This was the fourth and final Watch With Zack game that I did with the folks from Seattle, and unfortunately the tarp was covering the infield when we entered the stadium:
Even if it hadn’t been raining, there still might not’ve been batting practice; game time was scheduled for 12:35pm, and the Pirates and Brewers had played the night before.
If there was one good thing about the lack of action, it’s that I had some time to photograph the awesomeness of PNC Park. Lots of people have asked why I included it in my “Top 10 Stadiums for Ballhawking” list in The Baseball, and here’s the answer:
PNC Park isn’t great for BP — the half dozen rows in the left field bleachers get clogged quickly –but the standing room behind the bleachers is pretty much ideal. And yeah, okay, it’s kind of far from home plate, but we’re not talking 500 feet. It’s more like 400 to 420.
Anyway, here’s a photo of my “clients” for the day — Maxine (age 7), Maple (age 8), and their father David:
As you can see in the photo above, the tarp was gone, and the Pirates pitchers were getting ready to warm up.
Several minutes later, I headed to the corner spot in foul territory with David and the kids. Here’s where they set up:
Chris Leroux ended up giving a ball to each of the kids. The first one was uneventful — a standard toss-up for Maple — but the second one? Yeesh! During one of the only moments that David happened to look away from the field, he got nailed in the side by an overthrow. Leroux was standing nearby, so he walked over and asked David if he was okay and offered him a ball. David said he was fine and pointed to Maxine, so Leroux handed it to her instead. (Way to take one for the team, Dad!)
When the Brewers came out, David and the kids stayed on the 3rd base side, and I headed toward the right field corner. This was my route:
(How beautiful is that?)
When I reached the end of the stands in foul territory, I found myself at an unguarded staircase, which led to a fancy area of seating down in front:
I looked around cautiously before making my move, and then it hit me: THIS IS PITTSBURGH!!! Fans are actually allowed to wander and enjoy themselves. What a concept! So yeah, I walked down to the front, and no one said a word. This was the view (facing to my left) at the bottom of the stairs:
During the 20 minutes that I spent there, I got Frankie De La Cruz to toss me a ball.
Then I headed out to deep left-center when Chris Narveson began throwing in the bullpen. This was my view…
…and when he finished, I called out to him and got him to throw me the ball.
Before the game, I got Andrew McCutchen and Neil Walker to sign a ticket that I’d found. Here’s a photo of it:
Soon after, I noticed that Michael McKenry was long-tossing with coach Mark Strittmatter on the warning track in left field, so I hurried out there with the kids. This was the view to my right:
(In the photo above, you can see McKenry way in the distance near the foul pole, and evidently I took it when Maple was blinking. Sorry, Maple!)
Strittmatter ended up with the ball, and when I asked him for it, he asked who it was for. In other words, he couldn’t decide whether to give it to Maple or Maxine. I just shrugged and said, “Whoever you want, or you can give it to me, and we’ll figure it out later.”
Strittmatter nodded and said that in order to get the ball, we had to earn it by answering a trivia question.
“How many months have 28 days?” he asked.
“One,” I said, amazed to have gotten such an easy question, but fearing that I might’ve been missing something.
“They all do,” he said with a smile, “but that’s okay, I’m gonna give you another shot. Are you ready?”
“Yeah,” I said, feeling like the biggest idiot of all time.
“How do the people in Kentucky pronounce their capitol?” he asked. “Is it Loo-EE-ville or Loo-ISS-ville?”
It was another trick question. I knew that it wasn’t Louisville. It was another city altogether, but I couldn’t think of the answer. Just as I was starting to feel really embarrassed, Maple stepped up bigtime. Do you remember when Jason Grilli asked him trivia questions the day before? Well, this was one of the same questions! And Maple remembered the answer! He tapped me on the shoulder and called me closer to whisper it in my ear.
“Frankfort,” he said.
“What was that?” asked Strittmatter, sensing a correct answer.
