So I’m a Major League ball hawk: I am only really concerned with getting baseballs at Major League games because, well, it’s the pros. But, I will admit, it is kind of cool getting different balls from different minor or independent leagues as well as different collegiate conferences.
I had heard that Towson University and University of Maryland would be playing a game at Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen — home of the Ironbirds. Since I’m a Towson University student, and fellow ball hawk Alex Kopp is a Maryland graduate, we decided to attend the game and see what came of it.
In all honesty, I had never been to a minor league ballpark before to see a game. Ever. So this experience would be . . . an experience.
When I completed the 35 minute drive to Aberdeen, I met with Alex, and he wanted to do some exploring:
Here is where we were:
Guess what he was looking for:
Random freakin’ baseballs.
That ball is a Wilson A1030, your run-of-the-mill baseball that you can find in any sporting goods store. We assumed this ball had been used for batting practice for one of the teams earlier in the day.
Alex also found some barely covered, muddy baseballs that we could not tell what they were. But he also found a Ripken League baseball.
We were curious as to which balls they would be using during the game. For Towson’s home games, they use official CAA baseballs, the conference they play in. For Maryland, they, of course, use ACC baseballs (until next year). But this game was being played at a neutral site, so there was also a possibility that they would be using those Ripken League balls. Another far-fetched possibility was commemorative Ripken Cup (that’s what they’re calling this thing) baseballs. But, that was doubtful.
I thought they would be using ACC baseballs, because it is a major conference with more funding than, say, the CAA.
There was also another question: could we keep the baseballs? At most college games, when a ball is hit foul, the teams ask for it back so that they do not run out when the season nears the end. But this was being played at a big-ish stadium where balls could really go anywhere.
Anyway, we got our tickets ($3) and waited outside the gates for them to open at 6:
When we went in, they handed us these:
Which became handy later.
On the field, there was no batting practice (which really isn’t a problem), but some University of Maryland players were playing games in shallow right field:
Meanwhile, Alex and I walked around the stadium. Probably the coolest part of the park is the Marriott across from the park, behind the third base side. Why is that cool? Check it out:
It was designed to look just like the Warehouse at Camden Yards.
We walked around in the seats down the third base line and just hung out. On one of the walls down the line there was a wicked hole that looked like it was made by a sharp liner:
When in the seats, I noticed something else: all of the railings were plastic, PVC piping, even the ones that prevent fans from falling onto the field. On top of that, most of them were cracked and broken. Toto, this isn’t the Major Leagues anymore.
As Alex and I walked over to the first base line, I asked him if he brought his ball retriever, hoping to God that he didn’t. He did. And guess what else he did:
Used it. He fished-up a ball that was old as hell and barely stitched together.
For the game, we settled on a spot down the third base line that had more room than ever to run for a foul ball. I’m not kidding. Look to our right:
To our left:
Directly behind us:
The weather was kind of crappy. For the beginning of the game, it sprinkled a little bit and there was no sun. As it got later, it got really cold. We were both glad there wasn’t an Orioles game because we would just be freezing there, too, and for even longer.
One thing I learned about college baseball: there is not as many foul balls as the majors. If this were an MLB game, Alex and I would have grabbed more foul balls that we could have ever imagined. But in this game, Alex counted 10 balls that went out of play. Four of them went out of the stadium, one went back onto the field, and the others went into the stands.
Early in the game, Alex was able to get one off the bat of Towson outfielder Dominic Fratantuono. And I was right: they were using ACC balls.
And no one came to take them back.
A little later, I got mine: a deep foul hit by Maryland outfielder Anthony Papio. It landed over to the right of that white tent pictured above. Check out the ball:
Later, Alex got another one and gave it away to a little kid who came asking for it.
If you’re wondering, Alex does keep track of the minor league, college and Major League balls (in fact, he recently got his 1,000th overall baseball). However, he will not be counting those muddy balls he found outside the park. He will, however, count the two foul balls he got at this game.
The game ended a little after 9:30, and before we left we looked outside for those balls that left the park, but we couldn’t find them.
. . .
For every game I go to during the 2014 season, I recap my ball hawking adventures for Eutaw Street Report. Follow this link to read-up on all of my crazy ball hawking stories.
In an attempt to occupy myself during these months void of the Orioles and Camden Yards as well as baseball and a batting practice as a whole, I have embarked on a challenge to ball hawk across the country without ever having to even leave the state.
I do not exactly remember what gave me the idea, but it came to me one day as I was longing for the left field bleachers. My plan was to acquire a baseball from each of the professional baseball leagues around the world while only paying my own postage and trading one of my many Major League baseballs.
