This was the final game of a five-day road trip with my friend/videographer Brandon. We started the week in Cleveland, then moved on to Detroit and followed that with a pair of games in Cincinnati. After making the drive to Pittsburgh . . .
. . . we stopped for lunch at Primanti Bros. I had heard about their legendary sandwiches from my friend and fellow ballhawk Robbie Sacunas, who just so happens to work there. Here he is behind the bar:
He recommended a sandwich called the HBK, which he described as follows: “It has four slices of ham, two slices of bacon, and a kielbasa. It’s topped with fries, cole slaw, tomatoes, and provolone cheese. It’s in reference to the Penguins in the Stanley Cup playoffs where we have a line with Carl Hagelin, Nick Bonino, and Phil Kessel.”
Get it? HBK = Ham, Bacon, Kielbasa *and* Hagelin, Bonino, Kessel. Very clever. And delicious. Look at this monster!
THAT is a pre-game meal. There’d be no need to even think about food again for a while.
Brandon and I waddled to the stadium at around 3:30pm. On our way across the Roberto Clemente Bridge, I stopped to take a photo of something . . . random? I’m not sure how to describe it, so just take a look:
One of the highlights of my day was getting to play catch with a few friends/ballhawks on the bridge. Here I am making a throw to Nick Pelescak:
He was standing next to a guy named Ted. Meanwhile Erik Jabs was on my left, so we all played four-way catch until the gates were about to open.
Look how crowded it was during batting practice:
That’s what I deserved for coming on a Friday night game with a t-shirt giveaway, but at least there WAS batting practice. I got lucky with the weather on this trip — no rain at all and BP every day.
Erik kindly helped me and Brandon get inside early with the season ticket holders. That didn’t stop him from trying to rob me on every possible opportunity, and I was fine with that. What was he supposed to do — welcome me into his house and just sit back and watch me get every ball? Thankfully I was able to edge him out on this home run hit by Jordy Mercer:
In case you didn’t notice, we were both standing on benches. Erik and Nick are very talented ballhawks. They react quickly, navigate through the bleachers with ease, judge batted balls well, and catch everything within their reach. Between the two of them and several other newer ballhawks, it was super-competitive, so in order to catch that ball, I *had* to elevate.
Here’s something I couldn’t compete with:
See what I’m talking about? In the photo above, just to the right of the foul pole, there’s a fan reaching out for a ball on the warning track with a long pole. That was Erik, who, by the way, had changed into a purple Rockies jersey. His pole is collapsible and has some sort of grabber on the end. It truly boggles my mind that stadium security allows that, but hey, good for him! Batting practice at PNC Park is tough, and he has found a way to adapt. I lost count of the number of balls he got with that device over the course of the day — probably around a dozen.
Erik wasn’t the only one wearing a Rockies jersey. I had also changed, and when I first saw him using his ball retriever, this was my reaction:
I was thinking, “Are you kidding me?” It was as shocking as it was impressive.
Did you notice the red object that I was holding in the previous photo? That’s a “cup trick” that my friend Bill Dugan had given to me three days earlier in Detroit. I didn’t show the cup trick in my blog entry from that game at Comerica Park, but it’s in the YouTube video, in case you want a closer look.
Thankfully, when Erik was nowhere near me, I was able to use the cup to snag a ball off the warning track in left-center. You can see me doing it below:
Here I am with the ball and cup:
The cup trick is definitely more efficient than the glove trick, but the glove trick doesn’t require me to carry anything heavy or bulky. Which device is better? Clearly the cup is better in Pittsburgh when Erik is never more than a few seconds away from swooping in. The glove, however, is better for knocking balls closer because it has more surface space.
As you can see in the four-part photo below, I had to fling the cup out to knock my next ball closer:
You can also see Rockies pitcher Carlos Estevez bending down to get a look at the cup, followed by me offering the ball to a timid child. He wouldn’t take it from my hand, so I dropped it into his glove.
A little while later, I headed out to right-center field. Not only was Erik there, but the whole section was packed:
I felt like there was nowhere to go.
