Tagged: Billy Hamilton

Pittsburgh Pirates – August 31

When I woke up on the morning of August 31 for my second day in Pittsburgh, there wasn’t much time to waste. The Pirates were hosting the Cincinnati Reds with a 1 p.m. start time, which meant I wanted to get to PNC Park by 10:30 a.m. I packed up my stuff, checked out of my hotel on the edge of the city and drove straight to my next hotel, the Hampton Inn & Suites Pittsburgh-Downtown. It was still too early to check in, but I was lucky enough to park my car for free at the hotel and walk a few blocks over to PNC Park. The hotel stay was outstanding, and I’ll have lots more about it later in this blog post.

It was absolutely pouring, and I figured there’d be no chance the game would be played at all. Still, I figured a soggy day wandering around the park would be more than all right, so I climbed out of my car and ducked into the rainy morning. From the edge of the hotel’s parking lot, I could see the yellow of the Roberto Clemente Bridge and, beyond it, PNC Park:

pnc-park-from-hotel-parking-lot

Several minutes later, I was standing on the center line of the bridge, as I had a day before:

pnc-park-bridge-center-line

I entered the ballpark a short while later and saw, as you might expect, that the infield was covered with the tarp. No surprise there:

pnc-park-tarp-outfield

The steady rain made me not too interested in standing in the seating area getting soaked, so I moved indoors to the Rivertowne Brewing Hall of Fame Club, which is found above the bleachers in left-center field. This spot is an enormous indoor bar and eatery that is open to all fans. It was packed during much of my visit to PNC Park the day before, but wasn’t too crowded during this rainy day. Apparently, I was so happy to be out of the rain that I completely neglected to take a photo inside the club area, so you’ll have to take my word that I was there.

I killed some time in this area and then checked out the team shop before walking down to field level to enjoy this scene:

pnc-park-tarp

Sure, the tarp is a buzz kill, but the overall view is one of the best you’ll see in baseball. The cold, dreary day called for something hot to eat, and I’d spied a Quaker Steak & Lube concession stand during my first visit to PNC Park and decided to check it out. I’ve often said that the chicken wings at the Quaker Steak & Lube in Toronto’s Rogers Centre are among my all-time favorite ballpark eats, but I wanted to try something different this time. I’ve often been tempted by the onion rings, so I bought an order with blue cheese dip and dug in:

pnc-park-quaker-steak-lube-onion-rings

The rings were delicious — thick, hot and a good onion to batter ratio. The dip wasn’t very good, so I’d definitely try ranch or another flavor next time. If you like onion rings, though, give these a shot at any QS&L location. They look pretty perfect, don’t they?

Soon enough, the rain disappeared and the Pirates miraculously announced the game was expected to start on time. By now, fans were beginning to take their seats, but the crowd was light enough that I was able to sneak walk casually into the park’s famous seats in right field. This section is small to avoid blocking the city’s skyline, so it’s a coveted ticket for Pirates games. The ushers are vigilant about restricting access during the game, but I was able to hang out in the area for a few minutes to take this panorama, which you can click to enlarge:

pnc-park-right-field-seats-panorama

After leaving the area, I walked the length of the Riverwalk and over to the corner in left, where I took the long walk up this spiral ramp:

pnc-park-spiral-walkway

Think the climb might’ve been dizzying? It wasn’t, but looking down at the escalators was:

pnc-park-escalators

After spending the next little while just walking around PNC Park’s various levels and taking in the sights, I went back down to the main level and found a spot to stand to watch the game. Like a day earlier, I’d bought a standing room ticket. The dreary day, however, meant I had no problem getting a front-row spot along the railing on the third base side. From here, I had an unobstructed view to the field … unless you think this little fella, resting on a nearby wheelchair, was blocking my view:

pnc-park-praying-mantis

My pictures of the action at home plate are only so-so, but I had a blast watching guys like Billy Hamilton:

cincinnati-reds-billy-hamilton-batting

If you follow my blog closely, you might remember that I saw Hamilton in Triple-A last summer as a member of the Louisville Bats. You can read about that ballpark visit here, if you’re interested.

Once I’d watched a couple innings from this spot, I was on the move again. It’s not that I can’t stand still — it’s that it’s always too tempting to explore a new ballpark, rather than just hang out in the same spot for the entire game. During each lap of the park, I couldn’t resist taking a look down to the river and over the water to the impressive city skyline. At one point, I noticed something on the water that you just don’t see every day:

pnc-park-river-stand-up-boarder

I eventually returned to a spot on the third base side and snapped pictures like this one of Pirates starter Francisco Liriano:

pnc-park-pirates-francisco-liriano

As I watched him work, keeping an eye on the ribbon board behind home plate to watch his pitch speed, I noticed something I’ve never seen at a single one of the 50-plus parks I’ve visited since 2010. Take a look at this next photo and you’ll see not only the pitch speed, but also the ball’s horizontal break and vertical break:

pnc-park-pitching-details-board

Pretty cool, huh? Of course, the baseball nerd in me had fun watching for off-speed pitches and quickly guessing the break before the data appeared in front of me. Has anyone encountered other parks that provide this data? If so, I’d love to hear about it in the comments section below.