To begin, I set my sights on the Australian Baseball League. It seemed to be one of the easier leagues to accomplish despite it being so far away. Of course, the reason for that is because of the shared language, something you will not find in a majority of the other leagues around the world.
When Babe Ruth was walloping home runs, escalating his total to previously unexplored heights, some of them that should have been celebrated were merely passed off as just another achievement of the Sultan of Swat. Nobody quite knew the importance of a home run such as number 600.
Introduction: Baseball is a game of numbers. Statistics, both original and cutting-edge, fuel debates, write columns, and provide many with jobs analyzing the sport they love. Whether it be simple performance indicators such as at bat and hits, or sabermetric numbers such as WAR and range factor, the players are the only ones evaluated, and for good reason.
However, baseball allows fans to be more involved with the game than any other popular American sport. Fans in attendance are constantly in harms way of an errant bat, a sizzling foul ball, or, of course, a scorched home run.
Fans are quickly becoming a mainstay in baseball highlights, the great catches, comical bloopers, and the dedication to their teams. Internet developments such as Twitter and MLB.com’s Cut 4 has further placed fans within the action, encouraging “fandom” through in-the-stands articles and player interactions.
With fans edging ever closer to the game of baseball, and the hobby of “ball hawking” becoming widespread across the country, fan fielding statistics provide an interesting look at an otherwise un-examined aspect of the game.
When you spend as much time at Major League stadiums as I do, you are bound to have a collection of game used items.
Friends of mine that I have met through the world of baseball have created a new site – Game Used Collector (GUC) – for people to share their collections, post “wanted” ads, as well as to post items that they are trying to sell.
I highly encourage any sports fan to visit their site, make an account, comment and mingle with the people.
Ball hawking during the 2012 Baltimore Orioles season was bound to be a challenge for me. With the pressure increased as a result of a miraculous 2011 campaign, I was bound for a slump. To add even more pressure, my 2012 season was sponsored by Dick’s Last Resort, a restaurant chain with a location in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. Receiving a monetary reward for every home run caught, it was almost a sure thing I was going to jinx myself. Unbeknownst to me and baseball fans around the world, Camden Yards would become the home field for one of the best teams in baseball, drawing even bigger crowds. However, even with its effect on ball hawking, the crowds and the success of the Baltimore Orioles made 2012 the greatest baseball season of my life.
The following clips are, in chronological order, the home runs that I caught, should have caught, or came close to catching:
It only took me four games and a half inning to see my first test of 2012. Behind 0-1 in Wei-Yin Chen’s MLB debut as a result of a Derek Jeter home run, J.J. Hardy sent a shot deep to the seats in left-center field. With the season early and the Yankees in town, Camden Yards had a decent crowd, forcing me to sit roughly twenty rows from the field. Ironically, this worked to my advantage as Hardy’s bomb came directly towards me. In the video, you can see me jump into the aisle – wearing a white jacket and khakis –, track the ball, move past my friend who was sitting just to the left of me, lean over the seat in front of me, and make the grab. The catch was my 13th home run, second Hardy home run and my first in a game against the Yankees. It was Hardy’s second home run of 2012 and the 113th of his career. The catch also marked my 5th consecutive month (months that included an Orioles game) catching a home run.
Later the same month I was tested again. This test was a little harder, though. Opposite field home runs are almost never fun. They are unexpected and difficult to track with the ball often tailing-off. When Chris Davis sent a ball flying towards the left field seats on April 25th, it was neither unexpected nor difficult to track. Davis’ opposite field power is well-known, and I have caught one myself. I tracked this ball perfectly, moving a section to my right and hurdling over a row of seats stealthily. I could only watch as the ball fell a few rows short, ricocheting from the concrete to the field. With the monkey already off my back with the early season Hardy home run, I just stood there for a moment and laughed. I knew I tracked the ball well, and there was just nothing I could do.
Not very often do I find myself with an opportunity to catch a late-game home run; it seems all my catches come early in games. But with the firepower of the Rangers in town, anything is possible. It also, apparently, is still possible for me to embarrassingly botch a catch as badly as I did this night. The shot from Young was hit pretty routinely for me, soaring to my left, but at the perfect distance. While camped under it, the ball began to sail over my head. Giving my best possible leap, the ball tipped off my glove, bounced off a seat, and came back to my row where there was no one else around. Running towards the ball, something happened. I’m not sure if the ball had backspin, or if I just had a physical hiccup; but I kicked it. I kicked a home run ball rolling around on the ground for me to pick up. The kick caused the ball to go into the aisle and roll to some unsuspecting fans.
