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All the bumps and bruises, just for a baseball

By Scott Bolohan

For RedEye

12:25 PM CDT, September 23, 2013

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"Keep watching."

That was the best advice Ken Vangeloff could give me. We were trying to catch baseballs on Waveland Avenue during batting practice before the Cubs game Sunday. If anyone would have a good advice, it would be Vangeloff. Since 1990, he said he has caught around 3,600 baseballs. You read that right.

And that only puts Vangeloff, 51, of Wrigleyville, somewhere around fifth among the ballhawks, the nickname associated with the people who catch baseballs during batting practice.

Next season the Cubs are planning to install a video board above the left-field bleachers, likely stopping baseballs from literally being knocked out of the park and landing on Waveland. Since teams rarely take batting practice before the final game of the year, Tuesday should be the last chance for a windfall.

I consider myself a bit of a ballhawk—nowhere near the level as the Wrigley regulars, but I've caught around 20 baseballs this year. Catching one on Waveland was always on my bucket list.

So around 10 a.m. I headed to Waveland.

The other ballhawk on the street was Darrell Carter, 37, from Uptown. This was his sixth time, after his recent move from North Carolina, where he ballhawked for a minor league team. Carter said he caught five baseballs at Wrigley, including four in one game. His advice was about the same, "Be patient and be attentive."

For the first hour, not only are you listening for the crack of the bat, trying to pick the ball up against the bright blue sky, but you have to worry about not getting hit by a car and making it into real-life "Frogger."

The gates opened at 11:20 a.m. and fans in the bleachers started to fill in—a huge help. You could watch their reactions to get an idea where a ball was heading.

Vangeloff expected one or two to leave the stadium with the wind blowing in. And in the least surprising part of the experience, nothing the Cubs hit left the park.

Finally a ball looked high enough to get over the bleachers. Unlike in the park, where you can see where the pitch is and the way the batter swings, you see the ball for a split second and need to guess what it'll do. The ball landed at the intersection of Kenmore and Waveland, bouncing down Kenmore.

I gave chase. It hit the end of my glove and rolled under a red Honda. Darrell and I threw ourselves on the street. While Darrell was looking beneath the car, it rolled to the curb.

I had scrapes on my arms and legs, grass stains on my jeans and shoes, and a baseball in my hand.

Scott Bolohan is a RedEye special contributor. @scottbolohan

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