Sports Outside the Beltway

Give that fan a contract

While he was the Orioles’ public address announcer, when the late Rex Barney would observe a fan catching a souvenir ball in the stands, he would announce, “Give that fan a contract!” And an usher would go off to the fan and give him a mock “contract” in return for his fine “play.”

Getting a souvenir is one of the thrills of attending a ball game. In order to enhance fans’ enjoyment of the game, the Baltimore Sun has provided a guide to the best locations to sit to get a ball, in “Have a Ball.”

Over a period of nine consecutive games, The Sun tracked every foul ball hit by the Orioles and their opponents. There were 422 foul balls hit off 2,657 pitches, and 214 of those pitched balls (8 percent) made their way to the seats. Three sections -16, 52 and 252 – got the most.

In 2006, major league baseball averaged 50 foul balls a game throughout the regular season, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Where are those seats exactly?

Section 16 is only a few feet from the tarps down the right-field line. Section 52, down the left-field line, is closer to the visitors dugout but not far from the adjacent tarps. Section 252, however, is a small section on the club-suite level, at the midpoint of the left-field line, between the lower bowl of seats and the third deck. There are only 126 seats in the entire section.

The accompanying graphic shows the places in the stadium.

Louis Spirito who tracked the balls writes in a companion piece:

started by creating a custom score sheet that allowed me to track several types of data. I then observed all 2,657 pitches in a nine-game Orioles homestand from the right-field club level, in Section 288. The result was a database that held the location of every foul ball hit plus other information, such as pitcher, batter, pitch type, pitch speed, inning, etc. For the graphic, I decided to keep the focus on balls that were hit into seats because this is where the game interacts with the fans on a unique level.

If you think this project is a bit too esoteric, consider: Over those nine games, 151 pitches were hit safely into play, while 214 were hit to the fans.

I have never gotten a foul ball at a major league game.

However during the past 11 years, I’ve taken the family to at least Bowie Baysox game a year. After a few years of sitting in the general admission seats by third base, I observed something: the majority of foul balls going to the fans go to the first base side. Since 2001 we’ve been sitting in the first base stands and have gotten two foul balls. It seemed that foul ball to the stands were hit to the opposite field. Given that most batters were right handed, it followed that the majority of foul balls would therefore travel to the first base side of the stands.

There is a real thrill to getting a souvenir. In 2001 it was towards the end of the season and there were very few fans left at the end of a blowout when Bowie first baseman Franky Figeoura hit a ball in my direction. I moved back a few rows and tracked its arc. My position was pretty good as the ball bounced on the bench in front of me. After the bounce I reflexively swiped the ball with my right hand. It was a magical moment and my first souvenir.

Last year we also got a foul ball, but that wasn’t fielded nearly as cleanly. (Another time a member of the grounds crew threw a ball to one of my sons.)

I’ll grant that I haven’t seen many more games than Louis Spirito did, but I wonder if he really got a good representation of the distribution of foul balls. (Yes it was over 2000 pitches, but it was still just nine games.) While I don’t fully understand the physics, this article at Hardball Times explains a bit about the mechanics of how a ball travels after being hit by a bat. I’d expect that the proportion of balls hit to the first base side of foul territory to outnumber those hit to the third base side by the same proportion that right handed batters outnumber left handed batters.

(While it’s true that a minor league park is smaller than a major league park; I’d still expect that the distribution of foul balls to be about the same for each.)

Crossposted on Soccer Dad.

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