April 2012

A Pirate for Life Book Review

Despite being quite the storyteller, former Pittsburgh Pirate Steve Blass never put pen to paper when it came to writing a book.

Surprisingly Blass was very apprehensive in writing a book. It wasn’t until Tim Neverett joined the Pirates broadcasting team (of which Blass has been a part of for 26 years) that Blass even considered writing the book. It was when co-author Erik Sherman met another Pirates broadcaster Greg Brown in the fall of 2010. Sherman, who previously wrote a book on Glenn Burke was suggested by Brown to make Blass the subject of his next book. It was only when Blass was told that he would be a co-author and it would be an autobiography when he decided that he wanted to take the project on.

Many people realize Blass for leaping into the arms of Manny Sanguillen after winning the 1979 World Series, however more seem to recognize him for his sudden fall from grace which is now known as “Steve Blass Disease”.

This was what made the book so hard to write as Blass and his wife Karen would have to relive that difficult period in their lives.

You have to give Blass credit by starting his book “A Pirate For Life” by tackling the issue. Chapter one is the longest chapter in the book and called “They Named a Disease After Me” and discusses Blass’s sudden fall from grace. The way he tells the story really makes you feel like you are there, and many of Blass’s stories are that way. While the chapter was about a tough time in Blass’s life, he did mention numerous times that Pirates fans supported him, and of course Blass displayed his usual sense of humor, which is bound to make every Pirate fan laugh.

I have to be honest, that I did not quite know what to expect from Blass’s book but I knew that it would be a great story because that’s just how Blass is.

The book does go into great detail about Blass’s relationship with “The Great One” Roberto Clemente and how he had to give the speech at his funeral. That chapter “The Clemente Mystique” personally was my favorite chapter in the book and it showed Clemente’s progression and how his personality transformed. Blass’s anecdote about being on a plane with Clemente shortly after winning the 1971 World Series was touching. When Clemente said, “Blass, come here. Let me embrace you”, you felt the warmth and how the two had developed a great respect and friendship.

Blass also handled a very tough subject in his relationship with his wife Karen. It was great to see Blass admit his flaws and how he changed in order to stay with her. Love was an underlying theme whether it was the brotherhood of all of his teammates or his wife, and both were featured throughout the book.

Blass also discusses his post-playing days and what he did before becoming a broadcaster which was interesting. He also discussed the call fans have asked him about which was Pedro Alvarez’s walkoff home run to defeat the Colorado Rockies in 2010 where he went absolutely nuts.

The book is an absolute must for any Pirates fan, but comes with a warning. There is a lot of profanity in this book, however in this instance it makes the story flow and is more natural. It also makes the story much more genuine.

Blass has always been a very personable guy and makes time for the fans.

The book is a great read, and covers tons of stories in the voice of Steve Blass which is worth the money itself.

Review: 5/5

Basic Info:

A Pirate for Life by Steve Blass with Erik Sherman
Triumph Books
256 pages
Will be released May 1, 2012
List price: $25.95
Amazon price: $15.44

This is the cover of the book due out May 1st.

The Rotation book review

I am going to take a one post break from the Pirates and talk about the cross state rival Philadelphia Phillies. Yes they are not meeting expectations, but with big bats Ryan Howard and Chase Utley out of the line up, it is hard to compete offensively. Opposing pitchers do not fear them any more and their 4-5 record puts them in fourth place in the NL East.

Speaking of pitching, I read an interesting book involving the Phillies pitching. The Rotation was written by Phillies beat writers Jim Salisbury and Todd Zolecki and published this year. It discusses the Phillies pitching rotation during the 2011 season which featured Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt and was considered one of the best pitching staffs of all-time.

Most of the book is spent looking at these starters and how they came to the Phillies and it was interesting how Halladay and Lee wanted to be together as soon as they heard that it was a possibility. The book goes into great detail about how the Phillies upset Lee and his wife, and how if the Phillies did not act fast in signing him that he was going to re-sign with the Texas Rangers. The book’s details made you feel like the Phillies may not be able to sign Lee even though you knew what the end result would be.

The book also discusses Joe Blanton’s season as well as the rise of Vance Worley, although because the book was ultimately not about them, their coverage was minimized and it was a shame, especially with Worley, who had such an unexpected and successful season.

