Results tagged ‘ Jose Tabata ’

Pirates vs Washington Nationals 5/8- 5/10/12 PNC Park

This really could have been the series that was, but it ended up being the series that was not, although for once it was not my fault. More on that later.

Starting off with May 8, I was very excited, I had started work at The Pittsburgh Fan that day and had my internship with Pittsburgh Sports Report start the day before. I am pleased with both as they are great resume makers and mix my love for sports with journalism, which in the long run will help me reach the goals that I have set for myself in the real world.

I took this excitement which coupled with my back being pretty close to normal to the Clemente Bridge when work ended at 4 PM for me. I was excited to be able to throw with full motion for the first time since almost 10 days before when I threw a side session with my friend Colston on Lind Field in Kennedy Township.

It was raining when we threw but we did not make much of it as radar said that it would pass. I did not even rush to get my coat and kept throwing.

I was excited to get into PNC Park for BP, except I saw the tarp go out on the field right as our throwing session. Are you kidding me? Whether it was the head of the grounds crew Manny Lopez or PNC Park Operations, I did not support this decision and they made a hasty decision.

So we went in to find that there were no Easter Eggs. To make things even worse, the rain was a drizzle by the time.

Unfortunately, this is not Cleveland and thus any chance of BP was over. Honestly if the grounds crew is reading this now, I will keep it nice and say that if you did not place the tarp on the field, you would not have had to water the field at all, it would have been all taken care of. Most of you were quite grumpy this week, be patient and let it ride especially since luck has not been on your side regarding tarping the field for BP.

Of course 5-10 minutes after us season ticket holders got in, the Nationals pitchers threw and the first base ushers pocketed all of the balls so we got nothing out of that. Oh and to the ushers, we are watching, so do not act like you did not pick the baseballs up. I was told by PNC Park Operations that if a baseball is pocketed that it must be given to a child or fan. Out of respect I will leave it that I was told that disciplinary actions would be taken for ushers who do not respect this rule.

Anyways, the Nationals outfielders were joined by Third Base Coach Bo Porter who showed the outfielders how to handle the bounces off of various parts of the PNC Park wall. Porter tried tossing me the ball, but overshot me and it was snagged by another ballhawk. Apparently there is a rule among ballhawks that if a ball is overthrown then the person that the ball was intended for should be able to go and get the ball. I guess not, so come 5:30 I was understandably ticked.

With a shutout definitely a strong possibility and the Nationals off of the field, I figured it was worth a try to talk to a familiar face in former Pirates Coach Trent Jewett who now coaches for the Nationals.

I needed to extend my streak so when Jewett was done talking to Pirates broadcaster Steve Blass, I politely waited for him to sign an autograph and asked if there was a chance to get a baseball.

“I don’t think any around,” he said. “Sorry… oh wait I see one here. Hold on a second.”

A very short while later he popped back up and tossed me ball #1. Relief.

I then decided to head to the bullpen and watch A.J. Burnett and Edwin Jackson warm up.

Before the pitchers warmed up, I received a nice little gift from Herbie Andrade. He came out of his usual tunnel with a baseball which was a surprise. It is a part of his routine to get in the bullpen around 6:30 but he usually does not bring out a baseball. I was caught off guard and was talking to someone and holding a very larged sized water in my non-glove hand.

After he caught up with another former Pirate coach and now Bullpen Coach Jim Lett, he came in with the baseball, said his usual hello and tossed up baseball number two catching me by total surprise.

As for the game, I was able to stay today as a buddy of mine Andy Conte who was a professor I had last semester, helped me get published in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, made me a better writer and so much more was willing to give me a ride back home. I sat with him and was relatively close to the action. I was pleased that the Pirates were able to shut down Bryce Harper and the Nationals offense.

Despite the small crowd, it was definitely a festive atmosphere and when Rod Barajas got his first home run, a walk off giving the Pirates the win I went crazy. Andy was with three buddies from the Tribune-Review and we all were high fiving and jumping up and down like crazy. It was awesome and I don’t ever remember being that excited about a walkoff either.

As a final picture for that game, here are Andy and myself.

I would like to say that the next day was better, alas it was nearly a carbon copy of the previous day. Erik and I threw a few minutes after four and of course it rained for 25 minutes. It was not a strong rain and of course it stopped right before us season ticket holders were to enter the ballpark.

