The Sports Daily > The Brewers Bar
So You Caught an MLB Baseball: Keep It, Throw It Back, or Give it to a Kid?

Despite Yovani Gallardo’s great bounce back start, the clear star of last night’s Brewers-Cubs game was the bleacher-bumming fan who caught Mark Reynolds’ homerun in the second inning.  For those of us watching in real time, it was impressive that he not only made a bloody terrific catch, but appeared to follow Wrigley Field tradition and throw it back without a moment’s hesitation.

Of course, replays soon revealed the fan actually threw back a decoy ball while keeping the homer for himself.  I’m still damn impressed he had the presence of mind to immediately pull the switch after making a highlight-worthy grab.

During the broadcast, Brewers play-by-play caller Brian Anderson remarked it’s not unheard of for fans in the bleachers at Wrigley to bring a spare ball for exactly such an occasion.  The AP story on the game described it as “a common trick in the outfield stands.”  I had no idea this clever maneuver (the technical terms seems to be “switcheroo”) was so prevalent in the Friendly Confines.  It got me thinking about etiquette for fans that catch baseballs.

I’m reminded of a 2012 Yankees-Rangers game when a player threw a foul ball into the stands.  A three-year-old boy went for the ball, but an adult couple caught it instead.  The boy cried, and one of the Yankees TV broadcasters called the couple “greedy” for not giving the kid the ball.  Those poor folks ended up taking a good deal of internet-generated heat, but the boy’s father said they were fine people and everyone needed to lighten up.

I remember that story because it was the first time I had ever heard that if you catch a foul ball, you’re kinda sorta expected to give it to a nearby kid.  That’s apparently common knowledge – just not to me at the time.  I’m not blessed with children myself, but my friends who are parents were certain that was the case – catch a foul ball, give it to a kid.  I suppose that makes sense in most cases, and I’m willing to accept it’s just one aspect of common human decency I didn’t happen to know.

Still…what if I made a pretty great catch?  I have a hard time believing anyone who made a catch like that Cubs fan did yesterday would be expected to give it up, even if he was sitting right next to a dozen kindergarteners.  Whether in fair or foul territory, if you have to stretch over a railing to catch a ball, I say no one has any business trying to take it from you.

The couple at the Yankees-Rangers game caught a ball thrown into the stands by a player.  In that case, it makes much more sense to give it up.  If you didn’t put much effort into the catch, I’m inclined to shame you into giving it to a kid.

There’s a stronger argument to be made that if you catch a ball off the bat, you should keep it, but I’m not even sure that applies all the time.  We’ve all seen plenty of cases when a foul ball rattles around in a sparsely populated section in the outfield, and a bunch of grown men try to chase it down.  You should probably just let any kids in attendance run after a stray ball in foul territory.  I’ll defend you if you catch the ball on the fly, but running after it when it’s bouncing around is silly if you’re an adult.

I’m also pretty sure a homerun is almost always a keeper as opposed to a foul ball, but there may be situations where that wouldn’t apply.

Upon reflection, these are some recommendations for how to determine what to do with the ball you caught.

Keep It

  • You made what can reasonably be classified as a great catch on the fly anywhere in the stands.
  • You caught a homer that may have bounced around a bit, but you didn’t have to leave the general area of your seat. If the ball came to you, it’s obviously destiny and you own it.
  • You have a foul ball that didn’t come right to you (maybe you even ran into a section of empty seats to get it since you have so shame), but there’s no obvious kid nearby to give it to. Maybe it’s in the late innings on a school night.

Throw It Back

  • You’re a Cubs fan and slavish devotee to outdated tradition.
  • Really, once the ball is in your possession, you’re free to throw it back for any reason you choose. But if you’re just trying to earn cheap applause from the home crowd by throwing back an opposing players’ homer, that’s pretty lame.

Give It to a Kid

  • You caught a ball thrown into the stands by a player, ballboy/ballgirl, or security guard. Christ, you shouldn’t even stand up and try to get his/her attention, you big galoot.
  • A foul ball finds its way to you and there are kids within reach. You shouldn’t have to walk around trying to find one, but if it bounced around a bit there were probably a few kids going after it. Just hand it over to one of them, probably whoever looks the youngest.

Like everything else in life, these recommendations are subject to change. Maybe a good way to avoid any confusion or hurt feelings is to do what that Cubs fan did and bring a ball with you. If you catch a ball that a security guard tosses into the stands, you can give the spare ball to a nearby kid and keep the souvenir you hardly earned. That way everybody wins.

(Image: @NuccioDiNuzzo via @ChiTribPhoto)