September 2008

9-21-08 PNC Park, Astros @ Pirates

Today was the last home game of the season, and likely my last Major League Baseball game of 2008.  Since it was a Sunday afternoon game, there was no batting practice.  The only chance I had at a ball was to get one thrown to me.  When the pitchers came out, I elected to go on the Astros’ side, because there were too many Pirates fans crowded behind the Pirates’ pitchers.  I donned my Astros gear hoping it would increase my chances of getting a ball.  
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I set up behind the pitchers once they started throwing, hoping to catch an overthrow or wild pitch.  Unfortunately, no balls got loose.  After the pitchers were done throwing, I asked several of them politely for a ball.  None of them obliged, except for Chris Sampson, who tossed me a ball from 90 feet or so away.  He lobbed it so it would land on the warning track.  I reached out and caught it.  It was ball #1 of the day, and the only one that I would get.

I had purchased tickets from Stubhub behind the Pirates dugout, because last year, the players tossed all of their hats into the crowd after the game.  I was sitting in section 121 row A, but the ushers wouldn’t let anyone down into the lower 6 rows, so I got shut out.  Hats can only be thrown/tossed so far. 

After the game, I hat came from behind me.  I thought that some fan had thrown it.  So I didn’t really bother to go after it, even though it landed in the seat directly in front of me.  I looked back and a girl from the Bucco brigade had a big bag and was tossing out hats.  She was in the aisle between the dugout boxes and the infield boxes.  Since fans aren’t allowed down into the dugout boxes, I guess they tried to satisfy them by doing the hat thing this way.  I thought it was stupid.  I would rather have something from a player.

After a few minutes, John Grabow and Ian Snell came out and started tossing signed MLB baseballs and hats into the crowd.  I was lucky enough to grab one of Ian Snell’s autographed batting practice hats.  It was fitted, brand new, and still had the stickers on it ($27.99 price tag too!). 
921 hat.jpgSnell autographed it along the side of the sticker.
snell auto.jpgI came close to a couple of the baseballs, but it was pretty packed, and Ian and John were basically hand picking the people they were tossing to.  There was no randomly tossing the balls up in the air.

It was a great day to close out the season.  I managed to get 1 ball on a non-BP day, and I got an awesome BP hat.  If you’re wondering if I plan on wearing the hat, I definately am.  I’ve already removed the tags and have worn it once already.  It fits great!  I probably won’t wear it to BP’s because I don’t want it getting sweaty and ruined.

Below is a picture of the ball I snagged today:

921 ball.jpgStatistics:Avenbruce.jpg
Game:  1 ball
Season:  128 balls
Career:  166 balls
Hit List:  166 hits ties me with BRUCE AVEN for #3,931 on the all time hit list.  Aven was a one time Pittsburgh Pirate in 2000 and had a short career (obviously, with only 166 hits).

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Attendance: 20,311 (52.9% full)

9-20-08 PNC Park, Astros @ Pirates

There was a Lynyrd Skynyrd concert tonight, and sellout was expected, so I wasn’t sure if batting practice would be crowded or not.  Luckily, it wasn’t as most of the “fans” of the band showed up around the 7th inning. 

My strategy for today was to spend the first part of batting practice in the left field corner in foul territory.  I wasn’t the first one to get to the spot, as a ballhawk named Dan beat me there.  I did however, have some early success in this spot.  Upon entering the lower level, being the second person in, I found ball #1 laying on a step.  I quickly snatched it up, wrote #160 on it, and got to the small 2 foot fence seperating the seats from the warning track in foul territory.  After watching the Pirates bat time after time, I’ve come to the realization that my best chance of getting a ball was to come to foul territory.  The Pirates best right handed home run hitter is Andy KaRoche, with Jason Michaels a close second.  However, they do not hit many.  I came to the left field foul line for players such as Nyjer Morgan, Nate McLouth, Ryan Doumit, Doug Mientkiewicz, and Brandon Moss.  They are left handed batters that I assumed would try to hit the ball the other way at some point during their turn in the cage.  I was anticipating their opposite field fly balls to slice directly to where I was.  However, they didn’t oblige.

