August 2008

8-30-08 PNC Park, Brewers @ Pirates

I decided to try a new tactic today and stand in foul territory for the entire Pirates’ batting practice.  As soon as the gates opened at 4:30, I hurried over to the corner seat right along the left field foul line.  My reasoning was that the Pirates’ left handed hitters would be slashing the ball down the line, working on their opposite field stroke.  Wouldn’t you know, that I didn’t get a single ball from a Pirates left handed hitter come remotely close to me.

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I received ball #1 courtesy of Ian Snell.  Snell is having a rough season, but he is an all around good guy when it comes to tossing balls into the stands.  I called out his name and he fired a ball at me.  It was probably about 65 mph, and it was a few feet over my head, so I had to leap for it to make the grab.  In the picture to the left, Ian Snell is talking with Denny Bautista in
front of the Verizon Wireless sign. 

Ian used to hang out in center
field all the time until we traded or demoted all of Bautista’s shagging buddies (Damaso Marte, Romulo Sanchez, Franquelis Osoria, Yoslan Herrera, Marino Salas, etc).

jack.jpgBall #2 came soon after, courtesy of Jack Wilson.  Jack pulled a line drive down the line foul directly at me.  It bounced one time and landed right in my glove.  Wilson tends to pull balls down the line into foul territory an awful lot – I’ve only recently noticed it.  The Pirates batting practice ended uneventfully at 5:15 and the Brewers came out to bat.  I immediately made my way over to the left field bleachers.

I set up shop in my usual spot – on the aisle between Sections 135 and 135.  I was anticipating a barrage of home runs from the Brew Crew.  The first group yielded no positive results, as I didn’t even get near any of the home runs.  Many were going to right field and center field, as Prince Fielder was in the group.  Fielder hit a couple out of the stadium over the right field wall, presumably sending them into the Allegheny.  He also tattooed the batter’s eye in Center Field, which is 450 feet from home plate.

The second group included the likes of Ryan Braun, Gabe Kapler, Corey Hart and
Weeks, so I liked my chances of getting some action.  Braun didn’t dissapoint, probably hitting the most home runs of any Brewer.  I got ball #3 from Braun, a ground rule double that bounced on the warning track, and took a nice clean perfect hop directly to me, five rows back into the crowd.   I got a nice little applause from several people close by.

hart.jpgA few short moments later, Corey Hart launched a line drive home run ball to the section I was standing in.  The ball’s path was directly in the sun for most of its flight.  For those of you who attend batting practice on a regular basis at PNC Park, you know that the sun is absolutely brutal in left field.  I was able to position myself in the path of the ball, but had to stare into the sun for what seemed like an eternity.  I waited until the ball came out of the sun, and was able to catch it (ball #4) without even moving.  I once again received a polite applause, while several people came over and asked me, “Did you see that?  How were you able to keep you eye on that?  I lost that one in the sun!”  Never attend batting practice without sunglasses

Ball #5 was a home run by Gabe Kapler (I think) that landed on the 134 side of section 135.  It landed in a group of soccer moms and little kids who ducked for cover.  The ball landed and trickled down three rows.  I had jogged over to take a look, as I usually do, in case of a funny ricochet, and was able to toss my glove over the ball as it was rolling towards me.  I had ball #5 in my possession.  Almost immediately, one of these mom’s starting patting me on the arm with purpose, saying “Come on, I need that ball for my son, you already caught three!”  I totally ignored her and walked away with the ball.  She called me a hog.   I didn’t care.  If I was going to give the ball away it certainly wasn’t going to be to her.  I don’t think I would ever give a ball to someone who asked or demanded it.

At this point, a man in a yellow shirt came up to me and offered me $20 or $30 for one of my balls.  He explained to me that he was from Maryland and had made a four hour drive and wanted a ball for his son.  I told him that I don’t sell balls, and that he could try asking one of the players for a ball.  The guy ended up paying another ballhawk $20 for a warm up ball. 

