I missed Monday’s and Tuesday’s games due to prior commitments. I was able to catch part of them on tv, and believe me, it was brutal. The crowds were as sparse as I had ever seen.
On Tuesday, fellow ballhawk league member and PNC Park ballhawk league member Nick Pelescak went on a rampage. He texted me to let me know that he had caught 11 balls during batting practice. The recognized official PNC Park record was 13 – set by me, back on June 13th 2009.
As the night went on, Nick would get a toss up ball during the game from Andrew McCutchen and Brandon Moss. It would come down to the players coming off of the field for Nick. Fortunately for him, Tim Tschida tossed him a ball as he walked off the field, giving Nick Pelescak the new PNC Park ballhawk record of 14 balls snagged in one game. After just three months, my name had been erased from the record book.
I was glad for Nick – and was more motivated than ever to do my best to get the record back. Since about June 21st or so, around when the Indians/Pirates series began, I have put myself through a rigorous workout schedule. Every other day I lift weights – on the off days, I run three miles.
Today, I would forego my fitness and wellbeing to stay for the entire game, and maybe, just maybe, get that record back.
Around 2:45 PM, it started to rain hard, so I was about 95% sure that batting practice would be cancelled. At 3:30, I got a text from Nick saying the tarp was on the field. I decided that maybe I could get three balls today from pitchers and what not – and that would be a good day.
I arrived at the stadium a little after 4 PM, and faced no traffic at all on the way in. Pittsburgh is officially a ghost town for the next three days. The G20 summit is here, and it has basically transformed Pittsburgh into a military state.
I went down to the riverwalk to wait for Brandon Moss, Garrett Jones, or Ryan Doumit to send one out of the stadium. Usually, the riverwalk is bustling with people. Typically, I am asked no less than 50 times, “What are you doing? Trying to get a ball? Do they ever come out here? How many came out today? What happens if it goes in the river?”
There were military choppers flying over every so often.
And to my right.
Lots of room to run. Sometimes on Saturdays it can get quite crowded for BP, since there’s very few rows. On days like this however – there’s plenty of room to roam.
I got ball #8 in Phillips’ next round of BP. He launched a home run that hit half way up the rotunda facade. Typically, I would just stand and watch the ball, since it was directly down the line. Since no one was here, I ran over towards where the ball was going to hit – just in case of a crazy bounce. The ball would take a huge hop off of the rotunda, and fall in Section 133, where it would roll slowly down the steps up against the green wall in the picture below. I was able to pick it up.
It was about 5:45, and I had snagged 8 balls already…
However, I would get shut out for the rest of BP. I made a bad choice on two consecutive groups. I stayed in left field when there were two powerful lefties peppering the seats with homers. Then, I went over to center field for the last group, but got shut out there as well.
I decided that my new goal would be to put up double digits.
I got ball #9 in the first inning from Andrew McCutchen.
It was rather funny. Andrew finished throwing with Brandon Moss and turned to throw the ball into the center field seats. He stopped and laughed, almost as if he was thinking, “These guys again?” It was basically us four ballhawks that he sees all the time. He paused and looked at us, and then threw me the ball in Section 139. He has probably seen me the least, since I don’t typically stick around for the games.
Speaking of center field, look how unbelievably empty it was?
Thank you G20 and the Pittsburgh Media for scaring everyone away from Pittsburgh. And yes, those pictures were actually taken DURING the game!
I would try every inning for another warm up ball from an outfielder so I could record a double digit game. In the second inning, Nick caught Moss’ warm up ball.
In the third, I went back to center field, but changed my appearance, taking off my Pirates Tshirt and wearing my black under armor compression shirt. I also put on some ugly visor I had won after BP. I was hoping he wouldn’t recognize me and throw me another ball. No luck.
In the fourth, Moss threw his ball to an older ballhawk on the right field wall who misplayed it, and the ball bounced into a teenager’s hand.
In the fifth, I tried again with my altered appearance, but McCutchen threw it to some girl.
The sixth inning rolled around, and I was the only person that stood up for Moss when he looked for someone to throw it to. It helped that there were maybe 20 people sitting on the entire right field wall. After scanning the crowd, he tossed me ball #10.
Thank you Brandon!
I kept playing for more toss up balls in every inning. In the ninth, with my altered image, I was able to trick McCutchen into throwing me another one. I doubt he recognized that I was the same guy who he threw a ball to in the first inning. He lobbed it up, and I took a few steps to my right and made the catch. It was ball #11.
