Ball 'Hawking' On The Allegheny River

Oct 7, 2015

Pittsburgh's Pete Schell says he's probably collected about 300 to 400 baseballs in the 15 years he's been shagging balls outside the Pirates' ballparks. But the dream of catching one on the fly has so far eluded him.
Credit Lou Blouin / The Allegheny Front

Ball "hawks"—the obsessed, not-afraid-to-run-you-or-your-mother-over fans that shag and collect baseballs from Major League ballparks—are a special breed. But Pittsburgh's Pete Schell is a unique gamer within that subculture. Typically, the competitive ball shagging is done inside the park during pre-game batting practice. But Pete Schell has found his own version of the hawks' life outside PNC Park on the banks of the Allegheny River.

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"The riverwalk, I believe, was always here. But now that the stadium is here, people are going back and forth all the time—jogging, biking, walking. This is where I come down and shag home run balls. I grew up in Chicago and so balls coming out of Wrigley Field onto Waveland Avenue—that’s just in your blood. So when I saw the design of the new park, I said, Okay, I’ll be there. To me, it seemed natural. To most of the people that know me, it’s pretty goofy."

"Typically, four or five a day will come out during batting practice. During a game, you’re lucky if one comes out. So it’s not worth coming out here during a game. When Barry Bonds played, I would set up a chair, and then you’d hear, Next batter, Barry Bonds. So you stand up and hope that something comes out. And that never worked out either because he walked all the time! So you look at the scouting report, see a team that’s coming to town that has a bunch of left-handers and—boom—you’d better be down here in right-center field."

"Right behind us—20 feet or so—is the Allegheny River. So if you back up too much, you’re gonna fall into the river. So I’ll stand down here and people like to say, Now, don’t go back! I mean, every baseball player knows that, right? First step has to be back. Or is it in?"

Listen to this and other audio postcards at the website of our partner The Allegheny Front.