August 2009

8-27-09 PNC Park

I was late to this game due to a prior commitment.  By the time I got to the gate, the line had swelled to the back of the Clemente Bridge.  The Pirates only employ one ticket scanner for the first half hour, so this was going to take forever to get into the stadium.
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I stood in line impatiently until 5:02, thinking about all of the missed opportunities.  I then remembered the Trib Total Media Hall of Fame club entrance.  Its the team’s restaurant entrance, and it opens at 5.  I hurried over to the Hall of Fame Club entrance, and there was no line.  I immediately had my ticket scanned, grabbed a t-shirt (It was a T-shirt Thursday), hopped on the elevator, and hustled through the restaurant to the stairway that led down to left field.  I was able to make it into the bleachers by 5:06.

I got ball #1 from Pirates reliever Chris Bootcheck.  A ball rolled to the wall, and I moved down to the front row, and put in a polite request.  Chris turned and threw me the ball.  I was on the board.

There was only one right handed batter in the Pirates’ last BP group – Brian Bixler, and I would have to wait for the Phillies to come out and hit to get some more baseballs.

Yesterday, the first group was all right handed batters, and it was an amazing round of non stop home runs.  However, today, there were three lefties in the first group, thereby cutting down on hit ball opportunities.

I caught ball #2 off the bat of Jason Werth.  I had moved back two rows from where I usually stand, since Werth hits for decent power.  He hit a home run into section 136.  I ranged to my right.  The ball was just out of the reach of another ballhawk, and I was able to make the grab.

When a left handed batter came up to hit, I noticed that Matt Stairs was coming over to the left field corner to pick up three baseballs.  I went down to the front row and asked Matt for a ball.  He hooked me up with ball #3.  He also tossed the other two balls into the stands.  What a good guy.

Soon, I noticed a gap shot that rolled to the 410 sign in left center field near the bullpen.  Cole Hamels was making his way over to pick the ball up, but another ball was hit at him, causing him to momentarily forget about picking up the ball at the base of the wall.  I quickly went over and glove tricked the ball, for ball #4 of the day.

Ball #5 was a home run that landed in the section near the foul pole.  I ran over and picked the ball up off of the ground.  It had bounced back towards the field, hit a bleacher, and began rolling right towards me.  I have no idea who hit it.

Pedro Feliz provided me with ball #6.  He hit a home run right at me that I snagged on the fly.

It was now 5:30, and season ticket holder time was ending.  The first 30 minutes of batting practice is much easier to get baseballs, because there is virtually no one there.  At 5:30, a throng of fans sporting Phillies gear descended upon the bleacher area.  I decided that I was going to leave the area and head over to right field.
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I boxed out another fan in pursuit and picked up ball #7 of the day, #500 of my career.  Not exactly the greatest way to snag a milestone ball, but I got the job done.

About half way through this year I had set career ball #500 as a
secondary goal to snagging 300 in 2009.  With these goals met, I could
probably make these my two new goals:
1) Snag 63 balls in September, so as to get to 400 balls in 2009.
2) Snag career ball #1,000 before the end of next season (2010).

A few rounds later, I would go on to catch ball #8, a line drive that found its way directly to me.  I made the two handed catch and got a nice little round of applause from a group of Phillies fans sitting behind me.

I stayed on the right field wall for the third group, which included Matt Stairs, but got shut out for the round.  Stairs hit two balls directly at me, but they completely cleared the right field wall, and ended up floating in the Allegheny River.

For the Phillies’ final batting practice group, I headed back over to left field.  It was packed.
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I wouldn’t be able to have much range at all.  Predictably, I wasn’t able to catch any home runs, as there were maybe three hit during the round, and none of them were in my vicinity.

I did manage to get ball #9 from Cole Hamels. 
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Hamels tossed a ball to some Phillies fans in the front row.  The ball went between them and literally fell right into my glove.

Batting practice then ended, and I was stuck on nine balls.  I needed to get one more.    Double digit games are rare, and this would be my sixth career game snagging 10 or more balls if I could somehow just snag one more.

Then, I saw it.  A ball had been left on the warning track in center field.  An easy glove trick job and I would have 10 balls on the day.  I made my way over, but there was some new female usher that told me I wasn’t allowed to be in the section without a ticket.  Realizing arguing would get my no where, I decided to let that ball go.  There was another ball that had been eating away at me for some time.

It’s been there at least a month.  A ball has been tucked in the far corner on top of a concession building in the outfield concourse.
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I had decided that I was going to snag that ball today, as I didn’t want to let any more time pass, as the ball was likely deteriorating as time went by.

