Indians: day/night doubleheader at Progressive Field beginning at 1:05pm.
Pirates: night game at PNC Park beginning at 7:05pm.
Distance from Cleveland to Pittsburgh: 133 miles.
The plan: oh yeah.
As I mentioned in my last entry, I had Watch With Zack clients from Seattle. Remember? Well, this two-stadium extravaganza was Day 2 of our adventure, and I have to admit that I was nervous. You see, things get screwy when there are doubleheaders. Teams rarely take batting practice, and stadiums often open later than usual. Progressive Field normally opens two and a half hours early, but in this case, it wasn’t going to open until 12pm — and as if that wasn’t bad enough, we were gonna have to leave at 1pm in order to make it to PNC Park in time for BP. With ONE hour to work with inside the stadium and NO batting practice taking place, my consecutive games streak was officially on the line.
Speaking of lines, there were quite a few people waiting outside Game C:
In the photo above, do you see the guy at the front of the line with his arms in the air? That’s David, the father of the family that I was with. Look closely and you’ll see his kids (wearing gray Mariners jerseys) standing just in front of him.
I neglected to mention in my last entry that David has three kids. Maple (age 8) and Maxine (age 7) came with him on this trip. His youngest child, a four-year-old boy named Hawthorne, stayed home in Seattle with his wife Michelle. And by the way, this was Maxine’s birthday.
When the four of us were waiting outside the gate, David told me that I didn’t have to count this game in my stats. He said something along the lines of, “No one has to know that you were here,” but I insisted that if I set foot inside the stadium, it *had* to count. The only exceptions would be if I (a) attended a game that got rained out or (b) entered a stadium on a day when there was no game.
Luckily, when we ran inside at noon, there were several Mariners standing around in the right field corner — and there were three baseballs sitting near them on the field. I hurried over with Maple, called out to bullpen catcher Jason Phillips, and got him to flip me a ball. Here’s a photo that I took moments later. It shows Phillips walking toward the bullpen:
Catching that ball was SUCH a huge relief — and not just for me. David and his kids all understood the implications, so they were all rooting for me.
As I expected, there wasn’t much action after that, so we all headed to the seats beside the Mariners dugout. And then we waited. This was our view of the dugout…
…and this was the dugout’s view of us:
In the photo above, that’s Adam Kennedy stretching (or at least doing something that vaguely resembles stretching). Ten minutes later, he came over and signed autographs. Maple and I each got him on our tickets. Here’s a photo of mine:
Ten minutes after that, I ran out to right-center field with Maple and got a ball from someone on the Indians that I couldn’t identify. This was my view soon after I caught it…
…and this is the guy who threw it, walking past me in the bullpen:
The other day on Twitter, I asked for some help identifying this guy. While some people guessed that it was Tony Sipp or Fausto Carmona, my friend Oliver insisted that it was Julio Rangel, the team’s “mental skills coach.” Can anyone confirm this or prove otherwise? It would be great to know. Sorry I don’t have a better photo.
As Maple and I were racing back toward the seats along the right field foul line, we saw Adam Kennedy toss a ball to Maxine near the dugout. The ball barely eluded her glove and ended up in the third row. It was then picked up by a teenage boy who kindly handed it to her.
Soon after, I was approached by a man who asked me if I would sign a baseball for his son. The answer, of course, was yes. Here’s a photo of him with the ball:
The man’s name is Mark Morris.
His son’s name is Zach.
“Z-Mo” is short for Zach Morris.
(Mark has six kids, BTW, and Zach is 15.)
By the time I finished signing the ball, several other Mariners were just starting to play catch, so I headed down to the front row with Maple. Five minutes later, rookie outfielder Trayvon Robinson threw a ball our way. I caught that one and gave it to Maple, and then two minutes later, my young companion caught one that was tossed by Casper Wells.
