July 23, 2014
If you've been to the ball park lately, you should have noticed a few trends that are going on to thwart Ball Hawks. I don't know about you, but these things are bugging the hell out of me! I've seen a few trends that have been occurring for the past few years, and I wanted to share what I have seen with my fellow 'hawks. I'm wondering if you are seeing what I'm seeing?
First of all, I have noticed that the Umpires have been less likely to toss balls up to the fans! I have been noticing that as the Umps are coming to the dugout, or to the door behind home plate after the game, they are less likely to make eye contact with the fans, so they don't have to engage the fan that wants a toss up ball. The Umps are looking down, and making a bee line for the dugout (I know they do this after an extra inning game, because they are hot & tired, but that's not what I am talking about here). I have also noticed that as the Umps are coming in from the field, and we ball hawks are asking for a baseball, they start hitting their ball pouches, and are quick to say..." I'm out, I'm out" (out of baseballs to toss up), and run down the tunnel. I've noticed that the batboy late in the 9th inning doesn't try to stock the Umps up with a lot of baseballs anymore either if they know that there is not going to be extra innings! I know this because, as I am going for an Umpire ball in the 9th inning, I don't pay attention to the pitcher, and batter...I keep my eye on the Umps, and the ballboy.
I have seen the dugout Cop here at Great American Ball Park (GABP) tell the Umps that the fans are going to ask for baseballs after the game...don't throw them any! Yes, ball park personnel like to sabotage ball hawks...I hear it and see it all the time! The Cop now goes up to the Ump as he is walking in off the field, holds out his hands, and grabs the few remaining baseballs from the Ump, and he (the Cop) tosses them up to the fans/kids...especially if he sees ME! Really???!!! I noticed a new tactic from the Umps if he sees "Hawks" at the dugout waiting to snag that precious and perfect Umpire ball; they head towards the 3rd baseline first, and hand out those baseballs to the kids & fans over there instead, before heading to the dugout...AHHH!!! This makes me so mad, especially after we (hawks) position ourselves in the 9th, and embarrass ourselves in front of the fans at the dugout, just to get dissed by the Umps! So, now I go by the 3rd base side sometimes, away from the Cop, and wait there for Umpire balls...ha ha! It works sometimes.
I've seen another trend in the league, the players have been hanging way off the wall at batting practice (BP), and more in towards the infield. Ever since Josh Hamilton a few years ago tossed a ball to the fan in Texas that fell out of the stands and died, the players have backed up off the wall. Back a few years ago, the players were more friendly, and were closer to the fans, and liked to talk to the fans, flirt with the girls, and throw balls to the kids. Now, not so much! The players have this "players vs. the fans" mentality now. The Reds & Cardinals, forget about it...they are the worst, and I get to see their arrogance all the time! Now it is harder to ask for toss ups, as the players pretend they don't hear you. The players are getting hip to the ball hawking thing. Hey players....CHILL-OUT a little bit, and enjoy your fans! I've also noticed that the bigger city teams are the worst at this, and "Big-Time" the fans, except the Cubs. The Dodgers, Frisco, Cardinals, and Detroit are the worst in my opinion.
To follow this line of inquiry, I have noticed that teams have been placing the outfielders way off the outfield wall to play catch and warm up between innings. The other day, the Pittsburgh Pirates were so far off the wall, they were almost by the shortstop! Why is this a big deal? Well, I personnally like to get behind the players on the third base side, and try to have them throw me their warm up ball during the inning breaks. I snagged a couple of balls this way, but I'm sure it bothers the hell out of the players. I guess the players are like, if you are going to bother us like this, then we'll move way away from you crazy ball hawks! Us older ball hawks have to snag warm up balls this way, so we don't look like idiots at the dugout, because you know that "all the balls at the dugout are supposed to go to those cute little kids"!!!
More disturbing than this, is the fact that coaches around the league are getting smart to the whole "Ball Hawking Thing". How do I know? Well, more coaches aren't tossing balls to fans as they used to, and coaches are flat out telling fans that they WILL NOT toss up baseballs, and that the team will hit some balls into the stand...just wait. Nice coach! I hate when they say this! I even witnessed coaches tell little kids this!!! A few years ago I asked Mick Billmeyer of the Phillies for a ball at the bullpen, and he not only tossed me a baseball, but he tossed one to all the fans around the bullpen, if they wanted one or not! He did this for a few years in a row. I was like...you go Mick...you're the man! I saw him a month ago in Cleveland with the Detorit Tigers, and asked him for a ball, and thought to myself...yeah, Mick's here, cool...he looked at me (and I'm in full Tigers gear), and was about to toss me a ball, and I saw the bullpen catcher look at him and give him this look like....hell no! Then, he put the ball in his gamer jacket and walked off...I was like, you've got to be kidding me! And Mick was the bullpen COACH, taking orders from a bullpen catcher!
I've also noticed that the visiting coaches and players at GABP that get ready for bullpen here latlely, won't play long toss on the field before the bullpen session...they walk right into the bullpen to conduct their pregame warm up in the bullpen...what? Down in Tampa at the Trop, I saw the same thing...the bullpen catcher took the catcher or pitcher to a spot on the field where they could play long toss, and warm up, and couldn't be bothered by ball hawks like me trying to snag a baseball. In the Trop it is easier for them to do bullpen without being bothered, because they have a food section they can hide behind.
And lastly, have you noticed that there hasn't been as many BP homers coming into the stands lately? I've noticed that for the last few years this has been happening, and I can tell you why. It is a combination of a couple of things in my opinion. One is, that there are NO MORE POWER HITTERS in the league! PED's have been taken out of the league now for the most part the last few years, and the big hitters "are like a cat that has been de-clawed"...weak! Another reason, is because teams are using "the shift". I feel that the more these teams put "the shift" on players in the league during the game, the more the hitters are trying to work "Oppo" (hit opposite field hits) in BP to beat the shift, and are not trying to DRIVE the ball over the fences!
A few years ago during BP, teams I feel were trying to put on a "POWER DISPLAY" to scare the other team as they were stretching. Now, they are just content working "Oppo", and I think they actually don't want to hit balls into the stands, just so we don't get the thrill of snagging one. In fact, Mat Latos personnally told me that the Reds were NOT going to hit balls into the stands, and were just going to hit them to their fielders, so us ball hawks couldn't snag anything!!! I told him that we paid $17.00 to attend early BP just for the thrill of snagging a Major League Home Run Ball...he could care less! That's what you get when you are talking to MILLIONAIRES! I just saw a bunch of AL teams this season too, and even the Blue Jays were being wimpy! WHAT THE HECK IS GOING ON?
One more thing real quick, I've noticed that if you have that "Ball Hawk Look"...a young, thin male with a baseball glove and a backpack slung over your shoulder, 15 to 30/40 years old, the players are hesitant to toss you up a baseball. Especially if you are by yourself. Remember, I'm a retired Cop, I notice these things like "profiling"! You have a better chance of snagging a toss-up baseball if you are with a kid, girlfriend, or "meat-head" friend! I would suggest that you ditch the backpack, give it to your girlfriend, or drop it down on the seat in front of you if you are playing for toss-ups, and are solo... don't hold onto it like a purse. I've also noticed that the Hispanic & African American ball players are better about throwing up toss ups to fans than the Japanese, or Caucasian players...just my experience...take it or leave it.
Well, like anything else, we have to adjust, and figure out ways to deal with this! I just wanted to share what I've been noticing, and for everybody to be cognizant of the situation. Let me know what you have experienced out there at your ball park here lately. I'd like to know. As always, "go have a ball"...I will!
Rocco Sinisi is a contributing columnist to myGameBalls.com.