Results tagged ‘ Neil Walker ’

5-8-11 PNC Park

Today was Mother’s Day, and my mother-to-be fiancee Amy had to work this game, so I was there too.  Luckily, even through it was a day game following a night game, there was a full batting practice.

Upon entering the stadium, I snagged my first ball of the day on the Riverwalk, or outfield concourse.  Fans can’t enter the stadium until 11:30, they can only access the Riverwalk, which is the area behind the right field wall.  It’s kind of dumb to open at 11 AM, and just make everyone stay out there, but whatever. 

Chris Snyder threw me my first ball of the day over the iron gate.  He’s on the left in the picture below, talking to Lyle Overbay.
5-8-11 (1).JPGI called out for a ball from Neil Walker
5-8-11 (3).JPGbut so did this guy:
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(I didn’t realize we were at a Steeler game…)

Anyway, I snagged the ball over him, and he wasn’t too happy.  He started boasting about how he ‘can jump’ because he ‘plays basketball,’ and the next ball thrown out, he was getting.

I didn’t wait around to see, as it was 11:30, and I ran into the left field bleachers.  There, I found ball #3 by the bullpen, and continued my search into foul territory.

There were no balls there, but a cool groundscrew member tossed me a ball that was laying in front of the tarp.
5-8-11 (6).JPGMy fifth ball of the day came from Evan Meek.  He handed me a ball after we had a nice five minute conversation about everything from Amy, my upcoming baby, Mother’s Day, his recovery, etc.

I only snapped a picture as they ran off the field.
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The Astros then came out, and Dave Clark started hitting balls to the relief pitchers, encouraging them to rob the home runs, or injury themselves and end their careers.  Just ask Ruben Niebla.

It worked out though, as Clark over hit a ball into the stands that I snagged off a bleacher in this area.
5-8-11 (8).JPGMy seventh ball was a Hunter Pence home run catch on the fly caught on the far end of the section by the handicapped seats.
5-8-11 (10).JPGI caught it while running, and spun around after making the catch doing a 360 spin.  One of my better catches this year.

It was so crowded today, so there was no chance for an outfielder toss up.
5-8-11 (13).JPGOr was there?

Ball #8 of the day was thrown to me by Jose Tabata in the 8th inning.  I snagged it here. 
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I had to run down a few steps to snag it from other fans who were reaching from it, but I’m pretty sure it was to me, just under thrown.  It was directly in the middle of the aisle.  Luckily, no one batted it away from me.

After the game, I took Amy out to dinner at one of our favorite restaurants, Old Mexico located in Washinton PA.

Here are today’s eight baseballs:
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Sweet spots:
5-8-11 (19).JPGSTATISTICS:
Game:  8 balls (2 hit, 5 thrown, 1 found)
Season:  91 balls (33 hit, 25 thrown, 21 device, 12 found)
Games: 15 games
Average:  6.07 balls per game
Career:  1,213 balls
Attendance: 17,946

Spring Training Day 1

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:
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And in front of a Spring Training sign posted there:
100_7423.JPGAfter taking several more photos, we walked around to the back of McKechnie Field, where I would do my ballhawking for the day.

Here’s the entrance to the area behind the fence:
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The building that you see there to the left is a Boys’ and Girls’ Club that was closed since it was a weekend. 

We actually got there too early, as the cage wasn’t even up yet,
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and the players were just starting to stretch
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and have a meeting in the outfield.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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We made our way behind the old garage,
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and over to the area behind the batter’s eye in center field. 
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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. 
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Then, they fielded bunts and threw the balls to third base. 
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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
p;

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. 
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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.
100_7467.JPGFollowed by some pacing.
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It allowed Amy to take some random photos, such as this one of a squirrel:
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Or this one of an inch worm.
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When batting practice finally got underway, it was more of the same.  Standing around.
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And pacing.
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And kneeling.
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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,
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and his friend. 
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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:
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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.   
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It rolled off the roof and I raced over to scoop it up before ballhawk #2 could get there.

We had arrived at the stadium almost 2 hours ago, and I finally had a baseball to show for it.
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I wouldn’t have gotten that one had it not been for Amy’s heads up.
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The Phillies than came out to hit.

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.

It was much better than standing idly, so we began to throw:
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We caught for about 10 minutes.
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This was all during Phillies’ BP.  That’s how dead it was.

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.
100_7517.JPGMoments 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.

We entered the stadium and snapped a picture in front of the field:
DSC00370.JPGThe game itself was a blow out, as the Phillies sprang out to an 8-0 lead.

