Today got off to a great start.
I got to the stadium around 4:25 PM or so and went down to the Riverwalk. Look what was waiting for me.
While there, a ball bounced out that the youngest of us grabbed, and another one bounced out that I completely misplayed. I notice a high fly ball that looked like it had a chance. I ran up to the wall, because it looked like it might just barely clear the wall. It did, after bouncing at least twice in the stadium. When the ball reappeared into my field of sight, I was to far to the left, and totally misplayed it. I tried to dive for it, but missed the ball, and one of the ‘new’ ballhawks grabbed it.
The rest of the time we spent staring at the sky, but nothing else came out.
When the gates opened, I ran in and found ball #2 laying on the cross aisle by the handicapped seats in left field. A food service employee actually pointed it out to me. He saw me sprinting, assumed I was looking for baseballs, and said, “There’s one right there.”
My third ball was hit by Steve Pearce. It was a ball that landed in section 133 and it rolled down the stairs under the bleachers and I just waited for it and picked it up.
Game: 6 balls (2 hit, 1 thrown, 1 device, 2 found)
Season: 97 balls (35 hit, 26 thrown, 22 device, 13 found)
Games: 16 games
Average: 6.06 balls per game
Career: 1,219 balls
Today was a tough day for all ballhawks in attendance at PNC Park. There weren’t too many home runs, and of the home runs that were hit, most were to right field and either bounced back on the field, or were gobbled up by fans in the front row.
I was flat out robbed twice by fans in the front row. One by a 50 year old who was in the front row and jumped to make the catch, inches in front of my waiting glove, and another by a college kid who was a row ahead of me and caught a home run barehanded about two inches in front of my glove. In both cases, there was nothing that I could’ve done differently, as I was behind them.
On to the balls that I did snag.
My first ball of the day was a home run off the bat of Steve Pearce. I misjudged the ball a bit. I moved down a row, and barely made a snow cone catch, as I should’ve just stayed put.
My second ball of the day was off the bat of another Pirate. I’m not sure of the hitter, but they lofted a high fly ball towards left center. I could tell it would be short, so rather than getting into a scrum in the front row, I ran back a few rows to about the fifth row back. The ball landed on the warning track and took a 20 foot high bounce and directly into my glove.
The Pirates wrapped things up at 5:20, a little earlier than recently.
Game: 5 balls (4 hit, 1 thrown)
Season: 127 balls (79 hit, 26 thrown, 9 device, 13 found)
Games: 18 games
Average: 7.06 balls per game
2010 Game Balls: 3
Career: 705 balls
Streak: 114 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.
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
Today’s game may be my final batting practice of the season – I may only attend one more game, and it’s a day game after a night game. You know what that means…
Meanwhile, I had been watching the weather, and decided that I would not attend tomorrows (Saturday’s) game. It is a Skyblast date, and the chance of rain is 100%. That means no batting practice, large crowds, and an all around tougher time snagging balls. I would need to have a huge day – I wanted reach the 400 balls snagged in one year benchmark.
Chaos had broken out in Pittsburgh the night before due to the G20 summit. I was hoping that this would scare people away from coming out early to batting practice – even if the Pirates were giving away Bobbleheads to entice folks to watch a potential 100 loss team.
I was second in line at PNC Park, arriving an hour and a half early. Helicopters hovered over my head, regiments of soldiers passed on foot patrol
and there was even the cavalry passing by.
We were standing directly next to each other. Manny turned and lofted the ball at us. It was no contest. I had longer arms, and made the catch about a foot in front of the other guys glove. It was ball #6. I also think it may have been the only ball that Manny threw into the crowd in his time in left field.
Another few minutes passed by, and two
more balls rolled to the wall. I reeled up ball #7 with the glove trick, and did the same with ball #8. Randy Wolf was coming over to pick up ball #8, but realized that I had it covered with the glove trick, and let it go, turning back to left field.
The ballpark had only been opened for 25 minutes, and I had already snagged 8 balls. Could I challenge the Jabs/Pelescak PNC Park record of 14?
No, as things slowed way, way down. The Dodgers’ batting practice approach reminded me of the Cardinals’ in that the hit many balls to the opposite field.
I was getting frustrated. The place looked like this around 5:30:
Which is nice, but there were still some folks clogging up rows, making me readjust my routes to any ball that was potentially coming into the stands.
These people got in my way a few times:
And this guy was the worse, because he stayed in virtually the same spot, but kept moving up or down one row, so I had to keep checking on his location.
I try to always familiarize myself with my surroundings almost before every BP pitch so I don’t crash into anyone or get blocked off from going for a ball.
In the last group, Ronny Belliard lofted a high fly ball that bounced on the warning track. I moved over a section and positioned myself perfectly to catch the high bounce. It was ball #9.
I only needed one more ball to complete my quest to get 400 balls. I had began the 2009 season with a goal of 300, but after reaching that last month on August 20th, I had made 400 a new goal for the season, to keep me motivated for the last five weeks of the season.
It was about 6:05ish, and batting practice was about to end in a few minutes. I was then faced with a tough decision. Stay in left field, which looked like this at 6:00….
or head over to center field to try and glove trick a ball that had rolled to the wall.
I decided to go give the ball a try. I rigged up the glove trick on the way over to center field, and non-chalantly made my way down to the front row. (I didn’t want to draw attention from the ushers by sprinting in there).
I looked around at the Dodgers players. No one was in a hurry to come get the ball, which was directly below me at the base of the wall.
With that in mind, I lowered my glove down over the ball, and reeled in ball #10.
Ball #300 and #400 of 2009 had both come via the glove trick. Snagging 400 balls in a season is quite an accomplishment. I believe only Zack Hample, myself, and probably the Happy Youngster (who will likely do it soon) have snagged 400 or more regular season balls in one season.
After snagging the ball, I asked my friend Nick (who is closing in on 300 balls in one season) to snap my picture.
I then got 25 extra tickets scanned, and lugged the bobbleheads back to my car. Noticing a large crowd waiting to get in the stadium (due to all the extra security measures), I decided to leave and not stay for the game.
If I end the season on an even 400, that would be a pretty cool thing anyway.
Game: 10 balls (3 hit, 2 thrown, 5 device)
Season: 400 balls (211 hit, 119 thrown, 70 device)
Games: 79 games (9 of which didn’t have BP)
Average: 5.06 balls per game
Career: 566 balls
Streak: 94 consecutive games attended with at least 1 ball snagged.
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…)
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.