Baseball season is once more upon us. Millions of Americans will be heading to stadiums across the country to root for their team. At the game you’ll find hundreds of souvenir options: pennants, programs, jerseys, and the like. These will all cost you an arm and a leg, and they’re not even that great.
The best souvenir to bring home is a baseball you caught. It doesn’t cost you anything extra and it was actually used for play. It comes with real memories attached. But a ball isn’t going to simply fall into your lap; catching one takes a bit of finesse. Here’s how you can walk away from a ballpark with a souvenir baseball:
Make sure to bring your glove to the game. Sure, you may look like a dork, but when a foul ball is coming at you at over 100 MPH, you’re going to wish you had it. Moreover, most foul balls have a wicked spin coming off the bat. Catching a ball with such a spin with your bare hand is pretty much impossible. So, bring your glove.
Don’t be an uber dork and bring a fish net. That’s just cheating.
How to snag a ball before the game
Go to batting practice. This is your best chance to snag a baseball. The ideal place to stand is in an aisle near the field, about three quarters of the way from third base to the foul pole. Most players are right handed and will be pulling the ball during batting practice. By placing yourself in this spot, you up your chances of catching a ball.
Just ask the players for a ball. While batting practice is going on, there are other players out fielding the balls. Oftentimes, if a ball goes near the stands, they will just toss the ball to the fans. If you get near a player who has a ball in his hand, politely ask him for it. He’ll probably just give it to you.
How to snag a ball during the game
Do you want a foul ball or a home run? Snagging a ball during the game is much more difficult and takes more planning and strategy than trying to snag one during batting practice. Yet pulling it off is far more satisfying. The first decision you need to make is: what kind of ball do you want? Are you happy just settling for a foul ball or do you want to catch a home run? The answer to this question will determine where you should purchase your seats. If you can walk away with any ball, it’s been a good day. But home run balls carry with them greater sentimental (and possibly economic) value.
If you’re happy with just a foul ball, you’ll want to sit somewhere near the alley between third base and the foul pole or first base and the foul pole. It’s easier to grab a foul there.
And if you want a homer? Well, that pretty self-explanatory. Sit in the outfield bleachers.
Do your research. You’ll want to do some research before the game about the opposing team’s pitcher. If it’s a lefty, the batting lineup will be loaded with righties. In that case, sit near the first base line. It’s harder for batters to pull during a game, and they are more likely to swing late, and thus foul in that direction. If the pitcher is a righty, sit near the third base line.
Also do some research on the stadium. Are the walls very high along the base lines? If they aren’t, try to get as near to the wall as you can. It’s easy to reach over and field ground foul balls. If the walls are high, your chances might better if you go a little further back to catch a pop up foul.
A great resource to research stadiums for optimum foul ball catching is Snagging Baseballs. Zack Hample has caught over 3,000 game balls at every major league stadium. In his blog, he discusses each trip to a stadium and chronicles how he snagged a foul ball there. Check it out before you make your ticket purchase.
If you’re interested in catching a home run, an excellent resource to check out is HitTracker. It tracks how far each home run went for each player and where it went in a stadium. Most players consistently hit homeruns in the same area. Looking at these statistics can give you an idea of where to sit in the outfield so you can walk away with a home run ball.
Catch it. Put your glove on and get ready to catch your ball. If you’re near the baseline wall, you can always try picking up a grounded foul ball. If you’re behind home plate, you’ll definitely want to use a glove. The spin on foul balls that go behind home plate can be quite wicked. Only a glove will do.
Don’t get in the way of the players. If you’re going for a ball make sure it’s clearly out of play before you go for it. This can be difficult to tell, especially if you’re near a wall where it’s easy for you to take the ball out of play. Not sure? Spectator interference is defined as anytime a spectator “reaches out of the stands, or goes on the playing field, and touches a live ball.”
Here’s the official MLB rule for fan interference:
When there is spectator interference with any thrown or batted ball, the ball shall be dead at the moment of interference and the umpire shall impose such penalties as in his opinion will nullify the act of interference.
APPROVED RULING: If spectator interference clearly prevents a fielder from catching a fly ball, the umpire shall declare the batter out.
So, if the ump decides that you clearly got in the way of a fielder catching the ball, the batter is out. However, any ball on the spectators’ side of the wall is fair game for you. The player reaches over the wall at his own risk.
With ground balls that roll near the wall, make sure it’s a foul before you reach over and grab it.
Avoid fan interference at all costs or you risk becoming the most hated person in a stadium full of thousands of people. The most notorious example of fan interference is that of 12 year old Jeffery Maier during the 1996 American League Conference Series between the New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles.
During the 8th inning, Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter hit a fly to the right field wall. Oriole right fielder Tony Tarasco backtracked and positioned himself to catch the ball just short of the wall. 12-year-old Jeffery Maier, a spectator seated in the bleachers, reached out to catch the ball, and deflected it away from Tarasco and over the fence. Umpire Rich Garcia ruled the play a home run, which resulted in the Yankees tying the game. The Yanks went on to win the game and the series. Jeffery Maier went on to be the most hated 12 year old in Baltimore. Don’t do what he did.
Ethical and legal ramifications of ball catching
Give the kids a chance. Don’t be a douchebag and prevent a little kid from catching a ball. I’ve seen this happen at several ball games. It’s quite unseemly and everyone will hate you. Don’t be that guy.
Don’t resort to violence. When you go after a ball, it’s natural for you to get banged up. Especially if there is a scuffle for a prized home run ball. However, in your effort to snag a ball, don’t resort to violence to get it. Don’t punch, bite, scratch, or intentionally push somebody to get a ball. First, you’re tool if you do. Second, it’s just a damn ball. No need to bloody someone else up for it.
Who owns the ball? Surprisingly, your snagging of a ball could carry some legal ramifications. As many of you know, I’m a law student. One of the most interesting cases I’ve read during my law school career was Popov v. Hayashi: the Barry Bonds 73rd home run ball case.
Basically what happened was that two guys claimed they caught Bonds’ 73rd homer. They took it court and a judge decided they both had valid claims for legal ownership. So the judge ordered them to sell it and split the proceeds. Here’s a link to the court opinion. It’s a fun read and you’ll pick up some basic property law principles to boot.
Also, if you get a chance, watch the documentary about the case called Up For Grabs. It’s hilarious. You’ll be amazed by the greed of the two men fighting over a ball. Popov is a complete character: a total media whore. He ended up racking up over $473,000 in attorney fees. The ball only sold for $450,000, of which Popov got $225,000. That means this guy was in the hole a quarter of a million dollars.
Lesson learned: don’t go to court for a dumb ball.