Have a ball

Good positioning inside the ballpark, along with good luck can help you snag a foul

August 05, 2007|By Sirage Yassin | Sirage Yassin,Sun Reporter

It was Greg Chanski's lucky day.

The 30-year-old from Baltimore had been coming to Orioles games for 25 years and had never caught a foul ball.

A foul ball landing in your lap has more to do with chance than anything else, but positioning can increase your chances. Sitting in Section 52 on a sunny July day, he finally caught one, basket style, from a chopper off the bat of the Chicago White Sox's Jermaine Dye in the first inning.

"I was just telling my wife it'd be nice to catch one," Chanski said.

Sitting in the right section had a lot to do with it.

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.

Kevin Jensen, an usher who has worked 41 years for the Orioles and patrols the area around Section 52, has seen thousands of foul balls hit at Camden Yards and, before that, at Memorial Stadium. When asked where he thought the hot spots to catch a foul were, he gave educated guesses.

"I'd say right behind the tarps on either side and right behind home plate," Jensen said.

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.

Every major league team has dealt with fans injured by foul balls. Team officials say that despite precautions, accidents occur.

At the beginning of this season, the foul screen behind home plate at Camden Yards was expanded by 9 feet in height to 26 feet. The alteration was sparked when a foul ball by Jay Gibbons flew over the screen last September and hit his wife, Laura, in the ribs.

Orioles director of communications Greg Bader said that from the time fans enter the ballpark, they are given warnings about batted balls. The team plays a pre-game message on the JumboTron that encourages fans to be aware of foul balls. Bader said the Orioles' ushers and medical personnel are well trained and respond within seconds.

MLB tickets also state that the teams and the league are not liable for damages or personal injuries resulting from foul balls or errant bats flying into the stands.

Bader said you can always tell who wants a foul ball based on whether the fan has a glove.

"It's interesting to see how important catching a foul ball is to some fans," he said. "I'm sure everybody has that story where they've come close."

During a day game later in July, Section 52 was again put to the test. In the section sat the three generations of the Frick family - a grandfather, father and son.

"We thought it would be nice to take three generations to a ballgame," said the father, Shawn Frick, 37, a used-car salesman from Annapolis.

In the top of the third inning, Tampa Bay Devil Rays catcher Dioner Navarro sliced into the section a pitch from Steve Trachsel. Dane Frick, the grandfather, 64, fought for the ball with Jeff Seganos, 32, of Ansonia, Conn.

It is odd, and sometimes incomprehensible, how foul balls can bring people together. The oldest Frick, who is from Silver Spring and has lived the past 24 years in Australia, couldn't remember the last time he attended a baseball game. He had hoped, before the ball was snatched away from him, to give it to his 5-year-old grandson, Evan, whom he had just met that week.

"I stood up and dropped everything," Dane Frick said. "I think it bounced on the chair or the ground, and he [Seganos] got it. I was explaining to Evan, `We almost got it, but he was better than we were.' And then a guy in a white shirt said, `Give it to him.' And he did, he gave it to him right away."

Seganos said he never caught a foul ball before, either, but was happy to give it to Evan. The applause from the crowd assured him he made the right decision.

sirage.yassin@baltsun.com

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