When I got out of my car around 3:45, the skies were looking rather overcast. It wasn’t raining, so I was hoping batting practice would still be on.
It wasn’t. When it became obvious that batting practice wasn’t going to happen, I was faced with a decision. Go home, or put my 109 consecutive game streak on the line. I decided to stay, because I was hoping it would rain, and people would stay home. Also, there was a Penguins playoff game, so I hoped folks would stay and watch that. However, Pittsburgh crowds love fireworks, and 25,000 people still showed up.
Upon entering the stadium, I got ball #1 rather quickly from coach Ray Searage.
I then noticed several Cardinals playing catch in right field, so I went over.
Kyle McClellan, Mitchell Boggs, and someone else were playing catch, but when they finished, they were having an intense conversation as they walked off the field about different grips, so they ignored my polite request for a baseball.
Game: 5 balls (5 thrown)
Season: 102 balls (61 hit, 21 thrown, 10 device, 11 found)
Games: 14 games
Average: 7.29 balls per game
2010 Game Balls: 3
Career: 680 balls
Streak: 110 consecutive games attended with at least 1 ball snagged.
Since today is a Friday, I thought that it might by a little more difficult than the other two days this week, where I had snagged 8 and 10 balls.
The Cardinals can be a tricky team to deal with due to their hitting approach. Twice last year I only snagged one ball in games that the Pirates played the Cardinals. My best game against the Cardinals was a 9 ball performance on May 12, 2009. I would break that today.
My first ball was a Steve Pearce ground rule double that bounced over the fence and I caught in the second row. It was career ball #6-6-6. Hopefully the dubious distinction of being tied to that ball number doesn’t jinx Pearce in the big leagues.
Ball #2 was another ground rule double off the bat of Lastings Milledge, and ball #3 was a home run that I had to battle the sun for, and made the catch in the aisle way between section 136 and 137.
Near the end of the group, I got two balls within 10 seconds of each other. Both were from Lastings Milledge. He hit a home run that I caught on the fly, and as soon as I made the catch and started drifting back to my right to go to my spot, another home run was hit to my right. I sprinted over and picked the ball up as it was trickling down the bleachers.
The Pirates finished up at 5:26. The Cardinals began hitting.
I glove tricked ball #6 in left field, as none of the Cardinals’ shaggers had made it over to left field yet.
I then ran over to center field and found ball #7 in the center field seats.
I returned to left field and got a home run from an unknown Cardinals player . The ball hit two sections from the foul pole and ricocheted like a rocked directly at me. I actually caught the ball between my side and my forearm, as I didn’t have enough time to react. That was ball #8, and it was only 5:38, exactly half way through batting practice.
Would I be able to continue this pace and challenge the PNC Park Jabs/Pelescak record of 14.
Things slowed way down, as people started blocking off the rows, and limiting my range.
I did catch a Nick Stavinoha home run on the fly in section 137.
Game: 10 balls (8 hit, 1 device, 1 found)
Season: 97 balls (61 hit, 16 thrown, 10 device, 11 found)
Games: 13 games
Average: 7.46 balls per game
2010 Game Balls: 3
Career: 675 balls
Streak: 109 consecutive games attended with at least 1 ball snagged.
What’s worse than attending a Sunday afternoon game?
Attending a Sunday afternoon game with the Cardinals taking batting practice.
When I got to PNC Park, I stood outside for awhile and looked in. There were no cages set up, and the garage doors to where the screens and cage were kept, were closed.
After talking to fellow ballhawk Nick Pelescak before the gates opened, I decided to not enter the park, and just go home. I didn’t feel like running all over the place to try and get a ball. I would basically have to beg players to throw me a warm up ball, which is something I’m not fond of doing.
On my way walking back to my car, I got a call from Nick. The groundscrew had just rolled out all of the screens. I stopped in my tracks and turned around to head back towards PNC Park.
Unfortunately, the team taking batting practice on this Sunday was the St Louis Cardinals. The Cardinals are notorious for their line drive, opposite field approach, making home runs rare.
