Pirates vs Chicago Cubs 7/9 PNC Park

I arrived at this game at 3:00 for a game where the gates opened at 4:30.

I then wandered around the ballpark a bit taking pictures of things I normally do not get to appreciate, and then wandered into the Pirates Clubhouse Store. I took a look at some new merchandise, and took some pictures there as well. I saw the Joel Hanrahan All-Star jersey and some other All-Star goodies. They also had an All-Star Game Program with Joel Hanrahan on the cover for $20, which I thought was way too much money. They also had a Pirates hockey jersey which confused me a little.

After a while and some talking, I went back into line and started to throw along the grass close to the Warhol. We threw, did grounders and flyballs for some time before the gates opened.

When the gates opened I searched the top deck for Easter Eggs and found nothing. I took the closest stairwell, so when a ball was hit into the second deck, I could not quite get there in time as I was covered by the bleachers and I do not think I had taken off my backpack yet, which really slowed me down.

I did not stay in left field long, and despite an usher guarding the steps, he never even noticed me as I ran up two steps at a time on the non-functioning escalator.

I was searching for baseballs and did not find anything on the third base or first base side.

I went over to first base to see if the Pirates would do any tossups in batting practice. Tony Watson had been nice to me the past couple of home Saturday games, but with the events in Texas with the fan passing away, the team has not done much of that, and Watson was throwing the baseballs in right away.

At that point, I waited for the Cubs pitchers to come out and pitch. I would have to keep my Pirate yellow shirt on but if there was an overthrow, I would be the only one with a beat on it.

Matt Garza was throwing with Andrew Lane, one of the team’s two bullpen catchers and things appeared to start out fine for the both of them. Then Garza corked a throw the bounced and was misplayed by Lane. It stayed on the field but foreshadowed what was to come.

Just three throws later, Garza threw a hard ball that Lane could not corral. I was very close and it was thrown so hard that I ducked for cover (no idea why) and it missed me by an inch. It stayed at my feet, so I picked it up for ball number 1.

But then I heard Lane talking to me.

“Is there any chance that I can get the ball back,” he asked me.
Without a hesitation, I tossed it back to him and he then told me, “I will give it to you when we are done.”

I was satisfied with that, but I knew now that Pirates BP would end before they were done and thus would get no tossups.

At that exact moment, I remembered when I got Garza’s autograph when he played for the Tampa Bay Rays and smiled as it felt like one of those full circle moments.

As I finished my thought, they were done throwing and Lane saw that I had not moved, and threw me a nice ball. It was the same ball, and thus it could not be counted twice. With the toss though, I noticed that the pitchers were still using game balls as opposed to practice balls.

I decided as usual to stay and watch the Cubs pitchers at work, as there still was a chance for a tossup or an overthrow.

As I was about to go up to change into my Cubs gear, I noticed another overthrow, and I went over and grabbed it for ball number 2. I was ready to throw it back, but no one asked me for it, so I pocketed it and got changed into my Cubs shirt.

When I came down, I positioned myself by the group of John Grabow and Carlos Marmol. Sure enough, Grabow uncorked a wild one and it went into the seats. I ran after it, but couldn’t quite reach it as I was on the lower level and had to go up from the wheelchair section for the ball. I got it for ball number 3.

When I picked it up, Grabow, Marmol and Mark Riggins the pitching coach all calling for the ball back, I threw a toss to Riggins and expected nothing out of it since I already had a couple baseballs and the Cubs saw me get at least one of them.

When they were done, Marmol threw me a different baseball, I ball I snagged for ball number four on the day.

I thought that was going to be it for the Cubs pitch
ers, but apparently not.

Chris Carpenter (yes the Cubs have a Chris Carpenter too) actually asked me, “Would you like another ball?”

I responded with a sure, and he threw a perfect strike. At this point, only two other people were even close to me and they were in the wheelchair area, so I literally had no competition for these balls. That was ball number five on this day, and all of them were from the Cubs just from warming up. How lucky is that?

I was going to stay for an extra minute, but then Bullpen Coach Lester Strode came and semi-scolded Chris for throwing me a ball. “He’s got at least five already.”

I then asked him if he wanted the ball back (see I am a nice guy), and he said yes so I threw him a perfect strike. He then moaned to his pitchers that I had changed my shirt from Pirates to Cubs, they laughed knowing that I had outsmarted them and before I could hear Strode say anymore I left.

