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.
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.