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:
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.