 I had already had five balls on the day, and batting practice was going to be ending in several minutes.  I had noticed a ball laying on the warning track, unnoticed by the players.  I decided to get the ball to add one more to my total.  I walked over, politely asked a group of youngsters if I could get the ball.  They looked at me in amazement as I took out my glove with a string tied to it.  I dropped the glove directly on the ball and pulled it up in a matter of several seconds.  It was ball #6.   I handed the ball to a 9 year old kid on my right.  What made things better, was the man who purchased a ball for $20 was standing right right, three people away, there watching everything unfold. I was hoping he was kicking himself for paying $20 for a used BP ball.  He could’ve gone into the Pirates clubhouse store and bought a brand new official MLB ball with a cube-case for $22.

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After pulling off the glove trick, one of the kids asked, “Can I have that!”  I told him he’d have to make his own.

Batting practice ended, and although I tried to get some extra balls throughout the night, I was destined to leave with the five that I kept.  The umpires and bullpen pitchers ignored me as I stood above the tunnel in Sec 24 after the game and asked for a ball.

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Game:  6 Balls (1 given away)
Season: 110 Balls
Career: 148 Balls
Streak: 7 games with at least 1 ball

Attendance: 21,931 (57.2% full)
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8-26-08 PNC Park, Cubs @ Pirates

The only positive from the entire night was the beautiful pink sky at dusk.
826 Pink sky from RF.jpgTonight’s game was the absolute worst game I’ve been to all season.  Although it was a nine inning game, the game lasted FOUR hours. 

During the Pirates’ portion of batting practice I got absolutely nothing.  The Cubs’ portion of batting practice was just as bad.  The Cubs’ fans outnumbered the Pirates fans at batting practice, so I didn’t even bother putting on my Cubs gear.  The Cubs players were also remarkably stingy, notable Lester Strode, who even ignored a group of young Cubs’ fans when picking up two balls near the wall.

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Luckily, around 5:40, Aramis Ramirez launched a homerun ball directly at me.  I didn’t even have to move. 

I caught the line drive on the fly, making it ball #1, and my only ball of the day. 
I caught the ball in my usual batting practice spot, in the aisle between Sec 134 and 135. 
After BP ended, I tried to get Ian Snell’s warm up ball, but bullpen catcher Herbie Andrade took it into the bullpen with him, totally snubbing me.

My seats for this game were located on the right field wall, in Sec 143 Row F.  I figured that I could improve on my paltry one ball by moving back and forth between RF and CF 826 Nate standing in CF1.jpg
throughout the game.  Nate McLouth throws a warm up ball into the stands at the top of each odd numbered inning, while the right fielder throws during even numbered innings.  I made nine attempts to get a warm up ball. 
Unfortunately, I think Nate knows who I am and refuses to throw the ball to me.  On one Sunday back in June, I caught three of his warm up balls in one game.  Two I had to jump for, and probably weren’t meant for me, possibly contributing to McLouth giving me the could shoulder ever since.

I didn’t receive a ball the entire game, so I moved down to Section 24 to attempt to get a game ball from an umpire as they left the field.  By this time, it was 11:04 PM, and the only remaining fans in the crowd were Cubs fans.  The place had a Wrigley Field feel to it, as chants of “Let’s Go Cubbies” echoed from every crevice of the stadium.  In the picture below, you can see all of the Cubs fans standing in anticipation of the final out. U826 cubs crowd end game.jpg

Unfortunately, the home plate umpire wasn’t in the mood to throw any balls to any fans.  So, I put in over 7 hours of effort and came away with only one ball. 
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Game:  1 Ball
Season: 104 Balls
Career: 142 Balls

Attendance: 17,929 (46.7% full)
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8-25-08 PNC Park, Cubs @ Pirates

The Pirates came back to Pittsburgh after an awful road trip to take on the rival Cubs of Chicago.  I usually hate it when the Cubs come to Pittsburgh because their fans travel well, and there are usually almost as many Cubs fans as Pirates fans. 

I didn’t get to the Center Field gate until 4:45 PM, so I figured I’d be at the end of a long line and lose a few minutes of BP time.  Luckily, I was fifth in line, as the “crowd” was late arriving.  There was a line back to the bridge by the time the gates opened at 5.

