The 2011 baseball season kicked off for me this weekend in Washington DC. Fellow ballhawk Nick Pelescak, my girlfriend Amy, and I headed down for the weekend.
On the way there, winter gave us hopefully, a goodbye, as we traveled through heavy snow in the mountains of Pennsylvania. The roads were untreated, and we had to keep it at 40 mph. It was rather treacherous.
We grabbed some breakfast at McDonalds in Breezewood:
And continued on I-70 east. Once the dawn arrived, the pictures of the snow turned out better, but trust me – the roads were much worse than this:
We got to Washington a little after 9AM, and shelled out $15 to park near the stadium.
The walk was through a construction zone.
I had my phone handy as I was keeping an eye on the weather. It had rained and snowed for most of the trip to Washington DC, and there was a large percent chance of rain today, but according to the weather sites, it looked like it wouldn’t start until around noon or 1PM.
When we reached the intersection across from the stadium, there was thick cloud cover, but it looked like batting practice would be a go.
We paused in front of Nationals Park for a few obligatory photos:
Amy was the photographer for this trip. We were in Washington for two games and she took over 900 photos. She captured mostly everything.
The walk to the center field gate from home plate was extremely cold and windy. When we got to the left field gate, we peered in to see if the cages were up. It was inconclusive.
Walking along the exterior of Nationals Park, I was looking for any new decorations or improvements.
It is probably the blandest most boring stadium I’ve ever seen from the outside.
When I rounded the corner to head towards the center field gate and the ticket offices, I noticed one change. Do you see it?
There were large mirrored baseballs installed on the outside of the stadium/parking garage.
At the main box office, we purchased the cheapest ticket available: $10 each.
I purchased tickets for today’s game and tomorrow’s game as well.
Then we headed over to the center field gate to stake our claim to the front spot in the line.
After getting in line, I organized the string of my glove and tested out a new rubber band.
Then, with forty minutes still to kill before the gates opened, Nick and I threw for a bit.
We caught for maybe ten minutes before someone from the Nationals staff came out and enforced the no having fun unwritten rule that many staff members at MLB parks abide by.
10:30AM finally came and the gates opened. Here was my first view of a major league baseball field in 2011:
Nick and I were the first ones into the stadium, but I didn’t find any Easter Eggs. Nick found 2.
Batting practice probably didn’t begin for at least 10 minutes until after the gates opened. As the players were still warming up down the right field line.
Amy followed us back and forth between left field and right field for two full days taking lots of great shots. Here’s one of the field from center field:
And here Nick and I are in right field at the very beginning of batting practice. I had checked the gaps behind the outfield walls for baseballs that I could glove trick, but there were none there.
Amy got lots of great action shots of the players too, because batting practice started out pretty bad for me.
I got shut out for at least the first two groups if not three.
What would’ve been my first ball of the day was knocked away from me by the kid in blue who cut a row in front of me and knocked the ball to the right where some other fan grabbed it.
Finally, after a long drought, Rick Ankiel hit a towering blast toward right field.
The ball was hit directly between Nick and I who were both in the same row.
Since Nick had already snagged several, he laid back and allowed me to make the clean catch uncontested. Thanks Nick! It was my first ball of the year and first of the 2011 season. It broke a weird streak. In 2009 both Nick and I got our first ball of the year thrown by Ian Snell. In 2010, we both got our first ball of the year off the bat of Bobby Crosby. The streak ended in 2011 when Nick found his first ball and mine was from Rick Ankiel.
Anyway, back in left field, there was a lot of waiting around during the Nationals batting practice. I was expecting Jayson Werth to put on a show during batting practice. He disappointed, exclusively hitting ball after ball to right field, but did hit two home runs. One of which I caught on the fly, high above my head, fully extended.
I had to stay in the third row because those handrails that you see in the picture severely limit my range. Being boxed in by people is bad, but being boxed in by people and handrails is agitating.
