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There is nothing quite like the experience of sitting in the stands at your first baseball game or your 30th game. It’s the one sport where it doesn’t matter where your seats are, you are guaranteed to be able to enjoy yourself.
Major League Baseball teams do not put all of those used baseball in a landfill. All of the balls are recycled in some way or another. So the next time you see a pitcher ask for a new ball, don’t get sad. That ball will have a long life beyond the diamond.
If you’ve gone to a few games you may have noticed that they go through a lot of baseballs. Every time a ball is hit, or thrown in the dirt, or goes foul, a new ball is brought out. That can be dozens of balls for just one game. So what do MLB teams do with the used baseballs?
Well, yes, if you’ve seen a foul ball hit, then you know those don’t get thrown back and used again. But what about all of the other ones? Let’s see where else these balls land.
All of the Possibilities
First, let’s just list all of the ways used baseballs are recycled, and then we can dig deeper into how or why they end up there.
- Get used for batting practice
- Sold to fans
- Sold to collectors
- Saved for players for special milestones
- Caught by fans
A single MLB game can go through over 100 baseballs in a single game. If you are thinking, well, that’s a lot of waste, you’re not alone. The question has been brought up time and time again. What happens to all of those baseballs?
Some of these might seem straightforward, but let’s go through them.
Used for Batting Practice
Once a ball has lived its very short life in an MLB game (an average of about eight minutes) it could end up in the bucket. This bucket of has-beens will make its way to the practice field. No better second chance for these balls than helping the payers get better at the game.
Sold to Fans
Every game has an authenticator on duty to watch every ball in play. These off-duty law officers are approved by the MBL to make sure every ball sold is authentic. Fans can go to the Authentic Shop after the game to buy their game memorabilia.
Sold to Collectors
Great plays stay in your mind long after the game has ended. If you had a chance to buy the ball that was thrown by the fastest pitcher of all time, would you? If you were a serious baseball collector you would.
Balls from really memorable plays get sold off at auctions to collectors, either through the MLB website or through other auction avenues.
Saved for Players for Special Milestones
Just as much as you love watching the game, players have that same thrill playing in the game. If a player gets their first home run, their first strikeout, or their first double play, those balls would be put aside for the payer to keep as a memento.
Just as you might keep your 100th receipt from your 100th sale as a business owner, that batter wants to keep their 100th home run ball. It has meaning for them too.
Caught by Fans
Perhaps the most well-known answer is that a good portion of those balls go straight to the fans. Every single time a batter hits the ball, fans in the stands are praying one of two things happens; either the ball hits foul and goes in the stands, or it’s a home run and goes in the stands.
There’s nothing like going to a game and catching a foul ball. You now have a souvenir to always remember your experience. If you have a bit of time after the game, you can always hang out and ask to get it signed by the batter.
Some Slip Through the Cracks
That doesn’t mean that there aren’t other ways a game ball might get out of the stadium. There are usually at least a dozen balls set aside to hand out, mostly to children, at the end of the game.
It’s a bit harder to throw the ball over the net these days. Extra precautions to protect the fans have made just lightly tossing the ball over the netting more difficult. You almost need to have pitcher-like precision to get it over and hit your intended target. But to also not hit your target.
What are the Reasons a Ball Gets Retired
So we went over some good reasons why an MLB game ball will see the end of its inning. But how does a ball end up there in the first place? Well, here are some reasons.
- Batter asks umpire to examine/switch out ball
- Pitcher or catcher asks umpire to examine/switch out ball
- Any player can request a ball be examined by the umpire
- Pitch in the dirt
- Comes apart while in play (removed at the end of that play)
- Ball has a cut or scuff on it
Now, these might seem a bit silly and inconsequential, but the umpire giving the player a brand new ball pretty much constantly keeps it an even playing field. There are no tricks a pitcher can use to make a ball more to their liking.
Now that a player can’t do whatever they want to a ball to be able to use it to their advantage in the game, it’s on pure talent (and some luck) alone that will strike that batter out.
So go, enjoy the game, and don’t worry that you are contributing to filling up the local dump with all of those baseballs. They will all find a home outside of the dugout.
If you are looking to up your odds in getting a game ball during play, don’t be afraid to bring a kid. There’s nothing like seeing a child’s face light up when they get tossed a ball. But if you don’t get a game ball, just remember, there’s no crying in baseball.
Related Article: How Long Does A Baseball Ball Last?