A front-row seat to witnessing history

Courtesy of Josh Lavallee | Pittsburgh Pirates | Brendan Henne and Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Bryan Reynolds pose for a picture after Reynolds hit the 3000th home run in PNC Park history during an Aug. 18 game, a home run caught by Brendan.

Luke Henne & Brentaro Yamane | Staff Editors

Aug. 25, 2022

Editor’s Note: Luke Henne is the staff’s editor-in-chief, while Brentaro Yamane is the staff’s layout/multimedia editor.

In the bottom of the first inning during an Aug. 18 game between the Boston Red Sox and the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park, Bryan Reynolds hit what was the 2,999th home run in PNC Park’s history.

On that night, we gathered with Brendan Henne (Luke’s brother) and Luke Clinefelter (Luke’s friend) at the game.

Little did we know, the next home run — hit by Reynolds in the fifth inning — would be one that created a lifelong memory for the four of us.

“As soon as it [the baseball] hit the bat, I knew it was going to be close to us,” Brendan said. “I remember yelling, ‘Heads up!’ and nudging Luke Clinefelter on the arm.

“It hit the people either a row or two rows behind, hit off their hands and bounced right into my hands. I didn’t even have to move.”

It was an ordinary Thursday night, but it was a night where us four gathered in each other’s presence at the same time for the first time ever.

We sat in right field, on the Roberto Clemente Wall. The game was played on what would have been Clemente’s 88th birthday. Clemente finished his career with exactly 3,000 hits.

For Brendan, he’d been to over 400 Pirates games at PNC Park, but had never caught a home run. This was a first.

Within seconds, we all remembered what we’d discussed after the first of Reynolds’ two home runs in the game: the 3,000-home run record was close.

And, now, Brendan held the prized possession in his hands.

Michael Bracci, a member of the Pirates’ security department, found his way to our section in a matter of minutes to begin the negotiation process.

“He was like, ‘Alright, well, we want that ball,’ Brendan said. ‘We want to put it in the PNC Park Hall of Fame if you, of course, would give it up, so we’re prepared to offer you a signed bat or ball.’ He didn’t really specify a player.”

After Bracci told Brendan that he was willing to negotiate with whatever he wanted in exchange for the ball, Brendan had just one initial request: meeting and exchanging the ball with Reynolds.

He also informed Bracci that his favorite player was Jack Suwinski, and he hoped that maybe a replica Suwinski jersey would find his way to him.

While the latter hope was not immediately possible because Suwinski is currently not on the Pirates’ active roster, the former wish was in place to be fulfilled.

After a brief discussion, Bracci and Brendan left the seats. Bracci then made a call to Chris Hunter, the Pirates’ senior director of ballpark operations, to get the postgame plans lined up.

At this point, footage of the event had made its way onto social media, and cameras began capturing the negotiations.

Robby Incmikoski, a reporter for AT&T SportsNet Pittsburgh, found his way to Brendan and Bracci to get the inside scoop on the process, and he’d soon relay the details to play-by-play commentator Greg Brown on live television.

After a few innings, Brendan got it arranged to have Clinefelter and the rest of our group go into the stadium’s service tunnel with him. Brendan was going to be the one to deliver the ball to the man who hit it. The three of us were just along for the ride, soaking the moment in.

After the game, Brendan knew he’d be meeting Reynolds, but was stunned at how it happened.

“My first thought when I said I wanted to meet Reynolds was maybe after he showers or when he’s walking to his car, get a picture with him there or in the clubhouse,” Brendan said. “I never would’ve imagined walking on the field.

“I think that was a good thing because I didn’t really expect it, I wasn’t nervous. As soon as the game ended, [Bracci] takes me on the field, Reynolds is giving the postgame interview, I look up into 20,000 [people] and all the lights…I think, ‘This is surreal right now. I’ve never seen anything like this.'”

Brendan expressed his gratitude for the moment, especially given that his brother holds an internship in the Pirates’ baseball communications department and doesn’t get to attend as many games with him.

“We’ve [each] gone to a million games alone, especially me this year with our newer college schedules and work schedules,” Brendan said. “I think it was no coincidence that [Luke’s complimentary employee] tickets were blocked off for that series because it was the Red Sox, kind of forcing us to buy seats in the outfield.”

Brendan became a local celebrity in his native Cranberry Township. The Butler Eagle published a feature story, and he was recognized in a tweet by Seneca Valley, his high school alma mater.

A video of him catching and celebrating with the ball found its way on to SportsCenter’s Twitter page. His picture with Reynolds was featured on the Pirates’ Facebook page.

He’s grateful for the memory created.

“I wouldn’t have rather had anyone there other than you [Luke], but it was pretty cool to have [Clinefelter] and Brentaro there, too. That’s probably a moment that they’ll remember for the rest of their lives as well.”