I went to a baseball game last night in Detroit with a coworker, and like all grown men went with the intention of catching a foul ball no matter the cost. Before heading out I wondered how likely it would be that I’d actually catch one this time. This is what I wrote:
Because I love Pre-Algebra, let’s do some math.
This basic equation is pretty much the limit of my mathematical skills: Number of Foul Balls per Game/Number of People at Game
I did the math in my head on the ride to my hotel. I guessed somewhere in the neighborhood of 20,000 fans per game and 60 foul balls into the seats a game. Part of the reason I used these numbers was because I knew I could do the math easier while driving a stick shift, smoking a cigarette, and singing John Denver. I should have gotten 1 foul ball for every 333 fans. What I got was 300. Considering I received all my formal education in West Virginia I count that one as a victory.
I was wrong. The numbers below are right.
Foul Balls/Game: 48.2 (excluding foul tips and bunts)
Home Runs/Game: 1.03
Average Attendance/Game (2009): 30,338
By those numbers, if you were to sit in a random seat at a random game at a random ballpark the odds of you catching a foul ball are 0.12 percent, or 1 for every 839 fans. I just counted the number of MLB games I’ve been to in my life, and sadly came to an estimate of 25 (I grew up four hours from the closest city over 50,000 people). By that reckoning there is a 2.9% chance that I would have a caught a foul ball in my life to this point.
Of course that last paragraph isn’t at all right. To accurately reflect the odds one needs to figure out the chance of a ball being hit to each individual seat. You’d also need a working knowledge of math, which I do not have (again, West Virginia).
Usually when I go to a game I don’t have the best seats (especially when I was in my teens and 20’s). My guess is at least 15% of the people who attend games are not reachable by a foul ball or home run at all. That drops the number of people who have any chance of catching a foul ball to 25788. If we take the odds for the entire stadium (minus those seats that have no chance of catching one) we get 0.14% or 1 in 694 fans.
Of course the only accurate way to project the odds of you catching a foul ball at any given time is to know which seat you have in what ballpark. I’m sure the odds of catching a ball increase exponentially as you get closer to the field and either first or third base (I’m counting foul ground balls you grab over the rail).
Tonight I have second row box seats for a Tigers/Royals game ($9 each) down the first-base line. I would guess my odds increase significantly considering that’s where I’m sitting – closer to the field, on the first base line, and if there are open seats on the rail I’ll have a shot at grounders. Of course I have no clue by how much the odds are increased. Going from the equalized 0.14% chance, I would guess the odds increase at least two to three times based on where I’m sitting. That’s a 0.4% chance. Really though? That seems a little high. I dunno.
So I went to the game. Kansas City won and, of course, I almost caught a foul ball. A guy two seats away grabbed one from Miguel “fucking perennial MVP candidate” Cabrera. I almost killed his wife trying to snag it from him. A series of apologies followed. They didn’t really care though because he probably just fulfilled a lifelong fantasy. The happiness on his face was a sight to see. It’s a feeling I hope to have one day, but know I run a significant risk of never having. That grinning son of a bitch’s face will forever be burnt in my memory.
It did make me feel better about the odds I calculated though. I would guess if I sat in the same seat for 250 games I would almost certainly get a foul ball or kill somebody’s wife trying.
A few more thoughts from the game:
- We ended up sitting on the rail for half the game. No balls came our way, but it was freaking awesome.
- This part of the park felt like a sweet spot for foul balls – there were many, many hit to our general area.
- I tried tracking the number of balls hit to the stands versus not, but got bored after one inning. Might have been easier if I hadn’t been keeping score. One observation: foul balls hit back into the net probably make the non-reachable number higher.
- I must be a good luck charm for KC; I saw them play the Sox two weeks ago. In the two games combined they had 33 hits.
- If you ever get a chance to attend a game at Comerica Park in Detroit do so. It’s a great park and a fun place to watch a game.
- Apparently someone else already did this, and the fella had the same thought process. His estimates are just a little lower.