Luckily Jack Wilson came up to bat.  He usually over pulls the ball into foul territory.  During his round he hit a long fly ball foul that rattled around in the seats around 20 rows up from where I was standing.  Immediately after he hit it, I went racing after it.  Just then, the very next pitch, Jack hit a line drive foul ball to the direct spot where I was just standing.   I was closer to the ball that was just hit, so I turned around and picked up ball #2, and then jogged up the stairs and found the ball that was hit 20 rows back, ball #3.    Luckily, there weren’t any other fans in the section, as it was still early (about 4:40).

Near the end of the Pirates round of BP I decided to move back to the left field bleachers as I noticed the Pirates were throwing a ton of balls into the stands.  Especially Ian Snell.  Predictably, they didn’t thow any to me.

During the Astros round of BP, I had an incident with a fellow fan.  There’s some guy who always wears a Pirates Batting Practice “Lebeck 22″ Jersey on Saturday games.  He’s about 47 years old and sports a crappy Wal Mart plastic imitation glove.  I’m not a fan of this guy because he always stands in “my spot.”  Whenever he comes I usually go a row in front of him.  Anyway, a Houston Astros sent a deep home run ball directly at us.  The ball was over my head.  Lebeck reached up and almost caught the ball, but it hit in his unoiled, unbroken in glove pocket and bounced out.  Myself and another ballhawk went after the missed ball, and I ended up grabbing it barehanded underneath the bleacher.  It was ball #4.   This Lebeck guy was furious.  He started screaming at me that it was his ball because it hit his pocket.  When I totally ignored him and walked back to my spot he started calling me hurtful names, such as Jerk.  He went on to state that “I’ve never seen a ball hit in someone’s pocket and them not be given the ball.”  Apparently he has never been to batting practice before.  Just earlier in the day, Romulo Sanchez tossed a ball to a 16 year old kid named Amac.  Amac missed the ball due to the sun, and Jim raced over and snatched it away.  I misplayed maybe 4 balls this year that hit off of my glove.  I was never given the ball back.  Did I cry about it, no.  Lebeck continued making comments directed at me.  I largely ignored him.  The only thing I said to him was, “You missed the ball – If you want it, catch it.”  I decided not to use profanities or anything because I didn’t feel like escalating with this idiot.

Later on in batting practice I caught ball #5 on the fly by ranging to my right.  Near the end of batting practice I caught my final ball of the season on the bounce off of the warning track.  It was ball #6.  I had to leap and catch this one high above my head because I had to move down to row C due to it being the only open row.  Rows E-F are the best for playing the high bounces off of the warning track at PNC.

920balls.jpgStatistics:jimlindeman.jpg
Game:  6 balls
Season: 127 balls
Career:  165 balls
Hit List:  165 Hits  ties me for #3939th place on the all time list with Jim Lindeman and Ron Gardenhire.  Lindeman is probably best know, at least by me, for his role as a bench player in RBI BASEBALL, probably one of the greatest baseball games ever created.  Whenever I was the Cardinals (usually picked them so I could run all over the competition with Coleman, Smith, and McGee), Lindeman was an important pinch hitter for my starting pitcher.

Attendance: 36,621 (95.5% full)

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9-19-08 PNC Park, Astros @ Pirates

Today kicked off the final home stand of the year.  The Astros were in town and I was hoping for some BP homers.

I didn’t get anything in the 15 minutes that the Pirates batted, but what else is new?  When the Astros came up to bat, an unidentified Astro launched a HR onto the concourse below the Rotunda.  Usually, I just let those HR’s go, but since it was still not 5:30 yet and there weren’t a lot of fans, and I still hadn’t caught anything, I raced after it.  There was another ballhawk going for it, but I managed to glove the ball as it was bouncing off a trash can a split second before he did.  Ball #1 had a huge H tattooed on it, as is customary with Houston Astros balls.

About 10 minutes later, Hunter Pence hit a HR ball directly at me that I caught with ease.  It was ball #2, and was my final one of the day. 

I’ve been disappointed with September batting practices so far.  My best showing has been 2 balls, seemingly every BP.  I thought that with kids back in school, and with sparse BP crowds, that I’d be cleaning up.  I guess I was wrong.
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Statistics:
Game: 2 balls
Season: 121 balls
Career: 159 balls
Hit List:  159 hits ties me with Skeeter Barnes for #3,991 place on the all time hits list.

Attendance: 26,301 (68.6% full)
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9-17-08 PNC Park, Dodgers @ Pirates

The Dodgers do not hit many home runs in batting practice.  They are also especially stingy when it comes to tossing balls into the stands.  Maybe it’s the pressure of the playoff race, but they ignored every polite request that I made for a ball.