“Frankfort!” I said.
“All right!” said Strittmatter, and he handed me the ball.
I then handed it to Maple and gave him a high-five. “This one’s for you,” I said. “You totally earned it. Nicely done.”
After that, I brought the kids back to our seats, where David was waiting for us. Here’s a photo that I took during the game from several rows behind them:
Not a bad view.
During the game, I noticed that every inning, the infield warm-up balls were getting tossed into the crowd behind the Pirates’ dugout. David and Maple agreed that if we got one, it would be for Maxine, so I kept taking her down to the front row (behind the middle of the dugout), and I kept trying to get the attention of Luis Silverio, the coach who was tossing all these balls. The first four were given to other kids, but as the 5th inning was about to get started, Silverio hooked us up. Maxine wanted me to catch the ball for her, so I did. Here she is with it back at our seats:
As good as our seats were, there was one problem: we were in the sun. Our solution was to move here:
We were in the shade *and* in a good foul-ball spot for right-handed batters. Several balls came close, but not close enough. That said, Maple still found a way to increase his total. With permission from his father, he headed back to the seats behind the Pirates’ dugout all by himself, and when the 6th inning was about to begin, he got the infield warm-up ball from Silverio. He was several hundred feet away from us, but we saw the whole thing. Here’s the ball in mid-air, sailing toward him…
…and here he is catching it with two hands:
(Sorry for the lousy photo quality, but it’s the best I could do with my little camera.)
We were SO happy for him. Simply making it to the dugout and finding the courage to be on his own was a major accomplishment; the ball itself was the proverbial icing on the cake. Maple raced back and showed it to us, then headed back to the dugout and got another ball from coach Nick Leyva in the middle of the 8th!
Maple is probably going to end up being 6-foot-9, so if he decides to take up ballhawking full-time, we’re all gonna be in trouble.
In the top of the 9th inning, with the Pirates clinging to a 2-0 lead, I took Maxine to the seats behind a special staircase on the 3rd base side. This was the view:
The staircase was where the umpires were going to walk off the field. Paul Schrieber was behind the plate, and after the final out, he pulled a ball from his pouch and gave it to us. I had been in charge of getting his attention. Maxine had been in charge of being cute. And after that, it was just a matter of acquiring the ball. I was hoping that he’d hand it directly to her, but instead he tossed it, so I made the catch.
This was technically my 5th ball of the day. I counted the one from Strittmatter because he had handed it to me, and I counted the one from Silverio because I was the one who caught it. Same deal here with Schrieber, but as far as Maple and Maxine were concerned, it was just a numbers game that didn’t affect them. They ended up with the balls and got to see/learn how I maneuvered through the seats and talked to the coaches and the ump, so it was cool for them regardless.
Maxine and I shifted over to the front row near the tarp. There were two coaches slowly making their way in from the bullpen…
…but they just shrugged when I asked them for a ball.
Before leaving the stadium, I asked a woman to take a photo of the four of us. Here we are on the spiral ramp behind the left field foul pole:
PNC Park is painfully gorgeous. That’s really all there is to it.
Now, I don’t know if it’s just me, but the whole time I was with Maple, I kept thinking that he looks like Justin Morneau. Do you see it? Check out the side-by-side comparison below:
I’m not saying that they’re identical — just that there are similarities.
• 836 balls in 99 games this season = 8.44 balls per game.
• 760 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 262 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 33 consecutive Watch With Zack games with at least two balls; click here to see a list of Watch With Zack stats and records.
• 5,498 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)
• $35.60 raised at this game
• $5,952.32 raised this season
Finally, you know how I’ve been photographing baseballs in black light to show the invisible ink stamps? Well, neither of the two balls that I kept has an actual stamp, but one of them appears to have been smudged all over with invisible ink. Check it out:
Pretty weird, huh?
(Oh, Pittsburgh, I miss you already…)