It’s still baseball season, and what’s more Detroit has PENNANT FEVER! A good barometer of that in our house was that recently the Bride wanted us to drive to Chicago to see a friend of ours performing in a show. My first thought was not about the beautiful buildings or the shopping or sightseeing. It was “Why would I want to go to where the White Sox play?” I got over it. We had fun.
Anyway, I’ve often thought, “what’s the best souvenir to bring home after seeing a ballgame?” A program with everyone’s name on it? An autograph, maybe? A stuffed animal? A giant foam finger? I was going to go sappy and say, “Happy Memories”, but blah blah blah...
No, I think the best souvenir has to be the object that symbolizes the game itself: A baseball. A game ball – one actually used in the contest. Whether it is a homerun or a foul ball, that’s the best souvenir. True, now-a-days you can buy the used bases right off of the field or even the pitcher’s rosin bag from a game, (Doesn’t everyone need a rosin bag?) but there’s nothing like catching a ball in the stands.
It’s happened to me only once, out of all the games I’ve been to in forty-plus years. That is if you don’t count Spring Training. The stadiums in Florida (where I visit my oldest brother) only have one level – there’s no upper deck. So, with a little luck and good timing, you can leave the game for an inning or so and pick up a ball that is fouled back, right out of the park.
On one occasion, at Joker Marchant Stadium, where the Tigers train, my brother and I set up a system. He was posted on a post. That is, he stood on a post where he could see inside and watch the pitcher throw the ball. I’d stare at him until he’d make the pitching motion, then I’d look skyward and see if there was a ball coming toward me. We timed it right and there was a brilliant orb flying over the stands. There were other ball-seekers there that day, so I had to move quickly. I sprinted toward the area of a parking lot that was being renovated for a future car dealership, I was only a few feet away from grabbing up the ball, when suddenly I was pulled off my feet! It seems they had roped off the area with a nice yellow rope that was perfectly camouflaged with the grass. Once I came to, I picked up the ball, but I was seeing stars for the rest of the day.
But a ball from a “real” game. That’s extra special.
I remember as a teenager, walking out of Tiger Stadium with the game still going (yeah, obviously I wasn’t driving or we wouldn’t have left early). We were walking on the sidewalk of a busy Michigan Avenue, and I vividly remember this brilliant white ball flying over the roof and bouncing in the middle of the street. I immediately threw my friend into the street – Let’s go! But someone else got it. And I’m pretty sure that by now my friend has forgiven me for throwing him into traffic.
This month, my good friend and co-worker Kim was given four tickets to a Tiger game. She had an extra, and I was lucky enough to have all my chores done at home and nothing going on that evening. These were great seats, close enough to see what brand of gum Miguel Cabrera was chewing.
During the course of the evening, three foul balls landed within about 20 feet from us. I was telling Kim to “dive for those!” Tigers’ catcher Alex Avila sent one in our direction that I had a bead on the whole way. My little league skills from Kerby Field were flooding back as I was about to make the play. However, it landed two seats over and two seats back. If it wasn’t so crowded, I would’ve dived.
I yelled to Kim, “You get us these great free tickets in row eight. But no! You couldn’t get them in row ten, could you?!” She laughed. It would’ve landed in her lap.
There are a lot of things that people don’t think about when a ball goes into the stands, not the least of which is medical attention, but I’ll skip that. Sometimes there’s the pressure of the crowd chanting for you -- the guy who just had the highlight of his summer by catching a homerun ball -- but it was hit by the other team. They are chanting for you to “THROW IT BACK! THROW IT BACK!” Good heavens. If I know I’m going to be sitting in the outfield, in homerun territory, I bring a ball from little league to throw back, just in case.
Then there’s the biggest controversy: What do you do if there’s a little kid around?
On the one hand, renting a little kid for a day is a good way to get a ballplayer to toss you a ball. They love the kids. After the third out of the inning, an outfielder might see a cute little one wearing his team’s jersey and toss him or her the ball. Sweet. Getting it from the kid, that’s tough. Now, I have two kids of my own. But they’re not that little any more. Have I missed that window of opportunity? They’re still cute: “Miguel! How about one for the 15 year-old!? Sure he’s taller than you, but he’s a fan!” Yeah, I dunno.
But what about actually catching a ball. Exposing life and limb to snag the spherical prize only to hear, “Aww, you gotta give it to that little kid!” “What, are you nuts!? All my life I’ve been waiting for this moment!” Yeah, I don’t want to sit near any darn cute kids.
Anyway, it actually did happen perfectly for me once. Back in old Tiger Stadium, after an uncountable number of games, we were sitting in the upper deck behind home plate – not our real seats. We couldn’t afford these seats. The guy sitting in front of us left to go get a hotdog, clearing the way. The Minnesota pitcher threw a pitch to Tiger Brian Hunter, he swings and sends a foul ball toward us. It majestically parts the clouds, the angels are singing, the Earth stops spinning for one brief moment and … BAM! Right into my glove! YES! The crowd even clapped for me. Terry, my brother-in-law was sitting next to me. He successfully resisted the urge to knock me down to steal it – he admitted that he actually thought about it. He was ready to take it if I miss-played it. Fair enough.
Finally, it was *me* who was in the right seat -- I'm usually one section over. *I* was the guy who remembered to bring his baseball glove -- I had a ball spin out of my bare hands once. This time, *I* was the guy who was ready and was not sipping a drink or eating a hot dog -- like the time I threw my hot dog on the guy two rows in front of me when a ball came near. There were no errors this time. I held on and squeezed. Success! And to top it off, about ninety seconds later, the proper owners of the seats arrived and bumped us down the row. Whoa. Perfect timing, for once.
Section 424, Row E, Seat 3. Yeah, I remember the seat numbers. No, that’s not odd. That just shows you what it means to a fan to catch a foul ball. I have a couple other autographed baseballs, but this one remains one of my favorites. This dirty, scuffed, major league baseball...that I caught at a game. Neat souvenir, eh?