didn’t want to miss out on all the action in left field, so I returned to left. The second group also put plenty of balls into the seat.
Rickie Weeks hit a home run ball that I chased down under the rotunda for ball #5. And moments later, a batter that I believe was Casey McGehee hit a home run that also went under the rotunda which I tracked down.
My eighth ball was a glove trick ball snagged right by the 325 sign:
That was it for batting practice. After batting practice, Nick tipped me off to a ball in the bullpen. It was the same ball that I started working on at 5:28 that I had knocked against the wall. I had totally forgotten about it.
Thanks to Ian Weir for taking the picture.
Ball #10 came around 6:55 when Kevin Correia, the Pirates started finished his warm ups in the bullpen. I asked politely for the ball, and he looked up and tossed it to me.
Moments later, Ball #11 came from Jose Tabata in the first inning. I noticed he was looking at a group of college aged folks, so I went and stood directly to their right. Since I was the only one with the glove, he fired me a perfect strike. He put some zip on the throw too.
Notice how small the crowd was at game time. There was a Penguins playoff game, and I doubt that half of the 8,000 fans that bought tickets actually showed up.
Pretty cool huh?
Well, despite the small crowds, I didn’t snag another ball.
Here are today’s 11 baseballs:
And the sweet spots.
Season: 47 balls (17 hit, 9 thrown, 14 device, 7 found)
Games: 7 games
Average: 6.70 balls per game
Career: 1,169 balls
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.
The 2011 is getting close, as my Season Tickets have arrived.
This year I will only hold season tickets to the Pirates. Last year, I was a 20 game Cleveland Indians season ticket holder, and a 13 game Cincinnati Reds season ticket holder. I decided not to renew either of those plans. I’ve also decreased my Pittsburgh Pirates season ticket account from three tickets per game to two tickets per game.
Here is the booklet cover design for the 2011 season:
The 2011 season tickets feature four players: Andrew McCutchen, Neil Walker, Pedro Alvarez, and Jose Tabata – the core four young players. I like the design. Last year’s featured Zach Duke, Charlie Morton, Andy LaRoche, Garrett Jones, Andrew McCutchen, and Ross Ohlendorf. Each player took up one ticket on an uncut sheet of six. The tickets looked good, but Andrew McCutchen was the only player that had a decent season of the six. Now, a look at the tickets:
Also, in the package was my 2011 Pirates season ticket card:
The card is key for me, as it allows for me to get in early for batting practice. I’ll need it, since I want to trade in many of my season tickets for give away games and use the free tickets that my girlfriend gets each game from the Pirates as my game entry tickets.
Also included was a letter from Frank Coonelly. Previous letters focused on all of the improvements that the team had made during the off-season. They often predicted a return to glory, etc. Well, coming off of a 105 loss season, this letter basically stated that we play the Orioles in Interleague play, and thank you for coming back.
Dear Erik Jabs,
Enclosed you will find your season tickets for the 2011 season. Opening Day is almost upon us and we are anxious to get the 2011 season started.
On behalf of the Pirates organization, I want to express our sincere thanks for your support. Your loyalty to and faith in the organization make every member of the Club even more determined to perform at a very high level, both on the field and in every other aspect of our relationship to you. You deserve nothing less from us.
As you know, we have an outstanding home schedule this season, including Interleague series against the Boston Red Sox and Detroit Tigers. In addition, we have many terrific promotions on the schedule in 2011, highlighted by the 40th anniversary celebration of the 1971 World Series Championship when we host another exciting Interleague series against the Baltimore Orioles on Tuesday June 21st.
As always, if you have any questions about your tickets, your account or anything as it related to the Pirates, please do not hesitate to contact your account representative.
Again, thank you for choosing to get on board for the 2011 season of Pittsburgh Pirates baseball, and I look forward to seeing you at PNC Park on Thursday April 7th at 1:35 pm for the Home Opener against the Colorado Rockies.
The letter barely makes me excited for the outlook of the team for the 2011 season. I am very excited though, as I am planning on attending many games at PNC Park again this year, as well as making road trips to Washington, Cleveland, Chicago, Cincinnati, and Milwaukee, with possibly a few more cities.