Another thing I did not like was its length. The book was only 256 pages. Yes, the type was small, but I expected to have more detail on each month. I felt the writers were so absorbed in letting you know these pitchers that there was not as much there in terms of games. Faithful by Stephen King and Stewart O’Nan did a great job of mixing off-season activity with the games. While the off-season was important, so were the games. Yes there were interesting tidbits on gameday routines from the starters, specifically Roy Halladay, the book solely focused on that instead of the team having the most wins in franchise history, which was a missed opportunity.

The interviews the writers did were great, and you can tell they spent a lot of time talking to the players and coaches in preparation for this book. The humor in this book was sneaky at times sometimes even subtle, but it was funny.

Reviewing this book, I will give it high marks and I think it is great reading. I love getting the inside look at teams, and honestly I did not even know this book was out until I bought it at Barnes and Noble. It is worth your time Pirates fan, Phillies fan, baseball fan or even sports fan.

4 out of 5.

The Rotation
Jim Salisbury and Todd Zolecki
256 pages
List Price: $15 [paperback]
Amazon price: $10.20

Front Cover of the book.

Core workout plan

I have been working very hard to stay in shape both through the off-season as well as during the regular season.

I do a variety of workouts and have two trainers. One meets with me once a week to do a workout, while to other helps me with lifting twice a week. Soon, I will try to get photos of one of those workouts.

Since I showed you all my ballpark routine, that I frequently use, so I brought my friend Colston to the Point Park Student Center, the gym at Point Park University, and my gym of choice (free to Point Park Students) to take images of some of my workout, and to show him how hard I worked. As a note, I do all of these exercises once before doing them all twice more.

I do each of these core workouts three times and the medicine ball you see is 12 pounds, and the heaviest at Point Park. I do 20 side by sides with each set with the medicine ball. This is turning my body/the ball left and right and having the ball touch the ground.

20 sit ups three sets with the 12 lb medicine ball.

Bicycle kicks, three times for 30 seconds.

Holding onto the medicine ball for 20-30 seconds leaning slowly back and then coming back up for 20-30 seconds.

Switching off between planking and pushups 20 times for three sets.

Continuing planking/pushups.

Core workout over but I decided to add 20 burpees.

Yes this isn't core at this point, but it was the last thing and I already did the other exercise I normally close with that day. This was my second workout on the day this was shot.

Pirates vs Phillies 4/8/12 PNC Park

“Gates are opening at 11:30 Sundays from now on.”

I should have known right then and there that Sundays were going to suck. In previous years, the gates opened at 11 AM for a 1:35 PM Sunday game. Just the Riverwalk would be open and no gates would be open for 1/2 an hour later. That would hold true and as expected there was no season ticket holder time, and we would be confined to the Riverwalk until noon, which essentially defeats the purpose of going to Sunday games.

Let’s rewind the tape a little bit here. I was first in line, and for 15 tosses caught with Baseball Joe who then randomly cut me off. I was looking forward to a long throwing session, so I was disappointed when it was cut short. Essentially it meant that I had to stretch much longer, which is not nearly as much fun.

Bag ready and first in line at the centerfield gate.

Erik and Nick did show up and came up with the same conclusion that Sundays are crap shoots and not really worth the time.

When noon finally did came, I decided to try right field when it became apparent that I would not be the first one in center for the two Easter Eggs there. I was a little too low for an Easter Egg, and was prepared to head down to center. I was in 142, and that entrance was not opened, and that ended up being a blessing in disguise.

A ball rolled to the wall, and Phillies reliever Mike Stutes went to the wall. I unfortunately did have my Phillies gear on at this point, and I figured he would not remember me from having to watch his glove the day before due to the gear. I guessed I figured right, because when I asked him for the ball, he said, “sure”.

I was prepared for the tossup, but forgot that I was in right field. Things are much tougher ballhawking wise there, and to make things even tougher, Stutes turned his back to me and did an over the shoulder toss. This put to risk the direction of the ball, distance, etc… The ball was slightly left of target, and I was having difficulties tracking it. I also quickly realized that a gloved kid was right behind me, which meant if I misplayed it, the kid would almost certainly get the ball. Fortunately, at the last moment, I found it and placed the glove in the right spot for ball #1. Thanks Mike!

