Stop Trying to Catch Balls in Play and Other Simple Rules for Grabby MLB Fans

Dan Levy@danlevythinksNational Lead WriterJune 5, 2012

Stop Trying to Catch Balls in Play and Other Simple Rules for Grabby MLB Fans

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    Baseball bleachers are a melting pot. There are young fans and old fans. There are die-hard fans and fair-weather fans. There are rich fans and poor fans. There are fans of every gender, race and creed.

    Most importantly—when discussing the integrity of the game and the impact those in the stands can have on the outcome—there are smart fans and then there are those dumb idiots who try to touch a ball in play.

    Those people should be locked up forever. At the very least, they should never be allowed within 10 rows of the field.

    No, on second thought, I'm okay with locking them up forever.

    The following slides present simple rules of etiquette for fans enjoying great seats at a baseball game. You'd be amazed at how often the rules come into play.

    This weekend, Marlins third baseman Hanley Ramirez hit a shot off Cole Hamels to left center field in Philadelphia's Citizens Bank Park when a fan—a Phillies fan—reached over the wall to grab the ball out of midair.

    Home run.

    Or was it? Upon review, the umpires ruled the ball would have gone out either way, giving Ramirez the two-run homer that tied the game (the Marlins went on to win, 5-4). Even if the ball actually would have been off the fence, there's no way to know because that irresponsible fan helped the visiting team by catching the ball too early.

    Replays showed the fan and his buddies joking and high-fiving after the play, completely unfazed that his actions impacted the game and, possibly, hurt his team.

    See ball. Catch ball.

    Fans have to be smarter than that. If you sit in the front row, you have to be smarter than that. 

    Fan interference has long been a part of baseball lore. Jeffrey Maier is a Yankee folk hero after the then-12-year-old stretched out from the right-field stands in Yankee Stadium to steal a home run for Derek Jeter in the 1996 ALCS, changing the course of baseball history.

    Steve Bartman may have also changed baseball history. Bartman was one of a host of fans down the left field line at Wrigley Field who tried to catch a foul ball in the eighth inning of the 2003 NLCS. Moises Alou thought he had a play on the ball and threw a tantrum when Bartman interfered. The Cubs blew a 3-0 lead and Bartman became the convenient excuse for the team's failure to reach the World Series.

    To this day, nobody (outside Chicago) is sure if Bartman really did anything wrong. He certainly didn't do anything any other fan in the crowd wouldn't have done. Yet whenever people think of the 2003 NLCS or the Cubs Curse, it's Bartman who gets blamed, not Dusty Baker's mismanagement or Kyle Farnsworth's relief implosion in Games 6 and 7.

    Bartman has become a cautionary tale, which fans repeatedly ignore when heading out to their front-row seats in ballparks around the country.

    The simple lesson: Never touch the ball until it is actually in the stands.

    Sadly, life (read: baseball) is not that simple, so click forward for a more few rules for being a good and responsible fan when a ball is coming your way.

Rule 1. Never Help the Other Team

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    The fan in Philadelphia had at least three specific fan violations on one play, most notably the assistance he gave the other team.

    Why would a fan lunge over the fence to catch a ball that was hit by the other team? Is it that important for you to catch a baseball hit by a major-league player that you'd risk interfering with the game and hurting your own team in the process? 

    Since the second that play occurred on Saturday, people have been trying to tell me that in the same situation, any of us would do the same thing.

    False. I'm not suggesting the fan shouldn't try to catch the ball, but wait until it comes into the stands.

    If you have front-row seats, you have to have a better understanding of the situation when a ball is coming your way.

    Do you know why they ask if you are willing to sit in an exit row of a plane? Because some people panic in certain situations. The same rules should apply for the first row in a baseball game. If you cannot keep your composure when a ball is coming right at you, go sit in the back next to the toilet.

Rule 2. Never Reach onto the Field When a Ball Is in Play

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    This is a pretty obvious rule that gets violated every night in every park in America.

    If you are in foul territory, it is your responsibility to watch the umpire before touching a ball. Just because a ball is in foul territory when it gets to you does not mean the ball wasn't fair when it crossed the base. 

    Sure, you got front-row seats so you could be near the action and maybe get a foul ball, but that does not give you the right to touch a fair ball that happens upon your section. Even more than those in the outfield, people down the line need to be more aware of the game if they are in one of the foul-ball areas.

    I don't care if it cost you $250 to sit in that seat (that's how much seats down the line in Yankee Stadium go for). Paying a lot for a good seat does not give a fan the right to reach onto the field while a ball is in play.

    Now, if the umpire has clearly indicated the ball is foul, by all means grab that ball. Just don't fall out onto the field trying to reach it. That makes you look like a moron.

