September 2, 2010
It's 4 PM on a Monday in August. Office workers are starting to make their way home. Lucky for them, the Roberto Clemente Bridge is closed for the Pirates game that night. As they make their way across the bridge, someone may wonder why people are playing catch outside the centerfield gate three hours before game time. The sea of backpacks against the turnstiles brings more confusion. What are these people here for? The answer is ballhawking. And believe it or not PNC Park may be the biggest hot bed for it in the nation.
How you may ask? Well its three key factors that I believe make Pittsburgh the ballhawking Capital of the MLB.
1. The team
The Pittsburgh Pirates are a horrible team. They have set the North American record for most consecutive losing seasons as their streak reached 18 in 2010. To put that in perspective I'm a few days away from being a freshman in college and I was 9 months old the last time the Pirates finished a season with more than 81 wins let alone making the playoffs. What does this do? This keeps attendance light most nights especially while the Pittsburgh Penguins and Steelers are in season. The fact that more than one generation of potential fans being turned off by losing baseball is a ballhawks gain. While other stadiums crowd up fast, PNC does not.
2. The stadium
Another key factor is that PNC Park was basically built for ballhawking. The left field stands features a fence that's just 6 feet high. This makes socializing with the players along with getting their attention very easy. The stands are not steep which lets you focus more on the ball and less on your safety. The wide cross aisle between the two levels of bleachers is a great place to play big hitters or in the rare instances of bigger crowds. In right center, the stands are also not very steep and feature easy access to the Riverwalk for when heavy-hitting lefties such as Prince Fielder bomb homers over the stands. For the adventurous types the seats in straight-away right field above the Roberto Clemente Wall sit 21 feet above the field (in honor of the number Clemente wore) and pose more of a challenge when it comes to playing balls. It is a favorite target of pull hitting lefties.
3. The ballhawks
This is the most important part of what makes Pittsburgh the best for ballhawking. Many of the nations best ballhawks call PNC Park their home. Erik Jabs, founder of the Ballhawk league, is closing in on 500 balls. His blog is consistently one of the most visited on mlblogs.com and even some of the Pirates players know about the Ballhawk League. Nick Pelesak currently sits 61 short of 400 a mark he is likely to break in 2010. Many other ballhawks, including myself, don't put up as crazy of numbers as they do but have posted respectable numbers this year. There are also other long time ballhawks that don't post on MyGameBalls but have more baseballs than one can count. In addition to skill, the people here show great sportsmanship as well. You won't see them knocking over kids and being mean to get that extra ball. Pittsburgh ballhawks are also among the most generous when it comes to giving a ball to a youngster.
So if you happen attend a game at PNC Park in the future make sure to bring your glove and come ready for a big game. The real show happens before the game even starts.
Steve Uhlmann is a contributing columnist to myGameBalls.com and also maintains a Blog.