March 2009

3-30-09 McKechnie Field, Bradenton FL

My dad and I headed to our last Spring Training game on this short trip: Reds vs Pirates at McKechnie Field in Bradenton FL. 
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We got to the field around 10:20 AM and the Pirates were already half way through their round of batting practice.  Luckily, we were once again able to access the spot behind the left field fence.  I was told by a guy on Saturday that during the week the area behind the fence was off limits.  He was wrong.
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FINAL SPRING TRAINING STATISTICS:
Total Balls: 9
Games Attended: 3
Average: 3.0
Hit: 6
Thrown: 2
Device: 1
Total Career Spring Training Balls: 9

Note: I do not count these balls in my totals.  They will be tracked in a separate category and I will not count them in my career ball totals.

3-29-09 GMS Field, Tampa FL

Unfortunately, batting practice was wiped out by thunderstorms that rolled through last night.  When we arrived at the field just after 11AM, the tarp was still on.  My only hope of getting a ball would be to have one thrown to me. 
100_0362.jpgI was sort of miserable during this game due to some severe burning on my hands that I guess came from the sun.  When we went in, 4/5′s of the Yankees starting rotation was warming up in right field: Andy Pettitte, Chien Ming Wang, CC Sabathia, and Joba Chamberlain.    After warming up, they threw their balls to a few little kids in the Tampa Tribune Deck area.  They went over to the bullpen and threw their side sessions. 
100_0369.jpgSecurity was ridiculous for a spring training game.  There is a circular walk way that is above the bullpen.  There were three security guards walking back and forth and enforcing a rule that all fans had to stay at least 2 feet back from the railing.  I mean, seriously?   I didn’t attempt to get a ball from Sabathia or Chamberlain after their side sessions because there were so many fans.  I had also noticed that the Pirates pitchers came out to stretch.
100_0370.jpgThey soon started throwing along the left field line.  I politely asked an usher if I could go down to the front behind where they were throwing.  It was sprinkling, and there was maybe 10 fans in all of the sections along the 3rd base line.  He told me I had to have a ticket, no exceptions.  So, I stood above the Pirates bullpen, along a railing.  Craig Hansen was throwing with some minor leaguer, Denny Bautista was tossing with #83, Chris Bootcheck was tossing with strenghth coach Frank Velazquez, and Sean Burnett was tossing with Jason Davis. 

Hansen finished tossing first.  My dad and I were the only ones along the railing by the Pirates bullpen.  I called down to him, “Craig, could you toss that ball up!”  He looked and me, and threw it with some nice authority.  It was ball #1.  Hansen then ran his sprints.
100_0372.jpgI asked Burnett, Velazquez, Bautista and #83 for their warm up balls, but was ignored.

We left and got something to eat and found our seats.  Before game time, the Pirates came back out and started tossing, so I went back over to the railing.  I noticed bullpen catcher Heberto Andrade had a few balls in his glove.  He looked up at me and tossed one up. It was ball #2.    There was many more fans along the railing now and some of them looked puzzled, “How’d you know that guys name?” 

Zach Duke then started throwing his bullpen session before his start.  I was waiting for him to get finished so I could ask for the ball.  However, a security guard appeared and told everyone to go to their seats.  The game wasn’t going to start for another 15 minutes.  He didn’t care.  Don’t the Yankees get that this is Spring Training?  Is there really a need to be that strict?

Among signs I saw posted were No Standing (posted everywhere), No Loitering, No Diving from the Railing, No throwing objects from the pedestrian walkway, etc.  If Spring Training was this military style in enforcing rules, I’d hate to see how strict they will be at the new Yankee Stadium during Batting Practice.

A side note:  had there been batting practice, I was planning on going into the right field Tampa Tribune Deck to chase home runs.  However, you can’t get in there without a ticket (of course).

On to the game:
100_0373.jpgThe Yankees would go on to win the game 9-8.  They played most of their regulars until the 7th inning.  Zach Duke was shelled by the Yankees, giving up 8 runs in 3.1 innings.  Duke had been looking much better this spring until this start.  Eric Hinske, Ryan Doumit, and Robinson Cano hit home runs in the game.