Phillies reliever Mike Stutes. He let me watch/hold his glove and tossed me up a baseball the next day. Has a great Twitter presence as well.

BP was essentially a waste so I tried center and figured it wasn’t worth it. First base yielded no luck, but I figured I would try the dugout again. In an even stranger turn of events, the Phillies fans were nice once again to me, perhaps thinking I was one of them (you fools!) and let me into the front row, right at the steps area where all of the players would run down. I knew from Saturday that no one major would sign, and I wanted to try my luck at another baseball.

Phillies BP ended 10 minutes later, and of course Laynce Nix was the only one who signed autographs.

Then Third Base Coach Juan Samuel was putting the baseballs back in the Phillies bags. I asked him for a baseball in Spanish and he didn’t hear me. I did not panic, and a baseball fell from the bag far enough that I tried again. I asked again for a baseball in Spanish (so glad that I knew he was born in the Dominican Republic). He looked up saw me and it was another over the shoulder toss. It was his only toss and I caught it for ball #2.

Muchas gracias Juan!

That was it for BP, and I of course went to my spot by the bullpen where I again got exactly where I wanted.

From there I saw both team’s lineups and I got very excited.

April 8th Pirates starting lineup

Juan Pierre is starting. YES!!!

I did get to talked to Herbie Andrade and Euky Rojas as always, which is a treat.

I got to see the reliever file in as always and that was fun. I just had a feeling about this game after that walk off, and decided to stay for the duration of the game. Call me crazy, but I ended up right.

Another favorite part of being by the bullpen is watching that day/night’s starters warm up. I can immediately see either by their expression or by my judgment how they will fare in the game minutes later. Here are today’s starters.

James McDonald gets his warm up tosses in.

Vance Worley warms up for the Phillies in preparation for his April 8th start.

Snagging wise, I ended up with two more baseballs. The first was from Herbie Andrade. It was not intended for me, but rather for a little kid. The kid dropped it, and immediately I played hero, stopping the ball and giving it to the kid. Hey ball #3 for me which is great. Herbie gave me a thumbs up, and Euclides Rojas disappeared for a minute and tossed up a baseball of my own for ball #4, which was awesome.

As for the game, the Phillies scored in the first inning again, but the Pirates finally showed offense, their best offensive effort thus far in the season (… yeah not saying much).

David Herndon came in the ninth game with a 4-4 score and the Pirates got that lead off double again. Jose Tabata nearly blew the whole thing once again, but it was Andrew McCutchen who came through with a walkoff single off the centerfield wall and well over the head of buddy Shane Victorino. This meant the Pirates were 2-1 and had won a series against the Phillies in dramatic fashion.

Andrew McCutchen is interviewed on the field just moments after the walkoff win April 8th.

My next game is tentatively scheduled for a week from today, May 20 vs the St. Louis Cardinals. I had a nice throwing session today for 40 minutes. I was moving well, my arm felt great, I threw at least 200 times and my glove was not too bad. I also increased my velocity today and had no issues which was great, especially since my velocity and arm felt the same from start to finish.

Between now and Thursday, I hope to get three blog posts up. I have to blog about my core workouts and will review two books that I read, one of which has not even been released yet.

Until then, Let’s Go Bucs!

Pirates vs Phillies 4/7/12 PNC Park

Saturdays were always good to me last year, as evidenced by my average of five baseballs a game on Saturdays. It was Passover, but with my numbers, I could not turn down attending this game. I decided to leave after the top half of the first inning, to appease my parents.

I arrived at the gate around 3:25 and was ready for what I hoped to be a good day. Erik and Nick had already been to Cleveland that day for BP and all three of us went over to the grassy area to throw around.

It was a great session, and I felt ready to go into the gates and have another great day. The mixture of pop ups, straight throwing, grounders and pitching boot camp that is the Saturday throwing session is a great way to see where you are at on the day.

Preparing for Saturday's gate opening. Photo by Randy Page

Photo by Randy Page

Starting my throw motion. Photo by Randy Page

Getting ready to make another catch in warm ups. Photo by Randy Page.

