Wander out to Waveland Avenue a couple of hours before first pitch, just beyond the left-field wall, and you’ll see grown men with their baseball gloves on, just waiting for baseballs to drop from the sky. They’re the Ballhawks, and they snag batting-practice home runs as well as those hit during games.
A handful of regulars have been at it for years. ‘Moe’ Mullins is probably the best-known of the bunch; he’s snagged thousands of balls and was all over the news in the summer of 1998, when Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire had their great homer race. He pounced on Sosa’s 62nd homer only to have it ripped from his hands in a mad scrum. Mullins was originally going to sue the guy who did get the ball, but he dropped the suit when the man agreed to give the ball to Sosa.
If you’re looking for some pre-game excitement outside of the local bars, go hang out with the Ballhawks. A glove is advisable, but not necessary, as some balls go ricocheting off the street and nearby buildings and can be chased down with bare hands. Patience is a must, but once you see that first ball come rocketing over the fence, your heart will be pumping like you're the left fielder in the ninth inning of a tied game.
You may hear the Ballhawks reminiscing of the "good old days," as the 2006 bleacher expansion has cut down on the number of balls that leave the park. Ken Vangeloff, who's been a Ballhawk for more than 15 years, says the group is saddened that a great Wrigley tradition has been forever altered.
“They didn’t consult us about the expansion,” he says.
Vangeloff estimates he’s caught about 2,600 baseballs. And yes, he’s held down a job that whole time, too (“flexible work schedule,” he says).
“I was hoping in a couple more years I’d crack 3,000, but it’s going to take more than that now,” says Vangeloff.
According to the seasoned vet, Ballhawking requires as much luck as skill now, as flies can't be seen until they’re right on top of you.
“I might start wearing a batting helmet out there instead of my baseball cap.”
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