I missed the May 4 game vs the Reds because I was teaching tennis and also because of my strained back. I knew I would need to rest and make a tough decision the next day.
I woke up feeling about 75-80% in my back and knew it was going to be a very tough decision. I mulled it over for a couple or so hours and then took a run up and down my small street. I experienced no problems and thought that despite the risks, that I would go to the game May 5.
I waited much longer than normal to board the bus in order to give my back some much needed rest.
I figured I decided to give myself a different luck and thus wore high socks today. I meant business and I knew that I was going to have to go easy instead of further aggrevate my back. Any further damage could shut me down for an extended time.
I arrived about 15 minutes before the gate opened and asked Erik Jabs for a few throws to make sure my glove was ready. I knew I could not throw in any of my normal motions, and thus threw kind of like a stiff catcher. I just did not have any true way to throw. My glovework though was pretty good, which made me happy.
When the Clemente Gate opened, I ran and didn’t find any Easter Eggs, so I then had to go over to the first base line and stay there and just stand so that my back would be safe. If I ballhawked in the outfield and turned too sharply it could have seriously hurt my back.
There were no Easter Eggs over there either.
About five minutes later, a ball came over and out of sight. An usher disappeared and pocketed it. I did not want him to throw me it as I knew that Tony Watson would see it and despite my hesitation, I just sighed and held the glove up. It counts as ball #1 though, because it is a PNC Park employee that threw me the ball.
Things quieted down though, as Watson would immediately throw any other grounder back to the bat boy.
Then I saw my buddy reliever Chris Leroux who was talking to Watson. I really wanted to talk to him and was going to talk to him until I saw him walking over surprisingly to me.
“Hey Zac how are you,” he asked.
“Doing well Chris, how are you,” I replied.
From there we talked for about 10 minutes and just caught up. Chris has been on the DL and is currently rehabbing in Bradenton, Florida. He asked me how school was going and if I was done and I got an update on his progress and an update on his car situation which was fun. I also got to tell him about my charity operation and he said he would do what he could to help out.
At this point, a mother and daughter were over as well which was fine. The mother took a couple of pictures of myself and Chris and then Chris went back to his spot.
Soon after the baseballs just started rolling in, I mean literally rolling in. Leroux was not well enough to throw many of the balls, so he would roll them.
Within a 10 minute period, I got baseballs two, three, four, and five on the day via the roll from Chris. Don’t worry the mother and daughter got some baseballs as well.
I would have had ball number six, but the roll stopped short. I sighed figuring that meant that I had missed out on that ball. At that point Coach Mark Strittmatter was in right field with Chris as Watson has shifted more towards centerfield.
Apparently Chris told “Stritty” about my charitable operations.
Mark came over to get the ball and I was worried, because he always will throw the baseballs back over, however he told me something I didn’t expect.
I started off the conversation by saying, “Stritty, I miss seeing you in the bullpen. Why aren’t you over there any more?”
“I know, they don’t have me over there anymore. I was over there to help out [Mike] McKenry and now they don’t have me back there anymore,” he said.
He then continued, “Now, Chris told me about what you do for charity, so I will ask you a question and if you get it right, then you get the ball. Sounds fair right?”
I agreed and then waited for the question.
“How many outs are there in an inning,” he asked.
“Six,” I replied.
Baseball number six.
A couple of minutes later, he fielded a baseball and came back over.
“How many months have 28 days,” he asked.
“All of them,” I quickly replied again.
“****,” he replied before realizing the child was still there and saying shoot instead and apologizing.
Ball number seven.
Five minutes later he fielded another one.
“America celebrates the Fourth of July, and it is a big holiday and always a lot of fun. Does the Dominican Republic have a fourth of July,” he asked.
“Yes,” I said in a questioning voice.
Ball number eight.
“Geez, you’re good,” he said before the Reds took their spots. That was the end of that fun.
Thanks for everything Mark!
The Reds were throwing and I had left my bag with someone to avoid heavy lifting, as per doctor’s orders.
About five minutes later an overthrow came and reached the seats. I gloved the ball for ball number nine. I knew that I was so close to getting double digits as well, and to think I almost skipped this game.
“Could we please have the ball back? I’ll throw it back to you when we are done,” Reds outfielder Chris Heisey said.
Having had this before, I threw it back right away, but was not pleased with the throw and apologized. He said it was good.
After a few more throws, Heisey thanked me and threw the ball back. Since it was the same ball, it will only count once so I was still at nine balls, although I credited Heisey with the toss because I forgot who his throwing partner was, and I recognized him.
After that, I ran over to watch reliever Sam LeCure finish throwing. He was going to to toss it back in but then pocketed it. I asked him for the ball and he replied sure. I somehow contained my emotions as ball number 10 came my way. I was so excited to finally get my double digits that should have happened a while ago.
Nick Pelescak’s brother Bryan told me last home stand, “you will get double digits sooner than later”. Little did I know it would be this game where I was battling an injury.
I was not done though, as I lowered my socks and kept going.
Ball number 11 came from Aroldis Chapman. It was meant for a girl, but it bounced and she would not have caught it so I played the bounce right, caught it, and gave it to her. I just wanted to make sure that she got the ball and both her and her father were very happy.
Ball 12 also came from Chapman. I asked him in Spanish and he tossed it up right away. Everyone around me was so surprised and how fast I said it, how fast the ball was tossed to me and how I apparently sounded Spanish. Everyone around me tried repeating what I said for the next five minutes, which was amusing. I tried to help them out but it was to no avail.
Close to the end of BP, I tried my luck at the dugout in hopes of a baseball from Reds first base coach Billy Hatcher who always throws baseballs up after BP. Unfortunately, he was not in charge of the bag and only had a few, so I missed out.
After BP, I had to leave to cover the Pittsburgh Power game, so I was very pleased with 10 especially given the circumstances surrounding my back and called it a day at PNC Park.
The next day I was back at PNC Park and my back was about five percent better.
I was hoping for some Pirates BP, but early that morning, I got a text from a Pirates worker that the Pirates would be doing BP in the indoor cages and with gates opening at 11:30 would not have to show up until 10:30.
I crossed the Clemente Bridge and saw no cage up and immediately that here we go again feeling went through my head.
I will be honest when I say that I went in, saw the cages up and screamed and whooped it up like a school girl. It was hilarious.
The Reds would be hitting, although we would be stuck along the riverwalk until noon.
When noon did come, I went to the third base side and found three baseballs in the lower section closest to left field. Balls number 1, 2 and 3.
The Reds did not help me out at all during BP although I was close to a scrum in the second deck of left field. Oh well, at least I got ball #4 from a Reds ball boy.
The Pirates won the game Saturday but Sunday’s game dragged on and took seemingly forever and the Pirates lost it to boot.
As a final image, here is what happened when Joey Votto signed my shirt. I unfortunately did not have any baseballs at the time he signed 😦
Oh wait I lied, one more and this is the last image, I promise. Aroldis Chapman was throwing absolute gas Sunday.