When the gates did open, I searched for Easter Eggs in left field and came up empty. I decided quickly to go to the first base side and I was pleased that the speed I had last season was still there as I was a little concerned that the lifting I have done in weeks would harm my speed.

When I went to first base, I was surprised to see a white speck. Upon close inspection, it was a baseball and I picked it up for ball #1 on the day.

I then saw a Phillies player on the field, and was surprised to see that it was Juan Pierre. I have long looked up to Juan and he is one of my favorite MLB players because he resembles me perfectly. He is an underdog, a leader, a fast runner and a singles hitter.

He essentially was just standing there, and I saw that he had a baseball, so I knew that two of my wishes could have come true.

Erik later asked who I was talking for as long as I was and he seemed surprised when I told him.

In short, Juan and I talked for 10 minutes and he was outside because he was getting ready for warm ups. He wanted to be outside since he is stuck in the clubhouse for such a long period of time. I had him sign a baseball, one I will keep and not sell for charity.

Juan Pierre signed this baseball for me that Tony Watson had just thrown me. You can tell that he is a religious man and I respect that a lot.

During this conversation, Tony Watson fielded a baseball and nodded to me, his way of asking me if I wanted it. I nodded and ball #2 was in my glove. Thanks Tony!

I did get to tell Juan about my charity and when I told him that every baseball counted, he tossed me the ball in his hand for ball #3, but he did ask for it back when he went to stretch which was fine.

Juan was a great guy, and we posed for a picture before he left. It already is one of my favorite pictures, and I think even more highly of him than I did before.

Phillies outfielder and all around great person Juan Pierre poses with me for a photo.

There was a lot of downtime after that, as the Phillies relievers stretched and of course with no overthrows, and no toss ups, I was standing still until I saw future Hall of Famer Jim Thome signing autographs. Thome has hit over 600 home runs putting him in the top 10 all time in homers hit and he is still playing in his early 40′s. I had Thome sign a First Pitch Program.

Phillies first baseman and future Hall of Famer Jim Thome signed this First Pitch Program. The program is currently up for bids with 100% of the proceeds going to The Children's Institute. Please comment on this entry if you have a bid.

Another highlight of my day involves Philadelphia Phillies reliever Mike Stutes. He asked me to watch his glove, which I did while he warmed up on the field before BP. I still did get my picture taken with the glove in its place.

I even got to hand it to him which was pretty cool. He thanked me and I told him I did not want to get Tulowitzki’d. That recent prank could have happened to me if I wasn’t careful. Here is that video:

Phillies BP then began, and there was a loose ball close to where I was standing. I did not have a glove trick and thus could not reach it. Who would come to the rescue? It was Phillies Strength and Conditioning Coach Dong Lien. Yes that name is right, and his name is not on the Phillies Coaching Roster. He was decent with tossing three balls to fans towards the end of BP, so I knew it was worth a try. Lien, threw the first two balls, both further away in and then came closer to me as the ball was close by.

“Could I please have that ball, it’s for charity,” I said.

“What charity,” Lien asked.

“The Children’s Institute,” I replied.

Right after I said children, I saw him toss me ball #4. I would thank him by name, but I think that WordPress wouldn’t be too happy about that, so I will thank him again in this way.

Dong Lien, Phillies Strength and Conditioning Coach

A couple of minutes later, a ball was hit just enough to get in the grassy area and close by where I was standing. I waited there and plotted my move. Soon enough, Thome was jogging back in to take his cuts. I was able to get his attention and his toss was like he was fielding a grounder and I was the pitcher running over. He underhanded it a little short, so I reached over and made the clean catch. It drew a nod from him, I thanked him and he was off. It was surreal to have him toss me a ball, especially since I was in my Pirates gear the entire time.

I then saw Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon signing autographs and I went over with the second Pirates First Pitch Program I had and had him sign it.

This Pirates First Pitch Program autographed by Phillies Closer Jonathan Papelbon is up for auction. Feel free to comment to this post if you are willing to bid on it. 100% of proceeds go to The Children's Institute.

Jonathan Papelbon signing autographs at the April 7th Pirates vs Phillies game.