I got ball #1 of the day completely by accident.  Since this was a Wednesday game, there weren’t many people at batting practice.  About 5 minutes in, a Pirate hit a long home run that ended up going onto the concourse behind the bleachers.  I ran over a section but the ball sailed 20 feet over my head.  As I got to the spot, I slightly twisted my ankle on something.  I looked down, and there was ball #1, just sitting there on the concrete.  My first reaction was that maybe someone had dropped it, but there was no one even in the section.  The ball must have been hit prior to the gates opening, and none of the ushers bothered picking it up.  You’ll see in the picture at the end of this blog that it has a big scuff mark above Rawlings from hitting on the concrete.

917manny.jpgWhen it came time for the Dodgers to hit, Manny came out to left field to shag fly balls.  Some fans, including myself, tried to get his attention, but he didn’t so much as even glance over.  Most left fielders, when shagging fly balls, will throw to second base after catching the ball. Manny however, kept throwing his balls to home plate, where they would roll in and interfere with the batter that was taking batting practice.  I thought it was pretty funny, but that’s just Manny being Manny.

I only caught one ball during the Dodgers portion of batting practice.  I think Casey Blake hit it, but I’m not positive.  Anyway, when it was hit, I drifted to my right and made the easy catch.  The ball looked brand new!  Ball #2 was my final one of the day. 

By the way, legendary ball hawk, Jim Saylor caught Adam LaRoche’s first home run of the night.  He’s in the white shirt and dives onto the ground to get the ball.  He has caught more home run balls in PNC Park history than anyone else.  Click HERE for the video.

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Statistics:
Game: 2 balls
Season:  119 balls
Career:  157 balls
Hit List:  157 ties me with Ricky Otero for #4,013th place all time

Attendance: 11,883 (31% full)
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9-16-08 PNC Park, Dodgers @ Pirates

0916081953.jpgI didn’t arrive at this game until 7 pm due to coaching a volleyball game.  I talked to several regulars about batting practice, and they said there weren’t many home runs that were hit.  I had about 11 tickets to this game – because it was an exchange game.  I turned in my unused season tickets for tickets to this game.  I did it just to get the Pirates t-shirts.

I sat out in Center Field and ball #1, the only one of
the day, from Nate McLouth.  He tossed it to me before the beginning of
the top of the 5th inning.  That was it for my snagging for the day.  I
snapped the above picture after Nate tossed me the ball.
0927081923.jpgklimchock.jpgStatistics:Game: 1 ball
Season: 117 balls
Career:  155 balls
Hit List: 155 balls ties me with Lou Klimchock for  #4037th all time on the career hits list.

Attendance: 12,741 (33.2% full)
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9-14-08 PNC Park, Cardinals @ Pirates

Today was a Sunday game, so batting practice is never guaranteed.  However, when I walked past the Left Field gate, I peeked in and saw the screens were set up.  It looked like BP would take place after all.

wellemeyer.jpgI entered the stadium at 11 AM.  The Pirates do not open the stadium 30 minutes early for season ticket holders on Sunday like they do on Monday-Saturday.  Therefore, I was stuck on the Riverwalk until 11:30.  I was able to watch Todd Wellemeyer pitch his side session in the Cardinals bullpen.  After he was done, I shouted down “Could you please toss that ball up?”  He tossed it over the 8 foot high screen fence and over me and the crowd of 10 people watching him warm up.  Luckily, when he threw it, I knew from the trajectory that it was going to overshoot every one, so I broke back, and fielded the ball as it was rolling on the concrete.  It was ball #1.   

Around 11:40, the Cardinals decided to take batting practice – Supposedly because batting practice had been cancelled on Friday and Saturday.  The Cardinals are never a very good batting practice team for me.  They do not hit many home runs.  Near the end of their batting practice, I snagged a home run ball in the air.  I think it was hit by Brendan Ryan, but I am not positive.  It was ball #2 of the day.  More importantly, it was ball #111 of the season at PNC Park. 

Since the beginning of the season, I had my sights on legendary ball hawk Jim Saylor’s mark of 110.  I had a great April and May, routinely getting 4-6 balls per day.  However, the summer was rough on me, as I probably averaged around 2 balls or less per batting practice.  I had begin to worry that I wouldn’t break his record.  It felt good to finally not have to worry about 110 anymore.