Luckily, when they began hitting, one Cardinals batter hit a ball to the left center field wall. I threw my glove out on the field twice to roll the ball to the base of the wall, and used the glove trick to reel up ball #1.
Game: 1 ball (1 device)
Season: 344 balls (181 hit, 101 thrown, 62 device)
Games: 71 games (7 of which didn’t have BP)
Average: 4.85 balls per game
Career: 510 balls
Streak: 86 consecutive games attended with at least 1 ball snagged.
I hadn’t been to a game since last Thursday, a span of 9 days had passed since I snagged my last baseball.
After missing Friday’s game, I was back in action today.
Batting practice was just beginning when I entered at 4:30, so there were no Easter Eggs to be found. However, there was a ball laying on the warning track near the bullpen.
As I started to set up my glove trick, a Pirates batter lofted a fly ball at my section. My glove was off of my hand. I dropped my glove to the ground. I realized the ball would fall short, so I hopped over a bleacher to get into a better position. The ball bounced on the warning track, hit the fence separating the bleachers from the bullpen, and caromed right to me. I caught the ball with my bare hands on the bounce. It was ball #1.
I then turned my attention back to the ball on the warning track. I had lost my rubber band when I was running into the bleachers (it fell off of my glove) and was working with a replacement rubber band that I didn’t have a feel for. Every rubber band is different and needs adjusted appropriately. After two readjustments, I reeled up the ball. However, as I was bringing it in, the glove hit to wall and the ball fell out. Great. Now the ball was partially under neath some padding and I would have to work more to get the ball. As I was making my second attempt, I was surrounded by groundskeepers.
I ended up finally getting the ball in the right spot so I could reel it in. It was ball #2. The groundskeepers thought the trick was really cool and asked a few questions about how it was done.
I got ball #3 tossed to me by Matt Capps.
Game: 6 balls (3 hit, 2 thrown, 1 device)
Season: 343 balls (181 hit, 101 thrown, 61 device)
Games: 70 games (7 of which didn’t have BP)
Average: 4.90 balls per game
Career: 509 balls
Streak: 85 consecutive games attended with at least 1 ball snagged.
O.A.R. is in town playing a post game concert to coincide with fireworks set off from a barge on the river, the Clemente bridge, atop the scoreboard, and buildings across the river. Tonight was night two of the annual Skyblast Series, a popular Pirates promotion.
This game was the 700th game in the history of PNC Park, the seventh largest crowd in the history of PNC Park, and the largest ever Skyblast crowd. Additionally, it was the largest crowd of the 2009 season.
Luckily, the skies were threatening earlier in the day, keeping some fans away from batting practice. As a result, there were slightly less fans than attended yesterday.
Since it was a Saturday game, the gates opened a half hour earlier than during the week. I was in line by 3:30, and was the first one into the stadium. My plan was to get off to a big start by picking up a bunch of Easter Eggs. Another Saturday special perk is that the entire seating bowl is also open to season ticket holders, rather than just the left field bleachers. (Season Ticket holders are confined to left field only during weekdays).
I ran in and checked to lower bleachers. Nothing.
I hopped up the steps and checked the upper general admission bleachers. Nothing.
I ran over into foul territory and checked all of the upper and lower sections along the left field line. Nothing.
The only thing I did find was an old usher with a devilish wry smile on his face as I walked back up the stairs empty handed to return to left field. I had a feeling he had pocketed several balls, as I’ve personally seen him do so at previous games.
I was shut out for the first twenty minutes of batting practice. My plan to get on the board was to ask new Pirate Jose Ascanio for a ball in Spanish.
I moved down to the front row, waiting for Ascanio to snag a ball.
Soon, Andy LaRoche hit a line drive that carried fairly deep into the outfield. It hit on the grass and took a medium sized hop towards the wall, right where I was standing. I reacted and reached down over the wall and snagged ball #1. Unfortunately, Ascanio was about ten feet away watching. Now, I couldn’t ask him for a ball today, as he had just seen me snag one. I’ll have to save that request for another day.
