Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp signs a hat for a fan before a game at Dodger Stadium.
UPDATE: Raghu Manavalan won a Golden Mike for this touching story for a man who doesn't let repeated failure stop his dream of catching a money ball at Dodger Stadium.
Most of the focus on the Dodgers’ season has been off the field than on. But if you’re one of the ball hawks at Dodger Stadium, every game is only about baseball…or baseballs. That’s because ball hawks try to grab as many baseballs as they can, whether it’s in batting practice, a foul ball, or a home run. The most successful ball hawk in the country has caught more than 500, this season alone.
Bobby Crosby is sitting in the first row in left field, two hours before first pitch at Dodger Stadium. He wore a baseball glove on one hand, and held a camcorder in the other.
“I actually film myself catching home run balls. I have a popular YouTube channel called DodgerFilms, I film myself catching over 50 home runs at batting practice, and one in the game, last year Andrew McCutchen of the Pirates hit me one in the game last year that I caught filming”, Crosby said.
Since 1997, Crosby has been a season ticket holder at Dodger Stadium’s left field pavilion. Crosby explained the competition over baseballs since then.
“There’s about 500 season ticket holders in the left field pavilion and I’d say at least 30 of them are ball hawks who try to come out here to try to get home runs at batting practice and during the game. It’s not easy. And the camera makes it harder,” he said.
Ball hawks especially look out for money balls, milestone baseballs like a player’s first homer. They’re the most valuable you can catch because the team wants it back. And they’re willing to barter for it, usually for a signed ball, bat, or maybe a jersey in return. At today’s game, Dodgers rookie Jerry Sands has yet to hit a home run.
“I’ve gotten 8 game home runs in 15 years of sitting out here for almost every game but never a money ball so I really want one of those. I had my glove on a money ball. And then someone dove out of nowhere, dove between the rails and stole it right out of my glove. Then the security comes and says, “Hey you know the Rockies want that ball”…so that was over 10 years ago,” Crosby said, with a look of frustration on his face.
John Artuller of Arcadia was also in left field during batting practice. He explained the story behind his favorite baseball, an in-game home run from Dodger outfielder Matt Kemp. “I didn’t actually catch that ball. I just picked it up off the ground,” he said. “But I happened to have a batting practice ball in my hand at the moment. And I had to drop the batting practice ball as a decoy and the crowd went towards the batting practice ball and I picked up the home run ball. It was all planned out that way.”
Jerry Sands did end up hitting that first home run, but it was on the road in Chicago. The fan who caught it graciously gave it back for a handshake and a different signed baseball. He’s probably an amateur.
Weeks later, the Cincinatti Reds are in town. The Reds’ first baseman Joey Votto, a rising star, is sitting on 99 career home runs. This time, Bobby Crosby has his eye on catching number 100, which Votto will definitely want back. “Hopefully it’ll be in a Dodger victory,” Crosby adds.
After three hit-less Joey Votto at-bats, he’s back up to the plate. It’s the 8th inning. A tie game. For a Dodgers fan like Crosby, things can get a little complicated.
“Here we go Votto, money ball opportunity, don’t want it though, don’t want it. Gotta win this game,” he said, sitting on the edge of his seat.
Votto’s bat makes contact with the ball. “That’s a single. That sucked, no money ball but he did the damage and put the Reds ahead late in the game. Rather he just hit a home run. But he’s gotta hit it to me though, I gotta catch it,” he said.
His glove empty yet again, Bobby walks back to his car. For him, there’s always the next game.
Here's a photo of Raghu receiving his Golden Mike at the award ceremony:
Credit: Henk Friezer