Jim is probably the main reason I got into going to batting practice.  I went to a couple in 2007 and watched this 50-60 year old man, working without a glove, regularly snag seemingly 4-5 balls per game.  I was also taken about by his dedication and enthusiasm for snagging baseballs.  I caught my first batting practice ball on the fly from Sammy Sosa when the Pirates were playing the Rangers in June 2007.  From then, I was hooked.
914balls.jpgbatiste.jpgStatistics:
Game: 2 balls
Season: 116 balls
Career:  154 balls
Hit List:  #4,045th place all time – tied with Kim Batiste

Attendance: 18,994 (49.5% full)
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9-13-08 PNC Park, Cardinals @ Pirates

Due to the rainy weekend we’ve had, there was no batting practice today.  Last night’s game was delayed over an hour, canceling batting practice, and unfortunately, the same thing happened today.

I still got to the park at 4:30 in hopes that they would have BP, but had no such luck.  I put on my Cardinals gear when the Cardinals pitchers came out to start warming up.  There was hardly any competition. 

flores.jpgWhen Randy Flores was done tossing, he threw me his warm up ball.  I had positioned myself behind him and his catching partner.  When he was done, I politely asked for the ball.  He looked at me, then looked around, like he was looking for a kid, but couldn’t find another Cardinals “fan” – so he tossed the ball to me.  It was ball #1 of the day.
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Moments later, Todd Wellemeyer and Joel Pinero set up in front of me andstarting throwing with an unidentified pitcher in the outfield.  Wellemeyer and Piniero took alternate turns throwing.  I once again positioned myself behind them, in order to catch an overthrow.  It turns out there was an overthrow, but it hit off of my glove and back onto the field.  I stayed put in my spot, and several throws later, a low ball bounced under Wellemeyer’s glove and into my mitt.  The pitchers didn’t have any balls, so I asked them, “Do you want me to give it back?”  Piniero responded, “Yeah, we’ll give it back to you when we’re done.”  Five minutes later, Piniero kept his word and flipped me Ball #2

That was it.  They went into the clubhouse after they were done throwing and were’nt seen again until game time.  I was happy with getting two balls on a non-game day.
  913 balls.jpgStatistics
Game: 2 balls
Season: 114 balls
Career: 152 balls

*I’ve decided to mimic legendary ball hawk Zack Hample and compare my ball totals to the all time hit list.  As Hample states, ” it was more fun to chase a human than a lifeless milestone.”   With that, 152 balls puts me tied with pitcher Joe Niekro on the all time career hit list (4,065th place all time).

Attendance: 17,132 (44.7% full)
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8-31-08 Brewers @ Pirates

This could’ve been the greatest game I’ve ever attended.  CC Sabathia had a no-hitter until the 5th inning when Andy LaRoche hit a 40 foot roller in front of the mound.  Sabathia tried to pick the ball up, but dropped it.  LaRoche was half way down the line when CC dropped it, and ended up reaching.  The home-town official scorer immediately ruled the play a hit.  It should’ve been an error.  That ended up being the only hit the Pirates got.

“He accomplished a no-hitter and wasn’t given what he deserved. That
should have been a no-hitter,” Manager Ned Yost said. “That’s a stinking no-hitter
we all got cheated from. I feel horrible for CC.” 

I agree with Yost.  I’ve never seen a no-hitter in person, and I also felt cheated.

Anyway, I got to the stadium at 11, and had to wait around for them to open the gates to go to left field.  Usually there is an employee by the bullpen to scan tickets for early access to batting practice for season ticket holders, however, on this Sunday there wasn’t.  While waiting for the gate to open I watched Tom Gorzelanny throw his side session and watched as the batting practice screens were wheeled out.

The Pirates would take batting practice.  I got a ball #1 from Jason Michaels before the Pirates began hitting. 
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The first group in batting practice didn’t yield any home runs balls in left field.  Luckily, I was able to get a second ball.  Ball #2 was a home run hit by Jason Michaels to the aisle between Sections 134 and 135.  I had to jump to catch this ball in the air.  I misjudged it and actually caught it several feet behind my head as I jumped.  Its hard to explain, but it was a nice catch.

That was pretty much it for the day.  I wasn’t able to get anything from the home plate umpire after the game.

A look at today’s balls:
831 balls.jpg
Statistics:
Game: 2 balls
Season: 112 balls
Career: 150 balls

Attendance: 21,293 (55.5% full)
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