Paul Sullivan: From passing beers down the row to throwing back home-run balls, these new rules may be necessary when fans return to ballparks

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CHICAGO — For decades we’ve heard the familiar chant emanating from the Wrigley Field bleachers whenever a fan catches a home-run ball hit by the visiting team.

“Throw it back. Throw it back.”

It’s an unwritten rule that most bleacherites at Wrigley adhere to and that fans at a few other parks have adopted over the years. Those who refuse to throw the balls back are typically harassed until peer pressure forces them to conform.

Sadly, those days are probably over thanks to the coronavirus pandemic.

Because we won’t know whether your hands are clean, and no one wants you potentially spreading your germs to the player or employee who has to retrieve the ball once it has been thrown back onto the field, a new unwritten rule must be adopted.

“Keep it. Keep it.”

Major League Baseball announced an agreement with its players union last week concerning service time, draft rules and other issues pertaining to players. But we still don’t know when the game will return. Assuming fans eventually will be allowed into ballparks this year, some changes will have to be instituted to ensure the health and safety of players and fans alike.

Here are seven other rules we’d like to see enacted to help us feel safer at the ballpark.


1. Stop passing beers and hot dogs down the line.

Yes, it’s a fan-friendly thing to pass concessions from the vendor in the aisle to the fan in the middle of the row. Of course there’s always one wise guy during the procedure who pretends as though he will keep the beers before laughing at his joke and passing them down. And the fan who ordered them then has to pass down the money. Since this involves too many people touching things, we’re all better off going to the concession stands.

2. Turn off the old Comiskey Park shower at Guaranteed Rate Field.

Many fans used the center-field shower at old Comiskey back in the day to cool off under a hot sun. It was another of Bill Veeck’s great ideas, and the Sox later brought it over to new Comiskey and installed it in the left-field bleachers. As much as we love the idea of a shower at a ballpark in the summer, it’s not feasible to disinfect it after every fan uses it.

3. Close the Chase Field swimming pool.

In early March, the Miami Marlins announced the closing of the Clevelander Club beyond left field at Marlins Park, which featured a swimming pool, dancers and DJs. It had nothing to do with the pandemic but was simply part of a ballpark makeover. The only other major league park with a pool is Chase Field in Phoenix, which opened in 1998. As popular an attraction as a swimming pool is, Diamondbacks fans will have to watch the game without going for a dip.

4. Alter pregame dugout routines.

Over the last few years, players from almost every team have adopted personal pregame routines in the dugout with a separate set of hand or body gestures for different teammates. This is a lot of fun to watch and definitely should continue — just without the touching and high-fiving.

5. Man the exits of washrooms with health inspectors.

This shouldn’t be necessary, but we all know it is. Someone has to stand at the exit and say, “Go back and wash your hands, sir, or you’re not leaving.”

6. Enforce social distancing in the Miller Park Sausage Race.

7. Ban the spitball.

Oh, wait. Spitballs already are banned. No further action is necessary. Never mind.


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