I’ve often said in the past how I love the speed element of baseball, so it was definitely a thrill to see Hamilton in person again. The next time he was up, I positioned myself to the third base side of home and watched as he flew up the base line on a routine ground out. His speed was absolutely incredible, and I shot a series of photos that I’ve made into this gif:

dt83p

After beating the Reds 3-2 a day earlier, the Pirates fell by the same score in a game that saw Cincy starter Johnny Cueto, who I captured earlier in the game during this bunt attempt, win his 16th of the season:

cincinnati-reds-johnny-cueto-bunt

As fans filed out of PNC Park toward their cars, I was excited to avoid the post-game traffic jam and, instead, take a short walk to my hotel, the Hampton Inn & Suites Pittsburgh-Downtown. The hotel is just one mile from the ballpark and an easy walk. It’s totally perfect for baseball fans visiting Pittsburgh — or, really, anyone who enjoys staying downtown and being able to walk to various locations. In addition to its close proximity to PNC Park, the hotel is also within walking distance to Heinz Field, the University of Pittsburgh, a downtown convention center and the Senator John Heinz History Center, a museum that is located directly across the street. (Unfortunately, I didn’t get to visit it, but it looked outstanding.) Speaking of the hotel’s location, a huge perk is that guests get free parking. In all my traveling, I can’t recall another true downtown hotel that has this benefit.

The hotel staff knew of my arrival, and kindly gave me a welcome gift bag loaded with snacks upon checking in. That was the first big surprise. The other? Seeing this sign in the elevator — in particular, the part I’ve pointed out with the red arrow — on the way up to my room:

hampton-inn-suites-pittsburgh-downtown-welcome-sign copy

Wowsers! Did I just say “wowsers?” I sure did.

I was lucky to get a corner suite on an upper floor of the hotel; given the room’s location, it really felt as though I had the best room in the hotel. The view was spectacular — from one window, I could see the river, the yellow bridges and even PNC Park in the distance:

hampton-inn-suites-pittsburgh-downtown-pnc-park-view

And from the other, I had a great view of the city’s downtown, which I photographed early in the evening …

hampton-inn-suites-pittsburgh-downtown-city-view-day

… and again at night:

hampton-inn-suites-pittsburgh-downtown-city-view-night

The view wasn’t the only amazing thing about my room. The room itself was perfect — it was a suite, so it was extremely spacious and had a kitchen area, desk, couch, king-sized bed and more. Check out this shot …

hampton-inn-suites-pittsburgh-downtown-city-room-2

… and this one to see what I mean:

hampton-inn-suites-pittsburgh-downtown-city-room-1

The Hampton Inn & Suites Pittsburgh-Downtown is an outstanding choice if you’ve visiting the Steel City. Beyond the perks I’ve already listed, the hotel features free Wi-Fi, free breakfast, a business center, fitness center, indoor pool and more. From these amenities to its ideal location to its free parking to its awesome rooms, you’ll be glad to hang your Pirates hat (or the hat of whatever team you root for) here.

Two more ballpark experiences from my road trip are coming up! Next one: The end of an era in Jamestown, New York.

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A Game-Used Bat and a Jersey Mystery

I’ve traveled to more than 50 stadiums for The Ballpark Guide, and have managed to pick up some pretty cool souvenirs along the way. These include:

– A Jeremy Nowak (Frederick Keys) home run ball;
– A Tony Caldwell (Greensboro Grasshoppers) home run ball;
– A Randy Ruiz game-used bat;
– A New Hampshire Fisher Cats game-used jacket;
– A Ryan Skube (former Padres prospect) game-used bat;
– A Curtis Thigpen clubhouse nameplate — OK, not “game-used,” but you know what I mean.

Well, as promised, I added a couple really neat items to my collection during my travels last year.

Here’s the first one:

o'conner-bat-full

This is a game-used bat that belonged to Justin O’Conner, the Tampa Bay Rays‘ first-round draft pick in 2010. I bought it in May when I visited Bowling Green Ballpark, home of the Bowling Green Hot Rods. (You can read about this visit here.) It’s exciting to have a bat from a first rounder. I actually saw O’Conner play back in 2012 at the Futures at Fenway game at Fenway Park, and managed to get his autograph on a ball. Last year, when I saw his bat in the team shop at Bowling Green Ballpark, I couldn’t resist grabbing it.

