Know the Rules
There are thousands of written rules in baseball and softball. Sports rooted in a century old tradition definitely have some unwritten ones as well. Today we’re taking you through the expectations of fan etiquette.
Be on time and never leave early: Baseball and softball are unique sports. There is no clock. It is never over until the final out. Leave early, you could miss the game of a lifetime.
When the game is starting, if the hometown team elects to play national anthems, the appropriate response is always, at a minimum, to stop where you are, remove your cap and direct your attention to either the flag or, failing there being one in the stadium, the singer. If you are seated, stand up. Even when it is not your country’s anthem, this is a sign of respect. If you need some direction on this, reference any Olympic Games ever captured on film.
Balls in the Stands
Balls that make it into the stands are for kids, period. If you catch one and there is a kid nearby, give it to them. This is always true when a person on field-level tosses one into the stands. If a foul ball lands in your area and you have a kid in mind for the ball but they are not with you, then announce loudly, “Timmy is going to love getting this ball. It’s too bad he was sick and couldn’t come today.” So that folks know there is a legitimate kid recipient. If a homerun ball is hit into the stands however, it always belongs to a kid who is present. No exceptions.
If a foul ball is headed your way and you can save someone from being hit, do it. Even if they are too busy gabbing to pay attention and, therefore, should not be sitting where they are, do it. It’s the code. If you don’t want to, then you loose your foul ball territory privileges too. Give up your seat to someone who respects people, even those acting less than perfect in a moment.
Never reach over the railing for a ball. Until the ball has left the field of play completely it will be ruled fan interference and it could cost your team an out or a run. It could also mean a few nights on the couch.
No matter how you get your ball, under no circumstances throw it back onto the field. In recent years you may have seen some fans “return” the ball to the field when hit by an opposing team. Not only is this dangerous but it’s simply not baseball. It started in hockey. Leave it on the ice. On the field it means nothing more than disrespect from someone who does not know the game.
If you catch the first homerun ball of someone’s career, or a milestone ball of some kind, it is common courtesy to return the ball to the player. You can either notify a member of the staff or try to give the ball to the player after the game. 100% of the time, the player is going to replace the ball for you, usually with an autographed version, as thanks.
Standing in the Stands
The only time you should leave your seat is between innings however, emergencies happen. Common courtesy is to wait until the at-bat in progress is complete. The same rule applies when you return to your seat.
Know The Lingo
Each sport has specific names for their equipment and personnel. Know them. Baseball and softball are played on fields, not pitches. Umpires, not referees officiate the game and hat tricks belong to hockey. Sweeps only happen when you take the full series. Clubhouses are not locker rooms and that funny little round thing players put on the end of their bat when they’re in the on-deck circle is called a donut.
If the stands go silent near the end of a game, and you can’t sort out why, it probably means a record is about to be tied or broken. It may also be because the pitcher has a no-no going. Look it up. Know what it means. Keep your mouth shut.
Be ready to cheer if a perfect game is pitched, even if it doesn’t happen for your team’s pitcher. It has only happened 27 times in the history of the MLB. It’s a big freakin’ deal. This goes for all major accomplishments – batting and career achievements as well.
Cheer loud and often but know the boundaries. Cheering is rooted in the word cheer, which is defined as: a shout of encouragement, approval or congratulations. That means no negative Nelly’s allowed.
The most important of the no rules is no personal insults. This includes, “You Suck” or “Hey Ump, time to get your eyes checked”. If you can do it better go do it. Otherwise, keep your mouth shut. Both sports are community events filled with lots of kids. Let’s teach them the proper way to have a good time at the ballpark. That never comes at someone else’s expense.
Keep in mind the color of your language as well. As we said, there are children around. You don’t want to be the answer when a parent asks where did you learn that word?
Always cheer a great play. No matter which team makes it, sportsmanship is the driving force in baseball and softball and there is nothing wrong with acknowledging an amazing display of skill.
Always go silent on injury and, when the person is taken from the field or hobbles off on their own, clap. It doesn’t matter what bench they land on. Our sports are about community first and community rules dictate respect for all.
Only chant or cheer when your team is at bat: The point of a clapping session or chant is to distract the pitcher and give the batter a little love. When you want to root for your pitcher you do so between pitches, before s/he is set up. Words of encouragement include “Here you go pitch” but never, under any circumstances, begin a clap or similar group cheer. These are designed to build up the energy and create a rally atmosphere. The exact opposite of what you are trying to do for your team on defense.
There is no “De-Fense” cheer in baseball and softball. Period. Look, the odds are already in the defense’s favor. If the defense is getting beat, it generally has zero to do with their need to defend against the other team. Either a pitcher is being lit up or the fielding errors are higher than normal. Either way, the last thing that is going to help is a chant from the stands reminding them they are not doing their job well.