Looking back at it now, I should have asked him to come over an explain my charity to him but I did not. Oh well because of the Cubs’ generosity in throwing me gameballs, they currently are my second favorite team, so here’s to you Chicago!

Going back to the Carpenter throw, I noticed something interesting. There are three players in the Majors with the last name Carpenter. The first one is the obvious Carpenter, Chris from the Cardinals. Last year when the St. Louis Cardinals came here, it was raining and he threw baseballs to the edge and I reached for one. Another, Dave threw me a ball just Monday when the Astros came to town and finally this Chris just threw me one. I think things like that are pretty cool.

Finally, after leaving the area I decided to stop ballhawking as I was beat and battling dehydration and went to the Cubs dugout to go for signatures.

I met a couple of cool people there, and the Cubs fans were nice as well. One even told me about how he bought a “W” flag, the flag the team waves when they win a few years ago for $8 and it now costs $50. I think that is pretty cool.

I was unable to get signatures from Aramis Ramirez, Alfonso Soriano or Starlin Castro (the latter two signed for nobody), but I did get Darwin Barney.

I was still in my Cubs shirt, thus I blended in well and motioned for an autograph. He saw me and specifically pointed for me to toss my baseball to him. He signed it, and I was the only one he signed for. That has never happened before, and I thought that was pretty cool.

I also had been texting with a friend Jason who met with me by the dugout. We work together this summer, and he is a cool, laid back guy with a great sense of humor. We hung out as the Cubs finished BP and then we walked along the concourse and went to the bullpen.

Shortly after Pirates Bullpen Catcher Herbie Andrade came in. Since the one day in June when the Arizona Diamondbacks hit in the heat and he saw me speak Spanish to him, we have been talking in Spanish only. Today was no different.

“Herbie,” I said in my familiar greeting, a greeting only he and I have.

“Hola, como esta,” he replied.

“Bien gracia, y tu?” I asked.

“Bien,” he replied before waving and disappearing.

I did not get to do the same to Euclides Rojas but I did get to congratulate Catcher Mike McKenry for the homer he hit the previous night. He waved, nodded and said thank you. The fans gave him a warm ovation when he came out to go to the bullpen and again during his first at-bat. He may end up being the Chuck Norris of this team.

After that, Jason left, and after there was no bullpen tossup or first inning toss from Jeff Karstens, I left to sit in my seat.

I actually watched almost the entire game from my centerfield seat.

When Andrew McCutchen was shown to have made the All-Star team, I was the first to give him a standing ovation, and the crowd followed suit. I may not think highly of him as a person, but he is a great ballplayer that commands respect everytime he steps up to the plate.

As for the game, the team lost and the first inning was a huge reason why.

Third Base Coach Nick Leyva waved Alex Presley home in the first inning and it was quite clear that he would be out by a country mile. It was not pretty to watch. The team was trailing 2-0 despite getting two extra base hits in the first inning.

The team should have done much better than they did against Ryan Dempster. Dempster was hurt and missed a start and with a 4.99 ERA, the team had many opportunities to score.

When I left my seat after the sixth inning, I noticed that the mobile Pirate Gear store along the Riverwalk already had Andrew McCutchen All-Star shirts. That was pretty fast, that’s for sure.

The Pirates lost the game and Marmol got his 19th save.

It was a Skyblast night, and thus it was the team’s 10th sellout of the season. .38 Special was the performer, and they started off quite strong with “Rockin into the Night” but after at least to me seemed flat. I am young, so I did not appreciate the act that much, although the couple of songs I knew were sung well. It just wasn’t as loud or aggressive as I wanted.

The fireworks also were a miss. They did not mix well with the songs, and one seemed to go off by mistake during a song. When they were to go off, they started out weakly as if they were mistakes. The display also seemed way too familiar. I have been to many Skyblasts lately and none of the fireworks really surprised me.

Still it was a nice way to end the first half of the season from a ballhawking perspective. I have snagged 81 baseballs thus far in the season putting me on a great pace to pass my preseason goal of 128 baseballs snagged. I also attended 26 games in the first half of the season meaning barring injury I will eclipse the 40 game mark this season.

It has been a great first half, and now I can take a short break from ballhawking and plan for the second half of the season and Cincinnati. With the Pirates in the hunt it could be an interesting second half from both a ballhawking and baseball perspective.


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