February 10, 2013
How sweet it is to get your hands on an Umpire toss up ball? For me, it totally caps off a great day at the ball park! It's a thrill to have a Major League Umpire that I watch on TV all the time, point me out and sling me a perfect baseball at the end of the game that's worth $50.00 bucks or so. What about you, do you try and snag Umpire balls? Do you know how to snag umpire balls, or do you care to snag Umpire balls? Do you get a "kick" out of snagging umpire balls? Did you even know that snagging an Umpire ball exisited? Do you despise ball hawks that go for Umpire balls? If so, why? This article might just change your mind.
As ball hawks, we all have different types of balls we like to snag. Some of us like to snag "pearls" so we can get players' signatures on them. Some of us like to snag the beat up game played balls that say, I was used by a major leaguer, like practice balls, infield between-innings played with balls, etc. All of us love game balls; 3rd out balls, foul balls, home run balls (the biggest catch), and commemorative balls, but what about UMPIRE BALLS? Umpire balls are very cool too, because they are beautiful in their own right; they are technically "gamers" that have not been played with for the most part, and they are still in pristine condition. They are always neat, because they are still dusty feeling, having just been rubbed up for the game and all. They're cool because they just came out of the Umps ball pouch, and they would have maybe been given to a premiere MLB pitcher like Cliff Lee, Justin Verlander, C.C. Sabathia, or one of your favorite pitchers, but instead, the Ump tossed it to you! A side note: I have also gotten an Umpire ball that has been used in a game before (it was scuff marked).
One unique factor about an Umpire ball is the "what if" factor. I always tend to imagine when I snag an Umpire ball just what kind of ball it could have been. What if the ball was going to be a game home run ball, a foul ball, or some players milestone ball? What if that ball was a pitcher's fist hit ball, or a rookie's 1st home run ball? I'd like to think that it was in the "on deck circle" if you will. An Umpire ball to me was technically IN THE GAME, right? I guess we'll never know, but the one thing I do know is, the ball is now in my collection!
A funny thing about Umpire balls that most people, and some ball hawks don't even realize is, what the heck do the Umpires do with all the balls left in their ball pouches at the end of the game. Most people probably don't even care or pay attention to the fact that the Umpire has about $300.00 worth of baseballs left in his pouches at the end of a game, and that he is about to walk away down the players tunnel with all those spare balls that didn't make it into the game. I don't know what he would do with them once he leaves the field; I guess he gives them back to the home team, right? Most fans leave the ball park early, or in the 9th inning, and they are either happy about a win or sad about a loss, and are not paying any attention to the Umpire at the end of a game. Most fans don't know that the Umpire will toss up those baseballs to the kids and fans if you ask him for them (WOW; come on hawks, let's go snag those baseballs!!!).
First of all, you have got to know WHERE to go in your ball park to go snag these balls. Second, you've got to know WHEN to snag these balls. Let me back up; one of the first things you need to know is who are the Umpires for the game, ecspecially the HOME PLATE Umpire. Find out their names, and write them down on your line-up card. Remember, just because the ball park score board tells you who the Umps are, just don't take their word for it! If you are a true baseball fan, and a squared away & prepared ball hawk, you'll have watched about a million baseball games, and should know who most of the Umpires are by sight, or at least the crew chiefs. Also, you should have in your ball hawking backpack a nice pair of binoculars, so you can see who the Umpires are from the stands if you need to. I've seen the stadium announce an Umpire as the HP Ump by name, and he was actually another Ump. Yes, sometimes the stadium announcer makes mistakes too! I'm not going to lie, I don't know all 96 Umpires by name and sight, but I know most of them. If you want an Umpire ball, you better. The Triple A Umps and the Rookies sneak into the games with different crews from time to time when the more established Umps take a vacation during the season, or get hurt, so watch for them. True story & point being; I went to ask an Ump for an Umpire ball, and called out his name to get his attention, and it was the wrong Ump and he looked at me Crazy, and didn't toss me a ball! Can anyone say...embarrassed! Some of the Umps do look the same, they are usually heavy-set middle-aged guys all dressed in black & gray, with the same build and hair color. So, learn who the Umps are by face if you can. And by the way, they like to be called by their first names too, just like the players do, but only if you are an adult ball hawk. If you are a young boy or girl, or teenaged ball hawk, use some common courtesy and call them ***MR.*** West, or Mr. Joyce.
Another tip about the Umpires, I have found that the older and more established Umpires will toss up balls more often than the younger less experienced Umpires ( the older Umps "get it" if you will ). The younger Umps just want to get off the field, get down that tunnel, and "get the heck out of Dodge"; they have NO time for ball hawks. Also, Umpires that are "HEFTIER", and have TWO (2) ball pouches are more likely to toss up balls to the fans in my experience. So, see if those kind of Umps are Home Plate Umpires for your game. Another thing, since Umpires are like "the Police" of the baseball game, it is always wise to give them their respect when dealing with them. Umpires have to stay in that "Authority Mode" like Cops do, so be advised. Also, don't be surprised if an Umpire snaps back at you if you disrespect them when asking for a baseball at the end of their day. Remember, the home plate Ump will normally be tired, sweaty, thirsty, and grumpy after dealling with millionaire ball players & managers with attitudes all afternoon or night, so tread lightly...you could get your feelings hurt!