Think about it, who are they defending against? One person. That’s it. One person trying to hit a really small ball, being thrown at them from a short distance at lightening speed, that they need to aim to land some place on the field that isn’t covered by any of the nine defensive players. When that happens 30% of the time, they are really good at their job. Of course there is base running to consider once people are on base but the point is, when the defense and pitchers are doing their job well, this is a non-issue. Considered in this light, it almost seems mean, if not unsportsmanlike, to root against someone whose best-case-scenario success rate sits around 30% don’t you think?
I know we’re in the age of technology but, unless someone you are planning to meet is calling, you really don’t need your cell phone out… especially between each half inning. There are exceptions. Of course if you are in a tight playoff run and a team that could take your spot is playing at the same time, designate a phone checker in your area of the stands. If it’s your first game take a quick photo with a friend between innings. Beyond that, the Facebook post your friend put up of kittens playing with puppies can wait until you get home.
Especially in the EU, where stadium signals are weak at best, save that data limit for the press. PA, photographers and live stream teams are trying to provide you, and the viewers at home, with a better game experience. Between innings is their only time to verify facts, upload data and receive updates.
We’ve mentioned before, baseball and softball is built on community. If you’re too engrossed in your phone to notice your surroundings, chances are it could come back to bite you.
There is one technology exception that has been around for decades, and it goes back to the days of radio. If you see someone in the stands with headphones on and a scorecard open on their lap, leave them be. They are trying to enjoy the play-by-play from the radio broadcast and keep score.
Respecting Your Space
When moving in stands with folding seats, always stand up as people pass by with food or drink. It makes it easier to travel past. Naturally, if you have a sleeping kid on your lap or your dinner spread out on your legs, there isn’t much you can do but do your best to tuck your feet in and turn so they can pass easier.
Be polite as you pass by. Say hello. Engage. This is a community. Get to know your neighbors. We all tend to sit in the same area each game so it pays to know who you can depend on for a tissue in a crunch and who’s always packing extra snacks for the kids!
Pets are a tricky add to the stands. Some stadiums don’t allow them at all. If your stadium is open to having animals around, be courteous to your fellow fans. Keep in mind some folks may have allergies. Please don’t use the time outside to brush your dog. Even if someone isn’t allergic, they may not want to go home with your pet’s fur all over them. If you have an animal with you, stick to the aisles where it will be easier for all involved if you have to get up and walk them regularly. Finally, pay attention as you bring the pet near an area. Notice the faces of the people around you. Perhaps someone has had a bad experience being attacked by a dog in the past. No matter how much you reassure them your pet is different and friendly, they are not going to feel comfortable or safe. In this instance, seeing games are for people, you are going to have to do the respectable thing and move your dog elsewhere.
If you are a smoker or you vape please do not smoke in the stands. Think of it this way, how often do you both smoke and eat at the same time? You can never find a time at a game where someone in your immediate area is not busy munching. Don’t mess with their mealtime.
Beyond that of course are children. Set a good example please. Also keep in mind that, many times, smoke can make a woman in her first trimester of pregnancy nauseous. Of course, you’ll never know if she’s pregnant because she’s not showing, so don’t bother to look around first to justify lighting up.
The fact is you never know when someone around you is not feeling well. Many people go to games with the explicit intent of getting fresh air. It’s a great distraction from a lot of minor ailments.
Finally, you never know who at the game is trying to quit smoking. We all know how hard it can be to kick the habit. Maybe you’ve tried yourself once or twice. Be the person who respects their efforts. With all these reasons in mind, it is simply best to take your smoking breaks out of the stands. Many parks have designates smoking areas so please use them. If you’d rather sit and chain smoke please, take it to the top level of the seating area so it has less of an effect on those around you.
Games are long and there will be lots of time to get to know your neighbor. Unless you are asking for help understanding a specific play that just happened - our sports have lots of once-a-year/once-in-a-lifetime rules, it’s okay not to know every one of them - please refrain from small talk in the stands until there is a break in the game. There are 7-9 innings with a break between each team transition of at least 2 minutes, believe me, you’ll have plenty of time to catch up.
Some people don’t want to talk between innings either. If a person is keeping score for example, it may be their only time to record a special play or verify they’ve calculated the numbers for the inning correctly. Be respectful. Pay attention to the social cues and you’ll know who is friendly and open to conversation and who is trying to tell you it’s time to let them be in their own space for a bit.
It is always acceptable to ask for help understanding a play, so long as you were actually watching the game. If you are just getting back to your seat, talking to a friend or directing the hot dog guy on the toppings you’d like, don’t ask for help.
Just like a trip to the woods, if you brought it in, take it with you on the way out. Especially in Europe, the “staff” are primarily volunteers. They get to the stadium hours before you and the bigger the mess you leave behind, the longer they have to stay. Be mindful of their time. At a minimum put your seat cushions back, return the bottles to the deposit area and toss your trash. Basically, treat the stadium like a trip to a friend’s house. Be respectful.
There you have it. A few of the basics that will serve you well from the seated side of any ballpark fence. If we missed any, let us know. If you were unwittingly guilty before now, don’t worry. Baseball and softball fans are truly flexible people with a great will to forgive. Now that you know, they’ll only ask you to pass along the lesson to the next rookie you see committing a similar error.