Manny Lopez of course made the decision to tarp the field, so the exact same procedure as yesterday happened. Grounds crew has to remove the tarp right after they put it on, the Nationals threw and 4-5 more baseballs were pocketed by ushers and things were bleak.

Not to sound like Passover, but what made this game different from the previous game? There were signs of life from the Pirates as six players came out to throw.

Joel Hanrahan turned to the fans after his session and saw me and after our connection at Bowling With the Bucs, he gave me a throw. It was an overthrow but I snagged it for ball one without the need to jump. I was pleased as any chance of a shutout was gone early.

That was it, although I stayed for the entire game once again.

No pictures for this game as I was running late, forgot my camera and nearly arrived late to work.

I was able to get ball #2 from Herbie Andrade who helped me out again after Joel Hanrahan warmed up for the ninth inning. Thanks Herbie!

Joel had an emotional night having lost his grandmother. He would be placed on the bereavement list after the game and not return until Sunday. He did get the save and pointed to the heavens soluting his mothers.

I stayed after the game as the grounds crew cleaned up the bullpens. I did that as there was a ball by the bullpen. I saw a “ballhawk” trying to get it, but knowing that his catching ability was suspect, I stood there. This “ballhawk” keeps his baseballs, and there were a couple of guys that were to get the ball, and I wanted to make sure the ball would go to the right person and not used as Ebay bait to fund road trips.

The grounds crew member made a bad throw and it was going to be a scrum between myself and the “ballhawk”. I ended up with it and made sure to give it right over to the guy asking for it. He had two or three friends with them and they all shook my hand, patted me on the back, thanked me and wished me a good night before parting ways.

The last game marked the return of my camera. I did not want to forget it this time, Stephen Strasburg was starting and to boot Kevin Correia guaranteed that he would hit a home run against him (he ended up going 0-2 with two strikeouts).

Also great news was the fact that there was batting practice and there was no rain in sight. All I have to say is, it’s about time because if the grounds crew messed me up again, I would have been so upset.

I did another throwing session and have been working on a sidearmed throw which I think is going well.

Upon entering the ballpark, I saw the left field ushers sitting down and I know immediately what that meant. The balls were pocketed and it has turned into last year all over again.

Despite threats to “badly injure me” and the false idea that my charity initiative was “fake” (more on this in a future post), I came away with a nice haul.

Ball 1: It took a while to get on the board but my buddy Jason Grilli hooked me up and got my day started off in the right direction.

Ball 2: I was spotted by Bullpen Coach Euclides Rojas and he threw me a perfect ball.

Ball 3: Jose Tabata was fielding baseballs in the outfield for a drill and a ball was hit right by the left field foul pole. My Spanish was quick enough to get the baseball.

I will take a break in the action to say that from here my buddy Mark Strittmatter came into left field. I could not have been any more excited. I pumped my fist and went over by where he was.

Immediately Strittmatter and I made eye contact, waved and smiled at each other and I knew he would help me out once again.

Surprisingly, quite a few baseballs went his way and he gave me every other toss up or at least one of every three. This allowed me to get balls 4, 5 and 6. Yes some of you may view this as cheap, and I understand, but when you are raising money for charity, this goes a long way and of course they all count.

That was it for the Pirates portion of BP and the Nationals prepared to hit.

I saw that the Nationals were in Los Angeles last week, and my buddy Nick got a Dodgers 50th anniversary commemorative baseball from the Nationals on Tuesday, so my goal was to hopefully snag one of those.

I had rotten luck in left field as former Pirates Xavier Nady would not throw anything into the crowd.

I looked in centerfield for baseballs at 5:30 but they were pocketed by either the ushers, or a fan who happens to get in early at each game and gets to sit in her seat.

Of course, I had Henry Rodriguez all lined up to throw me a ball, but he had other ideas and I just missed a BP home run.

The chances for double digits were running thin, so I had to act fast.

After a narrow miss of a high bouncer and a playful groan from Nady, reliever Ryan Perry fielded the ball and did a no look and over the shoulder toss to me. I had to catch it barehanded which I did for ball 7. I took one look and sighed, still no commemorative. I just ended up giving it to an usher to give to a kid.

I then decided to move to left field where Roger Bernadina was. I was unable to get him to toss me one, but I wanted to try for a few minutes more before I moved to the dugout to try and get one.

