Class Openers

Class Opener – Day 6 – Foul Balls

In today’s opener, the Cleveland Indians provide the hook:

The article from provides the math:

The odds are one in a thousand just to catch one foul ball at any give game, according to ESPN Stats & Information. So what are the odds of one person catching four at a single game?

A cool one in a trillion, or simply a great day in Cleveland.

Pretty long odds. Almost suspiciously long.

Digging deeper, we can find out where ESPN came up with their trillion odds (linked from


After students looked over this arguement, I asked them how many of them had caught foul balls at a baseball game before.  Where did they sit?

I was behind home plate.

I was near third base.

I was in the upper level near first base.

PNC parkFew people from the top sections, the outfield (where clearly a foul ball would not be an issue), and some other goofy sections ever have a chance at a foul ball.  This led to general agreement that some sections are “ideal” for catching foul balls, while others are not so great.  It appears that our Cleveland friend was probably sitting in one of the “hot” sections. The cool site IdealSeat provides heat maps for a number of MLB stadiums, showing you where to sit in order to optimize our chances of catching a baseball. Based on this evidence, is it safe to assume that the probability of catching a ball at a game is 1/1000? We agreed it was probably something lower, based on the lucky man’s seat location.

This is also a great time to talk about the multiplicationrule for independent events, where we agreed that the rule was (for the most part) applied correctly, though with some uneasiness.

I’ve reached the point where anytime probability or odds are quoted on the TV news or in a newspaper or magazine, I immediately am skeptical of the claim. I hope I transfer this desire to dig deeper to my classes.


By Bob Lochel

HS Math Teacher. Hatboro-Horsham School District, Horsham, PA.

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