When PNC Park opened in 2001, it wasn’t all that hard to imagine someone might hit a ball into the Allegheny River. After all, there were a number of power hitting lefties bouncing around baseball at the time, most notably Barry Bonds — but he never did it. (If you’re wondering how Bonds did at PNC, he raked — he just didn’t play many games there. He played in 15 games with seven home runs and an OPS of 1.589.)
The shortest distance from home plate to the Allegheny is a long one, at 456 feet, according to the Pittsburgh Pirates team website. It took a little over a year for the first ball to be hit into the river, coming off the bat of Daryle Ward. Kip Wells was pitching for the Pirates that day, a day he likely tried to forget as soon as it was over.
In the top of the fifth inning, the Houston Astros were leading Pittsburgh, 4-0. Then, a one-out double by Craig Biggio, an intentional walk issued to Lance Berkman, and another walk to Jeff Bagwell set the stage for Ward’s bomb. The first pitch fastball was rocketed to deep right field, and the words “It’s headed for the water” echoed over the Houston broadcast. Despite it being an Astros road game, even the home faithful couldn’t help but be electrified by Ward’s feat of power.
Another ball wouldn’t be deposited into the river for over a decade. No Pirate was able to perform the task until a Garrett Jones at bat in June 2013. In a game the Pirates were trailing, 4-2, in the bottom of the eighth inning, Jones stepped up to the plate with an opportunity to tie the game. Andrew McCutchen had just legged out an infield single that was too deep in the hole for third baseman Todd Frazier to make a play on.
Jones had worked himself into a 2-1 hitter’s count against Reds’ reliever Jonathan Broxton. The blast tied the game at four and cemented Jones in the Pirates’ history book, becoming the first to achieve such a blast. The ball narrowly missed an unsuspecting bicyclist riding along the river. After the ball splashed down, a father can be seen restraining presumably his son from diving in for the ball. The father is then seen on his stomach, arm stretched toward the ball, but falling several feet short.
A couple years later Pedro Alvarez took his shot at the river. During a May 2015 game, the Pirates were trailing the Minnesota Twins, 8-1. Ricky Nolasco was on the mound for Minnesota, and gave Alvarez a 2-0 pitch he could handle. The lefty turned on the ball and shot it towards the right field fence. Pirates’ play-by-play announcer Greg Brown immediately says, “There’s a drive, forget that one.”
That blast only made the game 8-2, and the Pirates would go on to lose by an 8-5 count, but Alvarez gave the home crowd, announced at 22,357, a reason to cheer. The difference in this home run as opposed to rest is that, despite making it to the Allegheny on the fly, it wasn’t a “splash” ball. The ball landed in a boat, and then a man climbed into the boat to retrieve the ball. A legal battle ensued disputing who the proper owner of the ball was. Parts of that story can be read at the WPXI website here.
The next player on the list, Josh Bell, has had his fair share of long blasts, one of which cleared the batter’s eye in centerfield. Two others cleared everything in right field and made their way into the Allegheny. The first was on May 8, 2019, when the Texas Rangers were in town.
Shelby Miller was pitching for Texas in the bottom of the fourth inning. Melky Cabrera led off the inning with a single into left field. Gregory Polanco struck out, and then Bell ripped a 1-0 pitch out of the ballpark. Once the ball was struck, the rising voices in the stands reached a crescendo when they collectively realized how far the ball actually went. Joe Block remarked, “This ball soars out of here! Wow! It leaves the ballpark on the fly, hello Allegheny!”
That knotted the game at 2-2, but the Pirates would go on to lose, 9-6. A four run eighth and a three run ninth made the difference for Texas.
That was Bell’s first river shot. His second came two weeks later against the Colorado Rockies. With a 3-0 lead in the second inning, Rockies’ pitcher Jon Gray threw a changeup that stayed in the upper part of the zone. The 1-1 pitch was promptly unloaded on, making the score 3-1. “And a high drive to right field, ring your bell, this is crushed!” the inimitable Brownie is heard saying over the AT&T SportsNet broadcast.