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A View From the Bleachers

Safety at the Ballpark

Lately, I have been fascinated by the sheer number of injuries and rough encounters ballhawks deal with each time they go to a game. More often than not, you have to deal with drunk, disorderly or entitled fans at the game or ushers and security personnel on power trips. If you're able to avoid those-don't forget that any ballhawk or sports collector of any kind around the stadium is at serious risk of injury at any moment. Between the hostile encounters and the treacherous terrain and activity, injuries and harassment of some sort are expected on a semi-frequent basis.

We'll start with the interactions with people around a major league park. Mostly, other fans are pretty cool with letting baseball collectors in the stands do their thing. Unfortunately, as seasoned hawks know, once you've snagged a ball (or two or five) it is likely you'll be scrutinized heavily for your actions. Were you too close to a little girl when you snagged that home run? Well you should give it to her because you pretty much ran her over to get to it. "Hey, that ball was for my kid!" "You've got too many!" "That guy pushed me to get a ball!" We've all heard these and a dozen more, mostly from parents that feel their children deserve to have everything handed to them. My response is usually to suggest ways for a child (or adult) to get a baseball for themselves by implementing some of the tactics I've learned over the years.

Another type of fan you may have run across is the drunk or miserable fan. Either too many beers or the action of the game not going the right way for their team will prompt Mr. Joe Schmo to get involved in all of your ballhawk business. Ever hear this one? "Dude, what are you doing bringin' a glove to a game? What are you, twelve?" This sort of criticism can get pretty irritating. No, I'm not twelve-but I do want to get a baseball and I'm much more successful at doing that with the proper tools. Would you eat your steak dinner without a fork? No, you wouldn't-because having the right implement makes it a heck of a lot easier to accomplish your goal. My advice is to ignore this type of fan-any interaction with them will usually amount to a lot of negative attention... and you're probably not in your assigned seat anyway, are you?

And let's talk, for a moment, about ushers and security guards. We all know the rules of our home parks and who let's us get away with what... but sometimes an usher or a security guard expresses their version of a rule that we've never heard before. IF that ever happens to me I've found it useful to know the names of people who work at the park and I've said things like, "Well, A.J. told me it was okay when he was in this section last week." If different personnel are enforcing rules differently, I say let them work it out behind the scenes. If you're new to a stadium, there are two options you have... either ask multiple employees what the policy is (and take the most favorable answer-and remember their name) or... just do it... until someone tells you to stop. Know that nobody's going to kick you out of a ballpark if it's your first offense. They'll cut your string or send you out of their section at worst. It's a risk, for sure, but to each his own.

Ah, injuries. I'm sure if you're anything like me you've racked up as many nicks and scrapes as you have baseballs. Not too long ago I took a pretty bad spill running toward a dugout. Folks I know have suffered injuries to knees, ankles, ribs, elbows, and, every now and then-a head injury can end your day of ballhawking pretty quickly. There's no one rule except for this one as far as staying safe around a stadium: PAY ATTENTION! And I don't mean just pay attention to the batter hitting during BP. Having blinders on in that sense can lead you to injure yourself or someone else as soon as you move to chase down a ball. In our home parks we know where cup holders are and where there's an extra stair on an aisle. But the people around us are constantly changing the landscape of where we can move. Each time you've got a second... check to see what's to your left and right. Part of maintaining a semi-positive reputation as a ballhawk community is making sure we are actively trying to not run over kids and smash into old ladies in the stands. Whenever you don't pay attention to your surroundings keep in mind that you're affecting all ballhawks. The next time that family that Matt Jackson ran into is in Baltimore at a game they'll see one of the regulars out there and think, "Ugh, these guys. Just like the guy that ran into us in Anaheim."

So, safety means keep yourself free of injuries... but keep our reputation as a community clean, too. But in a more direct sense-watch out for cup holders, seats that don't fold up properly, awkward staircases (the ones that are angled, the ones that have unevenly spaces stairs), and stretch beforehand. Sure, it might sound silly... but do a few stretches while you're waiting for those gates to open before BP. Nothing will ruin your ballhawking day like a self-inflicted injury.

Wrapping up, while personal interactions with people around the stadium that don't understand what you're doing may affect your total for the day-it affects us all. And when injuries abound at the ballpark it's crucial to keep an open line of communication about situations and actions as we all go sprinting through the ballparks of the U.S.A. If a lunge over a railing is too tricky, don't try it. If it's the difference between double-digits on the day and a busted lip, stay in single digits so you can go out to the ballpark the next day. There will always be another ball (unless it's A-Rod's 800th home run)... and there's only one of you... and know that we're the only one's looking out for us out there. Most other fans want us to fail or don't give a damn. So, keep the ballhawking community strong, in good standing, and keep our collective rep clean! Let's make sure the rest of the folks at the ballpark know that we're good at what we do!

Matt Jackson is a contributing columnist to myGameBalls.com and also maintains a Blog.

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