Perched high above left field on the airy steel ramp to the grandstand, Ross Sindler and his 10-year-old son, Jacob, are enjoying another summer afternoon at PNC Park.
“It’s a different way to see the game,” Sindler said at the Aug. 11 Pittsburgh Pirates game, from a view that includes all of Downtown.
Next to Jacob is the trusty companion of just about every little kid at every game — a baseball glove to catch any serendipitously hit ball.
But is it just dumb luck that lets you catch a ball? Or can savvy superfans actually stack the odds in their favor to make sure they leave the ballpark with more than a farmer’s tan, a stomach full of pretzels, hot dogs and brews and an empty wallet? Opinions differ.
Fan Andy Schenkemeyer said there isn’t much of a system to it.
“I’ve never caught one, but I’ve been close,” Schenkemeyer said. “If it happens, it happens.”
However, if placed in the path of a wayward foul — or a big bomb — with his hands full of treats from the concession stand, Schenkemeyer already knows what he’d sacrifice.
“I would never sacrifice a beer for a ball,” he said. “But maybe nachos.” Pirates fan Korey Hineman made national news on Aug. 10 when he doused himself in nachos and beer trying to catch a foul ball.
Ryan Platt, who was at the game with his friend Jamie Deane on Aug. 11, is a season-ticket-holder and vehemently disagrees with Schenkemeyer.
“If [Gregory] Polanco hits [a ball] and it’s coming for you, you have to drop [your beer],” Platt said.
Another foul-ball etiquette question is whether anyone, especially adults, should use a glove to catch foul balls and home runs. Even with a recently dropped home run by Pirates utility man Sean Rodriguez fresh on his mind, Platt said he’s “never brought one.”
Schenkemeyer agreed: “If you can’t catch it with your bare hands, you’re not a man.”
But for some, catching balls or hoping to catch them isn’t just a hobby. Zack Hample has caught more than 9,000 baseballs in his life, including the 3,000th hit of recently retired Yankee Alex Rodriquez. He gave the ball to Rodriguez in exchange for an autographed jersey and a $150,000 donation to a charity that Hample is involved in.
The first piece of advice the expert ballhawk offered is to be mobile.
“Hang out near a cross-aisle, tunnel, staircase or standing-room area,” Hample told City Paper via email. “Having lateral mobility is key because the odds of a ball being hit directly to you are pretty slim.”
If you’re past the point of wanting a ball, most agree you should give the ball away to a little kid or, as Schenkemeyer suggested, “a good-looking woman.”
Even if the ball was hit by an opposing player, like the Chicago Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo, 10-year-old Jacob said he would hold onto it as a fan of baseball, not just of the Pirates. “One day I could get an autograph from them,” Jacob said.
Schenkemeyer had a different suggestion, especially if the ball is from the much-hated Cubs: “I’d throw it back, or at Jake Arrieta.”