As you can see here, it’s got his name written on the knob:

o'conner-bat-knob

Lots of signs of use on the handle:

o'conner-bat-handle

And a ton of wear on the barrel, which shows that he used this bat an awful lot before it broke. Here are some ball marks:

o'conner-bat-wear

And some little chips, which are caused by when you tap the bat’s barrel against your cleats to them off:

o'conner-bat-cleat-marks

O’Conner hit .223 for the Hot Rods in 2013 but showed some solid pop with 14 home runs in 102 games. I’ll be excited to see where he starts the 2014 season and look forward to following his career.

The next item I added to my collection has a little mystery to it. It’s a Lexington Legends game-used batting practice jersey, and here’s a picture of it:

legends-jersey-front

When I visited Whitaker Bank Ballpark, home of the Legends, in May, I was excited to see a TON of game-used jerseys for sale at decent prices. Often, you see Minor League Baseball game-used jerseys for around $100, which seems like a little much. Anyway, the BP jerseys were just $25, which was impossible to resist. I browsed through the available jerseys, worn during the 2012 season, while checking out the team’s 2012 roster on The Baseball Cube. My goal was to find a jersey of a player with promise, and when I came across the #8 jersey, I saw it apparently belonged to first baseman Zach Johnson. While with Lexington in 2012, Johnson hit 15 home runs and added 108 RBIs. I was sold, and grabbed the jersey off the rack.

When I took it to the counter, the staff member said, “Nice — Delino DeShields, Jr.” Huh? I told him I was pretty sure this was Johnson’s jersey, pointing to the data on my iPod.

He replied that he thought DeShields might have worn the #8 on a promotional jersey night when his usual #4 wasn’t available in his size. If that was the case, what number did Johnson wear on that night? Or did Johnson play? As I said, it’s a mystery.

I have to admit I’m intrigued about DeShields, though. While with the Legends in 2012, he stole 83 bases in 111 games. Yep, you read that right. He added 18 more steals in 24 games with High-A Lancaster to finish the year with 101 stolen bases. This total would be enough to be the best in the entire minor leagues virtually any year, if not for a guy named Billy Hamilton. Hamilton, of course, set the all-time record by swiping 155 bases. (I was lucky enough to see him play at Louisville Slugger Field last year, too.)

So, did I have the jersey of Johnson, a slugger who was released last year, or of DeShields, Jr., a first-round draft pick who might be on the fast track to the majors? (He played in High-A last season and stole 51 bases while batting .317 while just 20 years of age.)

Let’s look at some more pictures of the jersey before we wade even deeper into this mystery. Here’s a shot of the #8 in question:

legends-jersey-number

The back of the entire jersey:

legends-jersey-back

And a close-up of the Legends logo, which has a sharp design:

legends-jersey-logo

Now, back to the mystery. I’ve found proof that Johnson wore my jersey in 2012. The next four pictures I found online, and were taken by Clinton Riddle.

zach-johnson-lexington-legends

And here’s one that shows the front of the jersey:

zach-johnson-lexington-legends2

The Baseball Cube says DeShields wore #4 in 2012, and I’ve found proof of that with this picture:

delino-deshields-jr-lexington-legends2

And here’s the front of his jersey:

delino-deshields-jr-lexington-legends

As you can tell from these photos, they’re taken during BP, not during a game.

So, based on what The Baseball Cube says, and with the photographic proof I can find online, I’m sure the jersey is Johnson’s. But I’m curious about the suggestion of the team shop employee, and I’m determined to find out the truth. I’m going to contact the Legends, as well as DeShields, Jr., himself, to get to the bottom of this mystery.

And when I have an answer, I’ll share it here!

** UPDATE **

Well, that didn’t take long. Immediately after publishing this blog post, I sent messages on Twitter to DeShields, Jr. and the Legends. DeShields was the first to respond, and he straightened things up:

deshields-tweet

Now, I’m not up on the nicknames of former Legends players, but it looks like “Ziggy” is Zach Johnson, which means my initial understanding about the jersey’s rightful owner was correct. An hour later, the Legends confirmed things:

lexington-tweet

I suppose there’s still a chance DeShields wore the jersey once, but that’s probably difficult to confirm. In any case, the theory about the rightful owner of the BP jersey sure made for a fun mystery while it lasted.

As always, thanks for reading. Please visit The Ballpark Guide for comprehensive fan guides to MLB and MiLB parks and remember, each of your visits help support my road trips!