A right handed batter gave me ball #8, as he hit a ball that went in the small area at left field. I thought I saw something bizarre about the ball and no one else seemed to be going after it. I charged at it right away despite it being locked. I stepped over it, picked it up, and found this:

Mission accomplished!

It was the commemorative I had wanted! I said in a whisper to no one in particular, “that was a commemorative.” I am so glad I didn’t pinch my nerve on this one like I did for the Angels baseball last year.

A couple of minutes later, Nationals reliever Ryan Mattheus gave me a nice toss for ball #9. No commemorative there, so I gave it to another usher to give to a kid.

I then went over to the Nationals dugout where I kept my glove up and got rewarded as some random coach threw me ball #10 placing me in double digits once more. Even better, it was another commemorative.

With BP over, I went over to the bullpen and watched the game.

The Pirates were looking good but Correia had a rough inning giving up three runs and ultimately that was enough for the Nationals to get the win.

Meanwhile I got robbed twice during the game. Both Nationals home runs went into the bullpen area. For the first, Daniel McCutchen did an over the shoulder toss that was intended for me, but out of nowhere, a fan snagged it and passed a point they were not supposed to. Then he stayed and wouldn’t shut up. So much for the ball being intended for me, fans never will stop being obnoxious.

Former Pirate Sean Burnett heard my call for the second ball, but his throw was terribly off and landed in an area that fans were not allowed to go into. Wow I was not pleased.

Meanwhile, Strasburg struck out 13 Pirates and looked dominant.

Again the Pirates lost and missed out on a chance to sweep. At least I snagged a free hot dog Tuesday that I got to redeem for a fresh one on Thursday.

Also, former Steeler Hines Ward threw out the first pitch to the game.

Thursday was not a bad day by any means, but the no BP really hurt me on Tuesday and Wednesday. I would face more disappointment during the weekend series against the Astros, but more on that another time.

Bowling With the Bucs 2012

I will start this entry off by saying that I missed this event so much last year after participating in 2009 and 2010. Despite the high cost, Bowling With the Bucs benefits various charities and is worth every penny. Why don’t I let this pictures do the talking, and then I will come back with comments.

Myself with Pirates bullpen catcher Herbie Andrade. He has been so great to me and I specifically wanted my picture with him first. He was in the lane next to mine for the second straight time which made me extremely happy.

Pirates starter Kevin Correia was in the other lane next to me. He was cracking jokes all night. He guaranteed a home run in his next start which was this past Thursday vs Stephen Strasburg. He ended up going 0-2 with two strikeouts. Oh well.

I wanted this picture so badly in 2008, so I was really excited when four years later, I could get this pic with fellow lefty Nate McLouth.

Here I am with Chris Resop, one of the two Pirates that chaired this event. Glad to see that smile on his face.

The next image was the one you saw in my last entry with Mark Strittmatter. Here I am with Andrew McCutchen. Yes, I am close to blinking but I had to get my picture with him since I did not get one yet.

Well I choked those last frame and lost game one by seven pins.

Who does not love J Hay? This guy is the underdog and a fan favorite. I love how he seemed so excited to be at the event. When he hit the walkoff on Mother’s Day, I was so happy for him.

Garrett was in my lane, which really pleased me.

With this picture of former Pirate John Wehner, I now have a picture with all of the current Pirate broadcasters.

I am with reliever Juan Cruz who was a great non-roster invitee and has only been scored upon once this season.

Posing with infielder Casey McGehee.

Bullpen Coach Euclides Rojas has been nice to me since he kept seeing me early last season. Lately in addition to our hellos, he said that he was glad to see me. I told him as well as Herbie about my charity initiative and they have been even more helpful. I don’t know what I would do without them.

Posing with Pirates reliever Jared Hughes.

Here with reliever and buddy Jason Grilli. We had a nice convo during the offseason and he interacts a lot with the fans on Twitter. Definitely someone to get to know. Infectious personality.

Pirates closer Joel Hanrahan, the other of the two chairs of the department along with Chris and Joel’s wives Kara and Kim. Joel surprised me when he knew my name and then said that, “I was everywhere”. That was pretty awesome if you ask me.

Yes my strained back was still 75-80% but still not please with my second game. I still won the lane though and beat Garrett Jones which is still cool.