Anyhow, soon Nate McLouth hit a dying line drive right at me. I ran down to the front row and made the catch just above the outfield wall for my third ball of the day.
Here I am inspecting the ball.
The Braves batters put a good number of balls into the seats, but I couldn’t get to any of them. Someone was either in front of me: (they are obstructed in the picture)
Or over my head:
Or literally three feet over my head
Or I would get completely robbed.
Amy took so many pictures! But there were so many near misses.
Every time I came close, I had to navigate around railings or people standing in aisles.
And as a result, I’d be too late.
Near the end of batting practice I spotted three balls in the bullpen. They were perfect for the glove trick.
I rigged up my glove and headed over to double my days total in a matter of one or two minutes.
When I got to the bullpen area, the Braves finished their BP and were walking off the field.
The crowd started to thin out. I needed to work fast.
Just as I began to lower my glove, two ushers swooped in and told me I had to stop.
I ended the day with three baseballs.
Amy and I decided that we didn’t want to stay for the game and we’d rather go back to the hotel room for a little bit and then go explore Washington DC. Nick would stay at the game.
Before heading out, we posed for a picture at Nationals Park:
Our hotel was the Renaissance. It is a $409 a night hotel, but we got it for $116 thanks to Priceline.com
Here I am outside of the hotel:
There was an interesting Chinese themed courtyard too:
After all, we were two blocks from Chinatown.
Here’s a snapshot of the room we received:
After some quality time in the hotel room, we decided to explore the lobby and the surrounding area. Amy was super pumped for free lemon water:
We headed out into the city.
We walked around Chinatown.
You really couldn’t miss it with the giant arched entry way.
The picture with the Chinese man wasn’t planned by the way…
Amy made the Chinatown entrance look better.
There was some cool stuff, such as museums on just about every corner,
Amy was pretty pumped about Auntie Anne’s, but we didn’t stop to share our customary Cinnamon Pretzel.
We came across some really creepy areas,
but overall the area was decent. The cherry blossoms added a nice touch to the city streets.
After walking around for awhile, we decided to head over to the Georgetown area to go find DC Cupcakes, a store that Amy had seen on TLC, which has its own series on that network.
On the way there, we passed a Ben & Jerry’s store, which was spewing bubbles all over the road.
Eventually we came to the store that Amy wanted to visit. It was called Georgetown Cupcake. I guess DC cupcakes sounds better as a show title.
We figured that we would park up the street somewhere and then run in and grab a cupcake just to say that we’d been there.
However, upon rounding the corner, we noticed a line.
That extended as far as the eye could see.
So, that was pretty much out of the question. We headed back through Washington DC to go pick Nick up at Nationals Park. It was almost 5PM.
Here’s some shots that Amy took on the drive back. The Cherry Blossoms were out in full bloom!
We arrived back at the hotel after picking Nick up and unpacked all of our things. We would then go out for dinner at Ruby Tuesday’s and get the worst waiter ever.
Today was the Mets’ second of four games in Pittsburgh, and my second attempt at getting a commemorative ball.
I got to the gates a little after 4 PM and was second in line. When the gates opened, I jogged into the bleachers and was the first one there. I saw a ball as I entered one of the sections. I quickly ran down and grabbed ball #1, as other ballhawks were right behind me. Much to my surprise…
it was a Shea Stadium commemorative ball from last year. Nice! I still would’ve rather had a Citi Field ball, but I’ll take it.
Moments later as I moved towards the foul pole, I found ball #2. Finding two Easter eggs is an awesome start, usually there aren’t any.
Ball #3 came from Tony Beasley. He made sure that all of the regular ballhawks got a ball today. What a good guy.
When the Mets came out to hit, there weren’t many pitchers shagging in the outfield. A ball was hit to the 410 sign in center field. It was very glove “trickable.” I started to make my way over to get the ball. Just as I got to the bullpen, a deep ball was hit right at me. Mike Pelfrey ran back and made the snag. I thought, “Great. He’s going to pick up that ball too.” Luckily, Pelfrey didn’t see it, and walked back to center field. Moments later, I reeled up ball #4.