That concluded our snagging at Progressive Field. Here are the two baseballs that I ended up keeping:
In the photo above, the ball on the left appears to be dirtier (extra-rubbed with mud?) on one side. See it? Pretty strange. I offered to give both of these balls to David for his kids, but he told me there was no need.
As for the game at Progressive Field, we stayed long enough to see Ichiro ground out on the very first pitch…
…and then we took off (just before this earthquake struck). David had parked right across the street, so we hurried over there and threw our stuff in the back of the car…
…and hit the road. David drove. I sat in the back seat with the kids and helped him navigate and showed them the photos that I’d taken the day before. It was a stressful ride because David and I are both directionally-challenged and kept assuming that we were lost. Somehow, though, it all worked out, and we all found lots of stuff to laugh about.
When we were about to cross over from Ohio into Pennsylvania, David pulled off to the side of the road to take a very important photograph:
Thank you, Governor Corbett. We felt very welcomed.
At around 4:15pm, we reached the Allegheny River and drove over one of the famous yellow bridges:
PNC Park was going to open in 45 minutes — and that was fine. Not only was my friend (and PNC regular) Erik Jabs holding a spot for us at the front of the line, but David had booked a hotel very close to the stadium. How close? Check out the view from his room:
We made it to the center field gate with 15 minutes to spare and got a big group photo with Erik and two other regulars. Here we all are:
In the photo above, from left to right, you’re looking at:
1) David (who’s about 6-foot-3)
2) me (in the Homer Simpson shirt)
3) Nick Pelescak (who recently joined the 1,000-ball club)
4) Maxine (whose 7th birthday was off to a good start)
5) Zac Weiss (who, like me, is snagging baseballs for charity)
6) Erik Jabs (who founded the Ballhawk League)
7) Maple (rockin’ the green and white stripes)
(Side note: the last time that I attended two major league games at two different stadiums in one day was 4/14/11 at Citi Field and Yankee Stadium.)
When the stadium opened, I hung out with Maple in straight-away left field while David stood near the foul pole with Maxine. You can see the three of them in the following photo:
The bad news is that I got completely shut out during the Pirates’ portion of BP. The good news is that David and the kids didn’t.
Maple snagged the first ball of the day from Jason Grilli, but it wasn’t a simple toss-up. No sir. Grilli decided to make Maple work for it by asking him trivia questions. Here he is getting things started:
Grilli asked nothing but trick questions, for example, “How many outs are there in an inning?” (The answer is six if you count the top and bottom halves of the inning.) Maple handled it well and got rewarded with the ball:
Then he got a high-five:
(Another side note: I once had a 20-minute phone conversation with Jason Grilli. He probably would’ve remembered if I’d mentioned it, but I didn’t want to draw his attention away from Maple.)
As for Maxine, she received a toss-up from a Pirates player, and then David snagged a home run for her that landed near them in the bleachers.
When the Brewers took the field, I caught a home run on the fly that was hit by a player that I couldn’t identify. Erik was pretty sure that it was Jonathan Lucroy, so let’s go with that.
Erik had already snagged about four balls by that point and finished the day with seven. I have to say, his performance was impressive. On several occasions, when I found myself out of position, he came swooping in from nowhere and maneuvered into the perfect spot. He has attended hundreds of games at PNC Park; this was only my 4th, and it showed.
Here’s a photo of Erik flinging his glove at a ball on the warning track:
It was a bold move, and the ushers didn’t say anything, so I decided to step up my own glove-trick efforts. I ended up snagging four more balls during BP, all with the glove trick, and at one point, Brewers closer John Axford walked over for a closer look. Maxine, meanwhile, got three more balls during BP. The first was a deep drive that barely hooked foul and was grabbed by David. The second was a hand-off from Kameron Loe…
…and the third was thrown by Ryan Braun. These three balls raised her total for the day to five.
After she got the ball from Loe, a middle-aged man decked out in Brewers gear complained about it.
“That’s her FOURTH ball,” he shouted at Loe, “just so you know!”
To say that I didn’t appreciate his comment was an understatement, and quite simply, I wasn’t going to let him get away with it.
