On Monday night, Welke was working behind the plate in the Braves' 5-1 victory over the Twins at Turner Field. After one particular half-inning, he rolled a new ball out to the mound. It was standard operating procedure, because a clean ball always has to be waiting for the pitcher who takes the mound for the next half-inning. Either an ump or a fielder rolls it there.
Unbeknownst to Welke, it made a winner of Justin Hyatt, who was watching the game on TV with his girlfriend in Blue Ridge, Ga. Today's fans actually root for the umpire, because he can win them prizes.
"First off, it is really cool anytime you win a contest," Hyatt said in an email to MLB.com. "The best thing about Moundball is that it's simply luck! All you have to do is use #Moundball on Twitter during the game and hope for the umpire to deliver one. I watch every Braves game, so it is awesome that I won a prize for just watching a baseball game pretty much.
"I was watching the game with my girlfriend and tweeting about scoring plays and Moundball. I just remember getting the notification that I had won and I was pretty excited."
Introduced by Major League Baseball Advanced Media during the last postseason, Moundball has been a regular and sometimes prosperous fact of life for fans who follow the @MoundballMLB, @BravesMoundball, @RedsMoundball and @RoyalsMoundball accounts on Twitter.
This game is getting so big, in fact, it was even a center of attention during Internet Week in New York this past week. Scott's Lawn, which is partnering with MLB.com for the fourth year in a row, as MLB's Official Lawn Care Company, actually came out every day and manicured the makeshift diamond at the MLBAM area, so that IWNY vendors and guests could try their hand at rolling a ball from home plate to the mound. Thousands gave it a shot -- on real grass.
Doing it online is easy, and you can win prizes ranging from MLB.com Shop gift certificates or merchandise to free MLB.TV subscriptions to a pair of game tickets. Start by checking the Moundball schedule. They are twice a week on @MoundballMLB -- the ESPN game and usually an MLB Network game -- and each gameday for those three specific teams. Just tweet #Moundball and MLB.com will pick a winner whenever a ball is rolled into the dirt mound by someone after a half-inning.
If the ball stops on the grass, there is no winner. The pitcher wants that ball right there on the dirt when he walks out to the mound. That's how this game grants a winner, too.
It happens often, and you can even see the half-inning results on the MLB.com Moundball page. No matter what, a ball has to be waiting. Sometimes a first baseman will make a third-out putout and then toss a ball into the crowd, meaning the ump must roll a ball out toward the mound. Sometimes it will stop short or overshoot the mound. Sometimes a fielder will do the honors. We're watching, no matter what. And so are the fans.
On Tuesday night, Tony Nicol got a tweet from @MoundballMLB that read: "The W belongs to you!" Cha-ching, just for getting involved in an overlooked ballpark procedure.
"I honestly was watching the Orioles-Yankees game on mute while getting instructions on how to babysit my niece this weekend," Nicol said. "The ump made the toss while I was checking the score of the Tigers game and obsessing about Papa Grande [Jose Valverde]. Now I know how to win Moundball while learning how to babysit my niece for the weekend and complaining about the Tigers 'pen."
For Jason Gustafson, a Cubs fan in South Bend, Ind., a Moundball victory during Sunday's Tigers-Rangers game in Texas marked his second such score. He owed this one to home-plate umpire Phil Cuzzi, who has been in the middle of big MLB moments, but not until Moundball has controlled the fate of fans simply by the flick of his wrist.
"Winning Moundball was a shock to me, because you have so many people playing," Gustafson said. "To be picked to win was an awesome thing. The ump was Cuzzi. I won last year during the playoffs and won an official MLB baseball, which I got signed by [Alfonso] Soriano at a game at Wrigley. I will continue to play #MoundBall, because it is very fun."
Just ask everyone at Internet Week in New York and the Scott's grounds crew that made their attempts as realistic as possible. This is how we roll.