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Snyder’s Soapbox: Let’s establish some ground rules for catching baseballs at a game and how far fans can go

Above all else, don’t be a jerk, but here are the rest of the rules for catching and keeping baseballs

            Matt Snyder

By Matt Snyder of www.cbssports.com contributing

Welcome to Snyder’s Soapbox! Here, I pontificate about matters related to Major League Baseball on a weekly basis. Some of the topics will be pressing matters, some might seem insignificant in the grand scheme of things, and most will be somewhere in between. The good thing about this website is that it’s free, and you are allowed to click away. If you stay, you’ll get smarter, though. That’s a money-back guarantee. Let’s get to it.

One of the many things that makes baseball an awesome spectator sport is the chance to catch a foul ball or — better yet! — home run just by being in the stands. You don’t get a similar chance at a basketball game or, for the most part, a football game. 

Of course, lots of controversy can stem from the catching and/or keeping of baseballs at games, so maybe we need to have a discussion and even lay out some ground rules on the matter. I’m not claiming to be the ultimate decider here, but I’ll get the ball rolling and I’m open to more rules. 

The punishment for violating these rules is being called a loser and having everyone hate you for being a rule violator just to get a baseball. The point-and-laugh “everyone hates you” deterrence should be a strong one. 

General rule of thumb: Don’t be a jerk

We’ll get into specifics below, but we can start with the easiest thing and that’s to just not be a jerk. It isn’t that hard, I swear. If you’re getting into confrontations — physical or verbal — someone is violating this rule, whether it’s you or the other person. 

It’s really cool to get a baseball at a game, but this isn’t such a serious matter that fighting should stem from it. If you have a chance to de-escalate instead of escalate, take the chance to do the former. If you do the latter and escalate over a baseball at a game, you’re a loser. 

Adults taking gloves to games? 

For me, once I graduated from high school, I graduated from taking my mitt to games. In fact, I’m pretty sure once I could drive that fell by the wayside. It feels like around 15 years old is the max here? 

Simply, I’ve seen a lot of people proclaiming that adults shouldn’t be taking baseball gloves to games as fans and I don’t have a vehement disagreement. That said, if your kid wants you to bring your glove too, I’m good with that. That seems like a fair exception to the rule. 

And, really, if you’re an adult and badly want to take your mitt into a game — as long as you do not violate the other rules!! — I guess it isn’t hurting anything. I’d maintain you look kind of foolish, but there are plenty of other ways people make themselves look foolish and that isn’t against the rules. 

I will say this, though: You are deducted “cool” points if you need a glove to make the catch as opposed to bare-handing it. The bare-hand grab is the coolest, followed by the cup catch — extra points if it is a beer and you chug the beer with the ball in it — and then maybe inside a hat before we get to the glove. 

Stay in your seat

Once you become an adult, this “ball hawk” nonsense needs to stop. You bought a seat at the game, not the right to run all over the place trying to snare every single ball that enters the crowd. If you are, for example, finding yourself making videos and trying to ruin an usher’s life because the usher is doing his job in Coors Field, maybe you need to think about the way you are leading your life and re-prioritize. Grow up.

Obviously, staying specifically in your seat is the rule when it’s a full house or at least the seating around you is filled. It also only applies when the game is going, not in batting practice when people are free to roam. I will say that if you moved down to close to the outfield wall during batting practice, you absolutely must vacate your spot once a person with a ticket for that particular seat arrives. You can only occupy the empty seats during BP when they are actually empty. 

If there are empty seats during the game, it’s fair game to chase down a baseball, as long as you don’t cross over a physical human being. The second you step over a person, you’ve violated the rule. Do not step over people and violate their personal space to get to a freaking baseball. Instincts kick in, I get it. But if you are actively shoving someone out of the way, you’ve gone too far.

Again, buying a ticket absolutely does not entitle you to run all over the ballpark trying to catch every ball.  

This is NOT a contact sport

If a big home run is hit into a crowd of people, there will be some contact. It’s inevitable and it is imperative that everyone follows the “stay in your seat” rule, so the contact is all incidental and kind of shoulders-against-shoulders and stuff like that. Any intentional contact is a flagrant violation. Pushing someone out of the way makes you a bad person and you should feel ashamed. An adult pushing a child out of the way makes me want to remove the stipulation about fighting, because an adult pushing a kid out of the way for a baseball deserves to get punched in the face. 

Stay in your seat and try to make a catch without moving other people. 

Protect those who need protecting

If you have a small child with you, your responsibility is to your own child. It is not anyone else’s responsibility, it’s yours. If you have another companion in need of protection, same thing. Everyone needs to be trying to be as safe as possible, but ultimately, if a screaming ball comes right at someone who needs protected, the protector needs to be the one doing it. 

And if one of those losers I mentioned above tries to bowl over one of the protectees, well, now it’s your responsibility to tell the loser that he violated the rules and must deal with the consequences. 

Throwing it back is only OK in Wrigley

Wrigley Field is grandfathered in here because it’s a tradition that goes back decades and I’m generally all for tradition in baseball. As long as the ball being thrown back into play doesn’t hit one of the players, it’s part of the fabric of Wrigley to throw back opposing home run balls. 

Everywhere else, it’s dumb and I forbid it. Do not throw a baseball back to the playing surface. Once it’s out, it’s out for good. If you don’t want it, find a kid in the area.

Speaking of which … 

If a player throws the ball toward a kid, let the kid have it

A lot of times, you’ll witness a player trying to throw the ball into the crowd in the direction of a kid and some adult nearby will lean over the kid to steal it. That’s not acceptable. There will also be times that the player misses his spot by one or two people and it goes directly to an adult when he was clearly aiming for a kid. The proper reaction to this is to read the intent of the player, catch the ball if it comes right at you and then hand it to the kid, absent extreme circumstances (more on that below). We know the intent of the player and this wasn’t a live action play, such as catching a home run on a fly. It was a player tossing a ball toward a kid and you ended up with it errantly. In nearly all cases, I’d say you’ve gotta give it up. 

But also … 

Your kid isn’t entitled to a ball

Based both on stories from people I know and from those shared on social media, it seems to be getting more and more widespread for people to peer pressure adults into giving a baseball to a child. “Give it to the kid!” is a common refrain. One rule I heard years ago from a good friend in the industry is basically, “if I catch it, it’s mine, but if it bounces or rolls to me, I’ll give it to a kid.” That’s a good rule. I recommend we all decide on our own to make this a personal rule, but it isn’t required. 

No, what is required is to stop feeling entitled. 

That’s great that you brought your child to a baseball game, but you are absolutely not entitled to get a ball from a stranger as a keepsake. Stop pestering strangers with your feeling of entitlement. It’s completely obnoxious and, more importantly, you’re assuming you deserve it more than they do.

I have a daughter with autism. She loves cats more than anything in the world. Now, what if, instead, she loved baseball more than anything in the world but cannot attend MLB games in person due to things like anxiety around crowds and/or sensory issues (loud noises, for example)? These are all things that happen, so it’s a realistic scenario. What if I caught a ball and was over the moon with joy because I can give her the ball when I get home? And then while basking in all my glory, a family from two rows away starts screaming at me to give the ball to their kid. Am I really required to either give them the ball or explain my entire life story in front of a bunch of strangers in my section? Is this really how we want our baseball society to operate?

This is just an example. Everyone in the ballpark paid to get in, so there’s equal entitlement to a baseball that enters the stands. 

You never know what is going on with a person, so please stop pressuring strangers into giving a baseball to your kids just because they’re kids.

In fact, let’s just assume every other person around you in a ballpark deserves kindness and grace. It’ll be a better experience for everyone. 

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