Easy Foul Balls: The Spoiling of a Generation
This paper was brought about by my observations of the trends surrounding Major League Baseball to throw foul and other balls into the stands or handing them to fans in the front rows. As my memory serves me, it was about 6 years ago (1993) that baseballs were very valuable. Foul balls hit down the lines were scooped up by the ball boys and saved in a bag for later use in practices or given to the umpire for use in the game at a later time. No matter how many people pleaded to the boy on the field, he would not give the ball away, and most likely told the people that he was under orders not to do so. Then there was the strike in 1994 and in the subsequent seasons, MLB attempted to make up to the angry baseball fans by creating a friendlier atmosphere, one aspect of which involved giving away the balls that were once stodgingly kept by the team personnel. As it stands today, every foul ball staying on the field and picked up near the stands in now given to fans near where the ball is picked up. Players routinely throw balls that they come upon that are not in play, such as practice balls between innings.
Why this is bad
It may seen on the surface that this is a good thing. It makes people happy and doesn't cost much. However, this does not necessarily make it a good thing, and I feel that this trend is negative. Now, I am all for the occasional handing of a ball to a kid in the stands. What I am opposed to is the fact that this act has become so automatic that fans feel it is their right to get these gifts. It has made fans out to be beggars like a dog at the table reflexively crying for scraps from the family eating dinner. It has become so that it isn't a nice gesture to give a ball to the fans in the stands; it is an obligation which if not done is considered a terrible thing for the man on the field. (Very similar to this is the act of tipping in a restaurant, which should ideally be based on merit, but that is for another paper.) The act loses all meaning of being a special treat that a player can bestow on fans that have been good sports, to one where he does so they won't throw things at him.
Catching a foul ball or home run at a baseball game is a dream of almost every American who has ever gone to a baseball game. There is a certain magic about the catching of one of these balls. It involves some luck and some skill. Are you in the beer line when the ball is hit where you were sitting? Is your seat located good based on the large amount of left-handed hitters in the lineup? Are you looking the other way when it come and almost hits you in the head? Did you bring your mitt? How are you at barehanding a baseball? These factors and infinitely more are what make catching a foul or homer a special feeling and one that make the act live on in the memory of child and adult alike.
The current giving of balls into the stands has cheapened what it is like to acquire a real game-used Major League baseball. For all those who got fouls or homers the real way, by the natural events of the game, all these new fans who get their baseballs by whining to the bullpen coach when a ball rolls foul down the line are ruining the moment. Now when you tell people you got a foul ball, they will think you got it by the wimpy method unless you specifically mention the method, which would seem like bragging now. Certainly, children are happy to get the ball by any means, but later in life, that ball will hold no meaning for them because of the boring way it was obtained.
But the real concern I have is the effect this ball-giving has on the youth. Is it right to teach them that you can get something just by begging and being cute? Are they to understand that in life, you can achieve special things easily? Little kids don't comprehend the difference between getting a foul ball the natural way and having the first-base coach hand them one as he goes to the dugout. They are missing one of the true joys of baseball, that of the anticipation of getting a foul ball or homerun. They may be disappointed at the end of the day by going home empty-handed, but that is an important lesson in life, that special things are often difficult to obtain and many times, it is this difficulty which makes the moment special. Of course, if the ball-giving continues, then the act of getting one will cease to become special and perhaps people won't even care to get one, regardless of the method obtained. If that were to occur, I would feel that a great loss had occurred to the national pastime.
P.S.: A similar issue is the difference between getting an autograph by waiting for the players after the game and going to a show and paying while you stand in line. Ironically, in this case, begging is the "natural" way of obtaining this memento and should make the possession have more meaning because of the way it was obtained. Since I really have never understood the novelty of autographs, regardless of the method of attainment, I will not go further on this issue.
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