All in all Bowling With the Bucs 2012 was great. It was worth every penny which is hard to do since I paid $137.50. I would recommend this event but not if you just want to bowl. I only bowled two games, so if you are going to meet/interact with players and fans and are willing to help out charity, then this event is for you. This event offers more access to the players than a PirateFest does. This also offers you access to almost all of the team, something you may get with only a couple or so players as a season ticket holder.

The Pirates off the top of my head that were not present were hitting coach Gregg Ritchie, pitchers A.J. Burnett and Erik Bedard, catchers Rod Barajas and Michael McKenry and outfielders Yamaico Navarro and Jose Tabata.

Root Sports here in Pittsburgh will have a special for Bowling With the Bucs this coming Thursday at 6 PM Eastern Time. I know I said a couple of small things on there and filmed a less than stellar shot of mine so there is a chance I will make it on.

Finally, a couple of buddies and fellow season ticket holders sit in section 134 of PNC Park and write a blog. They interviewed me in a blog post entitled ‘Bowling with the Bucs’ a Success for Weiss, Fans.

Here is the link to a post, which includes more info on Kevin Correia’s home run guarantee, my charity iniative and how to follow me on various social media networks:

http://section134blog.com/2012/05/09/bowling-with-the-bucs-a-success-for-weiss-fans/

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 4/5/12 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.

Pirates vs Washington Nationals 4/23 PNC Park

 I was glad that I was not at Friday’s game, as there was no game and it was rescheduled for Monday. I am not going to Monday’s game though although Nationals BP was good on Saturday.

 Today’s game just was not a good one as I just felt tired the entire time. My back always goes out, but that was not the case last night. Still I needed only one snag to get to the 21 balls that Erik Jabs said I needed to get closer to my goal.

  I immediately looked in the second deck for Easter Eggs and because of my three hours sleep the night before, I ended up missing a ball that someone else would find later. Matt Diaz also hit a ball that was in my row, but I was talking to a ballhawk named Mike. I just was so lazy and it was mine if I had even decided to run, but it did not happen.

  I started to give up hope, especially since the usual toss up or two I got during BP was not happening and I was just getting really unlucky.

 Just when I was ready to pack it in, Matt Diaz hit it my way. The ball was heading short, and I was playing the bounce. What I did not expect was that the bounce would be off of my leg and instead of wincing in pain, I dove where I thought the ball would land and got my first ball of the day.

 You can see Diaz hitting at the top of the picture.

 Although I was in centerfield at the time of the picture and was inbetween the two left field sections, I decided to recreate the dive while looking at the camera. P.S. it was raining. This was the result:

 Photo taken by Colston Cooper

 My running at this game was by far the worst of the season, so when an unidentified hitter came up and hit a ball to the second deck, I went running up. I ended up getting the hit ball up there which came to rest in the top row of one of the sections and was ball number two on the day. The rest of Pirates BP was a couple more misses and being ignored for toss ups.

 Nationals BP was not good either as no toss up luck was coming. I even asked Chad Gaudin for one by name and he ignored me. Brian Burgess was tossing up a good deal but did not get any. I missed a few homers at center, just missed it. I then tried right field and immediately when I went up there I adjusted my position and it started to drizzle. The last ball was a bomb hit by Rick Ankiel. I had it sized up perfectly but was two rows too short.

 I then walked around the park, hanging with Nick Pelescak at the Diamond Pizza and speaking to a few people, and we even chased down a squirrel that we found. The pregame festivities ended and then I caught up with Colston as the tarp was applied onto the field. The drizzle was not even that significant, and three or so innings could have been played.

 

I was kept updated throughout the whole thing, and the end of the conversation I was told that the big stuff was coming but slowly. When I asked when, I got no response. Then I waited and about 5-10 minutes later I was told 8:15. I was asking myself what he meant and a couple minutes later, I saw that the tarp was removed from the field and the game would start at 8:15. Guess that answered my question.

 Jeff Karstens made the start tonight, and it was his best start in recent memory. He may have nailed down that fifth spot in the rotation until Ross Ohlendorf comes back.

 I was never close to any Jose Tabata or Andrew McCutchen toss ups the entire night.

 At Nick’s urging, I went to left field, and sure enough Jayson Werth hit a homer right to where I was standing. I was lined up to make the catch, but sure enough Nick and Erik leaped. I was praying that something would happen to where they did not get it. Unfortunately for me, Nick had it and thus I had no play on it. I was not happy, but at least I was in the play this time.