The Rangers were still in town, giving me plenty opportunity to forget about my horrible effort the night before. It ended-up being easier than I thought. To begin, the night Josh Hamilton had on May 8th that night was amazing. Hitting four home runs in a single Major League baseball game is astounding by anybody’s measures. Thinking that he missed hitting five by mere feet is mind-blowing. I am forever fortunate and grateful to be a small part of baseball history. Josh Hamilton hit his second home run that night to the opposite field. This one was somewhat unexpected, and it definitely was tailing off. Tracking it well down to the first row, the ball began to bend to the right as it approached the seats. Blocked by a railing, the only effort I could make was a lazy reach. Thankfully, the ball landed on the ground and rolled directly to me. I raised the ball in celebration while trying to unzip my jacket to show my Dick’s shirt. Long story short – a long story that probably will be told in a later post – the ball is no longer in my possession. I sold it before Hamilton even hit his 3rd home run that night. I do not regret that, because it gave me yet another story to tell. The ball was my second of the season and 14th of my career, marking the 6th consecutive month that I have caught a homer. It was Hamilton’s 12th home run of the season and 130th for his career. It was also his third home run in three consecutive at bats, dating back to the night prior.
Amidst the excitement created by Josh Hamilton, I forgot about the fact that I nearly caught a second that night. Back in my seat after the negotiation and ultimate transaction of the Hamilton ball, Hardy sent a rocket towards me. What I thought was a good judge of the ball, I charged in and to my left, only to have the ball sail over my head, landing in the row that I was originally seated in. I do believe that I judged the ball well initially, since my friend judged it the same. It just sailed. Oh well!
May 10th – J.J. Hardy Doubleheaders are magical, especially during the week. The day game of weekday doubleheaders calls for an empty stadium. This bomb by Hardy was not remotely close to my seat, but the lack of fans allowed me to cover a lot of ground. With the ball in the air, I sprinted to my right. The ball landed near the top of the section and bounced towards me. I outstretched my glove arm as far as I could, but I was still a few feet away. That Hardy home run was the second of back-to-back-to-back home runs hit by the Orioles to lead off the game.
With permission from my loving mother, I was at the Orioles game this Mother’s Day. Because of the vast crowd, I spend my time on the right field flag court. The only action I got that day was a bomb hit by Nick Johnson that bounced off the stairway just left of the flag court. The ball made its way to the top of the section where I was. However, a middle-aged women grabbed the ball before I could, and she was pretty excited about it. In the video, you can see me and my blue shorts walking back up the steps.
May 14th – J.J. Hardy This one is an odd one. The weather for the Baltimore area was not promising. I had attended every home Orioles game up until this point, including seven games in a row (with one rainout and one doubleheader). Exhausted, not prepared to be drenched, and believing I had accurately tracked the weather – it was going to pour all night – I reluctantly decided to sit this one out. Suffering from withdraws, I reluctantly watched the game, cheering for my O’s, but also cheering for no home runs to left field. J.J. Hardy, however, sent one to left in the fifth inning, breaking a 3-3 tie. The ball was hit on a line towards the aisle to the left of my usual seat, meaning I would have had to go across the whole row to make a grab. The ball bounced in the aisle right to a woman who was sitting on the end. Maybe I would have had it, maybe I would not have. Who knows?
It did not take long for me to have another opportunity. The following night, with the rain long gone, I was back in my routine at Camden Yards to finish the long home stand. With the game scoreless in the bottom of the second, Adam Jones sent a rocket to deep left field off CC Sabathia. I drifted down about seven rows, jumped, and robbed a few fans of an opportunity as I reeled in my third home run of the season. The most impressive part of this actually did not happen during the game. Here’s my tweet from earlier that day:
I'm not one to predict when I'm catching my next homerun, but let's just say I like my odds for tonight.
That’s right, I Babe Ruth’d my third home run of the season at 2:39 that afternoon, nearly five hours before the start of the game. Why did I make that prediction? Well, the match-up was lefty v. lefty (Chen v. Sabathia), and it was pretty warm outside. Lucky? Yes. Some skill? Of course.
The home run was Jones’ 11th of the season and 86th of his career. The homer was my third of the season and 15th of my career.
June 26th – Mark Trumbo This was absolutely a bomb off the bat of Angels’ slugger Mark Trumbo that landed absolutely nowhere close to me. The ball landed in the center field sod farm, just to the right of the bullpens, and rolled to the back, up against the batters eye. Determined to go home with a June home run ball after missing most of the month’s games, I stalked the ball and stood directly above it in the standing room area. After trying to get the attention of grounds crew members, one finally acknowledged me, motioning that he would get it for me in a second. However, he eventually forgot about the ball and I. A little later, the ball was retrieved by a different grounds crew member who came from the right field side. As he entered the sod farm, a fan sitting on that side asked if they could have the ball, causing me to be shut-down when I asked.