I had placed a cup at the end of my river device, which is a ten foot pole.  I climbed up the stairs, looked on top of the roof, and stretched out the pole to the maximum length.  However, I was coming up just short of being able to reach the ball.  Frustrated and feeling my opportunity get away, I stood on the railing to try and reach the ball.  Then, the cup fell out.  I was screwed. 

I walked down to the concourse, collected my thoughts, and …
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got the ball.  At my descretion, I’ve chosen not to reveal the details, but I’ve got a witness in my friend Nick.  The ball will count as an easter egg – which will count as a hit ball.  The ball ended up not being a device ball after all.

My arms got filthy from this snag.  Also notice that the ball had started to detiorate a little bit.  The leather had dried out signicantly, and it was also faded a bit.  It didn’t matter, it was ball #10.

Today’s baseballs:
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Sweet spots:
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STATISTICS:
Game:  10 balls (6 hit, 3 thrown, 1 device)
Season:  337 balls (178 hit, 99 thrown, 60 device)
Games: 69 games (7 of which didn’t have BP)
Average:  4.88 balls per game
Career:  503 balls
Career Double Digit Games: 6
Streak:  84 consecutive games attended with at least 1 ball snagged.
Attendance:  24,470

8-26-09 PNC Park

Those of us at PNC Park during the Season Ticket Holder time were under siege by the Phillies first batting practice group today.

ohlendorf.jpgBatting practice started out calmly, well, because the Pirates were hitting.  I would go on to get only one ball during this time from Ross “The Boss” Ohlendorf.  A ball rolled to the wall and I politely asked for the ball.  He looked at me and tossed me ball #1.

The first group yesterday included several lefties.  Today, they were all right handed batters, and they were raking.  There were only maybe two dozen of us there, since it was still season ticket holder only time, so there was plenty of running around up until 5:30.

I caught ball #2 off of the bat of Pedro Feliz on the fly.  I had to run down to the second row tourl-1-710730.jpg
I can’t operate without my Iphone.  They were able to pull the card out and clean it.  The phone them worked perfectly – and they didn’t charge me.

Only 7 more balls to go until career ball #500…

Today’s baseballs:
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STATISTICS:
Game:  8 balls (5 hit, 3 thrown)
Season:  327 balls (172 hit, 96 thrown, 59 device)
Games: 68 games (7 of which didn’t have BP)
Average:  4.81 balls per game
Career:  493 balls
Streak:  83 consecutive games attended with at least 1 ball snagged.
Attendance:  17,403

8-25-09 PNC Park

I went down by the river before the gates open to try and snag a ball.  Usually one or two per day will sail out of the stadium.

Ballhawking by the river takes a lot of patience and concentration, because you can’t see the ball until the last moment, so you have to be extremely focused.  It doesn’t help that seemingly every passer by feels the need to stop and ask you what you’re doing.

After ten minutes of standing motionless starting at the sky, I saw a ball flying towards me.  I moved quickly to my right, but the ball was over my head and landed in the river, on the fly.

YES!  I’d finally get to use my new device to snag a ball.  I took out a golf ball retriever and unfurled the 14 foot pole.  I laid on my stomach and reached out at the ball.  I was about a foot short. 

I could’ve repositioned my body, waited for the ball to drift in towards the shore, or double checked to made sure that the pole was fully extended.  However, some guy on a jetski comes motoring up and reaches over to grab the ball. 

“Can you just move it a bit closer,” I asked.  Not listening, he picked up the ball and flipped it to me (as I was laying on my stomach, fully extended.)

Since the guy grabbed the ball and tossed it to me, I couldn’t count the ball in my stats, and I was furious about it.

Here’s the ball:
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Notice where the water started to seep underneath the rawhide.

That was the only ball that would exit the stadium.

I would eventually get ball #1 off the bat of Jason Jaramillo.    He hit a home run that landed on the left field rotunda, which I sprinted up and picked up the ball as it was rolling down the ramp.

Ball #2 was a home run that Pedro Feliz would hit.  It was an easy catch.  Little did I know that I would encounter poor luck and be shut out the rest of the day.

During the second Phillies group, I went to right field, where I had a ball hit the heel of my glove and fall to the floor.  Some Phillies fan scooped it up.  Since I have a glove trick, I have a large ball of string tucked into the bottom of my glove.  Usually, I catch balls in the webbing.  However, this ball hit on the heel, and I wasn’t able to close my glove around the ball thanks to the big ball of string.

It was a glaring, awful error.  After it happened, my attitude soured, and I didn’t even want to be there anymore.