I didn’t get another ball until near the very end of the Pirates batting practice. Many of the Pirates righties must’ve been watching the Cardinals take batting practice yesterday, because they took the exact same approach – trying to inside out every pitch to right field.
Luckily, Steve Pearce hit a towering home run towards me. I had to hobble over one section and just managed to snag the ball at the last second. After catching ball #2, I stumbled a bit and regained my balance by grabbing onto the bleacher back support. (My range is improving a bit. My back, which has ailed me for the last nine days, has felt markedly better since I started using a hydrocolater pad yesterday. I even went without my back brace today.)
Game: 5 balls (3 hit, 2 device)
Season: 260 balls (134 hit, 84 thrown, 42 device)
Games: 55 games (5 of which didn’t have BP)
Average: 4.73 balls per game
Career: 426 balls
Streak: 70 consecutive games attended with at least 1 ball snagged.
Today wasn’t a banner day for me. The Cardinals were in town, and they are historically a tough team for batting practice. Although they have a decent amount of right handed batters, they work exclusively on hitting the ball the other way for a majority of their cuts. This results in less home runs being hit to the left field bleachers, which is where I normally patrol.
I did manage to get on the board early, as I spotted bench coach Gary Varsho teaching Lastings Milledge how to correctly catch a fly ball.
I’m sure many parents with young children were real thrilled with FSN’s decision to show this man with blood pouring down his face.
At first I was thinking, “What a freaking idiot.” Then, my disdain for the man turned to remorse when I saw he had a disabled son who was with him.
Albert Pujols was the first one to the man, and stayed with him, holding his neck on the ground, the entire ten minutes. It tells you a lot about Albert Pujols as a person.
After ten minutes, they stabilized the man on a stretcher, and carted him off the field.
Predictably, the Pirates would go on to blow the lead and lose their sixth game in a row. The Washington Nationals are only seven games ahead of the Pirates now in the worst record in baseball category.&nb
sp; Uh oh.
Game: 2 balls (2 thrown)
Season: 255 balls (131 hit, 84 thrown, 40 device)
Games: 54 games (5 of which didn’t have BP)
Average: 4.72 balls per game
Career: 421 balls
Streak: 69 consecutive games attended with at least 1 ball snagged.
Luckily, as soon as I walked in, Ian Snell was picking up a ball and tossed me ball #1.
Then, the cold spell began. I didn’t get any more balls during the Pirates portion of batting practice. The Cardinals came out. Still nothing. It was 5:50 and I headed to center field for the last part of batting practice. Chris Duncan is the Cardinals best home run hitter in batting practice, so I was there waiting.
He hit a few home runs that came close to me. One landed in an empty chair. I was the only one running for it. Some random guy sitting 2 rows behind the ball saw me running, and lazily got up and picked up the ball.
It was 6:00 PM, and I had only one ball. I was thinking to myself, “You really suck. You’re the worst ballhawk in the entire stadium.” Moments later, Duncan hit a ball into the 5th row of section 139. I was in Section 141 and took off running. Myself and a legendary ballhawk named Jim were both after the ball. We both arrived at the same time, however I entered the row that the ball was in, and he was one row up. I was able to snag the ball just in time to get ball #2. A few seconds later, Duncan hit a ball to the same spot, except another row up. Jim and I were off to the races again. Again, I got to the ball a split second faster and got ball #3. Walking back to my seat, I found an easter egg ball wedged between the cement and a seat back. There was a lady sitting close by, so I casually walked over and picked up ball #4. As soon as I picked the ball up, the Cardinals ran off the field, ending their batting practice. Not a bad finish after being stuck on 1 ball for almost an hour.
Game: 5 Balls (3 hit, 2 thrown)
Season: 113 Balls (50 hit, 50 thrown, 13 device)
Games: 21 games (18 with BP, 3 without)
Average: 5.38 balls per game
Career: 279 balls