On a summer afternoon in July, throngs of baseball fans made their way along the Embarcadero towards Oracle Park. One of those fans, however, wasn’t destined for a reserved seat in the stadium—instead, he headed straight for the salty waters of McCovey Cove.
Dave Edlund, better known as “McCovey Cove Dave,” attends Giants games perched on top of his kayak in the waters of his namesake, located directly behind the right field wall of the park.
During games, the cove—which is nicknamed for famed Giants first baseman Willie McCovey—becomes host to devoted fans piloting paddleboards, sailboats and kayaks. However, it’s impossible to actually see the field from this vantage point.
Most fans on the water are gathered for a chance at something else.
“Ball hawking is a sport where baseball fans try to catch souvenir baseballs. It's practiced at all 30 major league parks,” said Edlund. “The high end of the sport is trying to get the homerun, which is the rarest souvenir ball.”
The baseballs that Edlund and his fellow ball hawkers chase should then be considered the rarest of the rare. These are the homeruns (or in some cases exceptionally well-hit foul balls) that make their way over the wall of the stadium and end up in the cove. What ensues is a mad scramble by everyone present on the water to scoop up the piece of memorabilia—and this is where McCovey Cove Dave shines.
“To be a good ball hog in McCovey Cove, you need a certain set of skills. You need to be a fast kayaker. You need to be able to determine where that ball is going to land,” said Edlund.
“You also have to be a good radio listener. Not everybody has the patience to really be ready for every player, and the top ball hawks that I compete against are ready for every player.”
These are skills that Edlund has spent a lifetime perfecting. He is a former champion in free dive spearfishing, which requires you to quickly navigate across sea waters and predict the movement of fish. He also spent his early days of Giants fandom exclusively listening to them on the radio, falling in love with the mechanics of the sport and its players. Put together, it seems as if he was born for this sport.
“Overall, there have been 200 McCovey Cove home runs over 23 seasons—of the 200, I have 47,” said Edlund.
“Barry Bonds hit 38 total home runs in McCovey Cove, so I have more total balls than Barry Bonds. I've also played more games. Barry played about 495 games at the park and I have 630.”
Edlund’s almost-constant presence in the cove has endeared him to Giants fans and the sporting world at large, transforming him into a local legend and unofficial team mascot (sorry Lou Seal). He’s met many of his heroes on the team, been gifted a custom bobblehead, and was named the 2016 FanSided "American Fan of the Year." However, Edlund said it’s not about the notoriety—he pursues the balls because to him, they mean more than just a remembered game.
“Of all the homeruns that I've got, the most special one by far is splash hit 93 on Mother's Day. I'd lost my mom, and she just was a devoted Giants fan and a devoted mom.”
Following the catch, Edlund posted a heartfelt tribute from his kayak to his social media followers, dedicating the ball to his mother. A repost of the clip from ESPN has been watched almost 10 million times on TikTok, with viewers responding emotionally and sharing their own tributes to family members who loved the sport.
“I feel the memory of carrying a special home run is priceless to me. It might not be for everybody, but it is for me,” said Edlund.
San Francisco residents and visitors can wave to Edlund in the cove until the end of the Giants season this year, and for many more years to come. Edlund, at 66 years old, says he doesn’t plan to stop ball hawking any time soon.
“My goal is to be ball hawking in McCovey Cove into my mid-seventies,” said Edlund. “I would like to be in McCovey Cove for maybe 800 to 900 games. If I ended up playing more games in McCovey Cove than anyone on the field, that would be pretty cool.”
Jesse Rogala can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org