The Joy of Catching a Foul Ball

Fans in Philadelphia's Citizens Bank Park get their fair share of foul balls.Dan Schlossberg, IBWAA

By Jason Love

A happy birthday to Zack Hample, who turns 44 years old on September 14th.

Hample, of course, is famous for collecting more than 11,000 baseballs at various ballparks over the years.  He turned his hobby into something of a career. He has written a book, has a YouTube channel, and sells merchandise on his website.

Earlier this year, I saw Hample take a nasty spill going for a home run ball at Citizens Bank Park. Although he takes it to the extreme, all fans love either getting a foul ball, a home run ball, or one tossed from a player at the ballpark. 

Keeping a baseball hit into the stands was not always the policy in ballparks across the U.S.

In the early part of the 20th Century, fans were expected to either return the ball or hand it over to an usher. Unlike today, teams did not go through several dozens of baseballs during a game. The same baseball was often kept in play throughout the game in the early 1900s.

Charles Weeghman’s Cubs were one of the earliest MLB franchises that permitted fans to keep baseballs hit into the stands. He initially had that policy when he owned the Chicago team in the Federal League. 

It took the arrest of 11-year old Bob Cotter in 1929 to finally get most Major League baseball organizations to change course on expecting fans to return baseballs hit into the crowd.

During a game at old Baker Bowl in Philadelphia, Cotter caught a foul ball and did what any excited young fan would do. He took off with the baseball in hopes of keeping it as a souvenir. Unfortunately, he was caught by a security guard.

The Phillies had Cotter arrested for not turning over the baseball. Eventually, the judge sided with the boy. The Phillies received such bad publicity the team changed its policy.

After that incident, fans were permitted to keep baseballs hit into the stands during games by most clubs. The Phillies organization invited Cotter back 75 years later and presented him with a baseball signed by the team.   

My own history of catching a ball at a game is limited to one memory. Several years ago, while attending a Camden Riversharks game, an errant foul ball came my way.

The Riversharks were a minor-league team playing in the independent Atlantic League.

At that particular game, I was with my son, Ian. We were standing in the concourse area along the third-base side. A left-handed batter swung late, and a foul ball came my way.

Unlike Zack Hample, I don’t bring a glove to games. I stuck my hands out as the ball headed in my direction. The ball hit my hands, and I luckily held onto it. Ian could not believe I caught it. I could not believe it either. 

Even though the Riversharks folded after the 2015 season and Campbell’s Field was later demolished, I still have the baseball. I should say I still have the ball and the memory of catching it nearly 10 years ago. Now, I only need 10,999 to catch up to Hample.

Jason Love lives in New Jersey. He is the author of Slices of Americana: A Road Trip Through American Baseball History, published by Sunbury Press.

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