PNC Park Field Days 2012

Have you ever wanted to feel like a Major League player? Well the Pirates try to give their season ticket holders an idea of that experience with their field days.

Each year fans get to hit on the field, snag fly balls and throw on the very field the Pirates use for 81 games a season.

I have done this for three years now and again if I have my way this sadly will be the last time.

Of course I brought my friend Colston as always to the event.

From about a month before the event, I stepped up my workouts as I had a specific goal in mind – get the ball out of the infield on the fly. Last year, I hit a couple or so grounders out of the infield, but that was not good enough.

I had a nice lifting session right before heading down. We headed down with caution though as we hit on Friday, the day there was a hostage situation right by my Point Park campus. I was right on campus and very close to this. The area was mostly closed off. I will spare you the details and give you the link if you want to find out more:

http://www.wtae.com/news/local/allegheny/Gateway-Center-hostage-situation-ends-peacefully-in-downtown-Pittsburgh/-/10927008/16687840/-/4517giz/-/index.html

I was okay and safe the whole time, although the Point Park gym had both TV’s in the room I mainly worked out in tuned in for coverage on it.

Once I was done with my workout, I met with Colston and headed straight down to the ballpark.

Upon getting to the ballpark, I saw that fellow ballhawks Ian and Rick would be at the session as well which was great.

Rick and Ian would start out throwing in left which meant they hit last. I would field the fly balls in right field which meant my group hit second.

Last year even while sick the flyball machine was a piece of cake. This year it actually was a challenge and I struggled with a couple of them.

It was then off to the hitting. I had done a lot of promising and now it was time to put up or shutup.

Looking back at the video, I can see how bad my stance was and it usually is never that bad but here is the video to show you if I made my goal.

In short I made it despite a really messed up swing. Still the video is worth watching and I was pleased to reach my goal.

Colston had his struggles in the cages missing everything but it’s tough when the pitches were all over the place.

I then went into left field to throw with Colston. When it finally got to the jumping the fence to rob the balls, I got the first one but then Colston severly misfired and that was the end of that ball. Oh well.

I then played shallowish left and of course my first throw to where the balls are usually thrown was too strong [whoops I guess I lifted too much].

My one regret is not playing much deeper left. A season ticket holder hit a deep fly ball that just cleared the fence. I could have easily brought that back. Oh well, congrats to him.

Also Ian missed everything in my session and Rick’s power looked like Jose Tabata’s BP, then again Tabata is [somehow] a major leaguer, so there’s that. They would hit again in the next two hour session.

After all was said and done, everyone then went up for lunch, and I had a hamburger, ice cream and some chips while talking to Ian, Rick and Baseball Joe.

It was a great time, although I wish the Pirates had brought back the former players to interact with the fans.

Also in case you wanted to know, the baseballs were training balls, [whether or not they were from the Washington Nationals is anybody's guess]. Training balls are much harder to hit.

Still the positives outweighed the negatives and it was fun.

Pirates vs Milwaukee Brewers 9/19 & 9/20

9/19

You never know what to expect from the Brewers but after another 10 days or so, I knew what to expect from the Pirates. Another lackluster BP.

Still I was three snags away from reaching my goal for the season.

I started out in center field and after about 10 minutes got one of the friendliest players Livan Hernandez to throw me a ball by asking in Spanish. Two Pirates fans were halfway over in front row and watched in shock as I put the finishing touches on my first snag of the day. Muchas gracias Livan!

I then searched for an empty area and ran over to the hot corner, third base by the tunnel to play grounders that could bounce over. I knew my speed could get to a ball before anyone.

I saw a yinzer fan in the front with a red coat on guarding the front spot with a glove, but knew he had no ability so I stood my ground, one section over and waited.

Another 10 minutes later, an unidentified Brewers batter hit a ball. It was not going to get to my section but I knew the man had no shot. The ball bounced over the man and into the tunnel. I recklessly hoped over the baracade and sprinted thru the tunnel while the guy was still trying to react. I picked up the ball easily and came out of the tunnel indifferent just as the man was walking in. No competition. Ball #2. Wish it was always that easy.