Some pictures from the game:

The field from our seats, in Sec 8, Row 1.
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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. 
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100_7545.JPGI 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.
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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.
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Lyle Overbay, the Pirates new first baseman.  Hopefully he brings a line of .275-20-85 this year at least.  We’ll see.
100_7525.JPGThe Phillies didn’t bring many of their regulars, but at least Ryan Howard was there. 
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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. 
100_7539.JPGNeil Walker, the Pirates’ second baseman at the plate:
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And finally a panorama of McKechnie Field from our seats:
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We left after a few inning
s to go enjoy ourselves in Florida.

We headed to the beach.
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There weren’t too many people there.
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We went for a long walk.  And found lots of sea shells.
DSC00388.JPGWe eventually came to parts of the beach where there weren’t any people around.  So we went exploring.
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The second best highlight of going back there was finding a Sting Ray skeleton.  Check it out:
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We found it here:

Sex on the beach spotAfter about ten minutes in the brush we emerged and saw this sign: 
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We would go on to find about three other small sting rays that had washed ashore.

Soon, the sun began to set, and it got cold.
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We decided to call it a day soon.
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But not before snapping a few pictures of the sunset and taking a video or two.

Sunset on the beach:

It was a great first day in Florida.
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Check back for Spring Training Day 2.

2011 Pirates Season Tickets Arrive

The 2011 is getting close, as my Season Tickets have arrived. 
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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:
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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:

Andrew McCutchen:
100_7396.JPGNeil Walker:
100_7397.JPGPedro Alvarez:
100_7398.JPGJose Tabata:
100_7399.JPGAlso, in the package was my 2011 Pirates season ticket card:
100_7400.JPGThe 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.

The letter stated:

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.

Sincerely,
Frank Coonelly

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…

8-16-10 PNC Park

Today kicked off a 10 game homestand at PNC Park.

When Nick Pelescak and I ran in at 5 PM, some ushers were coming out of the bleachers and said “There’s a bunch of balls in there.” 

I found balls #1 and 2 in the left field bleachers.  The first one was in the front row of Section 136 and the other one was about four rows back closer towards the foul pole.

Ball # was hit by Neil Walker.  It was a home run that landed in the crosswalk area, bounced off the white facade of the upper bleachers,
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and right into my glove in the third row in the lower bleachers.  I heard Jeff Karstens murmur, “Got the rebound.”
 
Ball #4 and 5 were caught in this area, both off the bat of Lastings Milledge.
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STATISTICS:
Game:  10 balls ( 3 hit, 1 thrown, 2 device, 4 found )
Season:  441 balls (224 hit, 96 thrown, 61 device, 60 found)
Balls in the month of August:  90
Games: 67 games
Average:  6.58 balls per game
2010 Game Balls: 5
Career:  1,019 balls
Streak:  163 consecutive games attended with at least 1 ball snagged.
Attendance: 13,396

8-3-10 PNC Park

There was a threat of rain throughout batting practice today.

In fact, it rained lightly for at least 15 minutes, usually a death sentence for batting practice at PNC Park.  The groundscrew was certainly ready to pull the plug.
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But we made it through and got a full BP today.

Upon entering, I found ball #1 laying in the front row near the foul pole.
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Throughout the rest of the game, I split time between left and right field, but Lastings Milledge was being inconsistent with his mid inning
toss ups.  Sometimes he would throw the ball to the crowd, other times he was content to let the bullpen pitcher take it. 

I decided to try Tabata one more time in the 8th inning.  I took my hat off to alter my appearance, hoping he wouldn’t remember me from four innings early.

It worked.  Tabata fired another ball right to me for ball #10 in the 8th.  Thanks Jose.
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The Pirates would go on to win the game as Joel Hanrahan earned his first save as a Pirate.

Here are today’s baseballs:
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Sweet spots:
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STATISTICS:
Game:  10 balls (5 hit, 4 thrown, 1 found)
Season:  374 balls (192 hit, 84 thrown, 43 device, 46 found)
Games: 57 games
Average:  6.56 balls per game
2010 Game Balls: 5
Career:  952 balls
Streak:  153 consecutive games attended with at least 1 ball snagged.
Attendance: 13,623

9-25-09 PNC Park

Today’s game may be my final batting practice of the season – I may only attend one more game, and it’s a day game after a night game.  You know what that means…

Meanwhile, I had been watching the weather, and decided that I would not attend tomorrows (Saturday’s) game.  It is a Skyblast date, and the chance of rain is 100%.  That means no batting practice, large crowds, and an all around tougher time snagging balls.  I would need to have a huge day – I wanted reach the 400 balls snagged in one year benchmark.