Rule 3. Never Celebrate Catching a Visiting Team's Home Run

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    Replays clearly showed the Phillies fan who caught Hanley Ramirez's home run on Saturday high-fiving his friends after snagging the ball out of mid-air. It was a great catch—I'll give the guy credit for that—but nobody should be okay with a fan celebrating a great snag that came at the detriment of the team he came to cheer.

    Your team just gave up runs. Why are you celebrating that? Why are you happy that your team just had a two-run lead evaporate against a division rival? Because you made a nice catch? Right, it's all about you, buddy. Great fan.

    And another thing about this specific situation. I can understand a little exuberance just after catching the ball. I'm sure it's thrilling, no matter what team hit the dinger. It is wonderful that you caught the ball, but when the umpires have to stop the game to check the replay to determine if you interfered with a ball in play, you might want to stop patting yourself on the back and high-fiving the other idiots in your section.

    That goes double for those people around him.

    That guy needed to be vilified for catching the ball where he did, not lauded for making a good grab. Celebrating with the guy only serves to illustrate the type of unaware fan you are as well. None of you have any business being that close to the field.

Rule 4. Never Throw a Home-Run Ball Back

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    This doesn't happen in every park, but it's a terrible tradition some ballparks have borrowed (read: stolen) from Wrigley Field. I understand the logic of throwing the opposing team's ball back, but it makes me cringe when the fans of a ballpark cheer every lummox in the stands who does it.

    Are you actually expelling the energy to cheer because a guy threw a home-run ball back? That excites you enough to loudly applaud, even though the rest of the stadium is watching a player on the other team round the bases to rack up another run against your team?

    Something is wrong with that. 

    As for the person who catches the ball, I will never understand the logic of throwing it back. You caught a freaking home run. Keep that ball!

    Why would you ever throw a home-run ball back? Bring it home and show your friends. Give it to your kids (more on that in a bit) or try to get it signed. Throwing a ball back makes absolutely no sense, especially when you purchased seats in home-run territory fully hoping to snag one that comes your way.

    Keep the ball. Anyone who boos you should be focused on the game.

Rule 5. Do Not Hold Milestone Balls Hostage

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    Let's say you catch a player's first career home run. Give the ball back to the guy for an autograph and a photo after the game. If the guy ends up being a Hall of Famer, you will have an even better story to share than showing someone a scuffed up ball you can't prove he hit.

    Now, let's say you catch a player's 500th or 600th home run. That ball is probably worth some decent money, but that doesn't mean you should hold the ball hostage.

    If you catch a milestone ball (or scrounge for it on the ground after the people next to you drop it) then you have, by law, every right to keep that ball. If you want to sell it for an easy buck, nobody should begrudge you of that. 

    Surely the right thing to do, however, is to give the ball to the player, the team or the Hall of Fame. That doesn't mean you should give the ball back for nothing. Much like a player's first home run, a milestone ball is worth at least an autograph and a photo. Most balls of any real importance—500th, 600th or 700th home runs—should be worth a full season-ticket plan (two seats) for a year, two or maybe more. 

    Asking for anything more than free tickets and a photo is really asking too much of the player or the team.

    Sure, you may have some leverage to sell the ball at an auction (enjoy the pending lawsuits that would surely bring from other fans with their own ridiculous claims to the ball). Some balls can probably bring in a ton of money, too. So maybe ask for season tickets for life, but don't expect a player to pay you off for his ball. What kind of fan does that?

    (Fun fact: Barry Bonds' 73rd home-run ball reportedly sold to Todd McFarlane for nearly half a million dollars in 2001. A decade later, that would buy season tickets—two seats—12 rows behind the plate at Yankee Stadium for only 10 years.)

Rule 6. You Catch It, You Keep It

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    This rule is the simplest rule of fan etiquette in all of baseball: If you catch the ball, you get to keep the ball.

    If a ball comes flying into the stands down the line, or looping into the first row of the upper deck and you catch it, you keep that ball.

    Look, I have two kids. If I'm at a game without them and I catch a ball, I don't care if a family of four is next to me and one of the kids wants the ball. I'm keeping it and giving it to my kids at home whom I clearly neglected in favor of going to a professional baseball game.

    Unlike other sports where you often have to return a ball that goes into the stands, you can do whatever you want with a baseball. Bring the ball home and put it on a shelf, or give it to the kids to throw in the yard. Heck, toss it to the dog to play fetch.

    You caught it, you keep it.

Rule 7. You Find It, You (Probably) Keep It

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    This is an important baseball fan distinction. Those who catch balls deserve cheers. Those who find balls are lucky idiots.