That would be it for BP so I set up shop by the bullpen. Kyle McPherson was making his first PNC Park start and after he finished warming up, he tossed me up ball #3 to end my night. Thanks Kyle!

9/20

Just one ball in this game, a Euclides Rojas toss up. I came late due to school and PNC Park’s stupid gate opening rule for afternoon games. I mean who lets their fans in for half an hour and then assentially puts them on house arrest by confining them to the riverwalk for 1/2 an hour. You open everything, you may have an increased profit [aka $].

So the fans were not even able to come in for an abbreviated Pirates BP and then the Brewers cut their session very short to add to the fact that their pitchers are stingy with toss ups.

If I am not a season ticket holder, it will dates such as this that I will not miss in the least. Get it right.

Pirates vs Chicago Cubs 9/7 & 9/8

9/7

After what seemed like an enternite was around 10 days before the next homestand and it was the Chicago Cubs. You get what you get with the Cubs and it seems to change from day to day BP wise. At least I remember the last time the Cubs came to PNC Park when I got autographs from Starlin Castro and Alfonso Soriano and I think Ian Weir remembers too.

But I had to focus on this game where of course the Pirates could not muster much out once again. I was beyond ready for the Cubs.

It was a good sign that Tony Campana was out in left field. The guy flat out hustles and often his momentum will carry him to the warning track leading to a toss up. I had the right idea but the wrong person.

My first ball came from Chapman – Jaye Chapman, formerly an Atlanta Braves on a toss up. He saw what he needed to say and tossed the ball up.

That put me at 199 baseballs on the season. I then looked over to the bullpen and saw exactly how I was going to get ball #200, but it would take a little time.

I saw catcher Wellington Castillo and coach Mike Borzello [former Yankees bullpen catcher]. At PNC Park before, Borzello was stiff and has tossed nothing up. I wanted to change that and break the unbreakable coach.

Five minutes later I made my move,

“Mr. Borzello, any chance for that baseball please,” I asked.

“Sure, no problem,” he responded.

Ball #200 on the season, thanks Mike!

Ball #3 actually came from a security guard which was cool. I was on the first base side and he tossed it up. That’s cool, I have never had that happen before.

That was it for the day as I left right after BP.

9/8

I was on a time limit for this one. It was my dad’s birthday and it wasn’t fair to him to keep him waiting. I also was quite under the weather so it was a gamble coming to the ballpark as I felt terrible.

I knew right away to make the jog to first base and just stay there to provide less stress on my body. Too much running would just have put my body over the edge.

Well one thing stopped me, my buddy Euclides Rojas. He saw me and flamed a ball right to the wall. Knowing what he was doing since he’s done it so many times, I fake acted scared before he threw me ball #1.

First base would not pay off at all. Bullpen catcher Andrew Lane I think ratted me out to half of the Cubs bullpen as I saw them all looking at me. I was in Pirates gear. The only other ball I got was a hit Alfonso Soriano ball [ball #2]. Lane looked disgusted and knowing I would not see him again, I held the ball up to say, even you can’t stop me.

Oh well, you win some you lose some and I got the last laugh.

That would be it for the Cubs series and I was ok with the performance considering my illness, I was just disappointed that I didn’t clean up like I normally did on Saturday games but at least it wasn’t a 4:05 game, plus now I was comfortably over 200 baseballs and close to that 208 baseball goal I had set for the beginning of the season.

Pirates vs St. Louis Cardinals 8/28 PNC Park

This one will be a quick one as I need to catch up on everything.

The Pirates were smack dab in the middle of a collapse and as a whole, the collapse has been a true shame. Despite the whole clothes thing during BP, I really do love this Pirates team and wish nothing but the best for them.

I had a law class at 6 pm so I knew pickings would be quite slim and for all of Pirates BP, I got shut out once again as their bats disappointed.