“Mind your own business,” I told him as I walked past. “There’s no need to ruin her chances of getting another ball.”
“Yeah, well, exploiting a little girl to get baseballs isn’t cool!”
“Excuse me,” I said calmly but forcefully, “that’s her father. They traveled all the way here from Seattle, and they like to collect baseballs. No one’s being exploited.”
That was pretty much the end of it, although I got a few dirty looks after that — but hey, better me than Maxine. I can take it. She’s only seven years old and shouldn’t have to deal with such bitterness and negativity. I mean, if you want to complain that *I* catch too many baseballs, go ahead, but for the love of Rawlings, don’t get all pissy about a little girl out-snagging you.
As for Maple, he got two more balls during BP. The first was thrown by Loe…
…and the second was a Ryan Braun toss-up. That ball deflected off my glove and landed near Maple in the 2nd row. People were scrambling like crazy, and Nick Pelescak ended up snagging it. Then, without even thinking about it, he handed it over. Very nice of him. Here’s a photo of the two of them with the ball:
Some people don’t count balls that are given to them by other fans, and some people do. Maple and Maxine *do* count balls like this, so that’s all that matters.
After BP, I took Maple to the 3rd base dugout and got two baseballs from the Brewers. The first was tossed by Shaun Marcum, and the second came from bullpen catcher Marcus Hanel.
Then I ran into a guy named David who’d brought all three copies of my books. Here we are with them:
After I signed them, I asked David if he could spare a few minutes take some photos of me. He said yes, so we headed toward the right field corner. That’s where I wanted to do it, and this was the result — me with a sign for my 91st major league stadium of the season:
Whoops. I had it upside down. Let’s try that again:
Here’s a collage of the first 15.
Before the game started, Maple got his 4th and final ball of the day from Pirates coach Mark Strittmatter. Then, soon after, Maxine got her 6th and final ball from Josh Harrison. Here she is waving to him:
Harrison ended up walking over and placing the ball in her glove.
David once again got great tickets. Check out our view during the game:
That was actually *my* view. David and the kids were sitting one row behind me. Big difference. I was hoping for some foul grounders, but there wasn’t any action.
Halfway through the game, the kids got really tired (can you blame them?) so David left and took them back to the hotel. (Before he left, I offered to to give them some/all of my baseballs, but he insisted that it wasn’t necessary.) I spent the last few innings wandering all over the place. This was my view from left field:
This was my view from the 1st base side:
This was my view after the game:
One of the many awesome things that Pirates season ticket holders get rewarded with is the chance to go out onto the field after a game and run around and play catch and do whatever. Can you imagine this happening at Yankee Stadium? HA!!!
The Brewers, it should be noted, won the game, 11-4, and the highlight (as far as I was concerned) was Josh Harrison’s first major league home run. Unfortunately, I was halfway across the stadium at the time. Doesn’t matter. I wouldn’t have caught it anyway. It landed in the middle of a crowded row in the left field bleachers and was caught on the fly by a man wearing a glove.
Here are two games’ worth of stats rolled into one.
• 831 balls in 98 games this season = 8.48 balls per game.
• 759 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 261 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 32 consecutive Watch With Zack games with at least two balls; click here to see a list of Watch With Zack stats and records.
• 5,493 total balls
(I’m raising money again this season for Pitch In For Baseball, a non-profit charity that provides baseball equipment to underprivileged kids all over the world. Click here to learn more.)
• 56 donors
• $7.12 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $78.32 raised at this game
• $5,916.72 raised this season
Finally, I need to share a few more photos of the balls…
Here are three (from the game in Pittsburgh) that caught my eye:
If you look closely at the ball on the left in the photo above, you can see that the seam is misshapen. The other two balls simply have interesting marks on them.
Of the eight balls that I snagged in Pittsburgh, four have invisible ink stamps: Here’s a side-by-side comparison of those balls in regular light versus black light: