Some are good. Some are bad. You mostly hear bad stuff because it's natural for people to complain about things they don't like. For instance, to use your playing catch example, in those communities that don't object, you'd never hear anyone say: "This is a great community. The HOA permits me to play catch with my son." On the other hand, in those areas where it's not allowed, you're far more likely to hear: "This is lousy. The HOA won't even allow me to play catch with my son."
Understand, too, that there are the written regulations and then there are the ways those regulations are enforced. Sometimes, frankly, they aren't enforced all that well. Where I live, there are restrictions against being too noisy. But the HOA refuses to enforce that.
The advice below is good: First, get a copy of the regulations. Assume that they all will be strictly enforced. (Again, maybe they won't be, but if they're written down, the HOA certainly has the right to enforce them.) So: Are there any deal-killers in there? If not, then talk to the people in the community. Seriously. Go by one Saturday afternoon and just talk to the people. Ask them what it's like to live there. Based on that, you'll be in a much better position to make a decision.
Hope that helps.