A power zealous left field supervisor had me switching fields for this game. Avoiding any trouble, I spent the game standing on the right field flag court. Half-jokingly, I told my friend accompanying me that I will catch three home runs that game. Asdrubal Cabrera got me a third of the way there in the third inning, crushing a Jake Arrieta pitch. Knowing the ball was going over my head onto Eutaw Street, I focused my attention on making it outside the gates that separates the Flag Court and the famous street. Luckily for me, the ball bounce off Eutaw Street, landed on an overhang of the Warehouse, and fell to the ground in an outdoor seating area of the new Dempsey’s restaurant. Reacting swiftly, I dove on the ball, covering it with my bare hand, earning my 4th home run of the season and 16th of my career. I carried my home run catching streak to eight consecutive months. My friend handed me a ball from the section just to the right of the foul pole and I launched it onto the field. The home run was Cabrera’s 11th of the season and 54th of his career.
On September 14, 2011, I caught two home runs in one game. The first one was off the bat of Matt Wieters, the 20th of the season. Now, on June 29, 2012, Wieters’ three run home run was the second of my two in the game. Wieters put the Orioles ahead in the bottom of the seventh inning with a monster shot to Eutaw Street. Reacting the same as I did for Cabrera’s homer, I was able to get a great jump on it. The ball one-hopped off Eutaw Street and onto the overhang on the Warehouse. I was able to use my height to grab the ball as it fell. It was the 5th home run of my season, 17th of my career. It was Wieters’ 11th of the season and 53rd of his career. That night marked only the second time in Camden Yards history that two balls landed on Eutaw Street in the same game.
Missing most of the games in July because of vacation, there were few chances for me to extend my home run streak to nine months. In my first game back in Baltimore, Chris Carter of the surging Oakland Athletics sent a towering blast in my direction. Knowing the ball was going to land in a mass of people – the stadium was a little crowded that night – I chose a row I believed would be closest to where the ball is was going to land. The row I chose ended up being only two or three rows higher than where it landed. With luck going my way, the ball deflected off a barehanded fan and ricocheted right to me. However, with luck back to not going my way, the bounce happened so quickly and unexpectedly that the ball hit me in my stomach and fell out of reach.
In August I was looking to start a new monthly home run streak after failing to haul-one-in in July. Mark Reynolds sent a jack a little to my right. As you can imagine, with steps and other obstacles, tracking a ball hit over your head in the stands at a baseball game is many times more difficult that tracking one in front of you. However, I was able to get into an open row and get close to where the ball landed. When it landed, it was bobbled by barehanded fans and it fell to the grown a row behind me. Instantly, hands came from everywhere trying to grab the ball. Unfortunately, I wasn’t the lucky one this time.
It had been a while since I took home a home run from Camden Yards, just under two months. The White Sox were in town with a good bit of firepower. I’ve been fond of the White Sox since last season, as they hit two of the three home runs that I caught in three consecutive games. I wouldn’t say that I’ve been fond of Kevin Youkilis as well, though. For years he had been the enemy with the Boston Red Sox. However, I always felt as if I had a good chance to catch a homer every time he stepped to the plate. I guess it was only a matter of time, and a matter of a change of Sox. On the 27th, Youkilis hit a liner over the wall in left field, perfectly within the aisle that I patrol. I tracked the ball perfectly down the steps, but, because it was hit so hard, I only got a glove on it. The ball rolled into a row close to the wall, but I quickly (and honestly, in a panic), dove on it. It was my 6th ball of the season, 18th of my career. It was Youkilis’ 16th home run of the season and the 145th of his career.
It was an early weekday start to close out a four-game Chicago White Sox series. To put it in short: no one was there. Because of the incompetent Maryland public transportation system and the disaster that is the Baltimore Grand Prix, I arrived to this game a little late. However, as soon as I got into my section – before I could even sit down or take off my backpack – Jose Lopez hit a ground rule double. I was able to jump over some empty rows and pick up the ball without anyone else in sight. Luck was already rolling my way.
With the lack of attendance, I knew just about any home run hit to left field would have a good chance of being mine. When Adam Jones hit a bomb in the third inning roughly two sections to my right, I just put my head down and ran. The ball landed in the last row. Even though I got over there before most people sitting much closer did, I was still too late.
With the season winding down, I was running out of time to catch a home run from surefire Hall of Famer Jim Thome. The crowds this night pushed me out of left field; and of course, the Orioles alone would end up hitting seven home runs. Instead I spent some time on Eutaw Street, waiting for Thome to go yard. When I saw that ball in the air, my heart nearly jumped out of my chest. I had to run towards the foul pole to try to get a play on it. Unfortunately, the ball hit the newly installed railing just above the wall and fell back to the field. That one would be my last opportunity to catch a home run in 2012.