Ballhawk of the Year – A Response to the MyGameBalls Article

Dear community of ballhawks, future ballhawks, and ballhawk admirers,

First of all, I would like to say, why are there ballhawk admirers?  Sure, it takes some skill and dedication, but it’s not nearly as hard as it sounds.  Short rant: I am reminded of something Amanda Palmer said:

Stop Pretending Art Is Hard 2

So please, stop pretending ballhawking is hard.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s incredibly hard to keep up with the giants in the hobby/sport, but just like art, it’s not hard to do it by your own terms.  Anyone with super basic information from any number of ballhawking blogs could snag a baseball at a game.

Now that the rant is over, and we have all been humbled a little bit, I’ll now say this: We are an elite group of people.  Not only do we have borderline crazy/obsessive amounts of Major League Baseballs, but we choose to spend time looking at the MyGameBalls stats, entering our own games, and reaching out to meet other “crazies” who share our love (yeah, love sounds a lot better and not nearly as creepy as other terms).  So the fact that we not only would call ourselves ballhawks (which is a four-letter word for anyone at the park not carrying a glove) AND we joined this community means that we are passionate about where the future of our hobby/sport and site (MyGameBalls.com) is headed.

The Article

Rocco Sinisi, whom I’ve never met, but have already figured out for myself that he is a veteran among veterans in Ballhawkland, wrote the article above and hit on some GREAT points!  I know that it sounds crazy that not only he, but myself included, are trying to shed light on an otherwise meaningless award (let’s face it, it cannot help our résumé and no one outside of a couple dozen of people even care about it).  Since our passion for ballhawking is so high – and others’ is just as high – it’s time we discuss how we cross the line from a narrow-minded popularity contest to an open-minded celebration of all types of ballhawks in our hobby/sport.

Point #1 – Number of Ball hawk of the Year categories:

To counter a proposal from Rocco, I would feel more comfortable having as FEW as “Ballhawk of the Year” awards as possible.  Having a Junior and a Regular seems fine enough; at some point MAYBE a senior circuit, but nothing too crazy to dilute the award.  Also of note, maybe we just have juniors vote for juniors, while the Regulars can vote for both.  If we know that the younger crowd is the one who vote purely off of “most balls” or popularity (sorry, but let’s just address the elephant in the room: the Zack Hample rule), maybe limiting their votes makes sense.  It’s kind of like turning 18 and finally having the right to vote, except in our case you have a “trainer’s permit” on voting, capped by votes for your peers.

Point #2 – Same winner year to year:

Rocco is dead on by addressing this issue.  Having the same person/people win it year after year makes the “competition” seem fake, especially when you have reached a professional-like status.  I do not have a catch-all solution to this, but having a Cooperstown of ballhawking seems to make sense.  Once you are immortalized in Cooperstown (which is the highest of honors) you cannot win Ballhawk of the Year (BotY for short).  I will address the Cooperstown/Hall of Fame issue later, but for now let’s just say that if you win it X number of times (is it just once, 3 times?) you are no longer eligible.

Also, much like the Baseball Hall of Fame (HoF), we do not have to always vote someone in – both rules for BotY and our own HoF.  If we believe that the top people do not meet the standards that year, then no award.  Maybe all of the BotY candidates are already in the HoF, why vote for someone else if we don’t feel they are strong enough?

Point #3 – Strengthened voting protocol:

Right now we have one round of voting, participated by anyone who wishes to place a vote, and then the crown is awarded.  I mentioned above that we have separate Junior/Regular standards, but what about another additional step as well?

It sounds very European, but how about a “run-off”-ish election.  Think of it like our primaries here in the USA.  We vote like normal now (while already implementing the Junior/Regular rule) giving our votes for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd, then the “Top 5″ are chosen.  Those remaining 5 go back into a vote and the top vote receiver (we only get to vote for a 1st place pick, no 2nd or 3rd in this round) will be up for approval.  The last round will be a simple, “Does John Doe deserve Ballhawk of the Year?”  If he received the desired majority vote (is it 50+/66/75%?) then he is crowned BotY!