Chaos had broken out in Pittsburgh the night before due to the G20 summit.  I was hoping that this would scare people away from coming out early to batting practice – even if the Pirates were giving away Bobbleheads to entice folks to watch a potential 100 loss team.

I was second in line at PNC Park, arriving an hour and a half early.  Helicopters hovered over my head,  regiments of soldiers passed on foot patrol
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and there was even the cavalry passing by.
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We were standing directly next to each other.  Manny turned and lofted the ball at us.  It was no contest.  I had longer arms, and made the catch about a foot in front of the other guys glove.  It was ball #6.  I also think it may have been the only ball that Manny threw into the crowd in his time in left field.

Another few minutes passed by, and two
more balls rolled to the wall.  I reeled up ball #7 with the glove trick, and did the same with ball #8.  Randy Wolf was coming over to pick up ball #8, but realized that I had it covered with the glove trick, and let it go, turning back to left field.

The ballpark had only been opened for 25 minutes, and I had already snagged 8 balls.  Could I challenge the Jabs/Pelescak PNC Park record of 14? 

No, as things slowed way, way down.  The Dodgers’ batting practice approach reminded me of the Cardinals’ in that the hit many balls to the opposite field.

I was getting frustrated.  The place looked like this around 5:30:
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Which is nice, but there were still some folks clogging up rows, making me readjust my routes to any ball that was potentially coming into the stands.

These people got in my way a few times:
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And this guy was the worse, because he stayed in virtually the same spot, but kept moving up or down one row, so I had to keep checking on his location.  
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I try to always familiarize myself with my surroundings almost before every BP pitch so I don’t crash into anyone or get blocked off from going for a ball.

In the last group, Ronny Belliard lofted a high fly ball that bounced on the warning track.  I moved over a section and positioned myself perfectly to catch the high bounce.  It was ball #9.

I only needed one more ball to complete my quest to get 400 balls.  I had began the 2009 season with a goal of 300, but after reaching that last month on August 20th, I had made 400 a new goal for the season, to keep me motivated for the last five weeks of the season.

It was about 6:05ish, and batting practice was about to end in a few minutes.  I was then faced with a tough decision.  Stay in left field, which looked like this at 6:00….
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or head over to center field to try and glove trick a ball that had rolled to the wall.

I decided to go give the ball a try.  I rigged up the glove trick on the way over to center field, and non-chalantly made my way down to the front row.  (I didn’t want to draw attention from the ushers by sprinting in there).

I looked around at the Dodgers players.  No one was in a hurry to come get the ball, which was directly below me at the base of the wall.
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With that in mind, I lowered my glove down over the ball, and reeled in ball #10.

Ball #300 and #400 of 2009 had both come via the glove trick.  Snagging 400 balls in a season is quite an accomplishment.  I believe only Zack Hample, myself, and probably the Happy Youngster (who will likely do it soon) have snagged 400 or more regular season balls in one season.

After snagging the ball, I asked my friend Nick (who is closing in on 300 balls in one season) to snap my picture.
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I then got 25 extra tickets scanned, and lugged the bobbleheads back to my car.  Noticing a large crowd waiting to get in the stadium (due to all the extra security measures), I decided to leave and not stay for the game. 

If I end the season on an even 400, that would be a pretty cool thing anyway.

Today’s baseballs:
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Sweet spots:
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STATISTICS:
Game:  10 balls (3 hit, 2 thrown, 5 device)
Season:  400 balls (211 hit, 119 thrown, 70 device)
Games: 79 games (9 of which didn’t have BP)
Average:  5.06 balls per game
Career:  566 balls
Streak:  94 consecutive games attended with at least 1 ball snagged.
Attendance:  19,452

4-13-09 PNC Park : Home Opener

100_0696.jpgToday was PNC Park’s Opening Day.  I went today with my wife Holly.  We got to the gates around 10:30 AM, and waited in line for a half hour.  When the gates opened, I rushed in and was the 6th one into the left field bleachers.

Things were a little dry at first.  Eventually, two balls were hit and Ian Snell came to the fence to get them.  I asked him for a ball and he flipped one over his head without looking to me.  It was ball #1 of the day.  Luckily, for the first 30 minutes, only season ticket holders are permitted into batting practice, so I had plenty of room to roam.
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STATISTICS:
Game:  5 balls (2 hit, 1 thrown, 2 device)
Season: 13 balls (7 hit, 4 thrown, 2 device)
Games: 3   (3 with BP, 0 without)
Average:   4.33
Career:  179 balls
Hit List:  179 ties me with Willy Aybar for #3809 all time.
Attendance: 38,411.
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