 I had no more luck and around 10, I left. I finally was starting to sprint between the middle of the riverwalk and left field, and  had suffered a cramp in my pectoral muscle that for a second I thought could have been serious. I am more than fine, and I plan on being at the park on Tuesday weather depending. 

 

Totals thus far:

Baseballs: 22

Baseballs Given Away: 14

Games Attended: 5

 Here is a final picture for you:

Why the Pirates have been slumping

Catcher- Chris Snyder just came back and is starting to produce. Ryan Doumit is still not the answer defensively and his hitting was not good either. Jason Jaramillo was sent down and was the best of the three thus far as Snyder was injured. Jaramillo continued his good hitting from Spring Training and defensively is a clear improvement over Doumit. It seemed like the team never traded Doumit and the three catchers either are good offensively or defensively but never both. Thus they all are missing a part of the game and it sets the team back.

First Base- Lyle Overbay has been a mixed bag. This “great defender” blew a play the second game of the season which cost the team a game. Overbay hit a nice home run against St. Louis, but hs hitting is not great. Much like Adam LaRoche, the lefty Overbay is known as a slow starter and this haunts the team. Overbay has not had a hit against lefties and in a power position, and he cost a good deal of money for not producing. He is going to have to do more, or else Steve Pearce may get some looks at first base.

Second Base- Neil Walker has been one of the best performing Pirates. He has picked up where he left off last season. The average is down and the strikeouts are up, however the power has improved and he is showing that he can defensively handle the second base positon. Walker will need to continue hitting like this, and he will have to hit better against lefties. He also struggled during the homestand and he will have to hit better for the hometown crowd.

 Shortstop- Aki Iwamura gave up his position to Neil Walker, and if Ronny Cedeno is not careful, he could be next. Pedro Ciriaco had no reason to be sent down, especially since we have seen Cedeno and Josh Rodriguez get off to less than stellar starts. Cedeno usually starts off fast, and offensively he has not done much and he just is not getting the job done. Rodriguez has also had some good looks and he is just as bad. He was kept for his power, and I don’t see any power and I see a lack of patience at the plate. Cedeno has made a couple of spectacular plays at the shortstop position, however the routine plays such as grounders and turning the double play are just not up to snuff. Every time a grounder is hit his way, I hold my breath as it is an adventure. The shortstop position will need to produce more offensively and defensively will need to field their position.

Third base- Pedro Alvarez is expected to be the next big thing here in Pittsburgh. He is expected to be a power hitter and as a free swinger, is being compared to Adam Dunn. This season he has not met expectations. He is a notorious slow starter and in AAA last year hit in the .220’s this season. Alvarez will heat up when the weather gets hotter. His fielding is another story. His weight is in question and his fielding is inconsistent. He can make the plays half the time, and his arm strength is strong sometimes a little too strong. Steve Pearce has had looks at third and offensively hasn’t done much and defensively hasn’t done anything wrong, but hasn’t been truly tested. For all we know, he can do well but otherwise is could be another Delwyn Young experiment gone wrong.

Outfield- Jose Tabata has been the most complete player this season. He showed commitment to the team by putting on muscle and playing in the winter. He has already stolen seven bases and has added the home run to his game. He did well hitting leadoff but last night was bumped to the number two spot in the order. Despite his speed, he seems unsure in left field when he has to backpedal. Andrew McCutchen is known as a slow starter, however fans expected more from him after he tore the cover off of the ball in Spring Training. It seemed initially as though it would work as he hit two homers to start the season against the Cubs, but has since slumped. Clint Hurdle has tried to get him going again batting him leadoff but he struck out four times and was not a part of the offense. Furthermore McCutchen has as many steals for the team as I do right now- ZERO. McCutchen said at PirateFest that he wanted to have that “Ricky Henderson mentality” and know that the base was his when he would steal a base. He has looked like Lastings Milledge out there as the other day he was caught in a run-down. He like Alvarez will heat up soon. The platoon of Matt Diaz and Garrett Jones has not worked out well so far, with Jones hitting the lone homer. Diaz has been starting more as of late and he got two of the Pirates four hits on Wednesday against the Milwaukee Brewers. They need to produce now as that has been a part of the offense that has been missing. Finally we have not had a good look at John Bowker yet, but we know that he earned his spot with a solid Spring Training. He has been relegated to pinch hitting but has not done much with that. I say give him a start and see what happens.

