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Foul play

It's the culprit of spilled $3 sodas, $4 beers and torn $300 suits.

It's as hunted as a criminal on the FBI's Most Wanted list.It has 108 stitches, weighs 5 ounces, measures 9 inches around and costs a mere $8 bucks - and it can be purchased at almost any sporting goods store.

It's the baseball, more specifically the foul baseball - the most treasured souvenir of the national pasttime.

You see, the one thing your store-bought baseball doesn't have is the story of the great catch and the three seconds of fame when everyone cheers.

According to the voice of the Buzz, Steve Klauke, who has called all but three Buzz games, that's what gives the foul ball its mystique - the story.

"They feel like they're part of the game because they made a catch," he said. "They have a chance to do something the guys out on the field are doing, and you can't do that in any other sport."

As a three-time foul ball catcher in major league parks (two in the old Comiskey Park and one in Milwaukee County Stadium), Klauke, too, has a story to tell.

"The second of the three foul balls, I was fortunate enough to be sitting in the front row of the upper deck," Klauke recalled. "Carl Yastrzemski for Boston hit a foul ball down the first base side. I leaned over the rail and made a two-hander, barehanded catch.

"When I caught it I raised the ball in the air, and I remember Harry Caray (then the Chicago White Sox broadcaster) up in the broadcast booth bowing to me that I had made the catch."

Oh, the stories. And everyone wants their own to tell.

Not a week passes when Dorsena Picknell, assistant general manager of the Salt Lake Buzz isn't asked which section, which row, which seat in Franklin Quest Field attracts the most fouls balls.

"You can always tell when they come with a glove, they usually ask that question," she said.

Her response: Down the left field or right field line, and the numbers prove it.

In a four-game series from June 18-21 with the Omaha Royals, the Deseret News asked Klauke to chart all foul balls and home runs that left Franklin Quest Field to determine the best place in the ballpark to snag a foul.

During the series, a total of 181 balls, 165 foul and 16 home runs were hit for an average of 45.25 baseballs per game (homers and fouls). Of those, 21.75 per game were "catchable," meaning a homer or foul into the stands.

And like any stadium in the country, there was an anxious fan waiting to catch it.

"This is my first game in 11 years," said Craig Huck, 39, of Salt Lake, who had his baseball glove at the game. "I bring it (the glove) because it feels right, not to catch a foul ball, because that's highly unlikely."

A few rows away, Scott Etzel, 41, has been appointed the "official" foul ball catcher by his party. "Actually, that's an excuse. I want to catch a foul ball just as bad as them. I lived in Texas and went to 30 games a year. I would sit there and watch where the fouls were going and then sit there the next night," Etzel said.

The right field line exceeded the left field line in foul balls per game (14.75 to 12), mainly because the majority of hitters bat right-handed.

If foul-ball seekers are true fanatics, they can see if the starting pitchers are righties or lefties and count the number of right-handed hitters to left-handed hitters, and go with the averages.

For example, in the series there were five right-handed starters and three left-handed, and the game that had the most, 55, June 21, both starters were right-handed. In the game with the fewest fouls, 28, there was a lefty and righty starter. To get a foul ball: Hope you're lucky, do the math, go with the averages and don't sit behind the backstop.

"You never want to sit behind the backstop. Here they come zinging at you," said Kent Derricott, 43, of Bountiful. Derricott prefers his upper deck seats just to the right of the backstop, which drew 10 fouls per game.

Interestingly, one of the best places to grab a souvenier isn't in the park at all. It's just outside the stadium along West Temple, which accounted for 6.25 fouls per game. Meanwhile, once again proving that right is better than left, the 1300 South side of the ballpark accounted for only three fouls per contest.



Foul balls

Per game

Game 1

Total: 31

Catchable: 13

Game 2

Total: 51

Catchable: 35

Game 3

Total: 28

Catchable: 17

Game 4

Total: 55

Catchable: 22


Foul balls and home runs hit at Franklin Quest Field*

Total foul balls per game - 45.25

Home runs - 4

On to West Temple - 6.25

On to 13th South - 3

Backstop - 10.25

Catchable balls - 21.75

(including HRs)

Down 1st base side - 14.75

Down 3rd base side - 12

*Averages per game as charted by 1320 KFAN Buzz broadcaster Steve Klauke for the Deseret News during a four-game series with Omaha Royals June 18-21.