It didn’t help that there were Phillies fans everywhere.  Seriously.  They outnumbered Pirates fans by at least a 3 to 1 margin.
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STATISTICS:
Game:  2 balls (2 hit)
Season:  319 balls (166 hit, 93 thrown, 59 device)
Games: 67 games (7 of which didn’t have BP)
Average:  4.76 balls per game
Career:  485 balls
Streak:  82 consecutive games attended with at least 1 ball snagged.
Attendance:  17,049

8-23-09 PNC Park

I hate Sunday games. 

I went down to the stadium and peeked inside, and saw that the batting cage was set up.  So, I entered the stadium.  Had there been no cage set up, I would’ve turned right back around and went home.

Upon entering the stadium, I got ball #1 tossed up from the bullpen by Ross Ohlendorf.  I called down and asked for the ball, and about a minute later, he tossed it up.  I jumped and made the catch over a portly Cincinnati Reds fan who would go on to give me an evil glare.

The gate would not open until 11:30.  Would you believe that while I was standing there, not paying attention, a player would toss up a ball that would actually bounce off of my head?  Well it happened.

Later, when the gates did open, I stood behind Jason Jaramillo to try and get the ball when he was finished. 
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Near the end of Jaramillo and Brandon Moss’ warm up session, Moss would let one sail.  It went over Jaramillo’s head and landed on the warning track.  The ball took a large hop, which tipped off of my glove and went about ten rows behind me.  Awful.  I should’ve at least knocked that ball down.

Only the Pirates would hit today.

And this is what I had to deal with.
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STATISTICS:
Game:  1 balls (1 thrown)
Season:  317 balls (166 hit, 93 thrown, 59 device)
Games: 66 games (7 of which didn’t have BP)
Average:  4.80 balls per game
Career:  483 balls
Streak:  81 consecutive games attended with at least 1 ball snagged.
Attendance:  21,209

8-22-09 PNC Park

Today was going to be a large crowd due to a post game performance by KC and the Sunshine Band.  I enjoy weekday games much more – its almost like having your own personal batting practice because there’s no one there.

The first 30 minutes of each game are for season ticket holders only – and I would go on to get a majority of my balls in that time frame today.

Upon entering the stadium, I ran to look for Easter Eggs in left field foul territory.  That turned out to be a bad choice.  Not only did I find any, I found out that there were a couple in the left field bleachers.  Bummer.

I got ball #1 of the day from Denny Bautista.  I asked him for a ball in Spanish.  He looked at me, turned around for a minute – then turned back and threw me the ball.  I then told him, “Gracias.  Buena suerte hoy.”  I waved his hand.  I do believe that’s my first career ball from Denny.

I soon got ball #2 of the day off the bat of Andrew McCutchen.  He hit a high fly ball towards the bleachers.  I positioned myself in the fourth row back, and waited for the high hop off of the warning track. 

Ball #3 was a home run off the bat of “Mr. Smooth” Luis Cruz.  He hit a shot that I chased down to my right.  My wife snapped a picture of me on the way back.
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Then wanted me to pose with the ball, but I was afraid to take my eyes off of the batter’s cage.
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STATISTICS:
Game:  5 balls (5 hit, 1 thrown)
Season:  316 balls (166 hit, 92 thrown, 59 device)
Games: 65 games (7 of which didn’t have BP)
Average:  4.86 balls per game
Career:  482 balls
Streak:  80 consecutive games attended with at least 1 ball snagged.
Attendance:  32,570

8-21-09 PNC Park

There was a long line to get in before the gates opened.  It went back to Federal Street, and snaked left out of sight.
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Luckily, I was the first one in line. 

I ran in and found ball #1 laying against a concrete step in the bleacher area.  I was shocked.  Lately, there have been very few Easter Eggs, as ushers have been picking them up.

I would go on to catch ball #2 off the bat of Brian Bixler.  He hit a line drive that bounced on the warning track, and right into my glove.  The next batter, Jason Jaramillo, hit a home run that I caught on the fly.  It was ball #3.

That was it for the Pirates portion of batting practice.  I went under the bleachers, changed my clothes, and emerged in my Reds gear.

I decided to re-enter the bleacher area over by the bullpen.  That way, it would be less noticeable if any Reds players had previously seen me standing in my customary spot. 
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STATISTICS:
Game:  6 balls (6 hit)
Season:  311 balls (161 hit, 91 thrown, 59 device)
Games: 64 games (7 of which didn’t have BP)
Average:  4.86 balls per game
Career:  477 balls
Streak:  79 consecutive games attended with at least 1 ball snagged.
Attendance:  22,725

8-20-09 Nationals Park

With the Pirates having an off day, and Cleveland facing a 60% chance of storms, I decided to take a trip to a stadium I had yet to visit.  Nationals Park.