After catching each warm up ball, I switched the ball with an extra ball I had brought from home. In the past, I had been given guff by ushers or non friendly season ticket holders for catching too many outfield warm up balls. Now, I make sure that I hand the “decoy” balls to a little kid right in front of an usher or supervisors. I’m hoping they’ll think, “That guy’s alright.” I’ve got a whole box of them at home. They are balls given to me by friends who agreed in the past to pay for their tickets to games with the balls they’ve caught. Those balls obviously aren’t marked and don’t count in my stats. Their sole purpose is to use to give away.
After getting McCutchen’s warm up ball, smoothing keeping it in my glove, while slipping the decoy ball out of my pocket and tossing it to a kid, I left the outfield with Nick to go to the dugout area. On our way towards the main concourse we were stopped by a kind usher. He told me something along the lines about how nice it was that I gave a ball to a kid and offered me a ball. Of course I took it. It counts. An usher is a paid employee of the Pirates, not a fan, and balls given away by ushers, trainers, security guards count. It was ball #12. He told me that he had retrieved the ball from center field earlier and that it had gotten soaked when it rained earlier this morning. The ball was certainly heavy, so I put it in my bag, and will hold off on numbering it until it dries out.
Nick was with me and noted, “You’re only two away now.”
I would need a miracle.
Enter Jayson Nix.
I sat down in the box seats and waited for the game to end.
Nix would foul off a 1-0 pitch from Virgil Vazquez that would land in an aisle of the Lexus Club seats.
As soon as the ball was hit, I was off. The ball bounced off the concrete, and took a high hop in the air. I was closing in on the ball and reached out and caught the ball out of the air. It was my first career foul ball, and my first game ball of 2009.
Not only that, but it was my 13th ball of the game.
Even more, it was my 200th hit ball snagged of 2009.
Guess what else? Remember Nick Pelescak? Guess who hit his first career foul ball which he caught earlier in the season? Yeah, Laynce Nix. And who’s PNC Park single ball record was I chasing? Nick Pelescak’s. Somehow fate had taken over.
Here’s a shot from Reds TV of where the ball landed. I’m wearing the black under armor shirt with my hat on backwards:
And a shot from FSN Pittsburgh, as I’m reaching out to make the catch:
I just needed to get a ball from Bob Davidson, and I would have my name back in the PNC Park record book, sharing Nick’s record.
The Pirates would go on to lose the game, and I tried my best to get Davidson to toss me a ball. He looked directly at me, but tossed four balls to other kids.
I quickly ran over to the Pirates dugout to try and get a ball from someone.
I waited for the Pirates bullpen pitchers to come in. Only Matt Capps had a ball, and he tossed it to a little kid.
All of the players had exited the field.
All of the fans had left the stadium.
A security guard came over and told me I had to leave. However, I noticed that Herbie Andrade, the bullpen catcher, still hadn’t come in. I bargained with the security guard to just let me wait for “that player,” and then I would be gone.
Herbie walked slowly in, lugging a huge bag of equipment over one shoulder, and carrying another burdonsome bag in the other.
The entire stadium was basically empty now, except for me (standing in the front row above the tunnel), and Nick, who was standing a few rows behind me.
Herbie probably wondered, “What the F is wrong with these guys?”
I felt awkward, so I spoke to him in Spanish.
“Tienes algunas pelotas extras para mi, Herbie?”
He paused and fumbled around with the bags. Noticing that he was going to give me a ball, I continued, “Muchisimas Gracias. Eres el hombre.”
He the tossed me ball #14. I bid him farewell with, “Hasta manana.” Seriously, Herbie is an awesome guy.
My friend Nick couldn’t believe my luck. Within 1 inning, from the beginning of the 9th to the end of the game, I had snagged four balls.
I wanted one more shot at snagging a ball. There was only one place to go.
Outside to the tall grass that was buzzing with insects.
I stomped around hoping to step on a ball.
I continued to search.
After about 10 minutes of searching, fearing I would be arrested as a suspected g20 terrorist, and feeling bugs crawling on my legs, I relented.
Did the thought of jumping into the river and swimming 17 feet down, feeling around for a ball, and grabbing it to get 15 for the night cross my mind? Yes.
Did I jump in the river and actually try it? No.
Nick and I would share the PNC Park record of 14.
