Ballhawks show up early to shag homers Mike Sullivan may be a retired engineer with a fistful of graduate degrees, but he pounds his glove like a little kid.
"Action," says the 74 year old. "We've got action." Longtime baseball fan Dr. Mike Sullivan, on right, gives up a ball to Dave "Number One Heckler" Hilsheimer of Bradenton. Some 3 hours before a Pittsburgh Pirates spring training oakley online store game most fans will bring their baseball glove waiting for homerun balls during the teams batting practice to come into play on the outfield deck area of McKechnie Field in Bradenton. (Staff photo by Thomas Bender) It's two hours before a spring training game at Ed Smith Stadium. Batting practice for the big hitting Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles. The fans spread out in the seats behind the left field fence. When a right hander swings, these ballhawks listen for the crack of the bat and look for a home run ball. "Here's one," Sullivan shouts, but it lands a few rows over. A Sarasota kid makes a nice backhand catch. Then everyone steps back. getting set for the next hit. Sullivan punches the pocket of his glove. He crouches a little, left foot forward. He looks over the field and into the stands. "My wife, Marilyn, is in the corner," he says. "She's covering the left field line." Sullivan grew up shagging balls deals on oakley sunglasses at Shibe Park in Philadelphia, but he only started wearing a glove four years oakley vault coupons ago. "I broke my finger standing right back there," he says. "They had to take me to the emergency room and everything. But get this: I was back by the seventh inning of the game." Before a football game, fans don't get to catch long passes from Peyton Manning. Before a basketball game, they don't get to rebound for LeBron James. With baseball, though, there's oakley romeo batting practice. The biggest stars in the game step up and swing. Fans try to catch the balls rocketing off their bats. It's like a game, 400 feet from home plate only they're the players. "Crazy, right?" says Melissa Williams, 47, who carries a black Rawlings glove to McKechnie Field in Bradenton. "It's addicting. Look at my hand I'm shaking. It's amazing to be so close to the players and be able to take part in everything." Along the Gulf Coast, with its population of retirees, there are fewer youngsters and more older people at batting practice. Kim Fleming, 61, is a regular in Sarasota. He wears a tank top that shows off the Cincinnati Reds tattoo on his arm. He played baseball growing up and still plays softball. Shagging balls is part of a lifelong attachment to the game. "Once you learn it, I don't think you ever lose it," Fleming says. "It's fun, it's baseball. I guess it's trying to live a dream. You're in a ballpark trying to relieve your boyhood days." Not every fan feels the urge to chase homers in batting practice. At McKechnie, Lois Cheuvrant likes to sit along the outfield rail. The 77 year old moves away from balls that come sailing toward her. "I let the brave ones back there go and get 'em," Cheuvrant says, laughing. "I've seen guys fall back, chairs go flying and everything else. It isn't worth it." "As a season ticket holder, I get in early," he says. it's Dr. Sullivan and multiple master's degrees, but he still says thing like "neat o." His childlike enthusiasm is paired with research and preparation. Sullivan carries a backpack with his glove, along with guides and photos for both teams, including their minor league fielders and pitchers. When players retrieve balls near the fence, sometimes they toss them up to fans in the stands. It helps if those fans know the names and faces of the players. Sullivan isn't shy. He calls out their first names. He wishes them good luck on their season. "You've got to be a little personal," he says. "You know, 'Hey, Bo, you're going to Norfolk this year?' And then they'll come over and talk to you.
" In the off season, Sullivan and his wife like to travel. They spent a month in eastern Europe last year. During spring training, they head to a ballpark almost every day.
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