Dave Edlund has been training all of his life.
He is not a military man who has sweated his way through boot camps and morning runs.
Nor is he a fighter who has run marathons of stadium steps and is well-versed in the ways of the octagon or the squared circle.
Dave Edlund is a San Francisco Giants fan.
Since becoming an AT&T Park regular in 2005, Edlund has attended more than 300 Giants games, all of which he has spent outside the actual confines of the park. While tens-of-thousands of fans sit in the bleachers, Edlund sits beyond the right field wall in his kayak, blubbing atop the waters of McCovey Cove, waiting for the sounds of an approaching Splash Hit.
He is known as “McCovey Cove Dave,” a name that can be found proudly printed on his gameday uniform, an orange hooded sweatshirt that has been dunked in the water of the Bay more times than a plunging San Francisco seagull.
After grabbing his first Splash Hit home run in August of 2005, McCovey Cove Dave has scooped-up a total of 24 Cove home runs. More impressively, since the start of the 2010 season, of the 25 Splash Hit home runs hit while he was in the Cove, he has grabbed 21 of them, a mind-boggling .840 batting average.
According to Dave, his success in the Cove comes from a set of six skills that he began mastering in 1963 at the age of eight, 37 years before AT&T Park first opened.
“To be a great McCovey Cove ball hawk,” says Dave, “you need to be …”
“… a good radio listener …”
For Dave Edlund, it was the summer of ‘63.
“I started listening to all their games on the radio and reading their box scores the next morning in the paper,” says the 57-year-old Edlund about his eight-year-old self, “[Home runs] were always my favorite play.”
The summer of 1963: 162 games with 162 radio broadcasts and 162 morning box scores and 44 home runs from Willie McCovey and 38 more from Willie Mays and 197 in all from the San Francisco Giants.
He was hooked.
He listened the same to the Mays at-bats as he did to the at-bats of fourth outfielder Matty Alou; to the 40 Juan Marichal starts as the five from Jim Duffalo; the 88 wins as the 74 losses: closely.
“I started recalculating players’ batting averages in my head as I listened to the game,” explains Dave.
In the smart 2014, with smartphones, smart-tablets, smart-televisions, smart-watches, and smarter computers, Dave is still a smart radio listener. His radio blubs with him in his kayak in the Cove named after the Giants’ home run leader of 1963, waiting to announce the first sound of a Splash Hit: “a deep fly ball to right!”
“… able to anticipate where the ball is going to land …”
Math for Dave goes beyond the summer of ‘63 and radio batting averages. He is a self-proclaimed sabermetrics and statistics expert.
Before each night spent in the Cove, he studies the weather conditions: humidity makes the ball jump and a strong wind could change a foul-pole poke to a power-alley blast.
He studies the tendencies and frequencies of each potential pitcher: hard thrower? sinker-baller? home run prone?
He studies each home run hit by each left-handed batter in each of the last five seasons.
“I park my kayak where I think the [home rukn] will land and that is a slightly different spot for every player,” says Dave.
Since 2010, in games Dave has attended, only four of the 25 Splash Hits have alluded him.
“I will almost always be the first kayaker with a paddle in the water,” says Dave, “[The television cameras] will generally show me paddling in the right direction towards where the ball is going before other kayakers know what’s happening.”
For the World Series, Dave has his eyes on the visiting left-handed power of the Kansas City Royals, of Mike Moustakas, of Eric Hosmer, of Alex Gordon.
“In the case of Mike Moustakas, I will be close down the right field line,” says Dave, “from the foul line to as far as 40 feet. I will move in that area based on where I can find the most room. For Eric Hosmer, I will play 80 feet off the line or further (like even 120 feet off the line) if I have to. This is the area behind the last right field water cannon. I will position my kayak in a similar area for Alex Gordon, maybe 70 feet off the line or deeper.”
However, his scouting does not always put him in the right place. For this year’s NLDS against the Washington Nationals, Dave played Bryce Harper roughly 100 feet from the right field foul pole. But, when Harper connected for a Splash Hit in game four, he pulled it down the line.
Naturally Dave has back-up plans for when home runs become outliers of his statistical planning.
“ … be a great kayak paddler …”
Here are some more numbers:
At the age of 57, Dave swims a minimum of 20 miles each week, paddles hard for an additional 10 miles, and regularly mountain bikes and lifts weights.