I went back towards the foul pole when a fellow ballhawk and PNC Park regular, Dan, pointed out another ball to me. It must have rolled to the 410 sign when I was walking back to my spot. I went over and reeled in ball #5 after one failed attempt. I think I will need a new rubber band soon. The one I have might be getting to stretched out.
In the middle of the Mets batting practice, Gary Sheffield launched a deep home run to my left. I could tell it was a bomb, so rather than positioning myself in line with the ball, I ran back to the cross aisle that seperates the lower bleachers from the upper deck bleachers. The ball hit in the cross aisle and rolled partly under the overhang of the upper level bleachers. I reached down and gloved ball #6.
I made a huge mistake by heading over to center field for the last group. The final group taking batting practice was predominently left handed, so I figured I’d have a better shot. There was only one right handed batter.
Check out how empty batting practice was. There aren’t many people in the left field bleachers.
Within minutes, he was surrounded by security guards. A man in a suit came out with a clipboard and the negotiating began. It lasted about an inning. I’m not sure what the kid asked for, but there were about 4 things written down on the sheet of paper on the clip board.
It got me thinking what I would ask for if I had caught the home run. I decided that I’d ask for a game ball signed by Jaramillo, the chance to deliver the ball to him in person, and his word that he’d toss me 1 ball at any batting practice I attended (if he was in the outfield and I asked for one.)
Later in the game, I was getting
thirsty. I decided to go fill up my water bottle. As I was passing this Nacho Express stand, something caught my eye.
Yes, you guessed it. Another Easter Egg.
I had to almost lay on the ground to get that picture. I had to reach around the side of the stand to get ball #8. People probably thought I was a big weirdo for laying on the ground and reaching under a Nacho Express stand, but when they saw I pulled a ball out, I saw a few surprised faces.
I went back to center field in the ninth inning to try and get Nate’s warm up ball. His throw hit some guys arm, richoted right in front of me, but I wasn’t ready and misplayed it. Some one picked the ball up 2 rows ahead of me.
I then headed to the dugout. I had to run half of the way there, because Matt Capps got 3 quick outs. I just barely made it to the dugout as umpire Ted Barrett was coming off the field, but was in a terrible spot, off to the side of the tunnel. He gave two balls away, but not to me.
That was it for today.
When I arrived home I had this waiting for me:
I had been waiting all day for it, since I was off work today, but it didn’t arrive until after I left for the Pirate game. It was my Super Deluxe copy of Big Whiskey and the Groogrux King, Dave Matthews Band’s new album.
The CD was released today, and I had ordered it off of the Warehouse (fan club) so I could get some bonus items.
I spent the rest of my night looking through the booklets and watching the DVD. I didn’t listen to the CD the whole way through until the next day because I wanted to blast it, and it was too late to do that. I’d reccommend picking it up at Target or Best Buy for $9.99 this week. It’s their best album since 1998. Seriously.
The sweet spots:
Game: 8 Balls (4 hit, 2 thrown, 2 device)
Season: 151 Balls (67 hit, 62 thrown, 22 device)
Games: 30 Games (26 with BP/4 without)
Average: 5.03 Balls Per Game
Career: 317 Balls
I was right.
My mission was to avoid getting shut out for the first time since August 2008. I began the day in the bullpen area waiting for two Rockies pitchers to finish their side sessions. When the pitchers were done throwing, they handed them to the bullpen coach, who then tossed them into the bag. I put in a request, but it was ignored.
I then went to the right field line as Rockies pitchers began to throw. Many pitchers threw in doors today, but some came outside to catch. I first lined up behind Jason Hammel and Taylor Buchholz (? i think).
Game: 1 Ball
Season: 120 Balls
Games; 24 Games (20 with BP, 4 without)
Average: 5.00 Balls per Game
Career: 286 Balls