Anyone who’s ever been a baseball fan has probably dreamed of catching a fly ball. Kids (and adults) show up at baseball games with baseball gloves (and sometimes complex strategies) in hand in hopes of snagging a souvenir. The lure of home run or a foul ball has something to do with its relatively rare and unexpected nature — you just never know when a foul will come your way, or when it will be part of a dramatic or historic moment in the game.
On average there are about 50 foul balls hit in every major league baseball game. Considering even the smallest major league baseball stadium seats about 35,000 people, your odds of catching a foul ball aren’t very good. While this scarcity increases the thrill, it also increases the difficulty — you’re competing with a lot of people in difficult terrain — if you’ve ever tried to get form one spot in a stadium to another in a hurry, you know how hard it can be.
So fans often put in some extra effort to snag a foul ball — and over the years that has resulted in some pretty wild, impressive, and crazy catches in the stands. Some of the wildest fly balls ever caught by baseball fans are due to luck, some to careful planning, and some to a surprising high level of athletic skill — but they’re all impressive in their own way.
A near death experience in Cincinnati
The 1981 major league baseball season is largely remembered as a strike-shortened affair, but as noted by USA Today, the strike didn’t kick off until June 12 that year. So when a teenager named Randy Kobman attended a Reds-Braves game on April 22 that year (Red Reporter notes he must have skipped out on school, since the game started at 2:30 on a Wednesday) he had no idea what was going to happen to the baseball season — or what was about to happen to him.
In all fairness, Kobman did not actually catch the ball — but it was wild nonetheless. Deadspin explains that it was the bottom of the eighth inning, and Reds star George Foster was batting against future Hall of Fame pitcher Gaylord Perry when he hit a foul ball into the stands behind home plate. Kobman went to catch the foul ball — and truly committed, falling over the safety railing and coming within literal inches of falling to his probable death in front of a crowd of approximately 15,000 people. He was saved at the last minute by hanging on for dear life and the assistance of his fellow fans, who hauled him back up.
The Braves were one of the first teams to broadcast their games nationally thanks to Ted Turner’s new “superstation,” TBS. As a result, Kobman’s spectacular non-catch was national news and became the 1980s version of viral on local news broadcasts everywhere.
The Steve Bartman Mystery Man: College tuition covered
As noted by The Chicago Tribune, Game Six of the 2003 National League Championship Series is commonly known as The Steve Bartman Game. Sportscasting reports that in the eighth inning of the game, the Cubs were leading 3-0 and were poised to win the series and go to the World Series for the first time in 58 years. The fans were pumped.
Luis Castillo of the Florida Marlins hit a foul ball that was very catchable, which would have been a crucial out in the game — but a long-time Cubs fan named Steve Bartman interfered, trying (and failing) to catch the ball, and preventing Cubs outfielder Moises Alou from making the out. The Cubs were outraged, the energy shifted, the Marlins scored eight unanswered runs, won the game, and then won again the next night. The Cubs didn’t make it to the World Series — and people blamed Bartman hard. He had to go into hiding because of death threats — CNN reports he was still getting threats years later.
But Bartman didn’t catch the ball — he interfered and ruined the game, but the ball bounced out of his hands. The guy who did catch it was sitting behind him. The anonymous fan announced he planned to sell the infamous ball and fund his kid’s college — which he did later in the year, getting $113,824 for the ball from Harry Caray’s restaurant, which promptly blew the ball up with explosives.
Ballhawk Zack Hample catches three fouls
Major League Baseball explains that a “ballhawk” is fan who goes to games and practices with one goal in mind: To catch as many baseballs as possible. These folks put a lot of time, thought, and energy into their goals — they don’t just bring a glove to a game and hope for the best. They pick and choose where they stand very carefully and they pursue fly balls with clear-eyed aggression.
As noted by The Business of Business, one of the “most notorious” ballhawks of all time is a man named Zack Hample. Hample made headlines in 2015 when he caught Alex Rodriguez’s 3,000th hit — a home run — and initially refused to return the ball to the superstar. Hample’s turned being a ballhawk into a business, writing books and running his own content empire online, but opinions are divided on him and other ballhawks — The New York Post calls him “widely-loathed” because he often competes against children for foul balls and often breaks stadium rules to get into position.
This paid off for Hample big time in 2011. As reported by Bleacher Report, at a game between the Seattle Mariners and the Baltimore Orioles, Hample caught a remarkable three foul balls in a single game. The catches themselves weren’t particularly amazing, but watching a ballhawk work his science kind of is.
The beer cup catch
Beer has been a traditional part of the experience of watching a live baseball game for almost as long as there have been live baseball games. Enjoying a few brews while watching a game is part of the fun, so it isn’t too surprising that fans catching foul balls in their beer cups is actually kind of a regular event.
But as with everything else in this world, you get extra points for style. As reported by KIRO 7 News in Seattle, at a Mariners game in 2013 a man named Johnny Turk changed seats during the game and found himself in the ideal spot when Justin Smoak of the Houston Astros hit a high foul ball. Turk tracked the ball’s progress, put his beer up, and caught it perfectly. Then he stood while the crowd cheered and chugged the beer — with the ball still in the cup.
According to The Seattle Times, Turk was “surprised” at the attention he received for the chug, and planned to cut the baseball into four pieces to give to his father, uncle, and cousin who were in attendance with him. He also lost no time trying to capitalize on his sudden fame. As reported by CBS Sports, he launched a website just 24 hours later to sell T-shirts commemorating the moment. The site’s gone dark in the years since, but you have to applaud the fan’s entrepreneurial spirit.
As noted by FoulBallz.com, your odds of catching a foul ball at a major league baseball game aren’t too bad — about one in 835. Your chances of catching more than one are a little steeper, and the chances that you catch two in a row are probably in the astronomical range. But according to USA Today’s For The Win, that’s what an Oakland A’s fan did at a game in 2018.
As you can see in video of the event, the fan caught the foul balls in under a minute, and didn’t even have to work that hard — both fouls were line drives hit more or less right at him. So not only did he catch two foul balls in a row, they were essentially identical, as if the man were caught in some sort of Groundhog Day. According to Deadspin, the fan’s name is Bill, and he’d been going to A’s games his whole life but had never caught a foul ball before.
According to Forbes, the odds of this happening are so remote you have to go back to 1957 to find a similar incident. At a Phillies game in August of that year, a woman named Alice Roth was hit by two consecutive foul balls — one that broke her nose, and then a second one that hit her as she was being carried off the field, which broke a bone in her knee.
The baby bottle grab
Whenever you attend a major league baseball game, you accept some amount of danger. As reported by NBC News, hundreds of spectators are injured at baseball games every year, mostly from foul balls. While most of the injuries are relatively minor, The Washington Post reports that in 2019 a woman named Linda Goldbloom died after being hit in the head by a foul ball at a Dodgers-Padres game.
So there’s an element of danger that all baseball fans accept when sitting down to watch a game, which makes the decision to sit in the stands with an infant strapped to your chest kind of questionable. But that’s what Reds fan Jacob Kingsley did in April 2022. While feeding his 11-month-old son Shepherd from a bottle during the fifth inning of a game against the San Diego Padres, Jacob one-handed a foul ball as it bounced directly at his son.
As noted by WLWT5, Kingsley and his wife Jordan knew about the risks and were being extra vigilant as they enjoyed the game. Jacob saw the ball “coming off the bounce” and instinctively protected Shepherd from harm. The fans around the Kingsleys and the announcers calling the game were all amazed by the catch because Kingsley continued to feed Shepherd while he made the remarkable catch.
The fanny pack incident
It’s a thrill to catch a foul ball at a professional baseball game. A foul ball is an instant keepsake of a great experience, which is why people put some effort into chasing them down. Fans bring gloves to the games and have been known to risk serious injury when trying to snag a foul ball or a home run shot sailing into the stands.
Sometimes, though, fans manage some pretty remarkable catches without even trying. As reported by Bleacher Nation, one Oakland A’s fan managed to catch a foul ball in his fanny pack — accidentally.
According to Bar Down, the amazing catch occurred in the bottom of the first inning in a game between the Oakland A’s and the Chicago White Sox. Oakland second baseman Josh Harrison fouled the ball off of pitcher Reynaldo Lopez, and the anonymous fan clearly saw the ball coming and made an effort to catch it with his bare hands, but it slipped between his hands — and sailed directly into his fanny pack. After a moment of stunned surprise, the fan plucks the ball out and holds it up to the crowd for a round of applause. It’s safe to say that he couldn’t have made a catch like this on purpose — it had to rely on a whole lot of luck.
The little-known purse technique
As pointed out by Yahoo! Sports, baseball fans can get pretty resourceful when a foul ball comes their way. In a combination of self-defense and a desire for a free souvenir from the game, people will use actual baseball gloves, hats, fanny packs, and even their bare hands to catch a foul ball at a game. But at a Cardinals-Pirates game in 2017 one woman upped the ante by casually using her purse to catch a foul ball.
