5/20/16 at PNC Park

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 . . .

1_driving_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:

2_robbie_sacunas_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!

3_insane_sandwich_at_primanti_bros

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:

4_locks_on_bridge_to_pnc_park

Cute.

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:

5_playing_catch_on_the_bridge

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:

6_crowded_in_left_field_05_20_16

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:

7_zack_catching_ball8875

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:

8_erik_jabs_using_his_ball_retriever

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:

9_zack_astounded

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:

10_zack_cup_trick_for_ball8876

Here I am with the ball and cup:

11_zack_showing_cup_trick_and_ball8876

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:

12_cup_trick_for_ball8877

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:

13_crowded_in_right_center_field

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:

14_zack_snagging_ball8878

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:

15_zack_in_right_field_05_20_16

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:

16_zack_getting_ball8879

Less than a minute later, Rene Lachemann tossed me another . . .

17_zack_getting_ball8880

. . . 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:

18_view_from_upper_deck_after_bp

Then we headed back downstairs and checked out some interesting nooks and crannies:

19_zack_in_cool_sunken_walkway

Just before game time, we got a close look at Pirates starter Gerrit Cole:

20_gerrit_cole_walking_past

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:

21_view_from_right_center_during_game

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:

22_ted_and_zack

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:

23_view_from_spiral_ramp

I didn’t take that photo. Brandon took it from his perch on the spiral ramp. This was my view of him from below:

24_brandon_filming_from_above

And look! This was his view of me from above:

25_zack_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:

26_hot_dog_with_mac_and_cheese_and_cracker_jacks_and_caramel_sauce

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:

27_view_in_9th_inning_05_20_16

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:

28_zack_getting_ball8881

Here I am *not* getting to play catch on the field after the game:

29_fans_playing_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.

***UPDATE***
Click here to see the video.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

30_the_five_balls_i_kept_05_20_16 7 baseballs at this game (five pictured here because I gave two away)

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

CHARITY STATS:

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

28 comments

  1. iliberman5

    Hey Zack! Great entry. Keep up the great ballhawking! Hopefully I get a chance to meet you at Nats Park sometime this season! (Even if you have a not so great past with that stadium)

  2. Ian

    Hey Zack. Can you explain the gate situation with PNC Park. I know Clemente gates open 2 in a half hours early but does that me entry to the left field seat or what? What does it give you access to?

  3. jarrett

    Hi Zack, I was wondering if you will be attending any of the All-Star events in San Doego this year.

  4. raytheaustralian

    PNC Park looks like a great stadium, I love the ballparks that are next to the water like that. Those food pics do look disgustingly attractive. Those locks on the fence are a real European way of displaying your love for someone. In Italy they are a nuisance. The Ponte Vecchio in Florence is covered with them. The authorities hate it so they better nip that fad in the bud right now. We see them in Australia but nothing like overseas. What size glove are you using now ? Looks like an outfielders mitt. Time for a break after this road-trip is over. Keep the posts coming though.

  5. Tyler

    How do you make a cup trick?Also, going to the all star game and home run derby this year

  6. Zack Hample

    ILIBERMAN5-
    Thanks for reading! You’re right about Nats Park being a rough place for me, but I do hope to make it back soon-ish.

    IAN-
    Everyone can get in the gate then, but only season ticket holders can get into the LF bleachers for the first hour.

    JARRETT-
    I hope so, but I’m still not sure.

    RAY THE AUSTRALIAN-
    I had no idea about the locks being a love/European thing. Interesting! I’ve been using a Wilson infielder’s glove lately. It’s been working great, but it’s tougher to use for the glove trick. Of course that’s not an issue in NYC where devices are banned.

    TYLER-
    The cup has to be barely smaller than the ball and weighted. Have fun at the ASG and Derby — maybe I’ll see you there.

  7. Danny Hoss

    So Zack, does that mean that regular tickets can’t get in till an hour and a half before game time? When does the Pirates BP start? I am amazed at how you have caught so many balls, any PNC Park tips?

  8. Zack Hample

    ETHAN-
    It’s not regular season, but I still try to attend every year.

    DANNY HOSS-
    Correct about regular tickets. I believe you can enter the gates early but not actually go into the seating areas. Home teams usually start BP about 2.5 hours before game time. And what? You’re asking for PNC tips on a blog entry about . . . PNC?

  9. Brian

    Hey Zack! My name is Brian and I just want to say your a pro! I really would like to learn some of your tricks,but my chances are slim. Your so cool and if you see this please respond on a comment on my YouTube channel Brian Halvorson. I just want to see your tricks and maybe one day I’ll have 8,000 + balls 😄. So hopefully you respond and be that 1% of people who care. See ya

  10. Eddie

    Hi Zack! I truly enjoy reading your blog and watching your YouTube videos. I find your tips very helpful. Anyway, I was just wondering when bp at PNC park typically wraps up. I’m visiting there soon.

  11. Zack Hample

    BRIAN-
    I definitely care, but sometimes I get VERY busy and don’t see every comment, email, tweet, etc. Thanks for watching my videos and I wish you the best of luck getting 8,000 balls.

    EDDIE-
    Batting practice at every stadium typically ends 45 to 60 minutes before game time.

  12. Linda J. Rodenbeck

    Thanks for the visit to PNC.How do you know who hit or tossed a ball to you?

  13. Zack Hample

    LINDA-
    I can recognize some batters from 400 feet away, but not all. With Mercer, I wasn’t sure so some of the local fans ID’ed him for me. As for thrown balls, usually I recognize faces but sometimes I have no idea who guys are.

    D-
    Thanks! The hot . . . dog? It was incredible.

  14. dylan cumming

    hey zack, I’m visiting pnc this weekend and I was wondering when I can get in the stadium at a 7:05 game? unfortunately I do not have season tickets.

  15. DYLAN Cumming

    No problem zack, I got 3 homers in bp despite the pirates not taking bp. and got autographs from trea turner and Steven drew so not too bad.

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