September 23, 2010
A few weeks ago, Steve Uhlmann wrote a column calling Pittsburgh the "Ballhawking Capital of the MLB." The article was nicely developed and organized with valid points supporting his claim, surely a nice read. In short, he said that PNC Park in Pittsburgh was the Ballhawking Capital of the MLB because of the small crowds, the stadium features, and the other ballhawks. I refute that claim.
I have only been to three Major League stadiums and have 'hawked at each of them, PNC being one. To be honest, the Pittsburgh ballpark was my least favorite for ballhawking. The ballpark features and rules actually made hawking that much more difficult:
The sun created a large obstacle for both the fans, hawks, and players making it nearly impossible to see the ball in flight. You may say "bring sunglasses," however, the sun was bad enough to where sunglasses would not have helped. Honestly, the sun is extremely dangerous for everyone.
The dirt warning track created unpredictable bounces as well, causing a ballhawk trouble. The ball had to hit just right to sail over the low wall in left and there was no telling what row it was bound to land it. The warning track eliminates ballhawk skill and makes luck a bigger factor.
In Pittsburgh, gate opening times are a confusing situation. Here is the official listings according to pittsburghpirates.com's official A-Z Guide: "Gates open one and one half hours (1 1/2) prior to game time (Monday through Sunday) and two hours on Opening Day. The Riverwalk will open two (2) hours before weekday (Monday-Friday) games and two and one half hours (2 1/2) prior to weekend (Saturday-Sunday) games." Basically, on the weekday, only a small portion of the park is open for Season Ticket holders, maybe a third of the outfield and no where else until everyone else is allowed. If you are a non-season ticket holder, you have access to no part of the seating until 90 minutes before the start of the game.
Not only does the amount of time you are allowed hurt your ball total but so does the design of the area you are allowed. There is a double-deck design in left field of PNC Park that slows down the hawks in their pursuit of the baseball.
They say you only get better when you face tough competition. In ballhawking, the less competition is better as collecting the most balls is better than getting better. In Pittsburgh, Erik Jabs and Nick Pelescak roam, both registering 400+ seasons in 2010. Those two have combined for 877 balls in 2010 and 1,789 in their careers (as of before the game on 9/22/10). At PNC in 2010, the two have 623 baseballs. The other twelve hawks that have registered balls on mygameballs from PNC park combine for 161 balls. Over 79% of the 2010 logged balls from PNC park were snagged by Jabs and Pelescak. Additionally, the PNC record for most balls in one game is 16. Only 22 times have double-digits been reached. Only one of those 22 games weren't recorded by Jabs and Pelescak.
Despite being a last place team, the fans in Pittsburgh are rude and ignorant. Of course this is not true for all Pirate fans, but a few bad apples spoil the whole batch. No one wants to watch a game with rude fans of a last place team.
After a visit to Pittsburgh, you only need to travel five hours southeast to redeem your ballhawking livelihood. Oriole Park at Camden Yards, not PNC Park, stands as the Ballhawking Capital of the MLB.
Only occasionally do you need sunglasses at Oriole Park and they are more than enough to fend off the mild sun.
Ask any ballhawk around Baltimore and they will tell you the rubberized warning track is a God-send. Even if the ball doesn't clear the fence, it still has the opportunity to find its way to a glove. The bounces are very easy to predict with common knowledge of angles.
If you are a season ticket holder in Baltimore, you have access to the entire ballpark two hours prior to the start of the game giving the opportunity for extra balls as well as extra items. Even if you are not a season ticket holder you have access to the right-center field bleachers and the flag court down the line in right. 155 balls are recorded on mygameballs from right and center fields in Camden Yards, an area where little mygameball members frequent.
The design in left field and in the entire park is simple, no double-decks in homerun distance, and no unavoidable quirks. I have only seen one ball find its way to the second deck off the bat, a freak shot from Nelson Cruz this season that only barely reached the higher deck before falling back to earth.
When you combine the top two totals from OPACY on mygameballs.com for the 2010 season, there is a total of 163, a little over 24%. None of the Oriole Park ballhawks topped 150 this season and only two have topped 100 thus far, a mere fraction of the total of the PNC ballhawks. It is open season for anyone all season at the Yards, unlike at PNC. The record high for Oriole Park sits at 25. There have been two 20+ games and twenty-three 10+ games recorded by seven different hawks.
Just as at PNC, the Oriole attendance is severely low, ranking 10th of 14 in the American League with only 1.65 million fans attending games thus far.
You put all these together and Oriole Park is by far superior to PNC. Even Zack Hample says so, do we ever disagree with that guy?
Tim Anderson is a contributing columnist to myGameBalls.com and also maintains a Blog.