    I have never caught a foul ball in my life, but I found one when a ball was hit into my row in Camden Yards about 10 years ago.

    I was the lucky idiot who happened to have nobody in the five seats next to him. When the ball came to bouncing into my row a few seats away, I grabbed it as quickly as I could.

    I didn't celebrate, though. Have you seen these people at the game who find a ball on the ground after it deflected off the hands of another fan and hold it up like they did something special? You do not get applause for bending over and picking up a ball that rolled under your seat.

    "Look! I got a ball doing virtually nothing! I'm the luckiest guy here!" Good, now sit the hell down.

    An important note with regard to finding a ball on the ground (as opposed to catching it): It's human nature to fight for a ball near your feet, but if you realize you are fighting with a young kid, let the kid have the ball.

    For crying out loud, it's a kid. Let the kid have the ball.

    That said, if no kid is actively trying to get the ball from you, and you are the fan who grabs it first, you are under no obligation to give it to anyone in the stands. If you have kids at home, go be that hero to your kids just the same as if you caught it. Don't feel the pressure of fans (or TV announcers) cajoling you to give the ball to a nearby squirt whose dad was too slow to get it for him.

    That said…

Rule 8. If a Ball Is Tossed to You, Give It to a Kid, You Jerk.

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    If a player or coach tosses a ball into the crowd, he will almost never throw it to an adult on purpose.

    If you happen to catch an errant toss from a player or coach, give it to the nearest kid. You didn't catch the ball off the bat. You didn't even find a foul ball. You were just the idiot who happened to be in the way of a kid the player probably tried to throw it to in the first place. 

    Give the kid the ball.

    I know that old couple in Texas were vilified for not giving a crying kid a baseball, and then the parents of the crying kid came out and said they were okay with it and the kid was just being a kid and he got a ball anyway and everyone went home happy. That's great. I am all for silver linings. 

    I just detest the people in this story. Yes, more than a month later, I'm still angry about this. These people who didn't give up the ball are the worst. They actually went on the local news in Texas and suggested that Michael Kay of the Yankees' broadcast team owed them an apology.

    The ridiculous part about the situation in Texas was that Mitch Moreland wasn't even throwing the ball to those people. It happened to roll to them and they picked it up. They didn't even catch the tossed ball. There is no reason to ever keep that damn ball when there is a kid next to you who wants it. 

    Sure, they gave an excuse that they didn't even know the kid was going for it and didn't see how upset he was. Are you kidding me?!

    There's a three-year-old boy next to you all game. This was the eighth inning. Do not tell people you didn't realize he was there. Do not, for one instant, try to claim neither of you saw or heard the boy when you were taking cell-phone pictures with the ball and celebrating with the people behind you. 

    The worst.

    (Well, the lady in Houston who literally ripped a ball out of a kid's hand and then celebrated getting the ball a few years back is the worst. Seriously, that woman may be the worst fan ever in the history of baseball.) 

    The only way any of these people could have been more obnoxious is if one of them had a glove, which leads to the last simple rule of fan-ball etiquette.

Rule 9. If You Are Old Enough to Buy a Beer, Don't Bring a Glove

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    This rule is not actually some macho edict to "man up" and use your hands instead of a glove. Bringing a glove is just a matter of simple functionality and probability.

    There is no way a child can be expected to catch a batted ball with their tiny child hands. The necessity for a glove in foul-ball or home-run areas is paramount for a kid who hopes to grab a ball while at the game.

    Kids always think they will catch a foul ball. Heck, I used to bring a glove sometimes up to the 700 level of Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia just in case someone hit a moonshot back behind the plate. Besides, I was a kid. Bringing a glove gave me something to play with and a build in place to hold my snacks.

    An adult doesn't need any of that. Most adults should have hands big enough to catch a ball without needing a glove. Sure, a hot smash down the line is probably going to hurt, but the chances of a ball coming your way are too slim to sit at the game with a glove on the entire nine innings. Do you wear the glove the whole time? Do you just put it on when the ball is coming toward you? Carrying a glove, for an adult, can be a logistical nightmare.

    Besides, there are less than 50 foul balls per major-league game. Even if you are in an area where balls are often hit, the chances of you getting one—sorry, the chances of you needing a glove to get one—are statistically insignificant.

    Forget stats and logistics. Let's put it another way, shall we?

    The guy who leaves the stadium with an empty glove looks just as ridiculous as the guy who brings a broom to a Game 4 loss.

    Don't be that guy. Leave the glove and, in most cases, the balls to the kids. More importantly, if you are sitting close to the action, leave the gloves and balls to the actual players.

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