 Starters- The ace has been Kevin Correia and minus one inning on his start on Wednesday, he has pitched magnificantly. Correia gave up that homer to Fielder and was unable to field a bunt on Wednesday and that cost him, but he was able to pitch well in his previous starts. He will have to continue to pitch well as he is the ace, but I am unsure as to how long he can keep this up. Paul Maholm had his second great start on Thursday against the Brewers but took the loss giving up two runs in the first inning and was not helped by the offense or lack thereof. Paul has looked like Zach Duke at times as he has looked very hittable. He will have to be able to pitch inside more like he is trying to do. Ross Ohlendorf was the weakest looking of the starters, as he pitched ok at best in his first start against the Cubs and now is injured and Jeff Karstens has been forced back into the starting rotation when he will pitch tomorrow against the Cincinnati Reds. Charlie Morton has been nothing but stellar for the team, getting a complete game win last night. He changed his arm angle in Spring Training and the walks are finally down. I believe that before he was tipping his pitches, and now is getting a ton of groundballs due in large part to that newfound sinker. James McDonald was slated to be the team’s ace until his injury in Spring Training. I don’t have much on him, but now he should be able to pitch deeper in the games. He just needs to stop those innings where he labors. He seems to pitch 30-40 pitches in an inning and it effects how far he can go in his starts.

Bullpen- The plesant surprise has been Mike Crotta. That new sinker has proven to be vital and he already is a staple in the bullpen. Chris Resop had some trouble against the Chicago Cubs in the second game of the season, but since has looked pretty good and has picked up from where he left off last season. Joe Beimel is back off of the disabled list and we soon will find out what he has. He can be used in many different capacities and is the lone lefty in the bullpen after Garrett Olsen was designated for assignment. He was ok at best, but he was a good filler. Beimel is in his second tour of duty with the Pirates. Daniel McCutchen was called up during the season and he will now serve as the long reliever with Jeff Karstens now in the rotation. His ERA was a bit high last season and he will have to limit the mistakes. Jose Veras slow the pace of play when he pitches and earned the loss on Saturday against the Colorado Rockies when he gave up three runs in that infamous sixth inning. He has good stuff but needs to place his pitches in more adventageous positions so that he can take command of the batter. Evan Meek is finally coming back after the shoulder injury and before had a couple of bad outings in a row. Meek was sick it cost him dearly as his placement was off. He would leave pitches up to where hitters had no problem hitting him. When he came back Wednesday against the Brewers, his fastball topped at 92 when it usually tops out at 96-97 so the arm is not 100% yet. Lastly, Joel Hanrahan has done a solid job. He is not being called upon to close the game as much as the team only won one of six total games thru the first homestand. Hanrahan is the only closer in the NL Central who has not yet blown a save and he just seems to have extra competitiveness when he squares off against the hitter. Hanrahan is showing the Pirates that the made the right decision when it came to who would close the game.

State of the Pirates Union 2011

Men,

 You have worked blood, sweat and tears for this organization this Spring, and you should be commended for your efforts. Tomorrow is Friday, and thus your first game of the season. Let’s take a look at yourselves as a team.

 Catchers-

 Chris Snyder. You are injured and thus you cannot start for us, and we are upset. Now we have to trust Ryan Doumit who we have wanted out of here for the longest time. You are defensively capable but offensively incapable. When you come back you need to be consistent.

 Ryan Doumit. Who made Jack Black our team’s starting catcher? Your offense can be good but your defense is TERRIBLE. Throwing out less than 10% of runners trying to steal base is an atrocity, and you do not belong in the Major Leagues, but here you are not only in a Pirate unform but starting. Charlie Sheen thinks that you are winning, but that does not amount for much anymore. In the words of Princess Leia, you are our only hope, because Jason Jaramillo as a starter is just as bad.

Second base-

 Neil Walker. The Pittsburgh Kid. Considering that you had to adapt to play yet another new position is tough enough but at times you showed Gold Glove capabilities. Bill Mazeroski a Pittsburgh legend helped you with mechanics and you tried to soak it in. It is important that you do not have a sophomore slump and the city is your for the taking, and this is your make it or break it season.

