July 10, 2012
Everyone has birthdays. You, your grandmother... your second cousin twice removed. However, as is the case in mass-media; in ballhawking, it is not your birthday that matters, it's the players'. Sure it may be the natural instinct to think a player will throw you a ball when you say it's your birthday, but honestly, how many of those do you think any given player gets a week? Sure it actually may be the person's birthday, but the players don't have time to check every single person who claims it's their birthday. In addition, when you ask for a ball with the qualification that it's your birthday, you are making the process about yourself and not the player. All Major League payers have some level of ego, so they like it when someone recognizes something about *them*.
Like I said, everyone has birthdays; even players. Although, the players' birthdays are particularly easy to find out/remember, because they are printed on each team's roster. Therefore, all it takes to see if it is a player's birthday is a quick scan of the roster you've already brought with you to the ballpark. It need not consume your life, but checking for players' birthdays can just be part of your every day routine.
Now how do you go about actually manufacturing a ball out of this? I have personally never been able to do this, so the execution is as much of a mystery to you as it is to me. Of course, I have only been in the stadium for two players' birthdays. My suggestion would be to know who the player whose birthday it is, is. You will probably have to go about getting a ball from a catcher differently than a relief pitcher.
If it is a pitcher for the home team, particularly a popular one, and he looks at you, just make sure he knows you are the first one to acknowledge the fact it is his birthday. However, don't yell it out to him with his back turned to you, or a) He will not know who called out his birthday and b) You will have just let in your section on some valuable information they can then take credit for.
If it is a player on the opposing team, the best plan of attack may be to simply integrate their birthday into your request for a ball. Just make sure it's brief enough for you to yell it out quickly enough for the player to hear you clearly. Keep in mind; most players aren't actively listening to the crowd, so the player may only hear bits of your request. The shorter the request, the more likely he will be to hear it. That said, opposing pitchers are a different animal than opposing position players. Unless you go to a stadium where they open the gates an hour before game time, you will have all of batting practice to ask an opposing pitcher for the ball. In all likelihood, this will not be the case with position players. The surest way to try to get a ball from an opposing position player is to go near their dugout when they start throwing with each other (usually towards the end of home batting practice or the beginning of their own batting practice).
Another good time to get them to throw you a ball is when they warm up before the game along the foul line closest to whichever side their dugout is on. This usually occurs about half an hour before the game starts. Although, this is to be used as a last resort as not all of the position come out, and if they do, it is not guaranteed they will play catch. They may just run around and stretch. Also, since it is right before the game, so you will have more competition. Sure the people present may be less motivated to snag the ball than the people at the dugout during batting practice, but you are better off trying to get the ball during batting practice.
You may notice I didn't include home position players in this column. That is because unless you are fortunate enough to go to a stadium that opens 2 1/2 hours early, the chances for getting baseballs from home position players are very limited and they chances that do exist will be crowded with people that will probably know it's their birthday. Thus you will just be one of many people wishing him a birthday. Sure you CAN get a ball from this scenario, but the odds aren't working in your favor.
I think it is important to note; don't simply yell "Happy birthday!" and expect a ball to come to you. The player's first reaction is to say, "Thank you". That's why I suggested earlier you integrate the birthday wish into your request. The "happy birthday" doesn't suggest "give me a ball, and "happy birthday" and "can you give me the ball, please?" in consecutive sentences will probably make the player feel all you care about is the ball and not him. In a sense you do, but you have to make it sound like that's not ALL you care about. Like I said, I've never gotten a ball from wishing a player a happy birthday, but be clever with it, and you'll have an edge on most people in the stadium.
Mateo Fischer is a contributing columnist to myGameBalls.com and also maintains a Blog.