I recruited several ballhawks from PNC Park to make the trip with me – Nick, Andrew, and Jamie.

After four hours and twenty three minutes, we were at the park.
photo(304).jpgAnd were the first ones in line at the Center Field gate, which opens at 4:35. 
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STATISTICS:
Game:  11 balls (4 hit, 1 thrown 6 device)
Season:  305 balls (155 hit, 91 thrown, 59 device)
Games: 63 games (7 of which didn’t have BP)
Average:  4.84 balls per game
Career:  471 balls
Streak:  78 consecutive games attended with at least 1 ball snagged.
Attendance:  18,036

8-19-09 PNC Park

I could’ve taken my choice of going to Cleveland, or staying in Pittsburgh today.  The weather in Cleveland was forecast to be very nice, with a 5% chance of rain.  Pittsburgh was predicted to have a 50% chance.  I had to make a decision where I was going by 1 PM.  After that time passed, I wouldn’t be able to make it to Cleveland by 3:30, thereby leaving me with PNC Park as my only option.

At 12:45 PM, this was the hourly weather forecast.  It looked like there may have been a chance to at least get some BP in.  I figured I’d save the gas and take the chance.

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Wow, were they ever wrong.

It started pouring around 2:30ish, and didn’t stop.
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McCutchen looked into the “crowd,”  locked onto my location, and tossed a ball in my direction.  The ball was coming in high.  I had to jump up to make the catch.  It was ball #1.  My
streak had been preserved and extended.  What a relief. 

I spent the rest of the night going back and forth from right field to left field to center field (on occasion), trying to get another warm up ball.

Brandon Moss picked me out in the 6th inning and threw a ball right at me.  The ball was intended for me.  However, some random guy without a glove came running across the row and intercepted the ball.  There was nothing I could do.  Here he is:
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Who sits like that at a baseball game anyway?

After the game was over (the Pirates won – finishing a sweep of the Brewers), I went down to the dugout.  There, I watched the umpire toss a ball to a kid, which he dropped (the ball fell to the tunnel below and disappeared).  Then, the umpire tossed a second ball to the same kid, which he also dropped down into the tunnel.  What a waste.  Luckily for Butterfingers, Bob Davidson came along and got one of the balls out of the tunnel and handed it to him.

I ended up with one ball, but did meet two readers of this blog after the game.  I had noticed them prior to the game with their gloves and roster complete with player numbers and thinking, “They’re more prepared than I am.”  I asked if they had snagged any balls on the day, and gave a ball away (one of the extras I bring from home) to one of the girls who had been shut out.  There’s nothing worse than trying for a ball all day and coming up empty. 

Here’s the McCutchen ball:
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Which I somehow managed to screw up and number off-center.  Argh.
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STATISTICS:
Game:  1 ball (1 thrown)
Season:  294 balls (151 hit, 90 thrown, 53 device)
Games: 62 games (7 of which didn’t have BP)
Average:  4.74 balls per game
Career:  460 balls
Streak:  77 consecutive games attended with at least 1 ball snagged.
Attendance:  12,630

8-18-09 PNC Park

Today started in the same place as yesterday.  I stood about a foot from the river’s edge and waited for balls to sail onto the outer concourse of PNC Park, and bounce towards the river.  Two other ballhawks, Nick and Bryan Pelescak, joined in the opportunity.  Yesterday, one ball came out.
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Today, there would also be just one ball that would exit the stadium.

I heard a crackling of branches to my left, and quickly looked to see a ball rolling towards the river.  Bryan was the closest to the spot, but wasn’t able to corral the ball before it rolled off of the walkway and into the Allegheny River.
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STATISTICS:
Game:  5 balls (5 hit)
Season:  293 balls (151 hit, 89 thrown, 53 device)
Games: 61 games (6 of which didn’t have BP)
Average:  4.80 balls per game
Career:  459 balls
Streak:  76 consecutive games attended with at least 1 ball snagged.
Attendance:  12,188

8-17-09 PNC Park

The Pirates were back in town today, facing the hated Brew-Crew.

This was my view from 4:15-4:55. 
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My friend Nick and I noticed a ballhawk running by who stands on the Riverwalk on a daily basis, waiting for home runs.  Since he does it regularly, he must have at least some luck out there.  (The guy stays out there the entire BP, even after the gates open).  So, with nothing better to do, we decided to join him.

