May 17, 2010
A compelling case has been made more than once on this site that ballhawking could be considered a sport. One way in which ballhawking certainly differs from a typical sport is the absence of a standard set of rules.
Ballhawks must more or less police themselves. In extreme cases, security guards may come into play. But it's usually up to a particular ballpark's ballhawks to set and enforce their own ground rules.
This in itself can present some difficulties. While the regular ballhawks may follow the rules, other ballhawks might bend them and non-ballhawks can truthfully claim to be blissfully unaware.
Enforcement can take on many forms. In Oakland in the 1990's, I saw several examples of bleacher justice. And the regulars were on good enough terms with security that the guards were nice enough to look the other way while rule breakers were educated.
It very rarely went that far though. If you are a bleacher regular and people see you getting one baseball after another, they are going to tend to want to emulate you. Set a good, positive example and they will likely follow suit.
Most of the ballpark etiquette in Oakland was exclusive to the stadium's layout, as it featured a set of stairs at the bottom of each section like Dodger Stadium. We would jockey for a prime spot in front of the stairs during batting practice and take turns running down for balls that barely cleared the fence. When you got back to the top of the stairs, you went to the back of the line. It was simple and easy to enforce.
There was only one cardinal rule that I think could and should be observed at all ballparks. You never pushed or shoved a person to jockey for position and you never reached in front of someone who was camped to catch a ball on the fly. The first part of that rule was negotiable during games, but the second part was not open to interpretation.
I observe that rule to this day, and it has cost me more than a handful of baseballs. If I see a ball hit directly at an obviously clueless non-ballhawk with a glove, I back off and play the bounce. And there is usually a bounce. It's frustrating to know that I could have just reached over and snagged it myself, but it's the golden rule of treating someone else how you would want to be treated.
Not to mention the safety issue. When more than one glove reach the ball at the same time, there is no telling where that ball will end up. I've seen a ball deflect off gloves and shatter someone's face, and I've had a ball graze my head off a deflection. No baseball is worth dying for.
There could be endless debate about a universal set of rules for ballhawks. But it all boils down to one simple idea. Just be civil to each other so that everybody can have fun.
Rick Gold is a contributing columnist to myGameBalls.com.