Something else you might want to remember; the ball park announces the Umpires at the start of every game, try and write down who the Home Plate Umpire is going to be. Also, if you miss the Umps being announced at the start of the game, the Umps all have uniform numbers on their uniforms, so use your smart phone to pull them up on Google to find out who they are by their uniform numbers...you will have 8 innings to do this. Plus, if you are going to go to the full 3 or 4 day set of games, remember that all the Umpires are going to rotate and take turns being the Home Plate Umpire. So when you get home to log your gameball stats into MYGAMEBALLS.COM, you will have to go to your team's website to get the games attendance if you missed it at the ball park, you can also go to the gameday summary on the team's website and find all the Umpires' names there that will be umpiring for the 3 or 4 game set. Write their names down on your line-up cards, so you can have them for the next few games. All you have to figure out is what UMP is going to rotate to what base the next game! Home plate rotates to 3rd, 3rd to 2nd, and so on. Should be easy.
Also, beware that if you go to try and snag an Umpire ball, you will NOT always get one if you are an adult ball hawk (if you look like a grown man, you're an adult ball hawk). Umps are people too, and like the players, they like to throw the balls left in their pouches to the little kids at the dugouts at the end of the game. This is understandable since the kids are the future of the game and are so cute...I have no heart-burn with this. At least someone is getting those baseballs. Another note is that the Dads of those kids at the end of the game that see you going for an umpire ball, especially season ticket holders that have season tickets at or near the dugout areas will thwart you in your attempt to get your hands on an Umpire ball. Fans that have seats near the dugouts KNOW about Umpire balls. The adult fans that see what you are up to, will heckle you if you get close to their kids or try to impede their kid's ability to snag one of those balls They get quite nasty down there, so beware! Also, the ushers and security don't like to see adult ball hawks going for Umpire balls, so be stealthy, and be on your best behavior down by the dugouts!
What are some of the best times to go for Umpire balls? Well, when you see alot of fans pick up and leave the dugout areas towards the end of a game, that would be a good time to go and try to snag one. Some of the best times to go for Umpire balls is when you have a "Blow-out" game, and all the fans leave early and you stay until the end of the game. The same can be said with rain-out games that restart late at night, or when you have one or two crappy teams playing each other, and nobody comes to those games. Another good day to try and snag Ump balls, and my favorite is, during a DAY game in the early part of the year when most of the kids are still in school, and only the "old people" are at the game that they bus in to watch the game...you should have no competition with the kids for one of those balls. You always want to try and go for an Ump ball with the least competition as possible, even if you are an adult ball hawk or a young ball hawk. Don't try to snag one during Opening Day games, or games that are very special like bobblehead give-a-way days, etc. It's just too crowded; don't waste your time! If you are a kid, or a young teenage ball hawk, go any time, and see if an Umpire will hook you up at the end of the game. You guys should have no problems snagging one.
Another thing that I noticed about snagging Umpire balls is, that Umpires are like the players in the fact that they seem to like to throw their baseballs to fans of the ROAD TEAM! So, if you are at your ball park in your home teams' gear, change into the gear of the ROAD team in the 8th inning before you go down to try and snag an Umpire ball. Again, this is MY experience at G.A.B.P.; it might be different at your ball park. At some ball parks, I noticed that you can't even't get close to the Umps, because they enter & exit the game from a glass/plexiglass door right behind home plate and most fans can't get close to them. So, check to see if you can even snag an Umpire ball at the ball park you are at before you head on down to try and snag one .
One last thing about Umpire balls; if you primarily ball hawk in only ONE ball park all the time, you can't go for Umpire balls every time you are at the ball park if you come to a lot of games. I can't stress this enough! The Umpires will change out for every game series, but the ushers and security guards will stay the same, and they *will* notice you coming down to snag Umpire balls at the end of the game if you come all the time, even if you are in another team's gear. The ushers and security guards will try and stop you from snagging these balls that they perceive should go to little kids at the dugouts; again, I'm talking to the adult ball hawks here, 20 to 70 year olds. Yes, we have a few Vietnam Vet. ball hawks at G.A.B.P. that are at least 65+ in age that are just as much a ball hawk as Hample & Jabs!!! You have to pick a good day and situation to try and snag an Umpire ball unless you are a kid. Even the Cop at the dugout shooed us away from the Umpires lately, so be JUDICIOUS when heading toward the Umps! Also, it all depends on your ball park, and your team. Remember, the more successful your team is, the more fans at the park, equals the harder it will be to snag an Umpire ball. It is a challenge to snag an Umpire ball, so go have fun with it.
Now that you know a little something about snagging Umpire balls, pay attention to who the Umpires are when you are at the games or watching the games on TV. Try and see how many Umpire balls you can snag in a season. If you go to about 50 games a season you should be able to snag about 8 to 10 Ump balls. Just remember, when snagging an Umpire ball, the standard rules apply; bring a glove, be in team gear, and know the Ump! A catchers mitt wouldn't hurt, and remember... always be RESPECTFUL! Only a few people at the end of the night are going to snag one of these really cool baseballs...are you going to be one of them??? So as always, go "Have a Ball"...I will.
Rocco Sinisi is a contributing columnist to myGameBalls.com.