There was indeed one ball that came out in the time we were there.  It bounced off of the concourse behind section 140, and went through the trees towards the river.  The guy ran over and made a nice backhanded pick of the ball, just before it skipped into the Allegheny River. 

Ballhawking on the Riverwalk is tough.  You have to be very patient, and extemely focused.  If you look away for a minute, or listen to a passerby’s comments, you’ll be distracted and miss a possible opportunity.

At one point, a photographer walked by and asked me what I was doing.  I told him that batting practice was going on, and we were waiting for a ball to come out.  He the proceeded to take pictures of the three of us ballhawks for the next fifteen minutes, from all angles.  He never asked permission, or told us if he was affiliated with any newspaper.   (I assumed he was with the Post Gazette or Tribune Review) In the picture below, you can see him sitting on the ground, snapping photos of Nick Pelescak.
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He threw me ball #3.  (It probably helped that I was the only fan in Brewers gear for the first 30 minutes).

One guy, who watched me get those balls tossed, made a few comments about how I “have all these shirts in the back of my car.”  I couldn’t tell if he was trying to make fun of me, or not, but he went on to say the same line about five more times throughout the day to people around him. 

I got ball #4 via the glove trick in left field.  I struggled with this one, probably taking almost two minutes to reel it in.  I had to first knock it closer, and then the rubber band wasn’t quite right.  I had to adjust it several times.  As the rubber band gets used, it becomes more stretchy, and needs adjusted differently.  I was almost foiled by Brewers coach Joe Crawford.  When I finally got the ball to stick in the glove, Crawford hurled his glove from about forty feet away, in an attempt to knock the ball out of my glove.  Luckily, I had just begun to pull the ball up, and it narrowly missed it.  He came over to get his glove, and had a huge smile on his face.  “This wall is too low here.  Its too easy for you guys to do that.”

A little while later, I caught ball #5 on the fly.  It was a can of corn.  However, Jody Gerut watched me make the catch, and immediately started screaming at me from left field.  “That’s TWO for you now. Do the right thing!”  I nodded.  He screamed about three more times, “Do the right thing, Do the right thing, Do the right thing.”  At this point several Brewers were staring at me, and Gerut pointed me out to them, probably telling them that he had just tossed me a ball moments earlier.

I quickly went into my backpack and took out one of my decoy balls.  (Balls that I have that I didn’t personally snag and don’t count in my stats or my collection.  These are MLB balls that friends have given to me in exchange for tickets). 

I held up the decoy ball for Gerut to see and tossed it to the nearest kid with a glove.  He gave me a thumbs up.  I yelled to him, “That’s a Pirate ball from earlier.”  I wanted him to keep the impression that I was a huge Brewers fan and wanted to keep just the Brewers baseballs. 

I spent a few minutes in center field and chickened out on a very glove trickable ball.  The nice ushers weren’t in center field today, and I didn’t feel l
ike getting yelled at.  Plus, I had struggled mightly with ball #4, and didn’t want to go through that again.

After Claudio Vargas picked up the ball that I should’ve glove tricked and tossed it to a kid, I headed back to left field.

There, I made almost back to back catches of home runs on the fly.  They were hit in the same general area, and only about 30 seconds apart.  I have no idea who hit them. 

I caught ball #6 on the fly in a completely empty row B.  As I made the catch, some old guy made a feeble attempt at the ball, and crashed into me.  Like a pillar, I didn’t budge.  Since he went down fairly hard, I asked him if he was ok – and he was.

The second home run was hit soon after, and I had an entire empty row to my right, so I took off quickly and ran about 50 feet to my right to snag ball #7.  I made the catch in front of a group of teenagers.  Feeling they had been robbed, having seen me catch the other home run seconds before, and feeling anger at the Brewers gear I was sporting, they booed me mercilessly for about 20 seconds.

I just looked at them and smiled. 

I had to leave at 6PM to attend a varsity head coaches meeting, that didn’t end until 9PM.  My phone had very limited service, so I wasn’t able to get updates on the game. 

I was squirming in my chair more than John Russell does when Matt Capps enters the game in a save situation.

Today’s baseballs:
photo(285).jpgSweet spots:
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STATISTICS:
Game:  7 balls (4 hit, 2 thrown, 1 device)
Season:  288 balls (146 hit, 89 thrown, 53 device)
Games: 60 games (6 of which didn’t have BP)
Average:  4.80 balls per game
Career:  454 balls
Streak:  75 consecutive games attended with at least 1 ball snagged.
Attendance:  12,478

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