Some Rockies came out to throw along the right field line.
Once the rest of the stadium opened, I went over and snagged my first ball of the day from Franklin Morales. I flashed him my glove after he had finished tossing, and he threw me ball #1.
Ball #2 came from Matt Reynolds. I asked for the ball and he tossed me his warm up ball as he was coming off of the field.
The balls were from the Rockies’ new Spring Training home.
There was no more action until game time. The Pirates didn’t even come out to throw.
Here’s a few pictures from the game: Carlos Gonzalez, the Rockies best player:
The crowd, where most of the seats were $1 (you can tell the sections that weren’t a dollar)
Ross Ohlendorf, before exiting the game with a sore shoulder:
Amy and I, who were pretty cold:
The poster given away to all fans:
The shirt given away to all fans:
The Chuck Tanner jersey, to me from a distance looks like an Oakland Athletics Jersey, it makes the 7 appear green since it is surrounded by green. The Pirates should’ve put a black background box around the jersey.
Amy and I left in the 5th inning. The game went 14 innings, and the Pirates won, thanks to 11 1/3 scoreless innings from our bullpen.
Season: 24 balls (8 hit, 6 thrown, 7 device, 3 found)
Games: 4 games
Average: 6.00 balls per game
Career: 1,146 balls
We walked to the stadium and were second in line behind Nick.
Nick and I caught for about 20 minutes on the Roberto Clemente bridge.
Afterwards, Nick and I headed down to the Riverwalk. While there, I was able to see seven balls in the sky heading towards the seats.
Eventually one of the balls bounced out of the stadium. I dove here to snag the ball.
I got a little dirty, but it wasn’t too noticeable.
Being on the board before going into the stadium is never a bad thing.
Upon entering the stadium, I heard Evan Meek call out to me. I thought he said, “Jabs!” but I’m not sure. Anyhow, he came over and shook my hand and asked how the offseason was and if there was anything new going on. He asked if we were doing the Ballhawk League again, and I said yeah.
The Pirates players were wearing pullovers so I wasn’t able to identify all of them. An unidentified righty hit a home run into section 134. The ball settled under a bleacher and I scooped it up for ball #3.
Ball #4 was chased down under the Rotunda. Again, no clue who hit it.
My fifth ball was another righty Pirates batter. I snagged it off of the concrete after it bounced around a bit. There were a few other gloves reaching for the ball, but I came away with it.
I decided to head over to right field and center field at 11:30. It paid off. I found Ball #6, #7, and #8 there.
The Rockies had come out to hit in the meantime.
My ninth ball was glove tricked in left-center field.
Five minutes later, another ball was there.
I went back to that area and glove tricked that one too for ball #11
Ball #12 was tossed to me by Rockies ace pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez. It helped that I had Rockies gear on and asked for the ball in Spanish.
After snagging the ball from Jimenez, I noticed two balls in the ivy. I had forgotten my Cleveland stick, so I went to the Janitors closet and got a squeegee and prodded the ball closer to the fence so I could reach it.
It was in terrible shape.
That was it for batting practice. The Rockies batting practice was very poor. Not many home runs were hit at all.
The game was rather uneventful. The Pirates lost 7-1 and played sloppy defense.
Highlights from the game were the introductions, where the players line up on the baselines:
The Pirates side:
There was a flyover after the National Anthem.
Here was the view from my seat, where I sat for an inning.
It was really crowded in left field, so I went there to read the paper for a bit.
One of the non-baseball highlights was a ‘streaker’ who took to the field in the ninth inning:
He came from the left field stands and made it across the whole field.
Despite the Pirates loss, Opening Day was productive from a ballhawking standpoint.
Season: 22 balls (8 hit, 4 thrown, 7 device, 3 found)
Games: 3 games
Average: 7.33 balls per game
Career: 1,144 balls
The 2010 Season was a fantastic year for me. I broke the single season mygameballs.com record by snagging 544 baseballs, and was voted the Ballhawk of the Year (link) by fellow ballhawks.
The greastest snag of the 2010 baseball season wasn’t any particular baseball though, it was Amy.
She worked at PNC Park and would routinely watch me ballhawk from her position. After batting practice she would come up and chat with me. She told me the first time she saw me was Opening Day 2010, when I went sprinting right by her with Nick close behind. Throughout the year, I used to briefly chat with her after batting practice every game that she worked.
In late August we exchanged phone numbers and things took off from there. By September 21 we were dating, and several weeks later we got our own place together. We have been literally inseperable since.
On October 10, 2010 in Cincinnati, she was there with me, supporting my quest for 544 baseballs:
She went with me to three different Dave Matthews Band concerts. Including the Charlottesville shows. Here were are exploring the mountains of Charlottesville during the day before one of the concerts.
Our baby is due at the beginning of August, and we both can’t wait to welcome our baby into this world. We are both extremely excited! That sonogram is from the end of December. Hopefully I’ll have a new, recent one soon to share.
We were back at Nationals Park for another game today.
Hopefully today would be a bit better day for me.
The weather was expected to be a bit warmer with no chance of rain.
