April 2, 2016
I can't tell you how many times at the ball park, people (grown ups) get mad at me, because I snag a baseball right in front of them, and I'm not talking about little kids either! People are amazed that a middle aged man can get a baseball thrown to him by a Major League baseball player over a little kid. Well, 1600 plus baseballs didn't just jump into my backpack! It is not easy to snag baseballs at my age either. I had to earn them...yes, asking for them is just half the battle.
You see, the little kids at the ball park have two key elements to their "ballhawking game" that I don't have; one, they are cute as hell, and two, they are young. Players love to throw balls to the cute little kids, we all know that, but what about the older fan? It is virtually impossible for the older fan to get their hands on a Major League baseball at the ball park, unless they purchase one at the Team Store, or so you thought!
The secret to snagging a Major League baseball at a ball park is to KNOW YOUR PLAYERS! We all know players don't respond during batting practice (BP), or during the game to the greetings, "Mr. Ball Player, can you please throw me a baseball", hey Number #59, right here, or "here here here"! The players also don't like to be yelled at, or annoyed. The players are human, and could be tired, hot, stressed or having a bad day, etc., so those requests for a baseball don't usually work at the ball park. By the way, the players like to be called by their first names. This also shows that you really know who they are. Also, be polite, and watch your manners at the ball park (In reference to this article, you have to know basic ballhawking strategy as well...see Zack Hample's books for more info).
You may ask; How do I get to know the players? Well, I do a lot of HOMEWORK! Yes, homework. Remember when your 3th grade teacher told you to study? Well I'm telling you to study too! I don't mind it if someone comes up to me during BP to ask me who a certian player is once or twice, but if you bother me throughout batting practice, and keep asking me who this or that player is, I'm going to get upset with you very soon, because I am trying to concentrate during BP on hit balls and home run balls coming into the stands, and player toss up possibillities, and I don't need you "buzzing in my ear" all throughout BP...it could be a SAFETY HAZARD!
You see, I do my homework by learning who the players are, where they are from, what teams they have played for before. I go a step beyond that too; I pull up photos of them to see what they look like with or without a beard, or look for any distinguishable features, like big ears, tatoos, etc. I look to see what gear they used, like what type of glove. How they wear their uniform. I look to see how old they are, what their birthdays are, or basically, I find out anything I can use to connect with that certain player, and know who they are on the field once BP starts!
But you ask; how do I do that for 25 baseball players? You STUDY!!! It's not easy, and it is not just the 25 man roster either, you have to study the entire 40 man roster also, just in case a player got called up, sent down, traded, or injured. I study the coaches as well...ALL THE COACHES...from manager, to the bullpen catcher! I even find out who the teams pre-game announcers are. Anyone that is on that baseball field and is associated with the team, I want to know who they are...batboy, etc. This goes for the Umpires too! Anyone of these people can throw you a baseball!
I also try and make friends with everybody at the ball park! We have an old saying in the Army when you get to be a leader, "make friends" with everybody... the Supply Sgt., the Mess Sgt., the Clerks, etc., or anybody that can help you out when the chips are down, and you need something in a pinch. Same should apply at the ball park! Make friends with the ushers, the on field Police Officers, security guards, camera-well photographers, etc. Say hi! Anyone that can possibly throw you a baseball, KNOW WHO THEY ARE!!! I had gotten a baseball tossed up to me from the camera-well located by the dugout, from a female medical staff member of the Reds once (I was nice to her) ...the photographers were too lazy to toss it up.
I normally start conducting my research of the players a week prior to a 3 or 4 game series that comes to my local ball park, or for my road trip. When I make out my line-up cards, I put notes on it in reference to what reseach I discovered during my week of preparation. For instance, I will put a letter by the Hispanic players name & number, like "C" for Cuba (the player comes from Cuba), so I know that player is Cuban. Or, X player wears glasses, uses a Mizuno glove, or what ever. What ever note you want to make on your line-up card to help you out (to remember that player that you don't really know yet)...it's your card!
Also, Learn Spanish!!! Enough said.
Some of this, of course will become easier after time when you go to a bunch of baseball games, follow a certain team for a while, or frequent a certian ball park all the time. You will get to know the ball players, ushers, security, etc. After you have been ballhawking for awhile, and have interacted with some players & coaches, you will have a better understanding of what I am talking about here. If you actually watch a lot of baseball games on TV, you will eventually start to know who the players are too.
So, in summary, learn your players because, you don't want to keep bothering the other ballhawks during BP! You want to be ready for any ballhawking opportunity that presents itself where you might encounter a new player or coach on the field. And, something you might not have thought about...(quick story) last year during the Reds v. Marlins game, I was waiting to snag an infield warm up ball down the 3rd base line, when I noticed Marlins outfielder Christian Yelich coming out of the dugout to his position in left field with a bat in his hand 3 minutes before game time. I thought to myself, what the heck does he need a bat for right now, he's about to take the field? Then, he walked down the 3rd base line, and was heading right for me. I was decked out in head to toe Marlins gear (I was the only Marlins fan in the area), and of course I knew who he was, and said, Hey Christian; he was about to hand me the bat until he saw a cute kid standing next to me, and handed it to him instead. Christian didn't say a word, he just handed the bat to the kid, and jogged over to left field. I couldn't believe it, and I almost snagged a bat, and I was cool with the little kid getting the bat instead of me. But my point is, how stupid would I have looked if the player came over to hand me a bat, and I didn't know who he was? Sometimes, cool stuff like this happens if you go to enough games.
So, see if this works for you to try and snag more baseballs. Let me know! As always, "GO HAVE A BALL"...I will.
Rocco Sinisi is a contributing columnist to myGameBalls.com.