I know that it’s a bit complicated and more drawn out compared to the old way, but it also should provide us with a very clear and happy choice.  PLus, wouldn’t you like to win an award that is so scrupulously tested?  I believe that it shows true validity of the vote/opinion of the community.

If the Junior/Regular rule does not work, then I feel like we may need to introduce some sort of “seniority voting” system.  Those who are well established in the community and hobby/sport should have their voices heard more clearly and loudly than newbies.  Again, it’s a right of passage and growth.  Maybe the seniority is based on years, number of balls snagged, or some other factor, but there is definite validity in those who have shown that they are in it for the long-haul (and who also show a passion for passing the torch to the next generation).

Point #4 – BotY standards:

First of all, I will address the “standards” that Rocco suggested in his article.  I know that his ideas were rough and just a basic suggestion for us to think about, however, I disagree with having “written” standards.  The MLB HoF doesn’t have “written” rules, so why should we?

Example:  I am currently at 90 balls for the season, close to that magic 100, which under a Rocco-suggested rule would make me eligible.  Excellent!  But wait, do Spring Training balls not count?  If so, I am then at 72 and doubt I can get that before season’s end.

Point:  Everyone will have different ways to interpret the rules, and just because they didn’t get 5 glove-tricked balls should exclude them, especially if they made SportsCenter Top Ten 3 times and caught a record number of HRs for the year.

My standards:

This may be a little preachy or come off as “what I say is right”, but trust me, I do NOT mean it this way.  I know that we are all different and have our own voting “requirements/standards”.

BotY, to me, is about actually seeing someone in action and then deciding if I feel like they represent my hobby/sport in a positive way.  I would prefer to evaluate them in person (at least once in my lifetime), but watching clips, reading blogs, and talking to other hawks can also suffice.  Things such as stats, though they are great, are not the end-all/be-all for me; instead I look at how much time they have given to the hobby and how much they have given back, whether it’s blog entries, Twitter friendliness, meet-ups with other hawks, or other intangibles, these are HUGE in my book.  It goes back to my initial little rant: Ballhawking is not hard.  If anyone can catch a few balls, then what is it that makes them special and deserving?

Point #5 – Professional vs. Amateur ballhawk:

I get it, this issue can be a double-edged sword.  Why be penalized for being “too good?”  Well, it’s not a penalty, but if you are given opportunities well outside of the everyday fan that has to buy their ticket, then you have a crazy advantage.  Sure, you worked hard to get where you are and it lead to this opportunity, but being the hall-of-famer you are should make it easy to swallow that you cannot win the annual BotY award (again, you are ALREADY a Hall-of-Famer!).  It’s time for some new blood, at least in the trophy department.

Point:  If you get paid, receive outrageous kickbacks, or have any other “out of the ordinary” circumstances that aid your ballhawking, please consider yourself a professional.  If one of us became a ball-boy and kept all of those balls and then put up a BotY-worthy total, that’d be unfair, right?

This is an amateur hobby/sport that is growing in popularity, and with that comes the ability to capitalize by corporations/sponsorship.  That itself is a double-edge sword.

Point #6 – Past award problem:

One issue that was not really brought up in the article, but needs to be addressed is how we treat the old awards against the “new” awards, should we change the formatting or qualifications.  If someone can only win the award once from now on, we need to (for posterity’s sake) give definition and show where we drew the line in the sand.  If it simply means having a page dedicated to “voting rules” to show the old vs. new standards, that’s fine.  Maybe we even try to rename the award, nothing too drastic, just add the word “new” in there or something.

Ballhawking is not a new thing, it’s been going on for decades, but the ballhawking community (especially the website) is in its infancy… OK, maybe more like toddler/pre-school years.  If we try to right the ship and put together a great format that celebrates the past performers (Hall of Fame) while also celebrating the future/single-season greats (BotY) this should instill a great community vibe and not a one-man show.  Let’s celebrate the masses; I am sure that having the crown of “Most Balls Snagged” is a good enough award for those who desire it, but it does not make that person “BotY”; especially when it’s one of only a handful of people.

Note: To those who may argue that it is like giving kids participation medals… Stop.  We are not asking to vote for a newbie (admittedly, someone like myself), but there are many guys that are on the verge, put together a great personal season, but get overshadowed by the giants who are now bordering on professional.

Point #7 – Hall of Fame:

Overwhelmingly YES!  I have mentioned it countless times above (OK, someone can count them, pedant me and give me a total. Blah!), but having a Hall of Fame will ease up the clog that we see year after year for BotY.  I know that BotY may seem like more of a Rookie of the Year award when compared to MLB, but it’s not.  Maybe a guy has been going strong for 5 years, flirted with BotY, but then does something amazing and finally recognized by his/her peers – that’s BotY!  A BotY does not automatically qualify for the HoF, either.  But I am guessing that for the first few years the winners will then make the Hall; we have some many guys that deserve a BotY and a place in that immortal wing of greatness.

My two cents?  Having a strict hall of fame like the one for baseball is wonderful, but since we are a tight-knit community, ones that are already a million times more dedicated than the average fan, the standards may not have to be so high.  Again, I reference a veterans committee type of plan, where they are the gatekeepers and may vote people in closer to the standards of the “Purple Heart”… not purely based on ball count, but how much you’ve given back to the community and how much time you poured into the hobby/sport.

Point #8 – Voting with the facts:

After all of those rules/suggestions I listed above, maybe you are still fuzzy and would like some help to place an informed vote.  Suggestion…

For those who would like to put their name in the running: Give a decent write-up (blog would be a great place for this) on your season as a whole.  Describe your pre-season goals, show where you landed, and give some interesting speak towards your “firsts” or other impressive feats.  If we are steering clear of a popularity contest, having readily available facts seems like it makes sense.

Point #9 – Physical award:

Lastly, and this is the fun part, the physical award: I am for it.*

  • I am for having a physical award as long as there is no out of pocket cost to the members.  Having a free community in this (potentially) ridiculously expensive hobby/sport seems a bit much.
  • Is there a potential sponsor (trophy maker) available?

Comments/Suggestions/Concerns/Ideas?

Feel free to reply below and tell me what you think.  We have a great community, no one man is bigger than the group.  I have been fortunate enough to not only meet a few people who share my obsession over such a weird hobby/sport, but I have also made a few friends along the way.

5 Comments

I dropped out of “ballhawking” for this very reason. People take it way too serious. This is not a “sport” of any kind. This is a mere hobby. For a grown man to go around stadium after stadium chasing baseballs, I have no problem with that. If that’s what a guy wants to do with his time and money, so be it. What I take offense to is the whining and the cry baby attitudes on Twitter and on MYGB website. These articles that ballhawks write up are saturated with constant whining and hatred on another’s success. That BS that Rocco wrote up is complete garbage. And here’s why:

He’s obviously mad that Zack Hample got a free trip to all 30 stadiums this year after accepting terms with Big Seeds. On average, Hample snags 600+ baseballs a season on his own. He doesn’t need help from Big Seeds or anyone else. All I see is jealousy and pissing on someone else’s success because he’s a mediocre “ballhawker” guy. Rocco won’t win BoTY award because Erik Jabs and Zack Hample have snagged more baseballs than him. So what. Is this guy serious?

So now we have come to a crossroads where in the “ballhawk” community we must make it fair for EVERYONE to win this silly little award and get your name and “ballhawk achievements” plastered all over a website. Now we must make special categories for people who are strapped for cash and can’t travel to more than one stadium. Now we must make a special category for people who only go to 15 games or less a season. Or guys with kids and a wife at home and has a job. You know, all those life things that get in the way or all of our fun. Yeah, we all wish we could spend four months out of the year being flown around the United States by a huge sunflower seeds company being forced to catch baseballs and watch games.

So why doesn’t Rocco go out and be a Zack Hample? This is twenty plus years in the making. Zack has put his work in, he’s done his home work and spent an entire lifetime creating this legacy for himself. He’s wrote what, three books? He’s raised nearly $40k for a charity and he’s been on countless tv shows, radio shows and he even created the glove trick that YOU all use (or a rendition of ) to this day.

Sure, ballhawking has been around since the beginning of baseball. Im sure people have came up with different, creative ways to catch baseballs to plunk them off the field. The one thing that sets Zack Hample apart from everyone else; he’s unique and he does what he has to do to snag baseballs. Meanwhile, guys like Rocco sit around and whine about his success and try to change everything to their own favor. I’ve seen so many “ballhawks” piss and whine, bitch and moan over not getting a baseball or staying mad all game long because they missed out on a home run. C’mon, seriously? Most of these people on MYGB have over 500 baseballs to their name! What does it matter of you didn’t snag eight in a game or 16 at a certain stadium? And certainly, at your next job interview, no one is going to ask about your BoTY award.

I say leave the award design the way it is. Its mean to reward people for SUCCESS. And Zack Hample, year after year, has proven that he’s the best Ballhawker in the Major Leagues. Every year its something different with this guy. Two seasons ago he traveled to all the stadiums to promote his new book with a broken leg. This year its with Big Seeds and a challenge to snag a gamer at all 30 stadiums. Next year he’s going to Australia to snag baseballs at the historic Sydney Cricket Grounds. The year before that, it was Japan.

If you want to beat Zack Hample, challenge yourself. Come up with something crazy and new. Think outside the box. But don’t sit around stewing about his success and how much you hate him and then try to tip the scales in your direction by begging MYGB to change the damn award design. That’s BS.

-Wayne

http://www.stock350i.mlblogs.com

Thanks for the comment, Wayne. I find myself torn between the two sides, but honestly I don’t really care much about the award – I’ll never win it, but hopefully one of my new friends that I’ve met will.
Meeting Zack this year helped me realize what kind if guy he is and how he works… And he was a nice dude and treated me (a newbie) very generously. The only downfall I see is that I want other folks to be recognized just as much as him. But that doesn’t mean I want to take this away from Zack, so that’s where the impasse lies. Zack is the top dog (overall and each and every year), but others surprise me just as much, especially for their circumstances (like the non-baseball life you speak of).
If you are ever in Minnesota and get the urge to check out Target Field let me know. Whether it’s former, present, or future Ballhawk, I’d like to meet you!

PS: While I also don’t consider this hobby a true “sport”, I know that it can be quite athletic and game-like, especially if you are “competing” with ballhawk friends. So I added both words in there in order to eliminate that debate.

Tony,

I’ll be at the All-Star game next year there. If you’re going, hit me up. I’d definitely love to run around the stadium with you. :)

Well…you bring up good points, man. Truly, you do. Zack is the top dog in this “sport” or hobby or whatever you want to call it. As much as I’d like a million articles about me and what I do at the ballpark, Zack IS getting that attention over everyone else because he is doing all this crazy stuff. As much as I would like Rocco or anyone else to get attention, stepping inside a stadium and snagging eight baseballs during BP isn’t going to cut it when you got a guy flying all over the US snagging gamers at all 30 stadiums.

Anyway. I don’t want to beat a dead horse, man. In the end, it is what it is and the bottom line is; as a ballhawk, it’s about the fun. Its about meeting people at the stadiums and enjoying the game, meeting players, exploring and hanging out with like-minded individuals. Catch a few baseballs, sit out in the outfield and wait on homers or sit in the bowl and wait on foul balls..but have fun doing it. I never worried about how many baseballs my buddies caught. It just seems that the aggressiveness and the whining has escalated so much in the recent couple of years.

As far as I know, I am GOING to the ASG next year. I am hoping that I can get my strip through my Season Ticket Holder priority, but if not, I will be donating my left nut in order to go (though i prefer to keep good ol’ lefty).
As far as the whining goes, I agree, we need to cut it out from the hobby. It’s just a bunch of dudes (sorry, I know no ladies who are hardcore like us) that run around building a cool collection for various reasons. We don;t actually win things, there is no “sport”, it’s just about having a good time at a ballgame and trying to bring a piece of it home with us. I feel reward enough in being able to say I snagged ONE ball at a game, let alone 170 of these things.
Long story short, Let’s definitely meet up next year at the All-Star Game. It’ll be my first ASG, and I’d love to share the experience with other people who share my passion for this weird hobby.

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