The beginning of the 2011 regular season is tomorrow, so I would like to take a moment to offer my predictions of how the regular season will play out.
1) Boston Red Sox
2) New York Yankees
3) Tampa Bay Rays
4) Baltimore Orioles
5) Toronto Blue Jays
I have the Rays slipping to third place after winning the division last year. I think the Red Sox have improved enough with the signings of Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford that they will win the division. The Yankees will be major players as usual, but I’m not sure how much I trust their starting rotation. I have the Orioles climbing out of the cellar thanks to their overhauled line up.
1) Chicago White Sox
2) Minnesota Twins
3) Detroit Tigers
4) Cleveland Indians
5) Kansas City Royals
The AL Central was really a toss up for me between the White Sox, Twins, and Tigers. I really feel that any of those teams could capture those divisions. The Royals and Indians will bring up the rear of the division, as usual.
1) Texas Rangers
2) Los Angeles Angels
3) Oakland Athletics
4) Seattle Mariners
The only difference I have between the 2010 standings and my predictions is that the Angels will take 2nd place instead of 3rd.
1) Philadelphia Phillies
2) Atlanta Braves
3) Florida Marlins
4) Washinton Nationals
5) New York Mets
How can anyone compete with the Phillies’ starting rotation? Losing Chase Utley for half of the year will hurt a bit, but not enough to cost the Phillies a division title. The Braves will be strong again and finish second. I also think this may be the year that the Nationals climb out of the basement of the division, overtaking the hapless Mets.
1) Milwaukee Brewers
2) Cincinnati Reds
3) St. Louis Cardinals
4) Pittsburgh Pirates
5) Chicago Cubs
6) Houston Astros
The Reds basically have the same team as last year, so I expect them duke it out with the Brewers for the top spot. I am sick of the Cardinals, and losing Adam Wainwright for the year should darken their playoff hopes – enough for third place. The Cubs are a mess as are the Astros. The Pirates finishing fourth? I’d like to think they can win 74-75 games this year. They were 40-41 at home, and I believe the offense will be improved from the get-go. No Andy LaRoche, Jeff Clement, Akinori Iwamura or Lastings Milledge in the lineup for the first 2-3 months of this year. They’ve been replaced by Pedro Alvarez, Lyle Overbay, Neil Walker, and Jose Tabata, all upgrades.
1) San Francisco Giants
2) Colorado Rockies
3) Los Angeles Dodgers
4) San Diego Padres
5) Arizona Diamondbacks
The Giants are for real. I think they’ll repeat. The Padres’ offense suffered in the offseason, so I think they’ll drop to 4th place. I like to Rockies’ chances with players like Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzski. The Diamondbacks will bring up the rear of the division.
AL pennant: Boston Red Sox
NL pennant: Philadelphia Phillies
World Series: Philadelphia Phillies win in six in a battle of two of my least favorite teams.
Agree or disagree? Your thoughts?
This past weekend, I was able to play my first baseball of the spring.
Nick and Bryan Pelescak and I got together for a round of home run derby
at a field in South Fayette. Amy came along and took a few pictures.
We did three rounds of home run derby. The first round consisted of 15
outs, and the other two rounds were ten outs each. Any swing that
didn’t result in a home run was considered an out.
It was a pretty close contest, with the final score being Me 9 HR, Bryan Pelescak 8 HR, and Nick 4 HR.
The dimensions of the field were about 300 feet to left field, that’ pretty much where we all hit the entire time.
Here’s some pictures that Amy snapped from the bench.
Nick Pelescak pitching:
Making contact, hitting a line drive:
One of two home runs that I hit in round one:
Pitching to Bryan Pelescak
Bryan connects for a homer:
Me heading to the outfield:
Nick Pelescak taking a swing:
The last time we played home run derby last fall I think the score was also 9-8, with me barely edging Nick.
Spring is here. Baseball is back.
Our third day in Florida brought us to Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota FL.
We got there a little before 10AM, which gave us over an hour to explore the exterior of the stadium and pick up our tickets at the will call window. The stadium had received a complete renovation over the offseason, and it showed. This was one of the nicest Spring Training stadiums I’ve visited.
She noticed baseballs in the bottom of the gate, along with ‘BB’ for baseball.
She also pointed out baseballs in the supports of the awning above home plate.
I pointed out to her that the gates looked the exact same as the ones in Camden Yards in Baltimore.
Here is a look through the gate at the inside of the stadium:
It looked really nice for a Spring Training stadium.
The landscaping and exterior work was great.
Check out the giant planters pots with palm trees. Nice touch.