I’d been waiting for this day since last Wednesday, because I would have a chance to get my 100th ball of the season (I needed only 1 to achieve this milestone).  I stood between Sections 135 and 136, as I usually do, and came up empty during the Pirates portion of batting practice, which was 15 minutes worth.  The Pirates bat from 4:30-5:15, but the gates don’t open until 5 PM for season ticket holders.  Yeah, its stupid.

During the Pirates portion of batting practice, Craig Hansen was being a bit childish. Hansen.JPGSeveral people had asked him for balls that rolled his way, but he refused to oblige.  Around 5:10, a ball rolled towards Hansen.  He picked it up and threw it high and hard.  It hit off of a sign right below the score board.  If it had been a Home Run, it would’ve measured 550-580 feet from home plate.  Many folks around me took off running for the ball, swarming up the steps into the general admission bleachers.  I didn’t budge.  I figured Hansen had done it for his own amusement to watch all of the fans scurry about for the ball.  I’d seen Hansen do this before.  He took a ball during the last homestand and long tossed it way over the batters eye in Center Field.  The ball presumably landed in the Allegheny.  If any one got it, I’ll never know. 

The next ball that rolled Hansen’s way was a ball that I got, but not until 20 minutes later.  Hansen took the ball and chucked it into the upper deck.  Some fans just looked at each other with astonished looks on their faces.  I heard someone say, “Why did he do that?” 

I made a mental note of where the ball landed, several rows up in Section 328, and returned my concentration to batting practice. 

The Cubs were now taking batting practice and Alfonso Soriano was shagging balls in left field.  I didn’t even bother asking him to toss and balls to me, as I noticed he was too busy doing ridiculous dance steps to horrible music.  A few minutes into the Cubs portion of BP, Derrek Lee launched a deep fly to left field.  The ball hit off of a railing separating Section 136 from the Handicapped seating area, as seen in the picture below.825 Railing.jpg I drifted over to “take a look” at the HR, but I knew it was over my head.  The ball slammed off the railing, and directly at me.  I snatched it out of the air.  It was ball #1 of the day, and my one-hundredth ball of the season.  I received a congratulatory hand-shake from fellow ballhawk, Amac.  It was nice to finally be in triple digits. 

Soon after, 5:30 approached, and the rest of the stadium would be opening up.  I positioned myself at the bottom of the stairs just inside the left field gate.  At 5:30 I took off up the escalator, skipping every other step.  I was winded after about three steps, but kept pushing on, knowing that Hansen’s ball was somewhere in the upper deck, untouched and waiting to be claimed.
825 sec 328 Hansen.JPGAfter I reached the upper deck, I immediately turned left and went in the first walkway that I saw that led to Section 329.  I dashed up the stairs, ran over one section, and there it was, ball #2.  Thank you Craig Hansen. 

I took the elevator back down to the main concourse and walked back to left field.  It was getting pretty crowded, and I didn’t like my chances of getting a ball throw to me.  I decided to make my way over to the right field wall for the last 20 minutes of batting practice.  The right field wall is an awful place to catch HR balls because it is very steep, limiting a ballhawk’s range.  The reason I decided to go to right field was because there was virtually no one there, and I figured I’d be able to politely ask some Cubs players for a ball or two.

I set up in the first row of Section 142.  825 view of RF from CF.jpgIts the first section you see there on the right field wall.   While there I politely asked Neal Cotts, Sean Marshall, and Kosuke Fukudome for balls.   They never so much as even glanced up at the top of the wall.  Even though I had thrown on a Cubs shirt and hat.  There were also two coaches with fungo bats.  I was able to identify
them from their photos on my “cheat sheet,”  but they never so much as
came within 50 feet of the wall. Meanwhile, I was watching Aramis Ramirez and Alfonso Soriano launch several balls into the left field bleachers.  I was thinking, “Great choice Erik.”  Enter the D-Train, Daryl Ward.