The Cardinals are very stingy with toss ups despite my obvious efforts and I just couldn’t get a hit ball but there was no way I was going to be denied before I left.

I intended to leave at 5:40 but of course I was still without a baseball. At 5:43, I convinced the normally stingy Kyle Lohse to toss me up the baseball [thanks Kyle :)] he had finished throwing with Joe Kelly. Ball #1 and I made it to class right at 6 PM.

Pirates vs St. Louis Cardinals 8/26-8/27 PNC Park

Wow these two days were two of the most frustrating as a ballhawk. I was just downright steamed. My workouts have paid off but I keep seeing mixed results and it has been downright frustrating.

Here is how Monday started:

I had just finished my second class and after an exhausting core session earlier in the day, I was ready for the day.

Of course, my day was going to start well. Hisanori Takahashi was manning the left field corner and a ball rolled to the warning track.

I asked for the ball in perfect Japanese and he specifically made eye contact. It was going to be a great start, except it wasn’t.

Some idiot did not seem to understand that when you do what I just did that you do not interfere, you move on to the next one.

All of the ballhawks knew that I had asked in Japanese and that the ball was mine.

Takahashi either had a sloppy throw or didn’t see that I am a fellow lefty, and the newb got the ball.

He tried offering me the ball back but there’s nothing I can do about.

I was rightfully ticked off and I didn’t want to hear about it from anybody. Him putting the ball in my face numerous times was just salt in the wound. Shut up, take your ******* ball and move on before I get really pissed off. This isn’t your kingdom, so be careful because next time you do that it won’t end well.

Okay moving on.

Even an usher felt bad for me and directed me to a ball I missed or either a ball he pocketed earlier and put in an easy spot.

“That was a douche move,” the usher said. “You didn’t deserve that.”

I thanked him and was glad to be on the board, even if it wasn’t the way that it should have.

I was able to track a Michael McKenry BP homer and beat everyone to it in the scrum.

Ball #3 should have been a caught McKenry homer, but I was just still off and I just gave in on it.’

Well at that point I had to talk on a radio show I do each week, so I tried to ballhawk while talking on the phone.

The Cardinals were stingy with toss ups, but a ball came to the wall and pitcher Joe Kelly retrieved it and I held my glove up.

I was talking about David DeCastro and how his injury affects the Steelers and then the ball went into my glove for ball #3. It was my 400th career snag. That was a memorable way to get it, but I wasn’t done.

The rain started coming down but the Cardinals continued BP. Players left the field and the coaches stayed. I came up empty the rest of the way.

By the bullpen I got balls 4 and 5 from Euclides Rojas and Herbie Andrade.

Ballhawk Erik Jabs gave me a ticket for section 142 that came in handy later as I got Travis Snider’s fourth inning toss up and then pointed to a father, underhanded it to him to give to his son. Applause from the section ensued.

Before leaving I would run into Point Park Women’s Basketball Head Coach Tony Grenek and I will be going to their first day of practice Wednesday instead of the Astros game as their BP is terrible. We were talking about pre-camp and how we saw the team and were in agreement. He owes me a trip to the national tournament after what happened to me last year. Was the highlight of the game by far.

Before we parted ways and I left for the day, I gave him a baseball for his son and he lit up.

8/27

Tuesday was another tough day. I had a big full body workout and I was up against the clock.

I needed to get a baseball by 5:40 as I had a class at 6 p.m.

I had an opportunity during Pirates BP and blew it. I cursed at myself for the rest of BP.

When the Pirates left the field I slammed my glove on the ground and continued swearing. I was pissed again.

I kill myself with all of these workouts and get jackcrap to show for it. Maybe a change of strategy is in order.

The clocked ticked and I went straight over to the first base side, where I got Kyle Lohse to toss me a ball right at the deadline.

I got to class right at 6 p.m.

I would be in the press box the next day and snagged eight baseballs but none of them count. I was told I could toss two up which I did and tossed the other eight back in.

