With the Rockies in a long homestand (one that, until last night, wasn't going very well), now is the time for me to share my most treasured secrets with the world.
Baseball, unlike the other professional sports (except for maybe hockey), allows you to keep equipment that enters the stands. How does one go about acquiring one of these highly sought-after pieces of gold? Consider this a how-to guide on how to achieve the most coveted of sports souvenirs: the foul ball.
Believe it or not, there is more than just luck involved (yes, there is a substantial amount of luck, too), but you can maximize your chances by following these tips, which I have successfully utilized to get dozens of balls over the years.
- Possess secret weapons. This one is not really that secret and is scientifically proven to work. To maximize your chances, step one is to bring a child with you. This cannot be overstated; a cute kid with a cute smile and a perfectly fitting Rockies jersey will increase your chances exponentially. They will get the attention of the players and the ushers (more on that later), as well as the kharmic magnetism of the balls themselves. It can be a boy or a girl, a younger child or an older one, but the youthfulness of the kid matters. Here are the ones I use:
- Arrive early. This one is fairly straightforward. Come early, like right when the gates open. If you successfully follow tip No. 1, these two will almost certainly conspire to net you that ball. Get to the park early and go way out in left field when they first let you in during batting practice. Try to get one the hard way by being prepared (more on the below) by catching one off the bat. In the meantime, use tip No. 1 to your advantage and politely ask the players to toss you a ball (bullpen pitchers are an easy target; they offer the path of least resistance in all activities, including shagging balls). Have your kid ask the players nicely by their surname preceded with "please" and "Mr." Keep it jovial. As soon as they let you though, head over to the right field seats, above the manual scoreboard. Part of being prepared is knowing who is pitching for the opposition, and specifically, their handedness. Ideally you want a heavily left-handed lineup for this to work properly. Not many people go to those right field seats, so your numbers increase by sheer statistical force. Again, if you’ve followed tip No. 1 your chances increase even that much more.
- Be prepared. After item one, there is a steep drop-off in the helpfulness of these tips, but nevertheless, you should follow this one. For goodness sake, bring your mitt! We’ve all seen that footage of the guy in the concourse with a perfect beat on a foul ball only to have it bounce off his rock-hard hands! Don’t be that guy – bring your glove. Catching a foul ball is much harder than it looks. It is moving quickly, it is very hard and it ALWAYS has funky spin on it (that’s why it’s foul). There is no excuse, not even bad seats, for not bringing your glove. Another part of being prepared is placement. Get good seats down on the field level, or perhaps, in the first few rows of the left field pavilion. Getting close to the action will increase your chances, again just by statistical probability.
- Location, location location. Remember in tip No. 2 when I suggested doing your homework and knowing who’s pitching for the other team? This valuable information will direct you on where to sit to optimize your chances. Do you want to sit down the first base or third base line? The answer lies in the number of righties and lefties in the game. If you've got a lefty-heavy lineup, you may want to sit in sections 119-125. A lefty who is just ahead of a pitch will foul it off down the 1B line. Vice Versa for righties. Call it "fan-bermetrics" or "fan-nyball" (OK, maybe not that last one).
- Bring a kid. Seriously I cannot state this enough, that's why I did it twice. If you have followed the tips thus far, you can use this advantage. Here’s the situation: Carlos Gonzalez rips one down the first base line but it bounces off the wall and heads toward the middle part of the foul ground right field, too far for the right fielder or second baseman to retrieve it. Who gets these balls? The usher! We’ve all seen it; the usher runs out there, scoops up the ball and does what with it? Flips it to a kid. Every time. They will never give it to a grown up (nor should they; see tip No. 8). Bring a kid and …
- Develop rapport. Talk to the usher ahead of time. Don’t blatantly ask him to give you a ball, but make yourself memorable. Remember that scene from Ocean’s 11 when Brad Pitt was coaching Matt Damon on how to impersonate the gaming officer? He suggests be humorous but not funny, memorable but forgettable, etc. Be Matt Damon! Make sure the usher is aware of your secret weapon’s existence but go no further.
- Pay attention. Watch the game. Watch the action and the tendencies of hitters and fielders. Also, watch when others around you are not paying attention. For example, watch the game situation; where we sit (down the 1B line), a third out to a RF can net a ball. Most people will head up toward the concourse, but if you pay attention you can watch that fielder jog back toward the dugout and try to get his attention, using the tips you’ve learned so far. I have received a number of balls by simply standing up and waiving my glove (and secret weapon) at the fielder. A gentle, easy-to-catch toss targeted to you is much easier than a hot shot off the bat.
- Kharma. This one is almost as important as tip No. 1. If you are fortunate enough to succeed in your quest, give the ball to a kid. This is a must! I know it sounds counterintuitive, but if you give the ball to a kid, kharma will reward you many times over. Especially if it was a good play to get the ball, or you are on camera somehow. Give it to a kid. Earlier last year I got a ball tossed to me during warmups that I immediately gave to my son, who then got it autographed by CarGo. The game was about to start so he trotted off (CarGo, not my son). I heard the very next kid say that he wanted to meet CarGo and get a ball because it was his birthday. So my son decided to give him the autographed CarGo ball (so proud). nnings later, foul ball down the line and voila – justice restored!
- Intestinal fortitude. This one is important as well. People who do not follow my tips tend to drop or otherwise muff balls headed in their direction. Once someone misses out on their opportunity to catch it and it falls to the ground, all bets are off. Chaos ensues! Scrums for foul balls are like prison riots mixed with high school Mean Girls-esque tryouts. Stepped-on hands, cuts -- everything short of brawling will go down in those few brief seconds before someone holds the ball up in victory. Be ready to scrum! Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty – or stepped on. The fool that drops the ball will complain at you the rest of the game (unless, of course, you follow tip No. 8), but remember – he should've had it! He had his chance and he’s just bitter. Also keep in mind Calculus; f you see a ball heading anywhere near you, try to make some quick calculations on what will happen when it lands. Will it bounce? Will it roll? Will it deflect off that bitter dude’s hands? You have mere milliseconds to make these calculations, but if done right, it’s an easy pickup. If some fool doesn’t bring their glove, it will most likely bounce straight and then you can simply wait to pick it up off the ground. I’ve avoided many a scrum this way.
- Patience. If all else fails, wait. This is an especially vibrant strategy at rainy games or extremely late, extra-innings games. Remember a thinner crowd is your friend. The fewer people in the ballpark, the better your chances are! Keep waiting until after the game. Here is my dearest secret: go down toward the field after the final out is recorded, when everyone else is going up. Why? Dinger has been known to hand out leftover game balls to the adoring secret weapons. Furthermore, assuming you have tip No. 1 down, many times the guys exiting the bullpen carry with them multiple balls. They will not give them to adults, but kids? Different story. This is, in my opinion, the easiest way to get a ball. Simply ask and show loyalty. This will be the culmination of following my other tips. Once in a blue moon you can get the player to sign it as well, but let’s not push it – that’s an entirely different blog post!
If you have received a ball in the past -- or by following these tips, achieve one -- I would love to hear about your story in the comments. I have a number of stories (obviously) but will share my favorite ball acquisition in the comments.
But I’m more interested in hearing yours. It is indeed a very memorable occasion, one that deserves to be shared with the world.