Ward launched a deep fly to right field.  I judged it perfectly, but realized at the last second that the ball was going to fall short of the wall.  I grabbed the front railing of the 21 foot high wall to support myself and reached as far as I could.  I was able to make a basket catch on the ball with my arm outstretched as far as it could go.  It was ball #3 of the day.  I was getting ready to label the ball, when with the very next pitch, Ward sent another HR in the exact same spot.  He had hit this ball with more force and it landed three rows behind me.  It hit a chair, which killed the balls’ momentum and sat there in an empty row.  I hopped over three rows and was able to throw my glove over the ball with less than a second to spare.  Amac, a fellow ballhawk, who will probably comment that I robbed him, was after this HR ball and arrived just a split second too late.  I had ball #4 of the day in my mitt.
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(View from the front row of Section 142, on top of the Right Field Wall)

Batting practice ended soon after, and I went to meet my wife at the Left Field gate.  She had came late, because she had to work late and wasn’t home when I left my house.  We had pretty good seats for this game, (or so we thought) in Section 222 Row K, Seats 1-2 (See view below).  I was hoping to get some foul balls during the game, but all I got was annoyed.

825 our seats.jpg
When we got to our seats
around 6:30, the


was almost

Within fifteen minutes we were surrounded by an annoying old couple to our left, who kept sticking their bony hands in our faces pointing to something over on the right.  Making matter worse was a family of five with two annoying kids who sat directly to our left.  The little brats kept running up and down the stairs.   Around the 3rd or 4th inning, Holly and I got up and watched the middle section of the game on TV from comfortable chairs in the Pittsburgh Baseball Club.  After the Pirates fell behind 10-1, we decided to leave the game early, as we are both starting back to school this week and were really tired from getting up early

The Pirates ended up getting crushed 12-3.  I was happy with 4 balls.  I discussed batting practice with 3 fellow ball hawks on my way to the designated driver booth to sign up for a free drink.  Two of them got shut out, and Amac came away with 1 ball in batting practice.  My day’s work is pictured below.
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Game: 4 Balls
Season: 103 Balls
Career: 141 Balls

Attendance: 14,454 (37.7% full)
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8-20-08 Progressive Field, Royals @ Indians

This was my first ever trip to Progressive Field in Cleveland OH.
I went with a fellow ballhawk, Amac, who was also making his first
appearance at Progressive. We left around 12:40 and arrived at the
field just before 4. On the way to the park, we stopped at a WalMart
which was a half hour outside of Cleveland to buy some Cleveland gear.
I purchased a Grady Sizemore Indians shirt, along with an Indians hat
and 5 other hats (they were only $3 each). Amac picked up a July 4th Indians shirt, an Indians hat and a small glove so that he could attempt the glove trick.

finding a place to park in Cleveland, which wasn’t that difficult, we
walked around the stadium to find the will call window. (View from outside the gates looking in)

there were 2 windows open, so we were able to pick up our tickets
before the gates opened. The guy at the window got my hopes up by
saying “I see you have some dugout seats here, nice!” He was lying. Our
seats were in Sec 518 Row D. I bought them off of ebay for $9.99 for
the pair. We never even sat in them though, we just needed to get into
the ballpark.

The gates at Progressive Field open at 4:30 on
Monday-Friday, giving fans access to the Right Field seats and Heritage
Park. While we were in line, we scoped out our competition. There were
two old ladies, a “family” of four with two little kids, an
octogenarian with his grandson, and some guy from Kansas City. There
was no competition like at PNC Park. At 4:25, the gates were opened,
and we rushed in.
got my first ball immediately from Shin Shoo Choo in Right Field. I
called out to him, “Could you throw me a ball please?” He happily
obliged. Choo continued to throw balls to about 5 or 6 more fans before
going in to take his round of BP. He was a nice guy. I got my second
from a Anthony Reyes a couple minutes
later. I had called out to him several times, but he acted like he didn’t hear me.  I waited for a ball to roll up to the wall and politely asked
him for it.

