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.
Season: 3 balls (3 hit, 0 thrown, 0 device, 0 found)
Games: 1 games
Average: 3.00 balls per game
Career: 1,125 balls
I was back at PNC Park after a weekend trip to Washington State, and I was out of the swing of things, as I got zero balls during the Pirates portion of batting practice.
At 5:30, I went to center field to look for easter eggs, but there were none. Upon entering the section however, an unidentified Braves player hit a home run into the seats. I had seen the ball land from about eighty feet away as I was on my way into the center field sections, but couldn’t find the ball. Luckily, one of the ushers directed me to the spot, and I found the ball laying in the front row in a little puddle of water.
I decided to stay in center field because the group that was hitting included Jason Heyward (behind cage in picture below) and Rick Ankiel.
Game: 5 balls ( 4 hit, 1 thrown )
Season: 508 balls (247 hit, 117 thrown, 72 device, 72 found)
Games: 79 games
Average: 6.43 balls per game
2010 Game Balls: 5
Career: 1,086 balls
Streak: 175 consecutive games attended with at least 1 ball snagged.
Balls needed to break single season record: 36