Here’s today’s PNC Park record tying and personal best baseballs:
And the sweet spots: (the usher ball is not numbered yet because it is soaked):
And a look at my first career foul ball snagged, and first game ball of 2009:
Game: 14 balls (8 hit, 6 thrown)
Season: 375 balls (200 hit, 112 thrown, 63 device)
Games: 76 games (8 of which didn’t have BP)
Average: 4.93 balls per game
Career: 541 balls
Streak: 91 consecutive games attended with at least 1 ball snagged.
Attendance: 15,980 (couldn’t have been more than 2,000-3,000 that actually showed)
Race for 400 in 2009: Need 25 in 5 games, 5.0 per game (This could be do-able…)
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.
I ran in and found ball #1 laying against a concrete step in the bleacher area. I was shocked. Lately, there have been very few Easter Eggs, as ushers have been picking them up.
I would go on to catch ball #2 off the bat of Brian Bixler. He hit a line drive that bounced on the warning track, and right into my glove. The next batter, Jason Jaramillo, hit a home run that I caught on the fly. It was ball #3.
That was it for the Pirates portion of batting practice. I went under the bleachers, changed my clothes, and emerged in my Reds gear.
I decided to re-enter the bleacher area over by the bullpen. That way, it would be less noticeable if any Reds players had previously seen me standing in my customary spot.
Game: 6 balls (6 hit)
Season: 311 balls (161 hit, 91 thrown, 59 device)
Games: 64 games (7 of which didn’t have BP)
Average: 4.86 balls per game
Career: 477 balls
Streak: 79 consecutive games attended with at least 1 ball snagged.
The Pirates are out of town until July 17th, which would mean 17 days without a baseball game for me. I decided to break up the drought by attending a game in Philadelphia.
I’d never been to a baseball game in Philly before, so I was interested to see what Citizens Bank Park had to offer.
I got to the stadium at 2:35, almost 2 full hours before the gates were to even open. I figured that I would give myself some extra time to account for traffic and to stop for lunch. (I ended up not stopping because my GPS directed me to a non-existent phantom Wendy’s. Frustrated, I decided to eat at the stadium.) I was there so early, that the parking attendant thought I worked at McFadden’s.
The first matter of business was to find an open ticket window and buy a ticket for today’s game. I walked past the first base entrance
then realized that the Reds had many more righties than lefties, and I’d have a better chance back in the packed left field seats.
Brandon Phillips put on a show in batting practice. One of his home runs came right to me, I was camped underneath it, ready to make the catch, when at the moment the ball was several feet from my glove, about 5 people’s arms slammed into mine. My arm moved, and the ball tipped off my glove. I didn’t get the ball. Fans in Philadelphia are much more agressive when it comes to going a
fter home run balls in batting practice than in Pittsburgh or Cleveland. In Pittsburgh, us ballhawks spread out and have our own little zones that we tend to stay in. We never run into each other or rob each other of home runs when another is camped under one. Next time I go to a game in Philly I’ll be prepared.
I was shut out for the rest of batting practice and ended with 2 baseballs.
I walked around the concourse. I liked how the Phillies post their line up on a large brick wall at the entrance to the left field gate:
The Phillies top 2 stars for my money:
The Liberty Bell (which gongs after a Phillies player goes deep):
Here was my view from my seat:
The Phillies would go on to knock out starter Johnny Cueto in the first inning and score an amazing 10 runs in the first inning. They would go on to win the game 22-1. I don’t think I’ve ever attended such a lopsided game.
I made my back to my hotel in Philadelphia. (Which didn’t have Internet). Ran a few miles on the treadmill in the fitness center, did 31 floors on a stairmaster, and went to bed.
I then disappeared for the next week (which is why its taken me a week to get this entry up) to the shore.
Game: 2 balls (2 hit)
Season: 226 balls (119 hit, 75 thrown, 32 device)
Games: 46 games (5 of which didn’t have BP)
Average: 4.91 balls per game
Career: 392 balls
I got into line at 3:30 (an hour before the gates were to open), and was the 8th person in the stadium. I was the third one into the bleachers. There were 2 easter eggs, but another ballhawk got them first.
About 10 minutes or so passed with no action. I noticed a ball roll directly to the fence where the stands jut out towards the foul line in left field. I decided to vacate my spot and go grab the ball. I ran up the escalator to the main concourse, and then down the stairs and reached over the fence and grabbed ball #1. Then, I immediately went back to the bleachers. I snapped this picture when I returned to the bleacher area to illustrate where the ball was. (The small yellow X)
Game: 6 balls (3 hit, 2 thrown, 1 device)
Season: 64 balls (26 hit, 31 thrown, 7 device)
Games: 13 games (11 with BP, 2 without)
Average: 4.92 balls per game
Career: 230 balls
When the gates opened, I ran into the bleachers and immediately found ball #1, laying in the front row of section 138. I walked around in each section before turning my attention to the action on the field, and found another Easter egg in Section 136 about 5 rows back, it was ball #2.