I decided to stay by the dugout towards the end of BP and came up empty handed and thus ending BP with five. I was fine with that on this day.

I then paid my weekly $5 for the Pirates Charities raffle and then headed to the bullpen to get a good place to watch the action. I got exactly the spot I wanted as I wanted to talk to Herbie Andrade and Euclides Rojas for the first time this season.

When they did show up, they both remembered me and they both lit up with smiles. They both said that they had great off-seasons and asked how mine was, which was nice.

With the re-introductions out of the way, I was excited to see both Cliff Lee and Jeff Karstens warmed up.

Phillies Pitcher Cliff Lee warms up on April 7, 2012

Jeff Karstens starts his warm ups on April 7th vs the Philadelphia Phillies.

Karstens had a hiccup in the first inning allowing a run, but the Pirates were able to get it back for him to tie the game at one. The Pirates offense again was dormant, but they were able to have a successful ninth inning which started with a Rod Barajas tape measure double.

On the Root Sports Postgame show, former Pirate Kent Tekulve showed how close Barajas was to a homer, and the picture was rather funny actually.

The game ended on an Alex Presley infield single which brought the crowd to its feet and gave the Pirates their first win on the season. The atmosphere was electric and it was the second consecutive sellout.

Pirates celebrate after Alex Presley bats in the winning run. Photo by Randy Page

The third and final game of the series and homestand was the next day and it was Kids Day. I decided to take the risk and attend this game. Little did I know how much of a risk this would be and that my streak of games with a baseball was in serious jeopardy. How would I respond? You will have to read the next entry to find out.

Pirates vs Phillies 4/5/12 PNC Park Opening Day!

For me at least, Opening Day is a national holiday. Pirate fans come together once a year to celebrate this team and the start of the baseball season, and every baseball hangover is instantly cured.

I was at the gates around 10:00 for what was going to be an exciting day. The first thing I did was take a nice run from the Clemente Gate to home plate, which was a decent run. There, I ran into Randi Hoffman, who along with Joe Klimchak does interviews for the Pirates to place on their website and apparently Xfinity On Demand.

The interview itself was about Opening Day, and what it meant to me. I recalled my experience from two or three years ago when I was in the Lexus Club and saw Zach Duke put his fist in the air after beating the Astros. That was the year of the whole Stanton Heights police shootings, so it was a very emotional day.

With that I jogged back to the Clemente Gate.

Throughout the time before the gates opened, I saw Bob Nutting, Frank Coonelly and Neal Huntington greeting the fans as they were coming to the ballpark.

I was told that the gates were going to open at 11:30, so myself, Nick Pelescak and Erik Jabs all threw on the Clemente Bridge. This was my first test on the season, and by all reports I passed. My glove work was great and I did not have any of my wild throws. Erik cut the session short when he saw the ticket takers getting ready.

I was surprised because it was 10:49. Would we get in early? Well according to one of the ticket takers, we were getting in at 11. This made me very excited because the chance to see some of Pirates BP was exciting, and the chance of me getting a baseball is that much better.

There was one problem, and that was that the bag checkers and security were not at the gate.

Well 11:00 came and went and so did 11:10 and no sign of the security guards. All of a sudden, someone appeared around 11:15 and all of the Pirates employees huddled up (seriously, this isn’t football).

The ticket taker immediately changed his story then, and at 11:30 the gate was to be opened.

Even worse news was that it wasn’t just the Clemente Gate that would open at 11:30, it was all gates. Things just got a lot harder.

Of course, this was the case and for non-7:05 games, there will not be any season ticket holder time. Things are already tough enough with the grounds crew ruining time of BP to prepare a field that is already ready, and tarping the field even for a small rain shower.

Here is the official word from the Pirates website:

The 2012 PNC Park gate times are as follows:

“For Monday through Friday night games, Season Ticket Holders may enter the ballpark and proceed to the Left Field Bleachers 2 hours and 30 minutes prior to game time.
On Saturday night games, Season Ticket Holders are permitted to enter into the Left Field Bleachers and main concourse 2 hours and 30 minutes prior to game time.
Early access is granted by entering through the Clemente (CF) Riverwalk Gate, and proceeding to the bullpen gates where season ticket holders can then show their Season Ticket Holder card or have their season ticket scanned.
Season Ticket Holder early entry is not available on day games (12:35pm, 1:35pm and 4:05pm).”

