Want to catch a foul ball? This website offers fans help
August 19, 2014 12:58 AM
By Jon Schmitz / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
It’s on the bucket list of many baseball fans — catching a batted ball in the stands.
The feat is mostly a matter of dumb luck, being in the right place at the right time and not having one’s hands occupied by hot dogs and beer when the moment arrives.
But for those who yearn to carry home such a prized souvenir, wouldn’t it be nice to know exactly where to sit to have the best chance?
Enter Joel Carben, who with two friends has embarked on a mission to give fans the same sort of analytical data that teams use to position their fielders. Mr. Carben, of Seattle, has established a website that shows, based on data from more than 10,000 foul balls, the best places to sit.
Six ballparks, including PNC Park, are on the site, www.IdealSeatMLB.com. Mr. Carben hopes to expand it not only to include other stadiums but to provide a range of fan-friendly information, including which sections are in the sun and which are shaded, and where the best concession offerings can be found.
“Where can I get that great beer or that great Primanti sandwich?” he asked during a phone interview on Friday, showing he’s no stranger to these parts.
“Pittsburgh is one of my favorite cities. I love the rivers and the Downtown. And obviously, PNC Park is one of the best in the league.”
Mr. Carben, 38, said he was at a Mariners game with friends when they saw another fan catch a foul ball, which got them to thinking.
PNC Park: Where batted balls land
“Being statistics-minded, we instantly thought, ‘Could we find the seat with the greatest probability of catching a foul ball?’ ”
They contacted the team, and others, and learned that for all of the statistics amassed by baseball teams, they didn’t pay any attention to where the fouls were flying.
“It’s amazing that in a sport where every statistic is analyzed, cross-analyzed and overanalyzed, we found the one statistic that’s not tracked,” he said.
He said his company uses research teams of three to five people to collect data, and also offers a free ticket to people who’d like to attend a game and compile and forward the information.
The compilation of data for PNC Park is in its nascent stages, but the website has a color-coded diagram showing that the two best sections for foul balls are the lower part of 116, right behind home plate, and lower 112, on the first-base side.
There are about 100 batted balls in a typical major league game, Mr. Carben said, and about one-third of them reach the stands.
With roughly 30 foul balls sprinkled through a crowd of 30,000 or more, fans face long odds in their pursuit of a souvenir.
Other ballparks for which he has gathered data are Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore, Citi Field in New York, Safeco Field in his hometown, Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla., and AT&T Park in San Francisco.
Mr. Carben, who formerly worked as a sustainability specialist for Seattle Public Utilities, said the endeavor has become his full-time job for him.
The company has startup funding and some revenue streams including an affiliation with SeatGeek.com, a ticket sales company.
“Over the past three years, Joel has spent way too much time at the ballpark tracking statistics,” his LinkedIn profile states.
The long-term goal is for the website and its companion iPhone app to be about much more than where foul balls land, he said.
Mr. Carben wants the site to be for baseball fans what TripAdvisor is to travelers — a full-service planning aid.
His ultimate benchmark of success, he said, would be to find buyers for the 25 million baseball tickets that typically go unsold each year.
Every game sold out? A lofty ambition?
“Sometimes you have to swing for the fences,” he said.
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