We walked back to the area behind left field, where there was a gate area that allowed a view into the park.
Upon peeking in, this is what I saw:
Cages were up, and the Orioles were out warming up.
This was the area in front of the gate area.
I decided that there was a chance that a ball could hit the concrete and leave the stadium, so Amy and I spent the next 45 minutes standing in the parking lot beyond left field.
I was able to see ball after ball fly through the air, many of them hitting inside of the left field area just in front of the gate in front of me, but getting caught up on chairs, trees, railings, or whatever.
Eventually a ball cleared everything and landed inside of a gated area to the left of the left field pavilion. It settled right up against the fence so I went over and worked it around to the middle of the gate and pulled it through.
It was my first ball of the day.
We stood around for the next 45 minutes and waited.
Nothing else came out.
Eventually, it was time to go in, so I set up in the second row area.
It turned out to be a big mistake. The Orioles have lots of right handed power, and the first ground was pounding ball after ball over my head landing in this area:
Amy took lots of pictures of the Orioles’ batting practice:
A view from left field of the stadium:
Some of the Orioles players. Its a shame that some players still wear their pullovers during BP, making it tough to identify them.
Orioles batters kept ripping home runs,
but many of them were sailing into the area just out of reach to the left of the left field pavilion.
The Orioles are stacked with right handed power this year, such as Vladimir Guerrero, Mark Reynolds, JJ Hardy, Derrek Lee, Adam Jones, and Nolan Reimold.
I got to see about the last 25 minutes of Orioles batting practice. I was sure that I’d be able to snag a few baseballs during the Pirates batting practice, but for whatever reason, the Pirates weren’t even at the ballpark yet.
There was no trace of them anywhere.
The groundscrew came out and took the screens and cage away, ending batting practice.
I had only snagged one ball at Ed Smith stadium, and it was before the gates even opened. It was a shame, because the left field area could’ve been pretty good for ballhawking. Check it out:
Anyway, here’s the concession stand behind left field:
At that point, I decided to take a brief video to show you all that area:
Here it is:.
Amy and I got our picture taken behind home plate before heading to the inner concourse and out of the sun.
Before heading out though, we took a panorama of the field:
Under the bleachers, there was a welcome sign near the Home Plate area:
Orioles Team Store:
A giant tree:
At this point, we decided to leave the game. We didn’t feel like waiting around for an hour and a half for the game to start. So, we left.
To this point in the trip, I had snagged five balls over three days. Last year, I snagged 32 balls in three days. This trip became about much more than ballhawking. Ballhawking had taken a back seat to Amy and I enjoying our time together in Florida and squeezing the most out of every minute we had.
We decided to head back to Fort DeSoto beach, where we had spent a good chunk of time on Friday. On the way back though, we stopped at Pirate City in Bradenton.
The Pirates were wrapping things up on a practice field when we drove by, presumably before busing the short distance to Sarasota.
Here’s a shot of the living quarters at Pirate City that Amy snapped:
We parked here,
and walked the very short distance to the entrance to the Pirate City practice Fields.
here’s the entrance way. Notice the baseballs on the tops of the posts. Unfortunately, they aren’t major league baseballs. They are generic.
Upon walking in, I was looking at the practice fields and the players off in the distance that had just finished their workout, when Amy noticed something.
Three baseballs just out of arms reach all in one area.
Well, it was glove trick time.
After untangling the string, I tossed it over the fence and knocked one of the balls closer so that I could reach right under the fence and grab it.
The second ball took a little more effort, but I was able to get that one too.
The third and farthest ball took awhile. There was a slight slope or indentation where it had settled, so it took probably fifteen or so attempts before getting it close enough to reach under and grab.
After snagging those three balls, we started looking around the practice grounds.
There were probably like six or so practice fields, with no action on any of them.
We looked around anyhow.
Eventually, we came to a roped off portion beyond the practice field fence. See the sign on the ground on the right hand side of the picture?
It said this:
It must’ve been posted on the rope at some point. But since it wasn’t, we kept right on going and were now on a golf course.
See the ball in the photo below? Well there was also a couple in those bushes, and one in that open shed area.
Here’s a couple more:
We eventually came to a maintenance area, that we didn’t go into, although there were probably more ‘Easter Eggs’ back there. Eventually, a man on a golf cart told us we couldn’t be back there and told us to leave. We did. But not before finding 8 balls back there.
That made it a double digit day!
After the twenty minutes or so that we spent at Pirate City, we went back to the beach. It was crowded, but we found some secluded spots to relax.
The spot was only reachable by crossing some rough terrain. The only visitors we had to worry about were birds.