Oh well, sometimes you win and sometimes you lose.

The Clemente Gate line was split into a Y with the line going two ways (??). I did search for Easter Eggs, but found nothing, and I knew that things were going to go bad from there.

Upon coming into the ballpark, I saw red, which meant that the Pirates were done with BP already. There of course were no Easter Eggs in left field, because Manny Sanguillen’s grandson snuck into left field and pocketed the five baseballs that were in there. Yes that is a fact as myself and several others saw him leave “Manny’s BBQ” and go into the seats, which is not allowed.

It felt wrong to wear Phillies gear, but really what choice did I have? Things were tough, and I could not get near a batted ball.

Joe Savery was in left field and he was not tossing anything up, which stunk.

I decided to relocate to center field and first base during BP and center yielded nothing for me, so I went back over to first base. Luckily Kyle Kendrick was there, and he tossed me a baseball. I guess I can say, Kyle you got Punk’d again.

Ball number one on the day and six on the season, crisis and shutout averted.

Despite me going to the dugout after BP, I was unable to snag anything else until I went over to the bullpen.

In the top of the first, my buddy bullpen catcher Herbie Andrade threw a baseball that a kid misplayed and I saved for ball #2 on the day. I immediately gave it to the kid, whose mother made him come over and thank me.

I then left to sit in my season ticket section (312). My dad was in his seat so, Colston and I stayed until the bottom of the seventh inning was over so that we could beat the traffic.

The game itself was a great pitching battle between Roy Halladay and Erik Bedard.

Both pitchers looked great warming up and seemed in their element, something that would carry into the game.

It was surreal to see the first pitch, because that is when it hits you that the 2012 season is underway.

Erik Bedard throws the first pitch of the 2012 Pittsburgh Pirates baseball season.

The difference in the game was a Carlos Ruiz sacrifice fly. Right fielder Jose Tabata’s throw to catcher Rod Barajas was too high and Ty Wigginton scored the winning run in a 1-0 game.

Yes the Pirates ran into a great pitcher who has won 39 games over the past two seasons, however the Pirates offense still looked unprepared and mediocre at best. This will have to change if this team wants to become winners this season.

The Pirates had Friday off, so my next game was Saturday? Would I continue my strong start on the day where I averaged five baseballs a game last season, or would I choke? I guess you’ll have to find out soon. Thanks as always for reading.

As an added bonus, here are some extra pictures from the game:

Roy Halladay warms up for the game. Halladay has won 39 games in the past two seasons.

The Pirates would use this lineup on Opening Day.

The place where I stand almost every game. In the background are the centerfield gates I go throw every game I attend.

Ironic that these were the flavor of my crackers and I found Pirates relief pitcher Jason Grilli, who uses that as a nickname. Assist to Ian Weir for taking the picture.

So it begins: Pittsburgh Pirates Workout Day 2012

Today marked the unofficial start of the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball season as the Pirates decided to make their workout, the day before the home opener, open to the public. This was a great idea to raise the excitement levels for the fans and even make some money off of the concessions.

The only thing that ruined this good time was the Phillies who decided that they did not want the fans to see them hit. Erik Jabs decided to count his snags and although I was initially apprehensive, I opted to count mine as well.

I went to this event with my friends Andrew and Colston. We lined up by the Highmark Legacy Square entrance around 1:45 as that was the only gate that would be open for fans to get in come 2:30.

The three of us ran into some familiar faces which was great. We then all played a game of catch and I threw nice and easy. I was encouraged for the most part with the session and then got back to my position as first in line.

A short while later, my backpack was checked and we got to go in at 2:20, 10 minutes early. A couple of beer bellied fans raced ahead of me. I knew to save my energy as they raced off for the first base line. I ws carefree and knew I would be first into left field. I knew that Erik and Nick Pelescak would not be at the ballpark yet and I was on the clock. I would have to take advantage.