Mark Strittmatter wanted to see my fastball but my body was worn out and with full blown dress clothes, my motion was restricted.

I cannot go any further but it was a nice experience.

Now here we are in September and the Pirates are over .500. I am sure fans are not pleased with the 3-9 record since the 19 inning win, but if you told me that the Pirates would be 70-63 going into the month I wouldn’t have believed you.

Physically I am in great shape.

I expect this to be my last full month of ballhawking. I sit on 198 baseballs and as long as I don’t do anything stupid, I will easily surpass my goal.

It has been a tale of Septembers for me. In 2010, I felt fine and had my best month in my rookie year. In 2011, I was tired, ill, stressed out and after dehydration felt it was a chore to come to the ballpark. It just wasn’t fun anymore and I tapered off.

Again, I have been training and expect myself to stay in good shape and make it through the season. I want it to end the way that I know it should.

Now as I like to say in workout terms for both myself and the Pirates, it’s go hard or go home. Enough said.

Pirates vs Milwaukee Brewers 8/26 PNC Park

Odds of a shutout were high as it was PhotoFest day. This year it would be on the field. Thanks to the Pirates advertising the heck out of it, it was packed. Fortunately, I had someone save me a spot, so I was good to go.

I will start with the snags since I will be posting a lot of pictures and don’t want this to be overlooked.

1. Euclides Rojas toss.

2. Lee Tunnel toss up by dugout. Tunnel is a former Pirate and now Brewers Bullpen Coach. Tunnel replaced Stan Kyles whom was hated by Pittsburgh ballhawks.

Now onto PhotoFest.

Randy “Big Yellow” Page, raced up the steps, and was going down the steps to section 108. The race was on, and I caught up to him which was awesome. Together we along with Colston set up shop on the third base side where we watched Jason Grilli and Chris Resop throw.

Every player/coach besides Jeff Karstens, that day’s starter would come out all at once in groups of three.

At first the idea was for us to be secluded on the dirt while the players/coaches stood on the grass and pose for pictures just the three of them. Lame. That soon changed.

Here are reliever Chad Quall’s thoughts on the format.

Now to the good stuff:

My first picture was with Starling Marte.

Got the #Partay started with Starling and the ice was broken.

Next up is my favorite, Euclides Rojas. Since he has been hired with the Pirates last season, he has been awesome helping out myself and my charity. He always waves to me with a smile on his face and makes sure I am doing okay. This little thing he does always makes my day, and I always let him know my appreciation.

[caption id="attachment_2197949" align="aligncenter" width="300"] Say hey for the J-Hay kid. He’s always smiling.

He must have been happy to see me.[/caption]

“Hey, Zac right,” came the question from one Jared Hughes. He remembered me talking to him at Bowling With the Bucs and when I interviewed him earlier in the season. I had come prepared and I think I surprised him. We caught for a minute or two before he asked if I wanted a picture.

The person that talked longest to me was bullpen catcher Herbie Andrade. He always has been great to us ballhawks and we had a nice conversation. His trademark of calling me along with everyone else Papi is great, so we said our hellos in Spanish. It was likely a few minutes conversation where he motivated me to continue my workouts and pushing myself. I missed getting a picture with Neil Walker because of this, but it was well worth it.

Before this though in-game entertainment man and friend of mine Joe Klimchak had told me he would interview me and I said hello to him and he came right over.

I interviewed with him for about two minutes and he later told me it was great because everyone else was giving him one word answers. The people next to me were surprised how calm I was and that I knew just what to say.

It is awesome, and if I make the final cut, I will pass along the link to the video.

Since coming to Point Park, I have felt much more comfortable being on camera and I feel I handled it pretty well.

Now time for more pictures.

There were big signs saying no autographs, but Resop was the most active signer. Anyone that wanted something signed, he accomodated.

Bowling buddies reunited. I put up the x for the strikes, or lack there of that we got. I won our lane, but it wasn’t pretty.

He was told to only take group shots. So after the last pic you saw in the previous entry, he posed just with me.