The right field and center field seats at
Progressive Field are about 4 feet back from the wall. In between the
wall, there are black boards and a small railing, so doing the glove
trick was impossible. The 80 year old guy that was there with his
grandson told me to get my stuff off the board between the railing and
the wall because the Indians didn’t like fans putting their things on
there. I took it off, but was a bit miffed. Who was this guy to tell me
this, and why didn’t he bother the other people that had their bags on
it? Two minutes later, a long fly ball came towards me and the old man.
It bounced on the warning track and was just about to land in his glove
when I snatched it out of the air before he could get it. I figured it
was fair game. The old man snapped, “You dirty rascal.” It was ball #3.

the Royals came out and took batting practice. I changed into my Royals
shirt and hat. I managed to get ball #4 from Joaquin Soria as he was
walking back from doing his sprint. I had a tough time identifying any of the Royals pitchers except for Soria and Kip Wells because they all had wind breakers on.  So, make sure you print out a photo roster, especially of the pitchers. 

It went cold after that, as I
didn’t get another ball until the end of BP. It came from Royals lefty Josh Newman. I was on the phone, and noticed a ball roll
to the wall. I walked down to the front row with my glove up. He
scanned the crowd, saw my Royals gear, and tossed me ball #5.

practice ended soon afterward, so we walked around the stadium for
awhile. I really liked the stadium, its concourses weren’t crowded, and
there were many great places to eat. We settled on Market Place (I
think it was called that). And got a combo meal for $8.75. For $8.75,
we got a hamburger, fries, and a small drink. It was a great deal
compared to PNC Park.

We also walked over to Heritage park
during this time. Heritage park contains many monuments commemorating
the history and players of the Cleveland Indians. We walked down the
stairs and went to the area closest to center field. In center field,
there are some tall trees (hemlocks?) in a 5 foot space. Behind the
trees is a black wall, serving as the batters eye. I
could see underneath this wall to see the base of the hemlocks. There
was a ball lying there. There was only about a 5 inch space from the
concrete to where this wall started, just big enough to slide an arm
in. I pointed the ball out to Amac, figuring I should give him the
first try, since I had gotten 5 balls and he had only gotten 2. He
tried to reach it, but couldn’t. I gave it a shot since I had longer
arms, and still couldn’t reach it, even with my first baseman’s mitt on
my hand. Then, Amac used the glove that he purchased at Wal-Mart
earlier in the day. He used some string that I gave him to do a
variation of the glove trick. The tossed the glove in and nudged the
ball closer, getting it fairly easily. Two older folks who were
onlooking were very impressed and said, “You should get some kind of
prize for figuring out how to get that!”

There was one other
ball in this section, but it was directly behind the trunk of one of
the hemlocks and it was impossible to get. Amac tried for 10 minutes
but was unsuccessful.

The game was starting soon, so we took a
spot in the left field Toyota Home Run Porch and hung over the rail and
watched the first three innings or so. We
were astonished that the Indians do not throw their warm up balls into
the crowd. They give them back to the bullpen catcher. We were hoping
to get a home run ball, but there was no such luck.

Around the
top of the 5th, we walked along the main concourse, looking for a
distracted usher so we could sneak down. We spotted a female usher who
was playing with a patron’s baby. She was totally distracted, so we
just walked right past her and took a seat in an empty row about 12
rows back of first base. We
stayed in those seats the rest of the game, hoping to get a foul ball.
There were about three that came our way, but none in our section.

game got very interesting in the 8th. The Indians scored 5 runs to take
an 8-5 lead and held on to win. After the game, they announced they
were throwing victory balls into the stands. We raced over behind the
dugout, but they were stupid soft toy baseballs. We waited until many
people left, and then walked through a few rows of the stadium looking
for season tickets. We found 8 Season Tickets that folks had left
behind and a few issues of batter up magazine.

Overall, the game
and batting practice were very rewarding. I will definitely be coming
back to Progressive Field as soon as my schedule permits.

Game: 5 balls
Season: 99 balls
Career: 137 balls

Attendance: 23,920 (55.1% full)
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I have decided to start this blog to record and track my “adventures” at the many baseball games I attend.  I got my first ball back in 2006, thrown to me by Pirates CF Chris Duffy.  During that season, I got 5 warm up balls.  The next year, I began attending batting practice.  I caught a Sammy Sosa HR ball on 6-21-07 and was hooked.  I managed to get 33 balls in 2007.

I attend most of my games at PNC Park in Pittsburgh PA.  Its not a very good stadium for batting practice, because BP ends at 6PM, and the gates do not open until 5PM (except on Saturday where they open at 4:30).