Short stop-

 Ronny Cedeno. What can I say about a man who draws Sharpies and calls them mustaches? Well you can’t hit, you can’t field, what can you do right? You give us fits and there is no one better? Why don’t we have money for a real shortstop? Here, I am going to drop a baseball. Just like i thought, through the legs. Why are you still even here?

Third base-

 Pedro Alvarez. Your weight is an issue, but that was even before this season. You are outgrowing your position and thus the plays that separate a good third baseman from a great one and Alvarez is only good at best. You are our offense, you mash the ball but do not get frustrated by your average as that is the way you play and you should not change that.

Left field-

 Jose Tabata. You have packed on the muscles and we can tell. Your speed is a must as we expect you to run around the bases all of the time. You need to mash the homers and be a part of this offense. You are a part of the future, so failure is not an option.

Center field-

 Andrew McCutchen. We can tell that you want to win. You are the best CF in the majors but we have some concerns. Off the field, you are a scumbag, conceited and careless. You need to start driving people in and that is a glaring part of your game. You are the future and already are a good player, but it is time to become great, don’t you think?

Right field-

 Garrett Jones. You can mash righties on a good basis, but based on your rookie campaign, your power numbers are down. Please hit for a good average, and who knows, maybe you or this next guy could get traded.

 Matt Diaz. Time to speed up and buy into the program. You can hit lefties, but some more power needs to be seen. Let’s find out if you can handle that right field wall, no one really has.

Starters-

 I am calling all of you out. Along with defense, you are the main issue on this team. Ray Searage can only do so much. He doesn’t pitch the baseball, he only gives you the advice. It is your job to listen to what he has to say and to pitch with confidence. The bullpen cannot win games all by themselves (I’m talking to you Ross, Charlie and Paul) and that means you actually have to suck it up and pitch. There are no more excuses.

Relievers-

 Despite what I just said about the starters, no one is perfect. We have been losing for 18 seasons now and you will have to come in at tight spots or when the outcome of a game has already been decided. Regardless, pitch strong and attack the hitter. Joel, please prove to us that you can choose games. You failed to do that in Washington and were a mixed bag last season. Pitch with a purpose.

Bench-

Josh Rodriguez. What are you doing here? Neal said that nothing about you was special and the fact of the matter is that your precious rule-5 status is keeping you here by a thread. Our infield stinks defensively and you do not help that at all. Even in Spring Training everyone from the top of the organization to the bottom said you weren’t anything and normally would be one of the first to be sent down. You better perform or you will be let go faster than we can say bobble head.

 Steve Pearce. You made the Opening Day Roster for the first time so congratulations. You were persistant and eliminated the leg kick from your swing which will help you in the log run. Best of luck on sticking in the bigs this season.

Manager-

 Clint Hurdle. You need to stick to your guns. This team has a ton of personality and you can handle it, but do not lose the locker room. They are completely buying in to what you are saying and that means that you need to stay relevant to them. Practice what you preach. Make sure they run and let that know that losing is NOT an option.

 Tomorrow is the big day men, Opening Day is upon us in the windy city. You have worked all off-season for this. No one expects us to contend, but why can’t we? These fans deserve a winner, and it’s time to go all in and get the job done. 

 

Four Players Cut and Other Notes

 The Pirates have made four cuts today, and here they are:

.Andy Marte- Marte was one of the team’s first signings this off-season. He once was a highly regarded prospect however in 2010 with the Cleveland Indians, hit only .229 with five homers and 19 Runs Batted In. Mind you Marte only had 170 at-bats, this was enough for the Pirates to sign him to a Minor League contract. This Spring, Marte batted .364, however this was not enough for him to earn a spot on the team. Marte had a shot at making the Big League roster, however lost out on the corner infield battle to Steve Pearce.

.Corey Wimberly- Wimberly to me always seemed like a cheap Nyjer Morgan. He was acquired by the Pirates for righty Ryan Kelly. Wimberly at short during Spring Training was not a great idea as he kept bouncing his throws. He never played a position that well, and hit only .212. It took him a while to even get a hit, but finally got one, but too little too late.

. Brian Burres- This was the most surprising cut, as it had appeared that the Pirates wanted two relievers that were left-handed. He had been solid all spring, but his start earlier in the week against the Astros perhaps did him in. Still, Burres was widely expected to have a role in the bullpen and had proven his worth last September as well.

