Blue Jays to Fans: Throw Back a Homer, Get the Boot
Baseball as we knew it has been slowly getting leeched out of the game over the years for a number of reasons (good and bad), but the heavy-handed decisions about when to eject fans are certainly among the least popular. Such is the case with the new Rogers Centre / Blue Jays policy to eject any fan from the game who throws anything onto the field.
@F_I_N_K on Twitter alerted us to the story of the fan who got ejected from the park for throwing back a home run ball. A totally sober fan who caved to the pressure of the rest of the fans in the park - and his own sense of proper behaviour when you catch an opposing team's home run ball - to throw the ball back.
It just so happens that (thanks to the opening day fiasco, in which Jays fans littered the field with balls and debris - nearly forcing the Jays to forfeit) the team decided there would be no more throwing of anything onto the field. Including opponents' home run balls.
I'll readily admit two things. First, I don't know how entrenched in Blue Jays lore it is to throw back opposing home runs. It is deeply ingrained in the Bleacher Bums who inhabit Wrigley Field in Chicago and I've gotten the sense at other ballparks that it is often only a loose tradition. But, nonetheless, it happens in Toronto.
The second thing is that it's a bit of a silly tradition. Also part of the Bleacher Bum lore are fans who secretly bring in a spare baseball so they can try to pull a swap, pocketing the real home run. After all, it's the ultimate free souvenir - I don't know a single baseball fan who doesn't want to catch a foul ball or home run.
I get that the Jays want to protect their and the the opposing team's players. Those guys get a lot of money to play a kids' game, and with all sorts of wacky injuries each year, the last one you want to hear about is a trip to the DL because they were plunked by a fan. But the only injury I've ever heard about throwing back a homer is a really sore arm for the fan the next day because he's never thrown a ball so hard in his life.
So do the Jays really help themselves by taking such a heavy-handed approach? Hardly. After so many years of mediocrity the Jays are in the middle of a renaissance of sorts. The old guard are back in charge (the GM excepted, but his future with the team hopefully is bleak), and while this year the team isn't supposed to be good (present standing being a nice surprise), there is optimism bubbling again.
More importantly, it is more crucial than ever for the Jays to get butts in their seats, selling tickets and concessions that will fund the resurgent team. Allowing for a tradition - as odd or shaky as it may be - such as throwing back a home run ball is a crowd pleaser. Whenever it happens, the stadium cheers. In fact, the crowd often chants for it to happen.
I'm not saying give in to every whim of the crowd - Disco Demolition night for the White Sox proves that - but would it have been too hard to make a policy - or at least enforce a policy - with some understanding of how fans safely interact with the game?
Attending a baseball game shouldn't feel like a corporate event. There should be interaction, noise, and yes, there should be the occasional home run ball thrown back. The better way to stop it from happening? Put a great team on the field: there will be fewer home runs to throw back, not to mention more fans in the seats.
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