Here are some action shots:
AJ Burnett vs Freddy Sanchez
100_0375.jpgNate McLouth takes a look at a pitch:
100_0377.jpgRyan Doumit hits a ball to the right side:
100_0378.jpgDer-ek Je-ter
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100_0380.jpgTampa Tribune Deck (if going to BP, you’d better have a Deck ticket!) Cano’s home run hit off the blue restaurant roof.
100_0386.jpgHideki Matsui:
100_0390.jpgJorge Posada:
100_0396.jpgStands to my right:
100_0404.jpg“The Boss” George Steinbrenner
100_0423.jpgGeorge was taking in the game with Mr. October, Reggie Jackson:
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“The Sandman” Mariano Rivera
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100_0440.jpgBrett Gardner Caught Stealing:
100_0428.jpgEx-Pirate Xavier Nady (The X-man!)
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Tomorrow I’m headed back to Bradenton.

3-28-09 McKechnie Field, Bradenton FL

My dad and I left our hotel at 9:50 this morning to see the Philadelphia Phillies take on the Pittsburgh Pirates in Bradenton FL.  The plan was to get there early and attempt to snag some home run balls in batting practice.  Even though McKechnie Field doesn’t have an outfield seating area, there’s a narrow walkway behind the left field fence.  I was planning on standing on this sidewalk and chasing down any home runs that came may way. 

If you notice in the picture below, the wind was blowing straight out to left between 30-50mph.  Little particles kept flying in my eyes and I was kicking myself for not bringing my sunglasses.
100_0281.jpgI soon abandoned my plan to roam the walkway pictured above.  It was too narrow, and I had absolutely no chance of seeing home run balls coming.    I moved a bit more toward left center where there was a parking lot for an adjacent school.  Competition was slim, as you can see in the picture below.  My dad went back to the left field foul pole to watch some batting practice.  I heard him yell, “ERIK!”  Then I heard some crackling branches above my head.  Ball #1 dropped out of the trees and I quickly pounced on it.  Another minute later my dad yelled my name again, and another ball crashed through the trees and I fielded it was it bounced off a root.  It was Ball #2.
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Although I got the first two balls to come out this way, I wasn’t happy that I didn’t see either of them coming.  I couldn’t pick the ball up by standing where I was.  Before, I was standing too close to the fence.  I had no contrast to pick the ball up except the light blue high.  I moved farther back.

My dad came back from the foul pole and decided to patrol the area near the school beneath the trees.
100_0284.jpgThis was my spot for much of BP.  If you’re wondering why I’m wearing a Phillies hat, its because the only Pirate hat I brought was the one Ian Snell threw me on 9-21-08, and I didn’t want to get that one sweaty.

Soon, another Home Run Ball came out.  I had crept in a bit, and that proved to be a mistake.  The ball hit about 10 feet in front of me and took a huge hop over my head.  My dad was in position to make the snag, but the second bounce went over his head too and hit off of the white shed in the picture below.  I ran the ball down, it was ball #3
100_0286.jpgBesides the guy in the Phillies jersey a couple pictures up, there were a few entrepreneurial ballhawks in attendance today.  They were rough looking locals who caught balls and sold them on the street for $4 or $5.  Whenever these guys got a ball, they would take out a brush and doctor the balls up.  I was told later by some guy that they bleached the balls to make them look brand new.  They also dominated balls that landed within the fence which you can see in the first picture.  They had 6 foot sticks that they would inch the balls closer to the fence, and then squeeze the ball under the fence.  I could’ve had maybe 2 more balls today if I had a way to get these balls.  There were 3 of these guys and a little kid.  They didn’t hang around for long though.   I continued to wait patiently for my next opportunity.
100_0287.jpgI got Ball #4 a bit later.  It was a home run ball that hit off a palm tree and had lost most of its momentum.  It started rolling towards me in the parking lot with one of the hustler ballhawk bleachers in pursuit.  I charged the ball like an infielder charges a slow roller and got to it just in time. 

Another ball came out soon after that my Dad chased down for his first career batting practice home run ball.  He is hoping to get another one tomorrow for one of his nephews.

Batting practice then ended.  I had got 4 balls, but I wasn’t done yet.  Next to where I had been standing was a school.  The school was directly behind the left field wall.  The roof of the school was completely flat, meaning balls that were hit on the school stayed on the school.  Before leaving, I had looked around for any “Easter Eggs.”  There was one behind the batter’s eye in Center Field, but it was a good 15 feet beyond the fence.  Impossible to get.  I walked over to right center field.  There were a good 7 balls laying on the Pirates infield practice field.  No one was around at all, but the gates were locked.  I waited for a bit and then got an 8 foot long 2×4 off of a scrap heap.

