When we were kids we went to the ballpark with our gloves on hoping that lightening would strike and we’d catch a baseball. What a delicious prospect – to see a game and get a fabulous free souvenir, ours to cherish. And on occasion it happened, if not to us then to a buddy sitting alongside. It felt almost as good. At hockey games that chance for a lucky catch also was there. Of course you could keep the ball or the puck. As a spectator you were entitled to go home with this treasure. Was it generosity or just good public relations? Maybe it was simply too difficult or time consuming to get them back. Such of course is not the case with a basketball. Should you by chance be sitting near courtside and a loose ball alights on your lap there’s no way you’re going to make off with it. Your reward? Simply the opportunity to throw it back into the game or the privilege of handing it to one of the players (enjoying at the same time a fleeting appearance on the TV screen). In a football game forget about catching the pigskin. Nets have in recent years been drawn up behind the goalposts to snare balls sent flying past the uprights for extra points or field goals. And in golf, a ball off course and heading into the gallery must, at all costs, not be touched.
So what’s the difference between pucks and baseballs and basketballs and footballs? The former are small, the latter big. More to the point, baseballs and pucks are relatively inexpensive, not so basketballs and footballs. No matter that professional sports operate well in the black, no need to be profligate. OK, but how then explain tennis balls? They’re small, don’t cost very much, still fans are expected to and nearly always throw them back. Could it be the upscale crowds at matches find it inconvenient to cram balls into the pockets of tailored trousers, or is it that these folks are above such petty acquisitiveness?