I did somehow find a little room to run for a Carlos Gonzalez homer. In the photo below, you can see a fan in the front row jumping for the ball as it streaked toward my glove:
That guy’s jumping attempt made me flinch, causing the ball to tip off the end of my glove. It probably looked like I flat-out dropped it, but I promise that was the reason I didn’t catch it. Getting hit in the face with a baseball isn’t fun, and deflections are my biggest safety concern. Thankfully the CarGo homer plopped down one row in front of me, and I was able to grab it. That was my fourth ball of the day, and I gave it to a kid during the game.
For the last group of BP, I went to the seats in straight-away right field:
It was totally dead, and the Rockies pitchers down below didn’t even acknowledge any of the fans. They should learn a few things about manners from their friendly teammates in left field.
When BP ended, I got a ball tossed to me by some random dude on the field in front of the Rockies’ dugout:
Less than a minute later, Rene Lachemann tossed me another . . .
. . . and just like that, my day had gone from lousy to decent.
I had told Erik that I’d buy him dinner as a “thank you” for getting me inside the stadium early. I knew he wasn’t planning to stay for the game, but I didn’t realize he had to bolt right after BP, so I still owe him. And unfortunately we didn’t get a photo together.
I headed to the upper deck briefly with Brandon, mainly just to take in the exquisite view:
Then we headed back downstairs and checked out some interesting nooks and crannies:
Just before game time, we got a close look at Pirates starter Gerrit Cole:
PNC Park is a fascinating place. There are so many unique sections, walkways, staircases, fences, ramps, railings, and so on. Some stadiums, it seems, were designed as if the architects were trying to be boring and/or annoy people. PNC is the opposite. It’s a total delight. Look at all this space, for example, in right-center field:
Yeah, it takes a blast to reach that walkway, but man, the balls that do reach it are easy to catch.
Do you remember Ted from the four-way game of catch on the bridge? Here I am with him in left field during the middle innings:
He was cool and made me feel welcomed. I met a bunch of other ballhawks throughout the day, and everyone was really nice. I greatly appreciated that.
Check out this view from high up in left field:
I didn’t take that photo. Brandon took it from his perch on the spiral ramp. This was my view of him from below:
And look! This was his view of me from above:
If anyone had launched a 420-foot homer in my general vicinity, I would’ve had all kinds of room to run for it. Unfortunately, there was only one longball all night — a high fly ball one section to my right hit by Nolan Arenado in the 6th inning. Of course he happened to hit it just as a cotton candy vendor was blocking my path. I probably wouldn’t have been able to get there in time, but it was frustrating not to even have a chance.
Toward the end of the game, I took a half-inning break to eat a new, popular concession item — a hot dog with mac and cheese, cracker jacks, and “caramel drizzle.” Look at this thing:
It cost $11 and was totally worth it. It was disgustingly delicious.
In the top of the 9th inning, I moved near the Rockies’ dugout:
After the final out of the Pirates’ 2-1 win, I got my seventh and final ball from Boone Logan (or “Blogan” as Ben Weil and I like to call him.) Here I am reaching out for the catch:
Here I am *not* getting to play catch on the field after the game:
I’m not sure why those people got to do that — probably a season ticket holder perk, but hey, I once got to take BP on the field there, so whatever.
Brandon and I had initially planned to drive to New York right after the game and hit up Citi Field the following afternoon, but the forecast was bad, and we were tired, so we scrapped it and spent the night in Pittsburgh. Then he flew back home to San Diego and I made the six-hour drive on my own.
As for the video, Brandon is still editing it, so keep an eye on my YouTube channel. I plan to upload it there when it’s ready, and I’ll also add a link to this entry.
Click here to see the video.
• 248 balls in 29 games this season= 8.55 balls per game.
• 46 balls in 7 lifetime games at PNC Park = 6.57 balls per game.
• 1,195 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 8,881 total balls
My fundraiser for Pitch In For Baseball is now in its eighth season. Once again, people are pledging money for every home run ball that I snag during games. Here’s some info about the fundraiser, and if you donate, you’ll be eligible to win one of these prizes.
• 10 donors for my fundraiser
• $82.77 pledged per game home run ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $324.08 raised this season
• $190,834.74 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009