March 1, 2010
Records were made to be broken. Some would argue that the same applies for rules at baseball stadiums. I don't encourage breaking rules for the heck of it, but sometimes we must go the extra mile to snag a baseball or two. I've never been to any stadium other than Safeco Field, but I figure that Safeco is about as strict as the average ballpark based on what I've read from various blogs.
There are two rules that I break at Safeco Field pretty much every time I go snagging at a Mariner game; no "glove trick" and sit in your ticketed seat. The glove trick is my main method of snagging at batting practice and my numbers would reduce by roughly 30% without this wonderful invention from Zack Hample. During the game, I sneak past ushers in the lower level to make an attempt every half inning at a 3rd out ball. Third out balls are balls thrown into the crowd by a fielder on his way to the dugout after he records the third out of an inning.
There are two areas of Safeco Field where I use the glove trick. The main area is a small alley between the wall and the stands in right field. This alley attracts a lot of balls because players commonly toss them up to kids without gloves in the front row. Of course, the really young ones usually can't handle the throw and drop the balls into the alley.
As easy as it may seem, retrieving these balls with the glove trick is pretty tough because of an usher whose only job is to stand at the end of the alley and pick up all the balls that are dropped during batting practice. He has told me numerous times to "stop using my string," but a ballhawk needs to do what a ballhawk needs to do. Since he knows the glove trick is coming, he always speed walks and can get a ball 30 seconds after it is dropped. Once, I was reeling my glove up with the ball inside when he got his hands on my glove, cut my kite string, and kept my Sharpie. This event made me convert from kite string to thin rope.
The other glove trickable areas of Safeco Field are the bullpens. When a ball is hit into the bullpens during batting practice, it usually stays there for a while. A sheriff sometimes cleans up all the bullpen balls once or twice during BP, but time isn't usually an issue. Again, the problem is the ushers. There are two or three ushers that stand near the bullpen and keep their eyes on the concourse during BP. However, they put an end to the glove trick if they turn around and catch me in the act.
During the game, I try to sneak into seats behind either dugout to get third out balls. There are two things that I always do when I try to get past an usher into a section of seats behind a dugout. The first thing is looking like I belong. Never wear a glove and try to speed walk past an usher; they will stop you every time. I always put my glove in my backpack and walk confidently.
The second thing to do is look busy and have your hands full. If you have a hot dog in one hand and a soda in the other, ushers at Safeco Field won't bother asking for your ticket because it would be too much of a hassle. I don't usually buy food at the ballpark, so I pretend to be in an intense conversation one my cell phone whenever I walk past an usher.
Just like everyone reading this column, I can't wait to put my snagging strategies to use in April.
Max Van Hollebeke is a contributing columnist to myGameBalls.com.