Spring Training coming up soon for me…
We were back at Piratefest on Sunday for the third and final day of the three day weekend baseball event. The Pirates had sent me six tickets, so I sold two, used two on Friday, and saved the last two for today.
Before heading to Piratefest, I was treated to breakfast at a restaurant named DeLuca’s in the Strip District.
I had never been to DeLuca’s let alone the strip district, so this was a nice little adventure for me. DeLuca’s proclaims to have the ‘Best Breakfast in Town,’ and the large line that was waiting outside in the cold drizzle.
We waited for about twenty minutes before getting into the small, packed restaurant. One of the restaurant’s claim to fame is being featured on the Man vs Food series.
We had pancakes…
Chocolate strawberry pancakes for her:
And blueberry pancakes for me:
I also had a side of sweet sausage, which tasted much better than it looked.
The food was great, and it filled me up until 5 PM. I wasn’t crazy about the interior Steeler decorating, especially after being hassled at every corner by street vendors selling Steeler pennants and buttons. I’m looking forward to the Super Bowl being over so this town settles down.
When we got to the David L Lawrence Convention Center around 11:40, twenty minutes before the doors were to open, we were greeted by a monstrous line that snaked around and to the back of the convention center.
It took us about 10 minutes after the gates opened to finally get into Piratefest.
When we entered, we headed over to the MVP Zone to get autographs from Paul Maholm and Ross Ohlendorf.
I had Ross sign my calendar since he signed a ball for me yesterday. Paul Maholm also signed a ball. Interestingly, he dropped the number 28 from his signature (the other 3 signatures on balls I have from Paul have a 28) – perhaps he expects to be traded in the coming months. He is in the final year of a contract, although the Pirates hold an option for 2012, which most certainly will be turned down since its for $9.75 million.
Later in the MVP Zone (which is for Season Ticket Holders only) we had Jose Tabata sign a baseball,
along with 1991 National League Cy Young Award winner Doug Drabek.
Drabek was probably my second favorite Pirate of the 1990-1992 teams, with Andy Van Slyke being the first.
The MVP Zone is one of the nice perks of being a season ticket holder. Season Ticket Holders can get autographs there without waiting an average of 90 minutes on the other side of the Convention Center. The same players come over to the MVP Zone throughout the day either before or after they are done signing for the general public.
Good (Season Ticket Holder autograph lines):
Bad (everyone else):
The other autograph that I got today was Andrew McCutchen. We were allowed two autographs per person, so I had him sign a baseball and a Canvas Photo Wrap that I had won earlier in the day.
We didn’t play many games because the lines were ridiculously long. I didn’t really see the point of standing in line for 30 minutes to spin a wheel and win some give away stuff that I already have at home.
We caught some of the entertainment at the Piratefest stage:
There was Deal or No Deal:
More Minute to Win It, this time with Paul Maholm:
and Family Feud with the “Maholm Family” pitted against the “Morton Family.”
It was Paul Maholm vs Charlie Morton, and each player had 3 other fans assigned to his ‘family.’ The questions were related to the Pirates or Pittsburgh, and season ticket holders were those surveyed to provide the results for the game.
Here’s a video of a round of it:
That was basically it for the day. Got a few autographs, walked around, played a couple games at the beginning of the day before the crowd swelled, and watched some games at the Piratefest stage.
The Pirates set an all time record for the Piratefest weekend, drawing 16,839 fans, which was an increase of 1,400 over last year. The thing is, this is my fifth year as a season ticket holder, and every other year, I only received two free tickets to Piratefest. This year, I was given six. I saw some fans giving away their passes at the door. Therefore, I believe that the numbers are ‘juiced’ by the flood of free tickets that were distributed to the fan base. Yes, there’s some reason to be excited, but a 105 loss team doesn’t just draw an all time record to its Fanfest. Does anyone expect the Pirates to even approach their 2001 attendance home figure of 33,000 per game? No.
The real test of how excited this town really is about Pirates baseball will be the home attendance. We’ll see how many folks show up. By the way, the Pirates raised ticket prices for the first time in nine years this week. Season Ticket and advance purchased tickets will stay the same, but tickets purchased on the day of the game will be about an average of $3 more.
I’m hoping that attendance stays low, at least for batting practice, so it makes collecting baseballs easier, but we’ll see.
Spring Training is just around the corner. Get ready.