Earlier in batting practice, a ball had landed on the aforementioned school.  I thought I may have a chance of reaching it.
100_0288.jpgLook closely, can you see the ball?

I tried to reach it with the 2×4 board, but couldn’t because the roof was too high and I couldn’t get enough leverage.  I needed to be able to stand on something and I would be able to get it.

My dad had the idea of moving over a wooden picnic table for me to stand on.
100_0289.jpgI couldn’t see the ball, so with my dad telling me “left, right” etc, I was able to get ball #5.
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I was pleased with 5 balls
for my first time snagging in Bradenton.  It was a completely different experience than what I am used to.  Not being able to see the ball until it was landing made it fun to chase the balls down.  It also gave those with some agility an advantage.  There was also a lot of luck involved.  There was some 80 year old guy walking in from the parking lot who got a home run ball that clanked off a branch, took a soft bounce on the concrete and right into his hand.

The Bradenton ballhawk experience is much like the Chicago Cubs’ Waveland Avenue experience.  You really can’t see the ball until the last second, and then you have to scramble to chase it down.  It was fun.

On to the game:
100_0291.jpgThe Pirates gave most of their regulars the day off.  The only regular today was Adam LaRoche.  Many regulars were given off due to the night game yesterday.  I was a little disappointed.  At least the Phillies brought all of their stars.    Ian Snell was on the mound for the Pirates.  The Pirates ended up winning the game 10-4, fueled by Andrew McCutchen’s 5 for 5 day.  There were some towering home runs in the game, including a Ryan Howard shot that cleared the batter’s eye.

I’ll close this entry with some action shots from today’s game:
Shane Victorino:
100_0295.jpgRyan Howard:
100_0303.jpgAndrew McCutchen:
100_0336.jpgBrian Bixler:
100_0308.jpgAdam LaRoche:
100_0316.jpgJamie Moyer vs Craig Monroe:
100_0344.jpgAndrew McCutchen close up:
100_0354.jpgTomorrow I will head to Tampa FL to see the Pirates take on the New York Yankees at George Steinbrenner Field.

3-27-09 Travel Day

I have landed in Tampa, FL after a hectic day of traveling.

My dad and I are planning on attending some Spring Training games this weekend in the Tampa area.  This will be the third consecutive year we’ve come to Spring Training games here.  However, this will be the first year that I attempt to snag anything.

Our plane was scheduled to leave Pittsburgh at 7:36pm and land in Atlanta at 9:20pm.  Then, we would catch our connecting flight at 10:05pm and arrive in Tampa at 11:30pm.  However, upon checking in, we were told that our plane would be delayed, and we likely would not land in time to make our connecting flight.  We were told that if this happens, we would have to stay over night in Atlanta and catch a plane Saturday morning.  Thanks a lot Airtran.  I was pretty mad.

I sat in Pittsburgh International Airport and watched the minutes tick away.  I got on the internet and listening to the Pirates and Blue Jays game on mlb.tv.  Eventually our plane arrived.  We had to wait for everyone to disembark from the plane and for the plane to be serviced.  Our plane ended up taking off over an hour late.  One positive to come of the situation was that the plane was half full, so we were able to move our seats so we could have plenty of room.  When I boarded the plane, I heard, “Hey Jabs!  What’s up!”  It was Audell, who as a high school kid I used to play basketball with every day at the YMCA and Welty Street School.  Back in the day, I used to be a great basketball player.  I had a mean inside game and could easily dunk.  I didn’t recognize him at first, but it was cool to see an old friend after 10 years.

Our plane landed in Atlanta around 10:35ish.  Our connecting flight was due to take off at 10:05.  We rushed off the plane and found that our connecting flight was at gate D4.  Luckily, gate D4 was only 2 gates away from where we disembarked.  However, not a soul was to be found.

The plane had already boarded, and I guess they were waiting for us.  As we were hustling to the desk by the boarding entrance we heard them paging “Customer Jabs to D4″ over the loudspeaker.

We had made it.  Our time in Hartsfield International Airport:  maybe 2 minutes.

We arrived in Tampa around midnight, picked up our rental car, and got to the hotel at 1:16am.  It is a Days Inn and it’s kind of dumpy.  There are cigarette burns in my blanket.  It doesn’t matter though.  I’m here to see some baseball games and snag some balls.

By the way, spring training balls do not count in my season totals. 

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