In my twenty years of baseball fandom, I’ve attended hundreds of games and caught exactly one foul ball. I remember every detail of it perfectly: It’s the crowning achievement of my professional-baseball-attending career, and a height of pure bliss I’m unsure I’ll ever replicate. If you’re a fan of the game, odds are you dream of catching a foul ball, too. But with tens of thousands of other fans in attendance, the odds are far more likely you’ll go home empty-handed. The chances are low—but they’re not zero. By deploying a handful of strategies, you can up your likelihood of going home with a game-used souvenir, if you’re willing to do a little bit of work for it.
Stay mobile. If you’re serious about catching a foul ball, you’re not going to spend much time in your seat. To put yourself in the best position to track down a foul ball, you’re going to want to purchase a ticket on your row’s aisle, so you’ll be able to move up and down the adjoining staircase to cover more ground within your section. Additionally, your odds are improved by buying a ticket in a less crowded section (ballparks typically let you see the availability by section when purchasing individual tickets on their website; use this information to your advantage).
Play the tendencies. The direction in which foul balls come off the bat isn’t particularly random. If you want to put yourself in the best position to catch a foul ball, before each half inning, look at the scoreboard to see what side of the plate each of the three upcoming batters hits from. If the majority are right-handed hitters, park yourself on the first baseline side. Stay put if that’s where your section is; if not, head to the concourse of the first baseline. If the majority are left-handed hitters, you’ll want to be on the third baseline side. This is because when a batter hits a foul ball, they’re more likely to be a little late on the pitch than early, hitting it towards the opposite side of whichever batter’s box they’re standing in.
Bring a hat for both teams. The arbiters of who is going home with a baseball are often the players themselves. At the end of every inning, the player who made the final put-out (typically either one of the outfielders or the first baseman) will toss the ball into the stands before heading into the dugout. The best way to game this system is by wearing the hat of whichever team is currently pitching. This works particularly well if you’re wearing the hat of the visiting team because you’ll be one of the few people at the ballpark donning gear of the away team, and visiting players might feel compelled to reward someone they perceive to be a fan. Of course, they never need to know where your true allegiance lies.
Speak to players in their native language. Even though it’s branded as America’s pastime, baseball is a sport of the world. Over a quarter of the players in MLB were born outside the United States, including 10.3% in the Dominican Republic, 6.9% in Venezuela, 2.2% in Cuba, and nearly 1% in Japan. Ballhawking expert Zack Hample writes that he’s had quite a bit of success when asking players for a ball in their native language: “If you ask players for balls in their native languages, you’re much more likely to get what you want. I’ve gotten over 100 balls by asking Latino players in Spanish, over a dozen balls by asking Japanese players in Japanese, over a handful of balls by asking Korean players in Korean, and over one ball by asking Curtis Pride—a hearing-impaired player—in American Sign Language.”
Get to the ballpark early for batting practice. Batting practice is your best shot at coming away with a ball because it’s the best ratio of balls going into the stands versus fans you have to compete with to catch them. To make best use of it, find out exactly what time the ballpark opens and be there right when they start letting fans in. Then park yourself in either the right field or left field bleachers, depending on the hitter (left field for righties, right field for lefties) and find a spot away from crowds of other fellow ballhawks. Additionally, you can go down the right-field or left-field lines to try and get a ball from any players or coaches having a catch. You should brush up on as many of the players and coaches names as possible; the more people you know, the more likely you’re able to get their attention to throw you a ball. You should also note, the more obscure the coach or player, the less you’ll have to vie with others for their attention.
Bring your glove. It sounds obvious, but it can’t be overstated; if you’re serious about catching a foul ball at a baseball game, you need to bring your glove. Don’t be afraid of people making fun of you; during batting practice, as well as the game, balls that reach the stands are coming in hot. You don’t want to be in a position where a ball is coming right your way, only for it to bounce off of your palm (or face) and land in the lap of the person next to you. If you’re going to follow all of these other tips to get yourself in a position where baseballs will be coming at you, the best thing to do for both efficiency and safety is to bring your glove to the ballpark.
Read the full article here