Amy was back in charge of the camera, and did a fantastic job taking lots of pictures.
We were again first in line, so to pass the time, Nick and I played catch.
This time, we played catch on the street, so as not to get yelled at by security.
When the gates opened, we ran in to look for baseballs,
but there were none. I made my way over to center field and spotted a ball below, but there were security guards everywhere down there.
I thought about asking them to toss it up, but they were engaged in a conversation. I went and checked the gaps behind the walls, which were empty. When I came back that ball was gone.
Much like yesterday, my day got off to another really slow start. There was a lot of inactivity and waiting.
All I could do is look at Amy with a “this is going to well” look.
I noticed a few balls were landing in the seats in right field, so I hustled over to try and get in on some of the action.
Amy was right behind me to capture the action.
Once there I set up in the third row.
I didn’t have to wait too long as Laynce Nix launched a home run in my direction. I could tell that the ball was going to be a bit short, so I had to scale the row of seats in front of me to catch the ball just above the man in red’s black glove.
Here I am with my first ball of the day.
I headed over to left field with Nick, but it was too crowded, and I got shut out there despite several home runs landing here and there.
I headed back to right field to stay for a majority of the Braves batting practice.
After changing quickly on the concourse, I made my way to right field.
I began cutting through the second row when I ball appeared out of nowhere. Mike Minor randomly flipped a ball up from the warning track. I reacted and caught the ball for my second of the day. There wasn’t anyone else within a few feet of me, so I figured it really wasn’t intended for anyone in particular. Here I am with Mike Minor below:
Despite several Braves batting, I noticed a ball land in the gap in left center field. I decided to go over and glove trick it immediately.
Here I am setting up the glove trick:
I leaned on the glass railing for a moment and pretended to watch BP so as not to bring attention to myself from the security guards. I then lowered my glove over the ball:
And reeled it in.
That was my third ball of the day.
Upon returning to right field, I noticed another ball in the gap between the stands and scoreboard.
I glove tricked that ball too.
I’m was working with a new rubber band and it was working really well. I snagged both glove trick balls in one try.
The rest of batting practice was just a lot of standing around. You can tell by Nick’s body language how slow things were.
Near the end of batting practice, I went over to left field above the bullpen to scope out the balls in the bullpen.
While there, an unidentified Braves player tossed my ball #5.
Batting practice ended, and there were three balls that were gettable in the bullpen. I knew how security was, so I spoke with the usher in the section, “There’s a ball in the bullpen that I can get with my glove,” I said. “Is it ok if I get it?”
“Alright,” She replied, “Imma let you get it.”
I went to work and got the ball to stick in the glove on the first try. Weirdly, the same lady that just gave me permission, came and started yelling at me. “You can’t do that!”
“You just told me that I could get a ball from the bullpen.”
“No! You have to stop.”
“OK, the ball’s stuck in my glove, should I throw it back onto the field or can I keep it?”
She ignored me. So I stuck it in my pocket and let. It was the sixth one of the day.
That would be it for batting practice.
We left the stadium after BP to head back to Pittsburgh.
We headed back to pictures and Amy was still snapping away.
We left sunny 65 degree weather for dreariness.
Here are the baseballs I snagged today:
And the sweet spots:
Season: 9 balls (4 hit, 2 thrown, 3 device, 0 found)
Games: 2 games
Average: 4.50 balls per game
Career: 1,131 balls
The 2011 baseball season kicked off for me this weekend in Washington DC. Fellow ballhawk Nick Pelescak, my girlfriend Amy, and I headed down for the weekend.
On the way there, winter gave us hopefully, a goodbye, as we traveled through heavy snow in the mountains of Pennsylvania. The roads were untreated, and we had to keep it at 40 mph. It was rather treacherous.
We grabbed some breakfast at McDonalds in Breezewood:
And continued on I-70 east. Once the dawn arrived, the pictures of the snow turned out better, but trust me – the roads were much worse than this:
We got to Washington a little after 9AM, and shelled out $15 to park near the stadium.
The walk was through a construction zone.
I had my phone handy as I was keeping an eye on the weather. It had rained and snowed for most of the trip to Washington DC, and there was a large percent chance of rain today, but according to the weather sites, it looked like it wouldn’t start until around noon or 1PM.
When we reached the intersection across from the stadium, there was thick cloud cover, but it looked like batting practice would be a go.
We paused in front of Nationals Park for a few obligatory photos:
Amy was the photographer for this trip. We were in Washington for two games and she took over 900 photos. She captured mostly everything.
The walk to the center field gate from home plate was extremely cold and windy. When we got to the left field gate, we peered in to see if the cages were up. It was inconclusive.
Walking along the exterior of Nationals Park, I was looking for any new decorations or improvements.
It is probably the blandest most boring stadium I’ve ever seen from the outside.
When I rounded the corner to head towards the center field gate and the ticket offices, I noticed one change. Do you see it?
There were large mirrored baseballs installed on the outside of the stadium/parking garage.
At the main box office, we purchased the cheapest ticket available: $10 each.
I purchased tickets for today’s game and tomorrow’s game as well.
