Several days ago, a well-known ballhawk from Ohio named Rocco Sinisi wrote a VERY opinionated column on MyGameBalls.com about the “Ballhawk of the Year” Award, and within a matter of hours the blogosphere was abuzz. Quite simply, Rocco’s pissed that the same person — who now seems to have an unfair advantage — keeps winning it every year. Here’s how his column begins:
“Well, in a summer full of scam artists we have another dilemma that we might have to come to grips with. We may have to come to grips with the fact that we might have a professional ballhawk in our midst. Why is this a problem? Because the rest of us amateur ballhawks cannot compete with a guy who is being sent to ballparks to ballhawk on someone else’s dime.”
It’s no secret that the “professional” he’s talking about is me, so I thought I’d take a moment to respond . . .
For starters, I consider Rocco a friend. We’ve crossed paths several times at Great American Ball Park, and he’s always been cool. I didn’t take his column personally, and I’m not offended. If anything, I took it as a compliment because, evidently, I’ve set the bar so high that there’s now a discussion about leveling the playing field. That’s flattering, but it also sucks because I feel like I’m responsible for ruining other people’s fun.
Am I a professional ballhawk? I’m not sure. I’ve gotten paid to write about it, and I sometimes earn money by taking people to games. On two separate occasions, I received an honorarium for being interviewed about it on TV, and this season I was sponsored by a sunflower seed company. I’d say I’m semi-professional because (contrary to popular belief) I don’t make a full-time living doing this. Does being a semi-pro disqualify me from “competing” with my fellow ballhawks? Does it cheapen my ballhawking accomplishments or make them even more impressive? I don’t know, and I don’t care. I’ll let other people decide, if they even feel like thinking about it at all.
When I first really started getting into this as a 14-year-old in the spring of 1992, I had no intention of writing books or being on TV or getting any attention from it. I was just doing it because it was challenging and fun, and despite all the hoopla surrounding my collection nowadays, that’s still how I feel. If I somehow knew that I’d never be interviewed again, that wouldn’t affect the number of games I’d attend. I’d still be out there doing my thing, and in fact I’d be somewhat relieved. At times, the attention is overwhelming. I often long for the days when I could waltz into a stadium in another city without being recognized.
I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t care so much about the accolades and attention. There was a time when every interview stroked my ego; now I mainly do them for three reasons: they help raise awareness and money for Pitch In For Baseball, they help sell copies of my books, and they (sometimes) give me a chance to show the outside world that ballhawking is a good thing. Ballhawking has gotten some bad press in recent years, so I’m always glad when it gets portrayed in a positive light. But beyond that? I don’t really give a damn about what it means for me, personally. I’d rather sleep late than rush off to a TV studio at 5:40am to answer the same stupid questions.
Along those lines, I don’t care THAT much about the “Ballhawk of the Year” Award. I’ve always been honored to win it, but it never motivated me, and I think it’s a real shame that it’s now dividing the ballhawking community. I love the website MyGameBalls.com because it has brought so many people together. This really IS a community. We should be sticking together and rooting for each other, not having petty quarrels over who’s the most popular and who deserves to win an arbitrary award. As a ballhawk, my enemies are unreasonable security guards and judgmental idiots who tell me I need to get a life. My enemies shouldn’t be other ballhawks, but suddenly I’m feeling more tension among my peers.
If the tension continues, it will destroy the hobby as we know it. If we can’t get along amongst ourselves, how do you think the public and the media will react? I’ve seen two other similar communities get torn apart because of people who had their own selfish agendas. I’m talking about (a) competitive Scrabble and (b) competitive classic arcade video games. I don’t want to see the same thing happen in the ballhawking world.
In terms of the actual “Ballhawk of the Year” Award, Rocco made lots of interesting suggestions in his column, but I don’t think he’s found the perfect solution. To me, it seems that having a “Hall of Fame” or “Ace” category would complicate things. Giving elite ballhawks gold backgrounds on their MyGameBalls.com profiles seems gimmicky. Handing out extra awards to various groups determined by age, gender, and ballhawking experience seems like a hassle that would ultimately cheapen things. The more awards that are given out, the less meaningful they become. I’d rather finish in 3rd place for THE main award than win something that half a dozen people are also going to win. But maybe that’s just me. If everyone wants more awards, then let’s do it.
Rocco doesn’t want to have to compete with someone like me who gets sent to baseball games for free. I understand where he’s coming from, but would it be fair, then, for me not to want to have to compete with someone like him who gets to enter his home ballpark two hours and 40 minutes early every day? Do you think I like having my home run totals compared to the ballhawks in Baltimore who have endless room to run in that teeny ballpark? I hardly ever find Easter eggs in New York, and using the glove trick is strictly forbidden at both Citi Field and Yankee Stadium — but life goes on. We’re not just competing with each other. We’re competing against the odds and doing this because it’s fun . . . right?
It’s easy for me to say that I don’t need any more attention; I’ve gotten an awful lot of it over the years — way more that I’ve probably deserved — and inevitably I’ll receive more. But believe me, I know how much fun it is to be on TV or appear in a newspaper or magazine. Winning an award every now and then is fun too. Who doesn’t like being recognized for being good at something, if not The Best? If that’s your motivation, fine. I have no problem with that. We all have our own wacky issues and reasons for doing what we do, so let’s embrace it.
It seems to me that the best solution for dealing with the award is to just let things play out naturally. If enough people are pissed that I’ve won it several times, then they can vote for someone else. Erik Jabs has snagged more baseballs than me this season. Shawn Bosman, Alex Kopp, and Tim Anderson have all gotten more game home runs. There are some really talented guys out there. Vote for them if you think they deserve it.
Most importantly, be chill and have fun, and if you see a little kid with an empty glove, think about handing him (or her) a baseball. We have tens of thousands of balls among us. Some people have zero. As bad as things might seem when you barely miss a gamer, remember how lucky we really are.