We then moved back to the regular beach area.
And laid out for awhile, then went into the water, since it was much warmer today.
It had been an amazing, relaxing trip. We had kept busy every minute of the trip, which had really tired me out.
Unfortunately, our time in Florida had come to an end, as it was time for us to head back to Tampa International Airport, back to Pittsburgh and the cold. I’d like to thank Amy for such a great time in Florida and keeping me happy though out the trip. Ballhawking really took a back seat to her on this trip, but that’s not because of her. It was all me, wanting to leave the games to go other places. Will my diminished ballhawking drive continue into the regular season? Who knows. Do I have any goals for the regular season yet? Nope. Will I attend more games in 2011. Probably not. Will I improve upon my 544 ball season from last year? I’d say the chances are slim. Amy will be with me in two weeks as I open the season on the road. Keep an eye out for that.
Like I mentioned yesterday, I decided that I didn’t want to waste four hours of my day standing around at a run down parking lot behind the left field wall of McKechnie Field. With my girlfriend Amy, we decided to make better use of our time in Florida and head to a different beach.
There were thousands of sea shells on the beach, so we wrote something in ‘shelligraphy.’ Here’s the finished product. I wrote ‘Amy.’
After some beach fun, which included swimming in a cold, empty ocean, we headed to the Orioles Spring Training complex on the way to Bradenton.
He and some coaches were picking up the balls in the outfield.
I called out to one of the coaches and asked if he could toss a ball over. He did.
Then he asked, “How tall are you?” “About 6’5″ I answered. I must’ve looked way taller because my whole head was above the six foot fence. I think there must’ve been a tiny mound or something I was standing on. “You look way taller than that!” The coach replied.
There were some cool trees bhind the center field wall:
And a woodpecker that kept drilling holes in the trees above us:
A view of Ed Smith Stadium off in the distance:
A look at the area behind the fences:
A baseball graveyard, protected by barbed wire:
One that didn’t make it:
Here’s a short video of the area where I got the ball at:
After a few minutes, we headed back to our illegally parked car (we weren’t going to pay $9 for 15 minutes of standing outside of a baseball practice field). We then made the trip to Bradenton.
When we arrived, these are the lineups that both teams would put on the field today:
The Red Sox lineup was pretty disappointing – no David Ortiz, no Carl Crawford, no Adrian Gonzalez, no Dustin Pedroia.
We got there just as the game was starting and Mike Cameron was digging in for the Red Sox.
Here was a view of our seats. Notice the large crowd? It was the largest crowd ever in McKechnie Field’s 42 year history.
Here’s some pictures from the game, taken courtesy of Counting Baseballs’ official blog photographer, Amy:
Jose Tabata, the Pirates starting left fielder, awaits a pitch. Hopefully Tabata can improve on his power numbers this year:
Josh Beckett, Boston’s ace, took the mound for the Red Sox.
Here’s a short video of Josh Beckett battling Garrett Jones:
Panorama of a packed house at McKechnie Field:
Pedro Alvarez prepares to react to a pitch:
The Grandstand at McKechnie Field:
John Bowker’s home run swing, as he watches a towering fly ball clear the right field fence:
Brad Lincoln delivers a pitch:
JD Drew, one of the very few regulars from the Red Sox, at the plate:
Another long time Red Sox player, Jason Varitek:
Before we left, we checked out the Pirates’ clubhouse store. Check out the new Pirates hoody this year. Amy is going to get it for me at PNC Park and use my Pirates’ clubhouse store discount.
After the game, we headed back to the ocean for some beach fun.
Later, we had an epic game of miniature golf. On the way back to the hotel, we passed a miniature golf place. Trash talking ensued, and it was on.
The course had a big lake with fountains in the middle of it along with live gators.
By the third hole, I had a slim lead, and was feeling confident.
However, Amy, who typically slugs the heck out of the ball as if it were a driving range, started putting like a PGA pro golfer.
This video just demonstrates my bad luck:
I managed to hold a three stroke lead through the first 9 holes. I had a little bit of trouble in one of the mini golf caves,
but bounced back with a ridiculous hole in one soon after, the only one of the day.
I managed to keep a two stroke lead through most of the game, but started to get too overly confidant.
Another cave brought more bad luck for me.
I tried to distract Amy by pretending that I thought that the caves were actually real and that the golf course was built around the caves. The distraction didn’t work, as she worked her magic and tied up the score.