I was surprised to see some of the Pirates taking early cuts. From where I was standing Manager Clint Hurdle and 1st Base Coach Luis Silverio were in the outfield. A Pirate hit a hopper that traveled close to the wall and Hurdle had a glove and was getting it.

“Clint, may I please have that ball,” I said.

“It’s early BP, we don’t throw any of the balls up,” Clint said in his usual booming voice.

“O.K. I understand. Thanks for responding,” I replied.

“You know what? What the heck,” Hurdle said before tossing me ball #1 on the season. This was the first baseball a fan received at PNC Park this season. That was an awesome feeling. Thanks so much Clint!

With that done, I knew the relievers would be coming out very soon. I had already searched, and there were no easter eggs and when nothing was being hit out to me during early BP, I retreated to the third base side so that I would get a good chance for a toss up from a reliever. On my way up I ran into in-game host for the Pirates Joe Klimchak and we did a great handshake and man hug before I continued running.

Slowly the relievers all trickled out as well as Erik Bedard and Jeff Karstens. At this point, I had said another hello and then my buddy reliever Evan Meek came over and made a point to say hello and ask how I was doing. He is looking much thinner and may be in the best shape of his playing career. I am amazed at how healthy he looks.

The relievers then got ready to throw. Jason Grilli stopped once through his delivery to talk to me. As you may remember, he called me this off-season to discuss his business venture. He remembered my name and we talked for a little while he threw. We even were joking around with each other, and when I called him “J Grills”, we both laughed. Meek and Grilli threw together and when they were done, I asked Jason for the ball, which he tossed for ball #2. My goal for the day was three so I was one step closer to accomplishing that.

Jason Grilli tosses up a baseball during BP. Photo courtesy of Kayla Thompson

After the relievers were done throwing, they took part in a few drills and got their running in.

While they did this, I went up to Pops Plaza where I got a free Pirates shirt. It was a decent shirt, better than a lot of their t-shirt Friday shirts and frankly was just nice and simple. It was smart too because the shirt allowed them to promote the Pirates twitter account.

Finally, after what felt like an eternity, the screen came out, and BP started for the Pirates.

There was no competition at first base, so I went over there as it worked wonders for me last year. At this point, Erik and Nick were in left field, I decided to stay on the first baseline as there were maybe a handful of people.

I was rewarded fairly quickly, as Rod Barajas was in the first group of Pirates taking cuts. Barajas hit a cutting liner that I was able to field and catch for ball #3. Considering I have made it a goal to catch more batted balls this season, this was a huge confidence booster and a step in the right direction for sure.

Ball #4 came shortly after as Jose Tabata hit a bouncer which ended up in the seats and I scooped it up. Short, sweet and to the point.

Neil Walker and Pedro Alvarez were over there when I made those plays and sure enough I figured I would have a chance to get another ball from over there so I stayed. Relievers Tony Watson and new Pirate Juan Cruz came over and I focused immediately on Juan.

It took a while since Watson was getting the balls, but when Cruz got a ball and was in earshot, I asked in Spanish. He looked at me and paused before throwing the baseball back in. Perhaps it was because Pitching Coach Ray Searage was close by, but I had succeeded and I knew he had heard me. I knew that if I continued to get in his head, he would have no choice but to throw it to me.

Sure enough a ball comes close to me and Cruz had not gotten back into position so I knew this was my chance. I asked again in Spanish and a random lady asked right after in English.

“He asked first,” Cruz said before throwing ball #5 my way. This was awesome and I knew that I had well exceeded my goal of three baseballs at that point. Muchas gracias Juan.

I then waited for the next set of hitters, and knowing that I would not get anymore toss ups, I was hoping for a baseball to get hit my way, but that would not happen. I moved to left field and essentially nothing happened so no luck for me.

I ended up with 5 baseballs on the BP which was good enough for tops on the day. It is a great feeling to know that I did a good job today. I have worked really hard towards the last few weeks of this off-season to get into shape and my stamina is up and my strength is up a little more. My confidence is also up by a lot as well. I only wish that I could have seen Phillies BP, I likely could have received a few more baseballs.

Still, five baseballs is a great way to start the season, and with clear skies tomorrow and the Pirates taking BP tomorrow I can only hope for some easter eggs and maybe a ball or two. Should be a fun day.

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