Best smile on the Pirates. Many say he should be the starting catcher.

I told him I was to stupid to take the picture myself. He said I’m not that stupid. Dry humor.

Joel said hello to me by name as well which is awesome. I meant to ask him if that was him that threw me those two balls I could not count when I had a press credential. I ended up giving the balls to Dodgers Bullpen Coach Ken Howell. Oh well, I will ask him sometime.

That was really it, and perhaps it was the fan’s spirit that allowed the Pirates to win.

Pirates vs Milwaukee Brewers 8/24 PNC Park

The Brewers came to PNC Park for the first time time this season, and they are always an interesting draw.

This right here may be why the Pirates lost this game:

That is former Pirate Sid Bream. He slid in safe as an Atlanta Brave in 1992 to eliminate the Pirates, and the team has not had a winning season since. Bream was the celebrity bartender for the night, but many of the fans in the city booed him. Bream is a very nice guy, so I felt very bad for him that the fans treated him so terribly.

Now I will rewind to the game.

I was looking forward to this game all week. I have been working out non-stop all week and I was beyond ready to go. I started throwing outside, and I had a rhythm I had not felt all season. My throws were faster and more accurate than in recent memory and it was a great feeling.

I took that momentum inside where immediately I saw hitting drills. Luis Silverio was hitting balls to Travis Snyder. One was overhit and I gauged it. Against my body, I reached my glove up high and came up with a clean catch for ball #1. I gave Snider the ball back and he tossed it back in.

Ball number two came from Euclides Rojas. I saw ballhawks start to creep towards the front row, so I moved back to stand out and boom.

The Milwaukee Brewers were stingy during BP, but I managed to convince reliever Jim Henderson to throw me a ball, which I will take.

There was some uncertainty, as the other ballhawks thought John Axford was in left field, but that was not the case. I was not sure, so I did not say anything. It didn’t matter much, because the guy got sent down the next day.

That was sadly it for Brewers BP.

Ball #4 would come before the game. Herbie Andrade did his toss the ball up so no one can reach it, but make it high enough to make it appear they can catch it gag. He saw me and threw it a bit higher so I could catch the ball. People appeared confused. The end.

Again the Pirates lost the game which stunk, but they let all of these clubs score first and playing catch up all of the time is not going to win you games.

I knew the next day there wouldn’t be BP as there was team photofest. I had already eclipsed 100 straight games with a baseball, so I just embraced photofest wanting to talk to the players, so I went on the field and snapped some pictures. What I had forgotten from the night before, was that I needed to snag one baseball on this day to get 100 straight games with a baseball at your home ballpark. No pressure.

Here is a tease for the next entry:

We were in the area where Andrew McCutchen came last. Someone shouted single shots only. Big Yellow Randy Page took this picture as it was as close as he got after a brief groove. It got me talking to Cutch.

Pirates vs Los Angeles Dodgers 8/13 and 8/15 PNC Park

I knew going into the series the Dodgers were stingy with toss ups. I knew though that I would be okay. My back was improved.

I am not going to waste time. I got my usual Euclides Rojas toss up and five minutes later got a Herbie Andrade toss up. He randomly tossed the ball up but low enough that no one could catch it. He saw me and lobbed it up for me to get. Balls 1 and 2 of the day.

I got a Shane Victorino signed baseball on this day that is up for bids for charity. All proceeds will go to The Children’s Institute.

I was at the August 14th game, but as a media member therefore the four baseballs that came my way did not count and were given to Dodgers players/coaches as there was no BP due to rain earlier in the day.

I was a fan once again the next day and it worked in a big way.

Luis Silverio was hitting balls to Starling Marte and a ball was well out of the reach and just over the left field wall for Marte and I made the catch for ball #1 on the day. Marte did not want the ball. I wish Marte well, it is a shame he is on the 15 day DL and hopefully we see him back soon, Jose Tabata is reminding me why I hate the way he has played this season.

Ball #2 came on a batted ball that I ran and got to first.