The game came down to the very last hole. The score was tied up. I went first and the ball came to rest several feet from the hole. Amy came up and used pin point precision to put the ball 8 inches from the hole. It was an easy tap in for her. There was no way she could lose. I had to sink a long put just to tie and keep my non-losing streak in tact. I can’t remember ever losing in miniature golf to a girl. That would all change today, I missed the putt, lost the game, and a private bet between Amy and I.
It was almost 11, so we went back to the hotel to relax before another day in Florida tomorrow.
For the fifth year in a row, I decided to make the trek to Spring Training in Florida. However, this year, I would travel with my girlfriend Amy instead of my dad, who is recovering from surgery.
There was some early airport drama, where we arrived at the security checkpoint 12 minutes prior to the boarding of our plane due to flooding of rivers in Pittsburgh which led to the closing of 376 west, the highway that leads us to the airport. However, Amy did some smooth talking to a TSA agent and got us moved to the front of a lengthy security line, and we arrived at our gate just as the plane began boarding.
We arrived in Tampa at 10:30 and awaited our first spring training game the next day.
We arrived at McKechnie Field bright and early at 9AM and took the obligatory picture in front of the stadium:
And in front of a Spring Training sign posted there:
After taking several more photos, we walked around to the back of McKechnie Field, where I would do my ballhawking for the day.
We actually got there too early, as the cage wasn’t even up yet,
and the players were just starting to stretch
and have a meeting in the outfield.
Batting practice wouldn’t even get started until about an hour later around 10AM, as the players would do some baserunning drills and infield work first.
That left us ample time to explore the area behind the outfield wall. There were a few changes from last year in the area behind the fence.
First, there were a bunch of picnic tables installed, which would lead to crazy bounces and limited range if a ball hit in that area.
Second, the garage where two mechanics used to work on cars had apparently been bought out by the Boys and Girls Club, as evidenced by the logo on the side of the building. This would lead to decreased competition, as the mechanics would typically try and compete for baseballs and subsequently sell them for $3 each at their garage.
Finally, an orange fence was installed to protect bus windows from being shattered by baseballs, and a basketball hoop had been erected in the area.
We made our way behind the old garage,
and over to the area behind the batter’s eye in center field.
All the while, I was keeping an eye out for easter eggs, but there were none.
In the area behind the wall in right center field, there is a small practice field.
After a while, Pirates pitchers came out to do some PFP, Pitcher’s Fielding Practice. Working with pitching coach Ray Searage, the pitchers first worked on taking grounders and making a throw to second base.
Then, they fielded bunts and threw the balls to third base.
Finally, the pitchers took line drive comebackers. The players appeared to be having fun, but none as much as Searage who was extremely cheery and enthusiastic.&nbs
This was my view from the security fence. I didn’t bother any of the players by calling out to them or getting their attention, I just stood and watched.
My girlfriend took a video, about halfway through or so, Evan Meek recognizes me and waves to me. You’ll also see Joel Hanrahan say hello to me. Both of the pitchers were very kind to me at batting practice and have had conversations with me on several occasions.
Check it out in Amy’s video:
There still wasn’t much going on, so I took a video of the area behind McKechnie Field.
Check it out:
Batting practice wouldn’t start for another 30 minutes or so, and the waiting took forever. There was a lot of standing around.
Followed by some pacing.
It allowed Amy to take some random photos, such as this one of a squirrel:
Or this one of an inch worm.
When batting practice finally got underway, it was more of the same. Standing around.
At McKechnie Field, you can’t see the ball until its about to leave the field. I absolutely hate it. It’s very tedious. Imagine doing that for two hours. I was kind of frustrated with the whole process, but I had my girl there to keep me calm.
There were only two competitors there with me. A man in a Barry Bonds shirt,
and his friend.
The two worked as a team. Later, they would be seen selling the balls on the street as we exited the stadium.
They stayed close to the secondary fence and had that whole area covered thanks to a 20 foot long ball retrieving device:
Since they played up, I waited back for any balls that would clear both fences. Unfortunately, there was NO wind at all today, so most fly balls died in left field before even reaching the fence.
I did get my first ball of the day near the end of the Pirates’ batting practice. Amy spotted it first and shouted “Erik! Erik! Erik!” and pointed towards the building. A ball had landed on the roof.
It rolled off the roof and I raced over to scoop it up before ballhawk #2 could get there.
Their session was ama
zingly disappointing. Since the Phillies had a split squad today, they brought all of their scrubs, and very few home runs were hit.
To pass the time, the guy in the Barry Bonds shirt offered to play catch with me.
Near the end of the Phillies’ BP, a batter crushed a home run that bounced on the pavement and into the cypress tree moss above. I crouched down and used my glove to snag it on the bounce.