. Dusty Brown- This cut made sense as essentially Brown was the odd catcher out. The Pirates may bring three catchers with them when they play Chicago, and Brown was not in their Major League plans. He was signed to a Minor League deal after playing for the Boston Red Sox last season. He hit .321 this spring.

. Another announcement was made with this move that Steve Pearce has essentially clinched the backup corner infield job. Pearce made an adjustment in his swing where he eliminated the leg kick. Hopefully he can improve the timing of his swing. Manager Clint Hurdle said this is not 100% confirmed yet because there always in the possibility of a trade.

 . The last backup infielder job is between Pedro Ciriaco and Josh Rodriguez. Ciriaco has proven himself to be the better player, however Rodriguez is the Rule-5 Draft pick. If Rodriguez does not make the team, he will have to be offered back to the Cleveland Indians although General Manager Neal Huntington has said that in that case he would negotiate a deal to get Rodriguez back, a la Evan Meek a few seasons ago.

 .Chris Snyder remains to be hurt. He was scratched again from the lineup due to more back soreness. He is getting treatment but his status for next Friday’s opener is up in the air. If he cannot go, Ryan Doumit likely will be the Opening Day catcher with Jason Jaramillo the backup. Snyder will have to condition himself and get the proper at-bats if he should be ready to go. If he is injured for too long then only two catchers would be heading north and perhaps John Bowker could get than final roster spot.

. The bullpen has become an interesting battle, as Scott Olsen and Joe Beimel both will be unable to start the season, and with Brian Burres not making the club, Jeff Karstens will be the long reliever. This opens up the bullpen competition. Three relievers in Chris Leroux, Mike Crotta and Garrett Olson will compete for two spots. It is widely assumed that Olson will get a spot. Jose Ascanio is not faring well as Pirates Prospects blog says his fastball topped out at 91 miles per hour, slower than normal and also lacking command. If Karstens has to start in the rotation due to the injury to James McDonald, then Olson, Leroux and Crotta will all make the team.

. Clint Hurdle also seemingly made his final lineup official making Jose Tabata his lead off hitter. Andrew McCutchen will hit third, while Lyle Overbay will hit fourth. Pedro Alvarez will hit fifth.

. The Major League roster is now at 32 spots, and needs to be cut down to 25 in time for Opening Day on Friday.

Some Q&A with the Baseball Prospectus Team

  Yesterday on Twitter, people had a chance to ask questions of the Baseball Prospectus team. The chat went from Noon Eastern until 12:30, meaning the chat lasted half an hour. People could ask the questions and to have them answered would have to include a hashtag of #BaseballBNC.

 My twitter handle is @wewill1992.

 Here are the questions I asked that were answered.

 Me: How do you think the Pirates will do this season?

 Steven Goldman: PECOTA thinks they will do better than the Astros. Progress?

 Jay Jaffe: Better than the Astros. Nucleus emerging (Alvarez/Andrew McCutchen/Walker/Tabata).

 Me: Which free agent signing will mean the most to his team?

 Jay Jaffe: Adam Dunn shores up big DH vortex of suck for Chisox.

 Me: Who will win Rookie of the Year in both divisions?

 Steven Goldman: I just did some picks, went Hellickson/Freeman.

 Me: Who do you feel is the best lefty reliever in the game?

 Jay Jaffe: Big Matt Thornton fan.

 Me: Should more pitchers bat eighth instead of ninth?

 Christina Kahrl: Works for me, as long as the skipper adjusts his tactics likewise in-game, kicking the P slot away from at-bats when possible.

 Me: How much can a manager change their players?

 Christina Kahrl: He can define success or failure for his relievers, and for the players he chooses to carry on his bench.

 Jay Jaffe: Not sure change is the right word. Prefer: put in a position to succeed.

 Me: Will steals be up or down this season?

 Christina Kahrl: Up, because between the new managers and the flagging commitment to slug-only players.

 Me: Which three players are most likely to be on other teams by the deadline?

 Christina Kahrl: Ryan Doumit, Chone Figgins, Jason Marquis

 

  Participating in the chat also gave me the chance to win one of ten possible copies of the 2011 book written by Baseball Prospectus. It is 600 pages full of team previews, projections, analysis and much more. I ended up winning a copy of the book and will get it delivered soon.

 

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