It is baseball.
You can’t play the game without it. It gets abused so much during a game, yet it holds us all captive with the joy or disappointment it can bring. We watch its every move as it flies through the air. Pitcher to catcher, batter to fielder and fielder to fielder. The fascination of catching a foul ball or home run has always been something beyond the game for fans, evidenced by how many people (kids and adults) bring gloves to a game. It seems to have risen to a new level as fans fight for the chance to get one. There are so many happy faces when they get a ball and there are equally many more sad ones that will say: “Oh, I just missed getting it.”
Unfortunately, there are times when there are no happy faces such as what occurred during yesterday’s game at Yankee Stadium. A toddler was struck in the face with a line drive, foul ball off the bat of Todd Frazier. A terrible reminder of just how dangerous these missiles can be. Our hearts and prayers go out to that little girl and her family.
At the playoff game between the Long Island Ducks and the Somerset Patriots last night, I watched an older gentleman be not so gentlemanly, as he wrestled a ball from a twelve year old kid that was tossed in their direction by a player. He then stuffed it into a gym bag that looked to have a few more balls in it. Seeing that kid walk away disappointed was sad. But then a few minuets later I watched as three other kids celebrated in front of me, with hugs and smiles, as one of them got a ball tossed to them from a player. Alex Clark, a pitcher for the ten year old junior Ducks, and his friend and teammate, third baseman, Christopher Costa, told me that along with Chris’s younger sister Samantha, they each now have one ball apiece. You would have thought they had been given tickets to the World Series!
Then there are those people like Zack Hample, who, (by his own estimate) has amassed over ten thousand balls and has become famous for catching balls in the stands at numerous stadiums around the major leagues. At that Ducks’ game, eighteen year old Sean A. told me he has about two hundred and that he got his first one at eight years old, all at Ducks’ games.
There are stories of fans and foul balls that are legend. The “hands down” most famous incident involved Steve Bartman, during game six of the 2003 NLCS at Wrigley Field. Bartman was charged with interfering with a foul ball that may have been caught by Cubs left fielder Moises Alou. The Cubs went on to blow that game and game seven and Bartman was unfairly chastised for losing the series. The incident changed his life forever and he never even got the ball. And what Yankee fan can forget 12-year old Jeffrey Maier (interfering?) during game1 of the 1996 ALCS between the Yankees and the Orioles. Umpire Rich Garcia called it a home run and it may have altered the whole series.
The ball was the real culprit in both of those legendary events. It’s mere presence in the sky headed towards a fan puts them in a trance, where they hear nothing and only think about it’s impending flight to them. They will have forgotten everything about the game and focus on that ball headed their way. They realize it is getting faster and faster as it gets closer and closer. The only thing that matters is “to get that ball.” Then, it happens. It is in their hand, it feels so nice that they don’t care (temporarily, anyway) about the pain from a thing that has traveled 95 mph into their soft hand. It is the single most feeling of joy, for anyone who has ever gotten one at a game, even if they don’t like baseball that much.
That ball in the stands is such a big part of this game of baseball. Sometimes we see an opposing player hit a home run into the seats and then hear the crowd cheer as it is thrown back onto the field. One time I saw in amazement the ball boy retrieve one thrown back and casually toss it to a kid in the first row behind him. Bet that fan with the swollen hand in the bleachers felt stupid. Alex and Christopher could care less that their ball was tossed to them from the visiting team. I bet it will be the topic of conversation between these two boys for a long time. It is something that will bind them forever. Ahh, that orb called a baseball, it takes on a life of it’s own.