Moments later, presumably the same batter struck again and ripped a home run that landed in the same place as ball #1, on the roof. I raced over and grabbed ball #3.
That would be all that I would get today. Three balls. I had fun with Amy, but I really disliked ballhawking in this venue. Not being able to see anything takes away a lot of the fun and skill needed. Despite having tickets to tomorrow’s Red Sox / Pirates game, I vowed not to return to McKechnie to ballhawk again.
Some pictures from the game:
The field from our seats, in Sec 8, Row 1.
Ahead of us was Pirates president Frank Coonelly who looked visibly agitated at the amount of runs given up, as well as four misplayed balls by outfielders during the first three innings.
I really like Ross Ohlendorf, but he didn’t have his best stuff today, and four missed catch-able balls by outfielders didn’t help his cause. Keep your head up Ross. That’s what Spring Training is for.
Pedro Alvarez has put on some weight and his range looks very limited, but I only saw two balls hit to him that he didn’t get to, so I’ll have to see a larger sample size to say for certain if he’ll be a liablilty at third.
Lyle Overbay, the Pirates new first baseman. Hopefully he brings a line of .275-20-85 this year at least. We’ll see.
The Phillies didn’t bring many of their regulars, but at least Ryan Howard was there.
Ryan Howard at bat:
Pedro Alvarez digs in. I’m hoping for 35 home runs from Pedro this year, but I fear it may come with a .240 average and lots of strike outs. He’s still young though.
Neil Walker, the Pirates’ second baseman at the plate:
And finally a panorama of McKechnie Field from our seats:
We left after a few inning
s to go enjoy ourselves in Florida.
We headed to the beach.
There weren’t too many people there.
We went for a long walk. And found lots of sea shells.
We eventually came to parts of the beach where there weren’t any people around. So we went exploring.
The second best highlight of going back there was finding a Sting Ray skeleton. Check it out:
We found it here:
The 2011 is getting close, as my Season Tickets have arrived.
This year I will only hold season tickets to the Pirates. Last year, I was a 20 game Cleveland Indians season ticket holder, and a 13 game Cincinnati Reds season ticket holder. I decided not to renew either of those plans. I’ve also decreased my Pittsburgh Pirates season ticket account from three tickets per game to two tickets per game.
Here is the booklet cover design for the 2011 season:
The 2011 season tickets feature four players: Andrew McCutchen, Neil Walker, Pedro Alvarez, and Jose Tabata – the core four young players. I like the design. Last year’s featured Zach Duke, Charlie Morton, Andy LaRoche, Garrett Jones, Andrew McCutchen, and Ross Ohlendorf. Each player took up one ticket on an uncut sheet of six. The tickets looked good, but Andrew McCutchen was the only player that had a decent season of the six. Now, a look at the tickets:
Also, in the package was my 2011 Pirates season ticket card:
The card is key for me, as it allows for me to get in early for batting practice. I’ll need it, since I want to trade in many of my season tickets for give away games and use the free tickets that my girlfriend gets each game from the Pirates as my game entry tickets.
Also included was a letter from Frank Coonelly. Previous letters focused on all of the improvements that the team had made during the off-season. They often predicted a return to glory, etc. Well, coming off of a 105 loss season, this letter basically stated that we play the Orioles in Interleague play, and thank you for coming back.
Dear Erik Jabs,
Enclosed you will find your season tickets for the 2011 season. Opening Day is almost upon us and we are anxious to get the 2011 season started.
On behalf of the Pirates organization, I want to express our sincere thanks for your support. Your loyalty to and faith in the organization make every member of the Club even more determined to perform at a very high level, both on the field and in every other aspect of our relationship to you. You deserve nothing less from us.
As you know, we have an outstanding home schedule this season, including Interleague series against the Boston Red Sox and Detroit Tigers. In addition, we have many terrific promotions on the schedule in 2011, highlighted by the 40th anniversary celebration of the 1971 World Series Championship when we host another exciting Interleague series against the Baltimore Orioles on Tuesday June 21st.
As always, if you have any questions about your tickets, your account or anything as it related to the Pirates, please do not hesitate to contact your account representative.
Again, thank you for choosing to get on board for the 2011 season of Pittsburgh Pirates baseball, and I look forward to seeing you at PNC Park on Thursday April 7th at 1:35 pm for the Home Opener against the Colorado Rockies.
The letter barely makes me excited for the outlook of the team for the 2011 season. I am very excited though, as I am planning on attending many games at PNC Park again this year, as well as making road trips to Washington, Cleveland, Chicago, Cincinnati, and Milwaukee, with possibly a few more cities.
Spring Training coming up soon for me…