Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Allure of the Olde Game Ball - An Update

About two years ago, I blogged at my old site about the allure of snagging a baseball from a ballpark. Last night, I had a dream come true by catching a foul ball. What follows is an update of that post, plus a new chronicle of last night’s story.

I love going to baseball games. I live in Baltimore so I have ample opportunity to see the Orioles play at Camden Yards. One benefit to having the hometown team suck is that you can always get walkup tickets. I love when I can get up one Saturday or Sunday morning, see the bright sunshine and decide, “Gee, I’d like to go the game today.

There's just something about being there for the game, and I'm not talking about the beer. I mean, it's great be at any sporting event, but actually attending a baseball game makes up for how boring the game can be. A lot of that has to do with the ever-present danger that goes along with attending baseball games, and by that, I mean getting drilled with a ball.

It's been my childhood dream to get a ball... home run, foul ball, whatever... just to be the guy who thrusts it up to the sky and soaks in the smattering of applause from the crowd. I've been to more than 75 baseball games, including the major and minor leagues, and I've barely gotten a sniff before. Well, maybe there was one...

A couple years ago I was at a game with my sister and brother-in-law, in some very sweet seats in the first row, about 12 seats in from the foul pole. Jim Thome of the Phillies cracked a long fly ball right at us and as I tracked it's arc, I said, "nahhh, not gonna make it, not far enough," and remained sitting and I was exactly right, it didn't fly over the wall. However it did hit the rubberized warning track and boiiiiiing... bounced right up to us. The guy 2 seats down from me plucked it easily. Me? By the time it registered that this was the chance I'd been waiting for and stood up, the guy was already sitting back down with the ball. I was a solid 2 seconds behind in reacting, as the TV replays clearly showed. I looked like a guy going the wrong way on the Electric Slide.

See, that's exactly how I want my ball... on a nice soft bounce. I want a ball, don't get me wrong, but I think I'll pass on the broken hand. Let it bounce off the steps, or the upper deck facing, or someone else's head, I don't care. I have to be able to type in the morning.

I have a lot of respect for those dudes who actually pull off the barehanded catch. It should be a Man Rule that anyone who bare-hands a ball on the fly gets a warm round of applause from the other men. He earned it. Catching one with a glove does not impress me... I consider that cheating. The world is full of people who can catch a ball with a glove. But either way he should keep the ball. I'm not down with handing the ball to some kid, no-sirree. Let them earn it. They can go scramble for those balls that wind up under the seats. Believe you me; should I ever wind up with a game ball in my hand, it's going home with me. Maybe I'll bequeath it to a beloved niece or nephew, but not until it's been properly aged on one of my shelves. No good comes from handing the ball to the kid. At best, he'll be using it to play in the street until the seams burst. At worst, well, let me tell you what I saw at an Orioles game in 2006.

I was enjoying a game from some nice seats 10 rows behind home plate. The batter popped a foul ball that landed all the way at the back of the lower bowl. A guy came down with the ball... I don't remember if it was on the fly or bounce... anyway, he raises it over his head, then gallantly hands it to the boy standing beside him, who immediately hurls the ball back toward the field! Had that little ingrate been with me, the ball wouldn't have been the only thing hurled toward the field. I know sometimes people throw back home run balls hit by the visiting team, but it wasn't even a home run, just a simple foul ball. I don't know what's up with these kids anymore. I blame rap music and wearing pants with your underwear sticking out. Anyway, with the crowd chanting at him, the poor slob that grabbed the thrown ball had no choice but to toss it back. Once the guy had it back, I'm pretty sure he pocketed that baby for the rest of the game.

At least there was some honor shown by the second guy. There's something about getting these balls... maybe it's the allure of "something for nothing", that makes people go crazy. Once, out in the left field seats during batting practice, one little kid standing along the wall by himself asked an outfielder for a ball. The player tossed one up to the kid, but just then, some college-aged kid reaches over the first kid and snatches the throw. Everyone just kind of stood there aghast, including the player. He yelled up to give the ball back to the little kid. So the college kid promptly... turned and ran up the aisle and out. Unbelievable. I wish I'd have been sitting on the aisle, so I could have reached out and tripped him. Of course, by the time I would have reacted, two seconds would have gone by, the college kid would have passed, and I'd have tripped the little kid. File that under "I'll give you something to cry about..."

Eventually the player threw the kid another ball. But I'm surprised they throw them up at all. Have you ever heard the noise when a player ventures near a wall before the game... It's deafening... It's a high-pitched chorus of "Gimmeeeeeeeeeeeeeee", emanating from a permanent mob of 50 kids, and it never ends. I know they get paid a lot of money, but if I had to listen to that every day for 6 months, I'd spend a lot of time hiding in the clubhouse too.

Kids will screw with you just on principle. A couple years ago, I went to a Toledo Mud Hens minor league game with my friend Rik, his wife and three kids. The seats weren’t together; 4 were in the first row of the upper deck, and 2 were a couple of rows behind the dugout. Doing the only fair thing, Rik and I sat behind the dugout, and exiled the rest to the upper deck. (In all fairness, this was a small park, and their “upper deck” was only as high as most big league “club level” seats, and much closer to the field.)

So Rik and I are kickin’ it and enjoying the game when a batter hits a pop foul over to our side. As the ball nears the upper deck, we look up and see one gloved hand reach out and snag it. Then we notice that the glove is on a hand that belongs to Rik’s daughter Kia, who holds the ball up for us to see. There’s karma for you. I wonder if she lets her dad play with it…

Which brings me to last night…

I was at the game by myself, sitting about 8 rows from the field, half way between first base and the outfield wall. The
Orioles were playing the Washington Nationals, which is a regional rivalry, so there was a pretty good crowd of 39,633, although the 3 rows in front of me were about empty. I’d been thinking about moving up 3 rows until a couple 4 rows up moved back one to give themselves more room.

Someone hit a screaming line drive that looked like it was coming right at us. Luckily it landed about 4 rows up and 6 seats to my right. I wanted to say to the row behind me, “If anything like that comes in here, don’t be looking for me to be in the way; I’m getting the hell out of Dodge.”

So about the 6th inning, I went for a pee and another beer. When I came back, I moved up one row, just for the hell of it. Up to bat comes
Ronnie Belliard of the Nationals, their diminutive 2nd baseman. (Seriously, the dude’s 5’8”.) He promptly sent a pop foul our way.

I was sitting there watching it, thinking, “nope, not gonna make the seats,” and remained seated. Then it hit the rubberized perimeter track. “Boiiiiiiiing!” Déjà vu.

This time, I stood up immediately as the ball bounced right up to me. I snatched it as easily as picking an apple off a tree.

Whoooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!

I held it up briefly then sat back down in a hurry. There’s no hamming it up when you catch one on the bounce. But nevertheless, I had my first game ball.
The people in the row behind me were like, “Man, you just moved there and it came right to you!”

I said it must have been good Karma and that I’d never been close to one before. (I decided this wasn’t the time or place for the Jim Thome story.) I then apologized to the 15-year old boy sitting two seats down. Ball would have been his if I wasn’t there. I hadn’t really even noticed him… I just reached up high when the ball came.

So I said, “Sorry about that, but hey, you’re young. You’ll get another chance.” He was gracious about it, which is rare. 15-year old boys are not often gracious about anything.

So that’s that. I get to check off one thing from my lifelong “To Do Before I Die” list. Game ball… caught.

Next up: My Academy Award!
All pictures courtesy of ME!

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