All of a sudden, I heard a pounding and saw Erik Bedard pitching in the bullpen and getting a side session. No one was over there and Pirates BP is a risk in itself so I went right up there.

Fortunately for me, he was just ending his session so three pitches later, I was underhanded my third snag of the day.

Ball #4 came during Dodgers BP from closer Kenley Jansen. I wished I had asked in Dutch but I was in right field and just went for it/got it.

Ball #5 came on a hit ball to right field. I got there in a scrum. Maybe I will try right field more now, I did well there.

That was it for my series and I am looking forward to the Brewers coming to PNC for the first time this season on Friday.

Pirates vs San Diego Padres 8/10 & 8/11 PNC Park

The Padres are terrible at BP and horrible at Petco Park but going into the series had the Pirates number and would of course take two of three.

Just when you mix these two teams, you get an ugh BP. For those who don’t know, ugh is mediocre or terrible in this sense.

Ball #1 would come when Mark Strittmatter tossed me a baseball. He literally was talking to ballhawk Erik and a couple of minutes later looked at me and had his a-ha moment and tossed me one. Thanks as always Mark. It stinks that I don’t get to see him much during BP and seldom at the bullpen anymore.

Ball #2 wouldn’t come until Padres BP when once again I was on the first base line. A foul ball was hit and I just got to the scrum first. I immediately gave the ball to the other guy who tried going for the ball.

Ball #3 came from Euclides Rojas by the bullpen.

Pirates lose

8/11

I actually missed BP and based on what I have heard, I could have had five or six baseballs. Why did I miss BP? I went to Scally’s with Colston and played 18 holes. I also will be the beat writer once school starts for Point Park Volleyball, so I wanted to support them and get the ball rolling early, in fact I will be at their practice later today so I can get writing and start open lines of communication.

That to me was much more important than any BP, as I have told many people that I intend on making this my last season of full fledged ballhawking. I want to focus on my interests in the future and do something journalistically.

I would get one ball in this game from Euclides Rojas, who is the best.

Padres win.

Now my review of Skyblast:

Styx- My dad got me into Styx and I have to say they were better the last time. They sang greatest hits of course and it was a very similar set list to the last concert. They again started with “Blue Collar Man” and ended with “Renegade”. It was predictable but still enjoyable.

Fireworks- Same old same old, but went off no problem.

PNC Music- Fail. Skyblasts always have fireworks which play with random music of the same genre. The sound system was spotty during the second set of fireworks and at one point completely went out leading to bare fireworks and confusion. To boot, Tommy Shaw, the most known member of Styx was trying to say something to the fans and we could only hear the second half of what he said. They had two full songs to fix it and no luck.

Pirates vs Arizona Diamondbacks 8/8 PNC Park

Frankly, I was glad the Diamondbacks were leaving. NL West teams are not great with toss ups, and having to deal with three of them in a row has put a damper on things for sure.

Speaking of damper, I had some bad breaks and bounces during Pirates BP, but Euclides Rojas turned the frown upside down at the end of BP.

He threw me a ball that was falling short, and I adjusted the glove to make the catch for ball number 1.

At 5:30 I decided to play right field with the strategy of asking Takashi Saito for a baseball in Japanese, but that never needed to happen. A batted ball landed in section 142 and it was an easy scrum for me. Ball #2.

I then stayed over on the first baseline hoping for some success and just like the previous game a screamer came my way. Fans who were not expected it retreated back a little bit, and just like yesterday I kept my position and made the snag for ball #3.

I then looked at my surroundings and saw a fan close behind where I was with his hands protecting his face.

I then saw Diamondbacks closer J.J. Putz point his glove in my direction for a good half minute. He thought it was a great snag, but then putting two and two together, I had quite possibly saved the fan from a serious injury. It was a great feeling to do that and to have Putz see that, have the fans applaud and compliment me was a nice feeling.

That was it for the game, and yes my computer is not cooperating, so just text in these entries for now.

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