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8/13/08 at PNC Park

My girlfriend Jona attended this game…

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…and wandered around the stadium with me before the gates opened.
There was a lot to see. Check out the four-part pic below. Starting on
the top left and going clockwise, you can see 1) the view of PNC Park from the middle of the bridge, 2) the steps leading down to the water, 3) kayaks for rent, and 4) the promenade behind the right field edge of the stadium (where balls hardly ever land):

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Jona and I had lots of time to kill (which was the point), so we had to
find various ways to spend it. In the four-part pic below…1) we’re posing with the home plate gate in the background, 2) I’m trying to look mean after Jona tied a bandana around my head in the team store, 3) I’m being overwhelmed by gravitational force, and 4) Jona is inspecting the Willie Stargell statue (no disrespect intended):

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Speaking of the home plate gate, here’s a closer look:

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Nothing special, right? Well, here’s an even closer look:

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I know the Pirates haven’t had a winning season since 1992, and I know attendance is sagging to the point that PNC Park resembles a ghost town, but c’mon, this is ridiculous. I’ve only seen spider webs in one other major league stadium. Anyone want to guess where?

By the time the center field gate opened at 5pm, there were dozens of people waiting on line. I raced inside ahead of all of them and snapped a quick photograph of the bleachers while I still had the place to myself…

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…and then handed the camera to Jona. Check out this cool shot she took of me at the start of BP:

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I only snagged one ball during the 13 minutes that the Pirates were on the field. It rolled to the wall in straight-away left field, and I got it with the glove trick as Jeff Karstens was walking jeff_karstens.jpgover to pick it up. He easily could’ve snatched it, but instead he walked back to his spot in the outfield and watched with several of his teammates. Then, at the last second, as I was lifting my glove with the ball tucked firmly inside, another ball came flying out of nowhere and thumped off the padded wall below. It had missed my glove by inches and made me flinch. I looked up and Karstens was grinning.

“Nice try!” I yelled. I got the sense that he was just being playful–that even if he’d knocked the ball out of my glove he would’ve given it to me–so I added, “Thanks for letting me get it!”

Karstens responded with a subtle wave, and that was that.

Chris Dickerson (who picked up his first major league hit the night before) was the first player to take the field for the Reds. As he was back-peddling to his spot in left field, a left-handed batter sliced a line drive right at him. Dickerson half-heartedly reached for it and somehow missed it, allowing the ball to tip off the side of his glove and roll all the way to the warning track. I used the glove trick to snag this one as well, and Jona snapped a few quick pics of me in action:

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In the pic on the left, I was making sure the rubber band wasn’t too tight or too loose. In the middle pic, I had just knocked the ball closer, and in the pic on the right, I had just gotten the ball to stick inside the glove.

I forgot to mention that as soon as the Reds took the field, I’d changed into my Reds outfit. Pretty convincing, eh?

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I snagged three more balls during the remaining 45 minutes of BP. The first was thrown (right to me over several rows of Pirates fans) by Jerry Hairston in left-center field. The second was a fungo hit by coach Billy Hatcher, and I made a web-gem-type catch. I immediately judged that the ball was going to sail five to ten feet over my head so I climbed up on a bench, took my eye off the ball briefly as I stepped onto the bench in the next row, then turned back toward the field and spotted the ball flying toward me…and jumped and lunged and made an over-the-shoulder catch high above my head the in the tip of my glove…with the sun in my eyes. It felt great. And as for the last BP ball I snagged…I got it with the glove trick and immediately handed it to the kid on my left.

I made it to the Reds’ dugout one minute before BP ended and got my sixth ball of the day tossed by the equipment manager. Then, with nearly an hour to spare before the first pitch, Jona and I headed to the upper deck:

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.jpg” class=”mt-image-left” style=”float:left;margin:0 20px 20px 0;” height=”412″ width=”550″ /></a></span></p>
<p>We wandered and I took photos from every possible angle…</p>
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…and ended up behind home plate where I took some pics for my traditional/cheap panorama:

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As much as I was complaining in my previous entry about PNC Park not being all that exciting, I have to say that it really is a gorgeous stadium. When Jona and I made it back down to the field level, even the concourse behind/below the left field seats caught my eye:

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Concourses aren’t the most exciting things in the world–I will acknowledge that–but having suffered for the last 20 years inside the cramped and dingy concourses of the New York City stadiums, I had to take a moment to appreciate the spaciousness and cleanliness and architectural design of this one in Pittsburgh.

Before the game started, I got autographs from Adam Rosales and Steve Pearce…

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…and then got Luis Rivas to toss me a ball–my seventh of the day–after he finished playing catch along the right field foul line. When I caught that ball, the entire front row was packed with kids, but none of them had gloves. They were ALL there for autographs, so no one protested when I reached out and made the easy catch.

marked_balls_08_13_08.jpgSix of the seven balls I’d snagged at that point were either marked (with a “C” by Cincinnati) or stamped (with “practice”) on the sweet spot. As for the small four-digit numbers that appear on the balls, I wrote them as I snagged each one. They indicate how many balls I have. The ball in the middle of the lower row, for example, was the 3,588th ball of my collection, and if you’re wondering why some of the numbers are upside-down…it’s not my fault. It’s the Reds’ and Pirates’ fault. I mark every ball in the same spot: to the left of the main portion of the stamp, all the way over near the sweet spot. The Reds and Pirates were obviously not concerned with making each mark or stamp face the same way. As far as I’m concerned, THEY marked and stamped some of the balls upside-down; I merely turned them all so they’d face the same way in this photograph.

Jona and I wandered throughout the game after getting kicked out of a great foul ball spot in the third inning. (Good job, Pirates management. Not only have you assembled an unwatchable team, but you have more empty seats than fans, and you’re instructing your ushers to act like bullies. Bravo. Enjoy another 15 years in the cellar. And while we’re at it, your dollar hot dogs sucked.) We checked out the view from deep left-center field and poked our heads inside the restaurant:

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We wandered back toward the field and got a good look at the open space behind the bleachers where I’d caught a BP homer the day before (I highly recommend this spot whenever a power-hitting righty comes up):

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I was filmed juggling three balls late in the game (sorry for the poor quality but this is a screen shot from a low-quality video)…

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…and shown on the Jumbotron for at l
east 20 seconds:

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As you can see in the photo above, the Pirates had a 4-1 lead after six innings. Each team added a run after that…and that was it. There were four home runs hit in the game, and I didn’t come close to any of them. Paul Maholm worked eight solid innings to earn the win. The game lasted just two hours and 14 minutes. The attendance was a minuscule 15,787. After the final out, I got a ball tossed to me by home plate umpire Kevin Causey as he walked off the field (on the outfield end of the third base dugout) and then got another ball from an unidentifiable Pirate one minute later at the dugout. (It had to be a pitcher because he walked across the field from the bullpen. He was tall and had a beard, and I think he was right-handed. Any ideas who it might’ve been?) I gave this ball to a girl on my right, collected a few extra ticket stubs, and went out to dinner with Jona.

Goodbye, PNC Park.

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STATS:

? 9 balls at this game

? 317 balls in 44 games this season = 7.2 balls per game.

? 540 consecutive games with at least one ball

? 131 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball

? 3,594 total balls

Several other things…

1) I’m five balls away from breaking my single-season record.

2) I’ve decided to go for 400 balls this season, and since I have about 20 more games planned, I should be able to do it.

3) It looks like I’m going to be in Philadelphia with Clif (aka “goislanders4″) on Tuesday.

4) I haven’t had ANY time lately to answer emails or comments (I’ve barely had time to blog and eat and sleep), but I’m hoping to catch up at some point this weekend…

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