An issue arose about five days ago that has been circulating the blogwaves that I want to touch on. Since it's been an off-day for the Tigers and Red Wings, I felt like today would be a good day to address it.
Last Thursday in Milwaukee, a Brewers fan caught a home run ball off the bat of Marlins' rookie, Chris Coghlan.
Loddy frickin' da, right?
Welp, this wasn't your ordinary home run ball. It was Chris Coghlan's first career home run and, naturally, he wanted it back as a momento. Unfortunately for him, the ball landed in the glove of Nick Yohanek, or as Brewer's announcer Bill Schroeder first called him in 1999, "The Happy Youngster." According to Nick's blog, he has hauled in roughly 49 home run balls since 1999, has collected "more balls than he can count," and compares his hobby of ballhawking to drug and alcohol addictions. In the words of Chip Douglas in The Cable Guy, "obsess much?"
I first heard about this story a few days ago and brushed it off until today, when Ian Casselberry at Bless You Boys, my go-to Tigers website, brought it up again in the preface to BYB's Off-day Open Thread. Essentially, Marlins officials tried to retrieve the ball from Yohanek, but he refused to give it up without receiving a few things in return (a signed bat and ball from Coghlan that acknowledged Nick caught his first home run ball and thanked him for doing so, a photo with him, and, to top it all off, a Hanley Ramirez bat). And so this whole sleezy ordeal begins.
Anyway, a fellow Tigers fan posted Nick's MLBlog link with his side of the story, so I ventured over to read it (it has since been deleted presumably because of all the harassment he's receiving over all this). Before reading, I made an agreement with myself to keep an open mind and give a fair chance to both sides (Nick and the Marlins) in determining who I thought was right and what I would have done if I were in his shoes. After all, I read the "youngsters" side of the story before reading any other in depth take on the situation, so you'd think I'd probably lean his way on the matter after reading his side of the story. Well, after reading everything he had to say I could not possibly side with "The Happy Youngster" on this one. The following is a polished version of a post I left on BYB's comments. I did some more research on "The Happy Youngster" and made changes as my opinion on the matter has grown a lot stronger. I also added some thoughts at the end.
First and foremost, I want to address this guy's fandom. He claims to be the biggest Brewers fan in the world. In fact, he claims Brewers media has tabbed him as the Brewers No. 1 fan. Yet, I watched a video of him at a Brewers game reaching over the fence and snagging a ball off the bat of a Houston Astros hitter. Not only did he turn a potential double into a home run against his Brewers team, he celebrated the catch like a kid on Christmas morning who just got that sick ass Schwinn he's always wanted. Doesn't sound like a true fan to me. I understand getting a ball is exciting, but a true fan doesn't do that to his team. In fact, John Mapplethorpe had a chance to grab a ball from over the wall at a Tigers game, but held back from grabbing it (and giving Pudge Rodriguez a ground rule double) for fear he would take away a potential triple (and that he would get kicked out and miss the rest of his team's game). That's a true fan, not cheering when the other team is winning, like so:
Furthermore, Nick Yohanek, a married man, went to the ball park with his buddy, Dino in custom made t-shirts (glove + ball = smiley face), with their gloves like a couple of kids, and swap their Brewers hats with the opposing team’s just to dupe their way into getting more baseballs. To me a die-hard fan doesn’t do this. To me, he’s already being unreasonable and we haven’t even gotten to this whole ball exchange hoopla. Whether he's truly a die-hard Brewers fan or not might not be that big of a deal, but it certainly doesn’t help his case when trying to argue that he’s being a reasonable person by making a reasonable request in exchange for the baseball.
At first, my main problem with his requests was that he raised the stakes (especially after being denied a Hanley Ramirez bat). In his blog all he mentions at first is wanting a signed bat and ball from Coghlan. Then brings up how he wanted to meet with him and have a photo taken with him. Then he brings up his request for a Hanley bat and after that he was denied that, he jumps to wanting tickets to an entire series.
How is this reasonable?
Even a homeless person knows upping a request is not reasonable. You never hear a homeless guy around Comerica Park asking for a five dollar bill after you tell him you don't have any spare change. It’s just not reasonable to ask for tickets after being denied a bat.
I agree that an organization should be prepared to give out a replacement ball or even a bat from the player to the fan for a nice gesture of returning a home run ball. After all, property law says a ball batted into the stands is now the property of the fan and he has no obligation of returning it--Nick knows this as he stressed to Coghlan that he worked in law enforcement and Coghlan replied, "good for you"-- but Hanley Ramirez had nothing to do with this exchange. I realize he’s the star of the team and a Hanley bat is more valuable to him than some rookie who just hit his first big league home run, but asking for a bat from both, and then tickets after being denied one of the bats, is asking a little much.
I understand the thrill involved when getting a ball from someone or catching a foul ball. Personally, I get my rocks off (amongst other things) on telling people the stories and having the personal memory. I don’t need the actual ball. You can freaking buy MLB balls and rub Mississippi mud on them to make them look game worn, so it’s not a huge deal to have one, especially when you're in your twenties. I‘ve gotten four balls in my life attending games (that I distinctly remember), three of them coming off the bats of players (Darrin Fletcher, Magglio Ordonez, and Curtis Granderson). (One was actually after the long ass rain delay against St. Louis last summer. You can see me on TV reaching over a seat to snag Granderson’s foul ball before some middle aged man wearing a glove could. You then see me handing it to my dad. If you have MLB.tv and remember that game you can go back and watch it. I even remember that it happens around the 50 second mark in the 6th or 7th inning. See, I don’t need the ball to tell the story and have the memory forever.)
I would have absolutely no problem giving some MLB’er his first home run ball in exchange for the memory alone. If that's not enough for wackos like Nick, I think a picture, and maybe a bat, from the player who hit it would be fair compensation. However, in my opinion, going outside of that player and making ridiculous demands such as a Hanley bat (which could be sold on Ebay for way more than Coghlan's home run ball anyway) and tickets to a series is totally unreasonable.
After searching around on the internet for more information on Nick Yohanek, I've come to the realization that he's not only being completely unreasonable, but I think I hate him. This is a guy who absolutely loves the limelight. After being tabbed as a "happy youngster" who caught a home run ball back in 1999, he came to the ballpark the next year with a t-shirt he made for himself that said "The Happy Youngster." In that same game I mentioned earlier where he stole a ball from his beloved Brewers' left fielder, he caught a second home run ball and proceeded to do his best, way overboard, Bill Gramatica celebration. He jumped up and down pumping his fists and pointing to his t-shirt over and over again. He didn't stop there. He actually took off his shirt so he could hold it up to the cameras and point out the lettering on the front. While doing so, he revealed his little extra brown sugar covered belly, which was hardly a sight for sore eyes. I vomitted in my mouth a little. In this Coghlan game, Nick went around the ballpark speaking with various stadium officials to discuss "negotiations" and "the exchange." Nick even spoke with the Marlins psychologist, which to me sounds completely fitting.
If you're day job is so freaking awesome, awesome enough to assure Coghlan that you have an "honest job," why the hell do you have to resort to hawking baseballs and making a huge deal about it when a rookie wants his first career home run ball back to give to his mom? Nick has made such a big deal out of himself, it's sickening.
What really sealed the deal for me was the video (below) I pulled from happyyoungster.com, Nick's website dedicated to memorializing all the balls he has in his collection (Ironically, his latest victim before Coghlan, was Miguel Cabrera--I guess he travels, too). In this video you can see what I, and plenty of Brewers bloggers, have been saying.
In fact, a Brewers blogger probably says it best:
“The Happy Youngster” makes me sick. This guy is pathetic, greedy and delusional to think his novelty “celebrity” is anything more than a hokey gimmick. Grow up, guy. Give foul and non-milestone homerun balls to kids instead of hoarding them for your stupid collection/obsession that somehow validates your life. Kids grow up imagining hitting a big league homer. This guy was fortunate enough to do it, and you wedged your dorky head and unjustifably inflated ego into his moment to - what? - score a few tickets and a signed bat. Eat shit, geek.
Overcoming drug and alcohol addictions is more possible with the help of drug treatment professionals.