The Pirates were hitting for about 10 more minutes, and then the Reds were going to hit. Near the end of the Pirates portion of Batting Practice, Karstens threw a ball to a kid about 6 rows back. Either the throw was a little off, and the kid completely missed the ball. It ricocheted right to me, ball #3. I was then faced with the choice of keeping the ball, or giving it to the kid. I decided to be charitable and glove flipped the ball to the kid, who thanked me.
The Reds then came out to hit. At the end of the Pirates portion of batting practice, a Pirate had thrown a ball into the crowd that someone misplayed. The ball was laying on the edge of the warning track. I didn’t even think about doing the glove trick, because it was directly in the sight line of a security guard.
I changed into my Reds gear, and stood in the front row directly in front of the ball, and waited. Jerry Hairston came over to left center field.
He walked over, and without hesitation flipped me ball #4.
Game: 8 Balls (4 hit, 4 thrown)
Season: 58 Balls (23 hit, 29 thrown, 6 device)
Games: 12 Games (10 with BP, 2 without)
Average: 4.83 Balls per Game
Career: 224 Balls
I attended today’s game with my best friend from my childhood days, Joe Filipowski. We got to the gates about 10 minutes before they were to open. I hate how the gates don’t open until 90 minutes before the first pitch. At 11:40, we were finally let inside. The Pirates were already in mid batting practice.
I checked for Easter eggs in left field, but there was nothing there. With some of the Pirates better hitters coming up and being left handed, we headed over to right field. I was shocked at how amazingly rude the Pirates were towards their own fans. I got totally ignored by Zach Duke, Jesse Chavez, Craig Monroe, Eric Hinske, Brandon Moss, and Donnie Veal in right field. I asked each of them for a ball on more than one occasion, but was ignored. The irritating part was that they were giving balls to little kids with Reds gear on, even though I was completely decked out in Pirates gear, including their new alternate batting practice jersey. It looked like it was going to be one of those days.
I decided to try and get a batted ball from one of the left handed power hitters. Nate McLouth hit one, but it was over my head and some guy just barely beat me to it. My friend Joe got the first ball of the day, but gave it away to a little kid. Jesse Chavez pointed the kid out and tossed it to him several rows up, but the kid missed it. Joe ended up catching up, but out of kindness gave it to the kid. He later said he regretted giving it away, it being the first ball that he’d snagged since the 1994 Home Run Derby at Three Rivers Stadium.
Moments later, Brandon Moss launched a deep fly ball to right field. I drifted over about 5 seats and camped out underneath it. The ball landed squarely in my glove. It was ball #1 of the day for me, and my first ball of 2009. It’d been over 6 months since I last snagged a ball, so it was good to finally get one. If you can find the #1 below, that’s the exact spot I snagged Moss’ Home Run.
I didn’t take any pictures during batting practice because I felt like having my camera around my neck would be a distraction for me and make moving around a little tougher. After Adam LaRoche and Brandon Moss’s group hit, I decided to move to left field. It would prove to be a little late because Andy LaRoche was absolutely raking balls into left field while we were in right.
I made my way over to where Matt Capps, Tyler Yates, and John Grabow were standing in left center field. I asked several times for some balls, but was ignored by Yates. At least Grabow looked at me, but decided to throw the ball into the bleachers instead. I made eye contact with Capps. He got a ball and pointed at me and tossed it. Out of no where, a Reds fan dives in front of me and steals the ball before it reached me. (I was in the second row, he was in the first). Luckily, another ball was hit to Capps. He turned around and made sure I caught this one, arching it perfectly. It was ball #2 of the day.
I then decided to move to the left field line where Ian Snell and Craig Hansen were hanging out. Since catching a HR ball would prove tricky here, I decided to try and ask every Pirate I could for a ball. I settled into the second row in one of the sections near the line. I chose an empty row so I could somewhat move. Moments later, Craig Monroe lauched a line drive in my direction. I barely had to move. There was some competition for the ball from some people in the front row, but since I am 6’5″, I was able to outreach them and made the snag for ball #3 on the day. The below picture shows the exact locations of balls #2 and #3: