How do you get baseballs at a Major League Ballpark?

1. Buy a Ticket to your favorite MLB Game

If you order your tickets through the mail or by phone close to the date of the game you plan to attend, you’ll have to pick them up at the reservations window. At some stadiums, this window opens at the same time the gates do. Get the picture? You can’t be in two places at once, which means you have to pick up your tickets and then walk (or sprint) to the gates to enter. You will have lost at least a few minutes — and perhaps the opportunity to snag a ball. If possible, purchase your tickets far in advance or buy them in person at the stadium. Unless the game is sold out, you can buy tickets on the day of the game, before the gates open.

What ticket should you buy? It depends. Successful ball-snagging requires that you have access to field-level seats. Be sure to check out the rules at any stadium you plan to visit because they vary from one ballpark to the next:

1) Some stadiums won’t let you into the field level unless you have the appropriate ticket.
2) Other stadiums always let you into the field level regardless of your ticket.
3) Certain ballparks let you into the field level only if you get there early enough. This could mean getting there at least forty-five minutes prior to game time or before batting practice ends.

2. Arrive at the MLB Stadium Early

Just because you bring your baseball glove to the game doesn’t guarantee you will catch a ball. There are many other things to consider, such as when to arrive at the ballpark.

Game day for baseball players begins hours before the first pitch, as they stretch, throw, run, and hit in preparation for the game. At a Broadway musical, if you get to the theater early, you’ll hear the orchestra rehearsing and tuning their instruments. Baseball players also need to tune their instruments — their bodies — before using them.

Major league stadiums open their gates to the fans well in advance of game time. Your ticket entitles you to enter the stadium as early as the gates open. Do it. It’s free. Why not get there sooner and be able to spend more time chasing baseballs while watching the players and looking at the velvety outfield grass?

To prevent getting to the stadium too early and wasting time, or getting there too late, call the ticket office to make sure what time the gates open. In addition, not all gates at a park open at the same time. Find out which one opens first. At Shea Stadium, for example, Gate C opens two and a half hours prior to game time, whereas all other gates open only an hour and a half early.

3. Get to the Front of the Line

When you arrive at the stadium, you will see other fans crowding around or lined up at the not-yet-opened gates. Get to the front of the line!

If there’s a galaxy of people surrounding the gate, then there is no official line. Say, “Excuse me, pardon me, coming through,” as you work your way to the front. If necessary, say something like, “My brother is at the front, and he’s waiting to meet me.” You shouldn’t have a problem, because people who are waiting thirty feet away from the gate are not true enthusiasts and probably won’t be heartbroken if you step in front of them and keep moving forward.

To save an additional nanosecond upon entering the stadium, take your ticket and bend it back and forth at the perforated line. The ticket taker will be able to tear the ticket easily and won’t waste that fraction of a second struggling with it. You’ll be ahead of the pack as you race out to a section of seats in an empty stadium for batting practice. But don’t run too fast, or you might get stopped by a security guard.

4. Be the First Fan in the Stadium

Some stadiums have one seat in one section which is better than any other seat. It’s the place to be, and there’s only room for one person. It might be on a corner where you have a better chance of reaching batted balls. It could be in a place that makes you more noticeable to the players, giving you an advantage over other fans for getting balls thrown to you. If you’re not the first to get there, the spot will be taken by the fan who is.

When a player throws a ball into the crowd, it might be the only ball he throws there for the remainder of batting practice. Sometimes he’ll throw a ball to the first fan who asks him. If you are first into the stadium and dash to an empty section of seats, you have the only chance at catching either a thrown or batted ball.

The first few minutes after the gates open are the best time to catch balls, because the stadium is at its emptiest. There were days when I caught three or four balls in the first two minutes after being let in. Being first into the stadium and running toward a section in the outfield means you will briefly be the only fan in the ballpark. You are guaranteed that if a ball is hit into the seats anywhere on your side of the stadium, you’ll be the one to get there first. As I run in I quickly glance down the rows and aisles to look for balls that might have landed in the seats before I got there. Several times I’ve found some, and it was possible only because I was there first. When Yankee Stadium suffered structural damage at the beginning of the 1998 season, the ballpark was temporarily closed to the public, and the Yankees played an exhibition game at the empty stadium against Norwich (CT), their Class AA affiliate. About two dozen baseballs were hit into the empty seats, chased by no one, and left untouched for fans to find at the next game.

Even if you don’t get a baseball in the first thirty seconds, you experience something magical, a rush that overwhelms all of your senses. As you head through the dark runway, your eyes meet the glaring sunlight and the greenest, smoothest grass (or AstroTurf) you’ve ever seen. Because there are no other fans howling and heckling the players, you hear every crack of the bat as it echoes through the cavernous stadium. There are no ushers asking for your ticket. You feel totally free to explore your “personal” stadium. You can smell baseball in the air.