Amid a live interview during a Mid-Atlantic Sports Network broadcast last month, Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias had to pause.
A foul ball was coming his way.
“That almost got me,” he said after Oakland’s Mitch Moreland sent a Jorge López sinker back screaming toward him.
Through two Orioles homestands, Elias is likely not the first to utter those words this year at Camden Yards, or perhaps, their inverse: “I almost had it.”
Last season, the coronavirus pandemic kept fans out of Oriole Park, leaving foul balls to clank into empty seats. But with the Orioles allowing in a maximum attendance of 25% of the stadium’s capacity to start the 2021 season, fans’ pursuit of a keepsake can continue. But where should they sit to try to do so?
Across the Orioles’ first two homestands, The Baltimore Sun tracked 103 foul balls over 10 games that were hit out of play and into the reach of spectators to see where they landed. In those 10 contests, there were 470 foul balls total, according to MLB’s Statcast data, but the overwhelming majority never left the field, either because of the protective netting that stretches past the dugouts at Camden Yards or simply because they were hit into the field of play but not fair territory.
While the 103 balls recorded is certainly not a definitive count of all that went into the stands in those games, most were tracked to create what serves as a representative sample. In addition to general location, the Sun also recorded the handedness of the batter who hit the foul ball and made a determination on whether the ball was hit as more of a line drive or a popup.
Along with the limited capacity — maxing out at 10,000 or so fans for now — the Orioles are using “pod” seating, having attendees sit in socially distanced groups of two, four or six throughout the ballpark. But with them welcomed back to Camden Yards, here’s where fans should sit if they want a foul ball.
Directly behind home plate:
More than half the foul balls recorded were hit into the areas that would generally be considered behind home plate. On the field level, the area between dugouts — sections 28, 30, 32, 34, 36, 38, 40, 42, 44 and 46 — accounted for about one in every five foul balls that landed in the stands.
All but a couple of the 21 recorded in that region of the ballpark were popups, giving fans plenty of time to rise up and prepare to make a highlight catch. The protective netting justifiably prevented many line drives from reaching fans in those seats.
If fans are looking for a foul ball from a particular player, the recorded foul balls showed some clear tendencies. For those hoping for a souvenir from Trey Mancini, Ryan Mountcastle or another right-handed batter, every tracked foul ball hit in this area from a righty landed amid the sections toward the first base side. In the Orioles’ April 15 doubleheader against the Seattle Mariners, five popups landed in sections 32 and 34 alone.
Likewise, those who want a part of Cedric Mullins’ torrid start to the season should sit on the portion of these sections closer to the third-base dugout, as most foul balls from left-handed hitters landed there.
In front of the press box:
Although parts of this area — sections 33, 35, 37 and 39 — are often reserved for guests of Orioles players, they routinely had to be on their toes. Another 21 foul balls landed here.
Unlike the field level, these terrace-level sections got a heavier dose of line drives, with some sharp hits sneaking over the netting and coming in hot.
The platoon splits in this area were not quite as clear-cut as they were closer to the field, but most foul balls that went into sections 33 and 35, the first-base side, came from right-handers and most into sections 37 and 39 came from lefties. Orioles shortstop Freddy Galvis, a switch-hitter batting left-handed at the time, was among those to provide a rare exception.
Near the press box:
Fans obviously can’t buy tickets to sit in the press box — which, amid some dodging, 10 foul balls were tracked as entering — but sitting adjacent to it might be the next best thing.
A combined 14 foul balls landed in the club-level sections on either side of the press box. Eight went to sections 222, 226, 228 and 230 on the first-base side — all hit by righties — with the other six — all hit by lefties — going to sections 242, 244, 246 and 248 on the third-base side.
These areas saw more of a mix of line drives and popups than the prior sections. Some even ended up as trinkets for those below, ricocheting off railings, empty seats and fans who wouldn’t quite complete a catch.
Another five foul balls went to sections 29, 31, 43 and 45, those on the terrace level near but not directly in front of the press box.
Down the first-base line:
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During the 10 games examined, right-handed batters had nearly twice as many at-bats as left-handed batters, so naturally, they also accounted for twice as many of the tracked foul balls, 69-34.
The opposite-field tendencies seen with the foul balls in other areas continued for those hit behind each teams’ dugouts and beyond them.
While only five foul balls were hit to the field level behind or beyond the third-base visitors’ dugout, there were 12 popped behind the Orioles’ dugout or down the first-base line. Only two landed in the sections directly behind the dugout, 22, 24 and 26, though nearby section 20 was popular by itself with four foul balls, all popups. Only two of the foul balls in this region, which stretched from section 8 in the right-field corner to the dugout, were line drives, and all but one were hit by righties.
Among the recorded foul balls was a Mullins drive against the Mariners that cleared all of these sections, reaching on Eutaw Street but not for a home run.
High levels behind the first-base dugout:
Trying to get a foul from behind the Orioles’ dugout was actually more effective on the higher levels than at the field level. Three tracked foul balls each went to the club-level (216, 218, 220) and upper-level sections (320, 322) behind the first-base dugout.
The balls needed some oomph to make it there, and half them were line drives, compared to an overall tally of 67 popups to 36 liners. All were hit by right-handed batters.
Only one other foul ball made it to the upper deck, landing in section 342.