In the bottom of the second inning of the Cubs’ 1–0 win over the Dodgers at Wrigley Field on Tuesday night, Jason Hammel hit a foul ball down the first-base line that was caught at the edge of the stands by a father holding his infant son. It was the latest example of what seems to be a growing phenomenon in baseball this decade: the baby catch. Looking through MLB.com’s video archives, I found 18 other baby catches dating back to 2009, including five from last year; Tuesday night’s catch was already the third of this season.
The increasing number of ballpark cameras, the growth of viral video and social media, the increasing role fathers are taking in the hands-on parenting of their children (though there have been baby catches by moms, as well), and simple copycatting have each likely played a role in the emergence of the baby catch. Whatever the reason, we have a surprising collection of baby catches to sort through, so I thought I’d do what any responsible journalist would: rank them.
As the stay-at-home father of a six-year-old, I know a thing or two about trying to get things done while holding a baby. It’s not just that you have one hand full; it’s that it's full with a fairly heavy, squishy, often squirmy living thing that you have to keep out of harm’s way. That baby is also blocking your view of the foot on that side of your body, making it all the more likely that you’re going to fall if you try to move. In other words, I have considerable respect for the difficulty of all of these catches, all of which were one-handed.
That said, baby catches aren’t always a good idea. There’s the little issue of child endangerment, of course. Then there’s Tuesday night’s Cubs fan, who reached onto the field of play to steal the ball out of the waiting glove of Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez. Though impressive on first glance—as the father was holding his seven-month-old son and doing a one-handed bottle feed as he made the catch—I’m disqualifying the catch entirely as he interfered with a live ball (indeed Hammel was ruled out after replay review).
Here, then, are the top 10 legal baby catches in major league stadiums over the last five years.
1. July 2, 2012: Atlanta
This would have been an impressive catch even without the baby, as this Braves fan has to reach back behind his seat and contend with another fan in a far better position who actually made contact with the ball first—the fan had to stay with the play for an extra beat after the deflection. Indeed, if you watch closely, you see the fan with the baby doesn’t make the catch on his initial reach but actually grabs the ball with a swooping motion as it falls. You know you made a good catch when Andrelton Simmons is impressed.
2. Sept. 8, 2013: San Francisco
Of the five baby catches I found that took place at AT&T Park, this was the best. This fan isn’t just holding a baby; he’s holding a baby and a lunch box on the same arm and nearly topples over the seats in front of him. Nonetheless, he makes the catch with his right hand, then stops his fall without dropping the baby or the lunch box. Of the 11 catches on this list, this one came the closest to injuring the baby involved. But as the dad maxim goes: “No harm, no foul.”
3. July 29, 2009: Phoenix
The earliest baby catch I found was also one of the best. This fan is holding a toddler, not a baby, and is using his right arm to support the child’s full weight with the kid facing away from him. To make the catch, he has to reach up and behind him, bracing himself on the back of his seat to take the ball out of the row behind him. I’m not sure whether or not to award bonus points for the fact that the kid is holding a jumbo soda, but it adds a nice aesthetic element.
4. Aug. 10, 2011: Chicago
The one-handed bottle feed by the Cubs fan on Tuesday night was showy, but this squirmy-baby catch by a Cubs fan four years ago was impressive. In nearly every one of these catches, the child being held is sitting quietly somewhere between sleep, boredom, and being frozen with shock at the events transpiring. This dad, however, had to deal with a squirmy kid sprawled out over his chest. Only parents can appreciate just how difficult a squirmy baby makes even the simplest of tasks.
5. Sept. 29, 2010: Cleveland
This catch came on a soft rebound off the seats behind the fan in question, but it still qualifies as a high degree of difficulty because it was actually made over the front of one of the seating decks at Cleveland’s Progressive Field. Again, this was a high level of endangerment that made me think twice about such a high ranking, but again: no harm, no foul.
6. May 15, 2014: San Francisco
Everything about this catch looked easy—it was made in a tunnel leading to AT&T Park's concourses with virtually no obstacles or other fans around, on solid footing, and the ball went right to the fan holding the child. But it was also the only ball on this list caught in fair territory. Making a one-handed catch of a Troy Tulowitzki home run is difficult enough. Doing it while holding a child on Father’s Day makes this a top-five catch no matter how easy it looked.
7. April 10, 2011: Arizona
This is your run-of-the mill baby catch, as the father makes a one-handed catch of a foul ball off the bat. He had to reach a little, but he was never off balance, didn’t have to move his feet, and the kid just sat there. Well done, but not top-five material.
8. June 21, 2015: Oakland
This was the one baby catch made by a mom at a major league game that I could find and it happened on Father’s Day, just two days before the bottle-feeding catch at Wrigley last night. It ranks this low only because the ball wasn’t caught directly off the bat; it ricocheted off the hands of several other fans before it got to this A’s fan. She still needed quick reflexes and good hands to make the catch, but those ricochets took some of the sting out of the ball.
9. June 14, 2014: San Francisco
Here’s a run-of-the-mill baby catch without the need for the reach or quick reflexes of the previous two.
10. Aug. 15, 2012: Anaheim
Here’s another ricochet catch, but one that was even softer. This Angels fan caught this ball after it hit the front of the seating deck above him: The result was similar to catching a pop-up. Also, he’s not holding a limp or squirming baby, but a toddler, who may be heavier but who is also holding on to him.