December 31, 2013
In years past I've remarked at how ballhawking is becoming a national phenomenon. At this point, five years after the initial launch of myGameBalls.com, I think we can safely remove the word "becoming" from that statement. Ballhawking *IS* a national phenomenon, and much to the dismay of the ballhawk haters, it's here to stay.
Ballhawking was all over the news this year and made its presence known at all 30 ballparks, due in large part to Zack Hample's 30 ballpark tour sponsored by BIGS Sunflower Seeds. But aside from Hample, almost every ballpark now has a core group of "regulars" who maintain the local ballhawking scene. By and large, these regulars have established a ballhawking culture that is fun, competitive, and inviting to newcomers.
As a result, the ballhawking hobby is thriving. This year the ballhawks on myGameBalls.com combined to snag 8,481 total balls (counting Spring Training), 53 game home run balls, and 60 foul balls. As a group we continue to inch closer to the 9,000 ball mark for a single season, which is statistically significant because it represents one percent of the official baseballs that MLB manufactures each year (900,000 balls). I think it would be pretty cool to say that our community snagged one out of every hundred balls that MLB makes.
Individually, 2013 saw an entertaining battle for the top of the leaderboard between elite ballhawks Erik Jabs and Zack Hample. The two ballhawks were back and forth throughout the year, with Jabs eventually solidifying the top spot by a count of 731 to 717. Fittingly, Jabs won the Ballhawk of the Year award by a single vote.
On the Junior ballhawking circuit, Baltimore ballhawk Grant Edrington came out of nowhere to win the Junior Ballhawk of the Year award. He finished the year with 102 balls and also made an impressive home run snag from a crowded flag court at Camden Yards.
On the Minor League ballhawking circuit, our members finished with 3,319 combined balls, nearly doubling last season's total. Membership on the Minor League site has continued to increase and currently sits just three short of 100 members. Rick Sporcic, the 2013 Minor League Ballhawk of the Year, set the bar ridiculously high for future Minor League ballhawks, snagging a total of 1,012 balls. Quinn Imiola, who snagged 318 balls, was the winner of the Junior Ballhawk of the Year award.
2013 featured our third annual BallhawkFest, this time at Citizens Bank Park. Seventeen ballhawks made the trip to Philadelphia for the event, which included a home run derby, lunch at McFadden's, and an extra-innings game between the Braves and Phillies. The buzz surrounding BallhawkFest seems to be intensifying -- people are already clammoring for details on BallhawkFest 2014, and a newspaper reporter who interviewed me about ballhawking was particularly intrigued by the concept of BallhawkFest. I'm really pumped about organizing BallhawkFest 2014, and I have a few new ideas for ways to make the event even better. Stay tuned, details will be coming soon.
And if you haven't heard, another BallhawkFest-like event will be debuting in 2014. Michael Audet from Canada is organizing our first ever "Spring Kickoff" event. Ballhawks will gather at Olympic Stadium in Montreal for the season's first big ballhawking opportunity. This could turn into a yearly event in which we kick off the new season at a new and interesting venue. Some years it could be an exhibition game held at a former MLB Stadium like Olympic; other years it could be an exhibition game held at a football stadium; and other years it could be a brand new MLB stadium opening its gates for the first time.
On a more somber note, 2013 saw the passing of one of our most enthusiastic members, Matt Hersl from Baltimore. Any ballhawk who visited Camden Yards even one time knew Matt and certainly encountered his infectous energy and passion for baseball in the left field bleachers during BP. He will truly be missed by everyone in our community.
I know I've said this many times, but it bears repeating. What most excites me most about myGameBalls.com is the friendships that it has created. It's cool to see my website increase its traffic and get mentioned in blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and newspaper articles, but all of that pales in comparison to hearing just a few stories about how two baseball fans, previously unknown to each other, forged a friendship through my site and now regularly take road trips together to experience America's pasttime.
And just thinking about baseball road trips, and ballhawking and BallhawkFest and my favorite teams and players, has left me frustrated that Spring Training is still two months away. Anybody else wish we could fast-forward through January and February?
Alan Schuster is a contributing columnist to myGameBalls.com.