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The unwritten rules of throwing an opponent’s home run back on the field

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Let’s talk about the unwritten rules of being a baseball fan. They’re incredibly important. Wait, no, they’re silly. Incredibly silly. OK, both.

When I was a kid, I dreamt about this exact scenario. It was something that I plotted and planned, daydreamed about and wished for. I wanted to hit an opponent with a baseball as he rounded second base after a home run.

It’s not just an act of defiance, but it’s also an exhibition of your athletic talents on a grand stage. In my prime, I absolutely could have winged a ball from left field all the way to shortstop, and I would have relished the chance to show this off in front of thousands of people.

In retrospect, this was a dumb dream. I could have dreamt about winning an Oscar or crane-kicking a bully in a karate tournament, but I was stuck on that idea of drilling a guy who did what he was supposed to do. Doing this on purpose is rude and possibly illegal, and I can’t recommend it.

There’s a small part of me that still wants to do this, of course. Right in the butt, Cody Bellinger! Take that!

But what about the general idea of throwing an opponent’s home run back on the field? Is this or is this not a worthy goal? Well, we have unwritten rules to parse, it appears.

Rule #1: Don’t make your kid do this

I think about this video often.

I understand it in a way. The opponent’s home run is tainted. It’s an unfortunate outcome breathed into life, and you’re holding it in your hands like a cursed skull. Out, damned spot, and all that.

Out of 20,000 people or more, you’ve been selected in this weird lottery to hold this totem of sadness. If your first instinct is to reject it, well, I can’t blame you. That seems like a reasonable response.

Just don’t expect your kid to understand.

Whittle that above sentence down a bit. Out of 20,000 people or more, you’ve been selected in this weird lottery ... and it’s awesome. If you’re a kid, it’s impossible to ignore the significance of this. All day, you’ve been seeing other people — other kids — excitedly hold baseballs in the air. Except that feeling isn’t just confined to this game. You’ve seen it for months, years. Even if you’re 10 years old, you probably have years of experience when it comes to other people getting excited about a foul ball or home run. Wouldn’t it be cool if it happened to you?

And then it happens to you. And then your dad tells you to get rid of the cursed baseball, to fling it with all your might.

Look at the proud papa! Look at the utterly confused child! Both reactions are valid, but I have to think the kid just wants the baseball. To roll it around in his hands. To realize that it was a part of the very game that he was just watching. To think that a Major League pitcher held it and threw it, and that a Major League hitter smashed it over the fence. Oh, the wonder of a home run ball.

No one is going to yell at you for letting your kid keep the ball. And it’s not as if you’re going to jinx the Reds. They’ll suck with or without your help.

There is value in superstition. There is a much more tangible value in letting your kid keep the baseball.

Rule #2: If you catch an opponent’s home run, just give it to a kid

A lot of the rules in this series have been ambiguous, which has lead to a whole bunch of tortured parsing on my part. Sorry. It’s what I do.

This is not an ambiguous rule, though. If you catch an opponent’s home run, just give it to a kid. Your kid, if applicable! Some other kid if not.

Rule #3: If you catch an opponent’s home run, just give it to a kid

There are few rules in life this uncomplicated. If you have the urge to wing the baseball back onto the field for a sense of satisfaction that will last exactly four seconds, think about the thrill that a kid will get from that baseball for the rest of the night. For the entire next day at school. It’s worth it.

Rule #4: If you catch an opponent’s home run, just give it to a kid

There will be pushback at first. There are a lot of goobers who are incredibly invested in the idea that everyone needs to hew to their unwritten dogma, and they will scream at anyone who is thinking about keeping the home run ball.

Once the ball is given to a kid, though, even those people shut up. Even at Wrigley Field, which is the peer-pressure-of-throwing-a-home-run-back capital of the world, they shut up. Just give it to a kid, and everyone understands.

Rule #5: If you catch an opponent’s home run, just give it to a kid

Do you know what happens to a home run ball when you throw it back? Either or a player or team employee retrieves the ball, and they toss it to the side. Another team employee picks it up and tosses it into the stands. Usually, they’ll give it to a kid.

You had a chance to light up a kid’s life, and you passed. You gave that gift to someone who’s just punching the clock and doing their job, and they probably did the same thing five times that month, so they didn’t even appreciate it. You could have been a hero. But you opted for five (5) cool points instead.

Note that cool points evaporate almost immediately. Now you are without cool points.

Hero points, though, why those stick with you. That’s the kind of karma that sticks to you, that buoys your every step, even after you’ve long forgotten what you did to get it. You were the lucky dork who happened to be closest to a baseball hit over the fence, and you were able to turn that into a happy child. They’ll need these memories when the crops fail and the water wars start.

Just give it to a kid.

Rule #6: If you catch an opponent’s home run, just give it to a kid, unless you’re reasonably sure that you can hit Giancarlo Stanton in the butt from the Green Monster

I mean, there have to be some exceptions.