In the seventh inning of the game, the Cardinals’ Yadier Molina fouled the ball back behind the plate. The woman — identified as Missourian Chris Briete by KFVS 12 News — stood up and held her purse over her head. The ball sailed right in, overbalancing Briete — she was saved from a nasty fall by her husband, Doug. After confirming that she’d actually caught the ball, Briete held it up triumphantly. According to The Kansas City Star, the crowd gave her a standing ovation. The television announcers paused their play-by-play to express amazement, and the Cardinals sent her an honorary contract, making her an honorary member of the team.
Incredibly, Briete swears the purse-catch was her plan for a foul ball all along. She insists she told her family she’d be using her purse to catch any fouls that came her way, but no one believed it would be possible.
No glove needed if you have a hat
It’s actually not too uncommon for a baseball fan to catch a foul ball in their hat — Googling that will return dozens of examples. It makes sense: Many baseball fans will wear a baseball hat to the game, and that hat offers an ideal emergency receptacle for a foul ball, because the stiff rim gives you something to hold onto while the rest of the hat forms a decent-sized basket.
But as reported by Major League Baseball, one fan of the Kansas City Royals managed the feat not just once, but twice at a game in June of 2022. Even more impressive, he managed both catches — both with his hat — in the same inning. The odds of that happening are difficult to calculate, but definitely trend towards the “impossible” category.
As noted by The Kansas City Star, the unnamed fan was assisted by some basic knowledge of geometry. The first foul ball was aimed directly at an awning, but the fan knew precisely where to stand to be in position to grab the ball when it bounced off. The second foul was a little more challenging, but he caught it squarely in his hat, then mugged a bit for the crowd, which gave him an ovation.
The biggest glove in town
Baseball is a game of skill. One of those skills is the ability to catch a relatively small, fast-moving object in a relatively small glove — baseball has some very strict rules about how large your glove can be. But fans are under no such restrictions — if you can catch a foul ball in a hat or a purse, you can certainly use a non-standard glove. Which is exactly what a fan did at a Pirates-Cardinals game in 2013: He brought a comically-oversized novelty glove, and managed to catch a foul ball with it.
As noted by Bleacher Report, with a glove that size the fan was almost guaranteed to make the catch — all he had to do was be in the same zip code. But it’s still an amazing sight — although as reported by Yahoo! Sports, this particular fan has managed to catch more than 300 foul balls in his novelty glove over the years. The 2013 game was simply the first time he was caught on camera.
If you’re suddenly planning to buy your own novelty glove in order to start hoovering up foul balls at games, be warned that skill is still required, and an enormous glove doesn’t always help. According to Yahoo! Entertainment, a fan of the San Francisco Giants had a foul ball come right at him and his huge glove at a game in 2018, but managed to miss the catch anyway.
Taking a very important call
Usually baseball fans are pretty excited about foul balls. Most react to grabbing a free, slightly used official ball like the kid at Petco Park in 2021, celebrating like they just won the lottery. And many fans will put real effort into chasing down and catching foul balls during the game.
But as AL.com reports, not all fans are similarly motivated. Some fans don’t even seem all that interested in the game they’re watching. Both attitudes were on display at a Texas Rangers game in 2011, when a fan refused to interrupt the Very Important Call he was making on his cell phone to catch a foul ball.
As noted by Business Insider, the catch is actually pretty impressive. The unidentified fan doesn’t panic in the least; he’s on his phone, he see a laser of a foul ball headed his way, and he almost casually reaches up to catch it, then simply continues talking on the phone as if nothing out of the ordinary had just happened. The other interesting aspect of this amazingly cool-headed catch is the fact that the guy wore a baseball glove to the game, so he obviously hoped to catch a foul ball — and spent part of the game distracted by a call anyway.
Beer and phone in one hand, foul ball in the other
It’s impressive enough when baseball fans catch foul balls while doing other things — like feeding babies or making phone calls—but when they’re doing two things at once, it’s even more impressive.
As reported by Offside, there was an incredible display of multitasking at a Blue Jays-Astros game in 2019. Astro Yordan Alvarez sliced a sharp ball down the third base line and into the stands, where it was caught by a fan holding not just a beer or his cell phone in his other hand, but a beer and his cell phone. CTV News reports the fan’s name is Dean Clarke, and he took his parents to the game that day — and warned them they would be sitting in prime foul ball territory — though he’d never caught a ball before.
To add one more twist to this epic story, Clarke was wearing a T-shirt that depicted the famous photo of former wrestler and current acting superstar Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson wearing a turtleneck, gold chain, and fanny pack, along with the words “THUG LIFE.” Bleacher Report notes that Johnson saw video of the catch and called it out on his social media, showing both a sense of humor and an appreciation for incredible foul ball catches.