“I have done competitive sports all my life and I learned to become a speedy paddler,” said Dave.
“I also trained in super severe wind and weather conditions my whole life much tougher than McCovey Cove.”
“ … be competitive and aggressive …”
Dave’s competitive advantage in the Cove is just that: he is competitive.
He says he is “relentless and a hunter.”
While the lives of many in their fifties are filled with unachieved goals, skeletons of dreams of illustrious careers or exotic adventures, Dave’s is filled with goals that were not just completed, but lofty goals that were hunted down and ravished.
In 2001, after nearly 20 years of employment at a technology company, Dave walked away: he had goals to chase. He told his co-workers two goals he wished to accomplish: catch a McCovey Cove home run and to become the best spear fishing diver in the United States. After only four years, Dave’s spear fishing team won the 2005 U.S. National Championship. Months later, on August 14th, 2005, Dave grabbed his first McCovey Cove home run, a shot hit by the Giants’ Randy Winn.
It was only his 10th trip to McCovey Cove.
Now, Dave has new goals: he also wants to move his achievements inside of AT&T Park, achievements that have nothing to do with catching home runs.
“I want to be not only a good ball hawk, but to be helpful to the Giants and the MLB in every way I can because I love the sport,” said Dave. “While I strive to be the most successful ball hawk in McCovey Cove, I have another goal and that is [to] become the most helpful fan in all of the MLB.”
Dave says he goes inside AT&T Park about ten times each season, solely to meet with other fans that follow him on social media. He prides himself on being the most retweeted San Francisco Giants fan. He “strives to have the best stories and best [pictures] about Giants baseball” and loves to be connected to his more than 10,000 combined Twitter and Instagram followers. He brings laminated signs with him on his kayak in order to communicate with the fans at home when the cameras find him post-home run. “Will Paddle 4 BASEBALLS,” one reads.
And they love to be connected to him: one fan paid $1,000 to have Dave attend a Giants event with him and Hunter Pence.
Dave also appears on local San Francisco sports radio stations, answering questions and telling stories as he waits for splash hits. Some radio stations have even employed him for media work during the 2014 season, sending him to interview players.
The media has also come to Dave in droves in the days leading up to game 3 of this year’s World Series. FOX, the home of the World Series, has interviewed him with a possibility of the footage being aired during the pre-game show. He has also done interviews with the likes of MTV and the Sporting News.
Outside of the media, Dave has also organized events for fans to bring their own kayaks into the cove for Giants games with the hopes to raise money for local charities.
“I am also developing relationships with every Giants executive and key managers in the Park,” said Dave. “For instance, I try to make recommendations to the Giants’ execs as to who they should select to throw out the ceremonial first pitches and Giants fans use me as the intermediary to approach the Giants’ organization on a variety of issues.”
Much like the fans, the Giants are also grateful of the work that Dave has done to improve the already fan-friendly franchise. At the end of last season, the team invited Dave on the field to take part in pre-game ceremonies as a part of Fan Appreciation Day.
Dave also hopes he can get one more small reward from the Giants for all of his help. “My son says if I do a great job at making baseball fun at AT&T Park they will make a fan giveaway bobblehead of me in my kayak,” said Dave. “So I guess that is also my secret goal!”
“ … be patient and determined …”
Sitting in a kayak in San Francisco’s McCovey Cove is nothing like reclining on an inflatable raft off the coast of Key West. In April for the start of the Giants’ season, the average high in San Fran is 63 degrees, only increasing to an average high of 70 in September while the lows never pass 55.
The water temperature in the Bay hovers around 50 degrees all year.
Dave says for day games, there are about 10 other people in the Cove waiting for a Splash Hit. At night, just as the temperature, the total drops to about five. For special events like the playoffs, the Cove could see as many as 40 people in kayaks, boats, or paddleboards.
Those numbers do not matter to Dave: he says he is still the first or second person to the ball no matter how many people are out there.
“… be prepared for all circumstances …”
If Dave has his way — and he so often does — at the age of 57, he is only getting started in his hobby. He loves the longevity of what he calls a “hunting sport.”
“I will not stop ball hawking until I am really old and that certainly will be well into my 70’s. I want to grab more home runs from McCovey Cove than Barry Bonds hit there,” said Dave. “He hit just less than 40, so I want to grab plus!”