Then we headed over to the center field gate to stake our claim to the front spot in the line.
After getting in line, I organized the string of my glove and tested out a new rubber band.
Then, with forty minutes still to kill before the gates opened, Nick and I threw for a bit.
We caught for maybe ten minutes before someone from the Nationals staff came out and enforced the no having fun unwritten rule that many staff members at MLB parks abide by.
10:30AM finally came and the gates opened. Here was my first view of a major league baseball field in 2011:
Nick and I were the first ones into the stadium, but I didn’t find any Easter Eggs. Nick found 2.
Batting practice probably didn’t begin for at least 10 minutes until after the gates opened. As the players were still warming up down the right field line.
Amy followed us back and forth between left field and right field for two full days taking lots of great shots. Here’s one of the field from center field:
And here Nick and I are in right field at the very beginning of batting practice. I had checked the gaps behind the outfield walls for baseballs that I could glove trick, but there were none there.
Amy got lots of great action shots of the players too, because batting practice started out pretty bad for me.
I got shut out for at least the first two groups if not three.
What would’ve been my first ball of the day was knocked away from me by the kid in blue who cut a row in front of me and knocked the ball to the right where some other fan grabbed it.
Finally, after a long drought, Rick Ankiel hit a towering blast toward right field.
The ball was hit directly between Nick and I who were both in the same row.
Since Nick had already snagged several, he laid back and allowed me to make the clean catch uncontested. Thanks Nick! It was my first ball of the year and first of the 2011 season. It broke a weird streak. In 2009 both Nick and I got our first ball of the year thrown by Ian Snell. In 2010, we both got our first ball of the year off the bat of Bobby Crosby. The streak ended in 2011 when Nick found his first ball and mine was from Rick Ankiel.
Anyway, back in left field, there was a lot of waiting around during the Nationals batting practice. I was expecting Jayson Werth to put on a show during batting practice. He disappointed, exclusively hitting ball after ball to right field, but did hit two home runs. One of which I caught on the fly, high above my head, fully extended.
I had to stay in the third row because those handrails that you see in the picture severely limit my range. Being boxed in by people is bad, but being boxed in by people and handrails is agitating.
Anyhow, soon Nate McLouth hit a dying line drive right at me. I ran down to the front row and made the catch just above the outfield wall for my third ball of the day.
Here I am inspecting the ball.
The Braves batters put a good number of balls into the seats, but I couldn’t get to any of them. Someone was either in front of me: (they are obstructed in the picture)
Or over my head:
Or literally three feet over my head
Or I would get completely robbed.
Amy took so many pictures! But there were so many near misses.
Every time I came close, I had to navigate around railings or people standing in aisles.
And as a result, I’d be too late.
Near the end of batting practice I spotted three balls in the bullpen. They were perfect for the glove trick.
I rigged up my glove and headed over to double my days total in a matter of one or two minutes.
When I got to the bullpen area, the Braves finished their BP and were walking off the field.
The crowd started to thin out. I needed to work fast.
Just as I began to lower my glove, two ushers swooped in and told me I had to stop.
I ended the day with three baseballs.
Amy and I decided that we didn’t want to stay for the game and we’d rather go back to the hotel room for a little bit and then go explore Washington DC. Nick would stay at the game.
Before heading out, we posed for a picture at Nationals Park:
Our hotel was the Renaissance. It is a $409 a night hotel, but we got it for $116 thanks to Priceline.com
Here I am outside of the hotel:
There was an interesting Chinese themed courtyard too:
After all, we were two blocks from Chinatown.
Here’s a snapshot of the room we received:
After some quality time in the hotel room, we decided to explore the lobby and the surrounding area. Amy was super pumped for free lemon water:
We headed out into the city.
We walked around Chinatown.
You really couldn’t miss it with the giant arched entry way.
The picture with the Chinese man wasn’t planned by the way…
Amy made the Chinatown entrance look better.
There was some cool stuff, such as museums on just about every corner,
Amy was pretty pumped about Auntie Anne’s, but we didn’t stop to share our customary Cinnamon Pretzel.
We came across some really creepy areas,
but overall the area was decent. The cherry blossoms added a nice touch to the city streets.
After walking around for awhile, we decided to head over to the Georgetown area to go find DC Cupcakes, a store that Amy had seen on TLC, which has its own series on that network.
On the way there, we passed a Ben & Jerry’s store, which was spewing bubbles all over the road.
Eventually we came to the store that Amy wanted to visit. It was called Georgetown Cupcake. I guess DC cupcakes sounds better as a show title.
We figured that we would park up the street somewhere and then run in and grab a cupcake just to say that we’d been there.
However, upon rounding the corner, we noticed a line.
That extended as far as the eye could see.
So, that was pretty much out of the question. We headed back through Washington DC to go pick Nick up at Nationals Park. It was almost 5PM.
Here’s some shots that Amy took on the drive back. The Cherry Blossoms were out in full bloom!
We arrived back at the hotel after picking Nick up and unpacked all of our things. We would then go out for dinner at Ruby Tuesday’s and get the worst waiter ever.
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: