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HOLMBERG: The art of shagging at The Diamond

RICHMOND, Va (WTVR)- The back parking lot at the Diamond in Richmond is the site of a strange, somewhat competitive ritual that goes on at virtually every pro baseball park in the land.

It’s called shagging, and it’s a lot like fishing.

You watch and you wait as the teams take turns at batting practice.

“You can tell by the way the flags are flying. We always look at the flags,” said longtime shagger Jonathan Dunham, whose collection is  approaching the 1,000 ball mark.

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Wednesday afternoon, the flags were flying southwesterly, perfect for center field and right field homers.

You’re try to anticipate where the next home run is coming because you have to outfox the other shaggers as you wait for the next $5 treasure to fall from the sky.

“We have a friendly competition,” Dunham said. “Every once in a while we get excited and . . .  there’s a little rut and shuffle for the ball, but a lot of times we respect our positions.”

But mainly you wait, listening for a sharp crack of the bat, scanning the space above the tall fences for the telltale site of a well-hit ball.

“In my 23 years of minor league baseball,” said Flying Squirrel’s General Manager Todd “Parney” Parnell, “the things I’ve seen people do to get a baseball is amazing . . . everywhere that I’ve worked and everywhere I’ve been you have people that chase autographs and people that chase balls. It’s part of the baseball lore. It’s part of what goes on with ballparks.”

Parney says he doesn’t mind the collectors chasing homers and foul balls in the parking lots. It’s all part of the 7,300 or so baseballs the team uses or gives away each season. He said “we’re in the memory business” and baseball collectors are part of that.

It takes all kinds, all ages. Little James Van Horn the third came with his granddaddy Wednesday to shag some balls so they could get the special-guest mascot, the Phillie Phanatic, to sign it during the game. The youngster wound up with three balls, with a little help from his grandfather and the other shaggers.

It’s part of the code. Children and the disabled get priority.

A true shagger can read a baseball like tea leaves. Dunham looked at one of the seven balls he collected Wednesday, counting the bat marks. Another, he could tell, was from the Squirrels inaugural season.

And he said you can get a feel for the way the game will go by which team’s batting practice is shagalicious, he said as the batting practice ended and fans started flocking into the Diamond.

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