Several years ago at Wrigley Field in Chicago, an opposing player homered into the left field bleachers. The fan who caught the ball, in a moment only he interpreted as sheer genius, decided he could show his contempt for the hitter by throwing the baseball back on the field. Thus was born the incredibly silly practice of throwing back the other guys' homers.
Here's the deal: The home team would rather you not do that. Every team in baseball has a policy against the fans throwing anything on the field, be it a paper airplane, beer bottle, battery or baseball. If they choose to enforce their own rules, they can escort you from the ballpark.
Last week a guy stopped by the 106.7 The Fan booth in the left field plaza where we do "Nats Talk Live" and asked me why I wasn't critical of the team when they ejected fans for throwing back home run balls hit by the opposition, since, after all, "It's baseball tradition," he said.
Except it's not. It's a fairly new thing, just like Orioles' fans yelling "O" during the national anthem only dates back about 30 years. Some folks apparently assume that fans in every ballpark yell "O" during the anthem, but that's not so.
So, why don't teams want their fans to toss back homers hit by the opposition? Because, quite simply, there's the possibility, however small, that someone could get hurt. Let's say you're 18 rows deep in the bleachers and you catch the other guy's homer. You stand up to wing it back onto the field, and, oops, your arm betrays you, and you hit some kid in the front row in the back of the head with it.
Has that ever happened? I don't know, but I do know this: The number of ceremonial first pitches thrown out from the mound toward the plate that actually intersect the strike zone is fairly small. Many fans simply don't have the skill to throw a baseball accurately.
It might be nice if the Nationals had a bin of some kind on the plaza where fans could donate those baseballs for use by kids in local community baseball leagues, particularly those in the district. Fan could bring other used but still usable equipment from home to donate, too. I know the ballclub already designates a few days every season for just that purpose, but why not do it every home date?
Another option might be to offer the ball to one of the opposing relievers in the visitor's bullpen to be given back to the player who hit it. I've never seen a fan refuse a free baseball from an opposing player during pregame; maybe a swap of some kind could be negotiated for another ball.
It's a very simple message: Either put the ball in your pocket, offer it to some kid or donate it. Just don't throw it back on the field. Believe me, the visiting team doesn't care.