Posted: Monday May 22, 2006 4:09PM; Updated: Monday May 22, 2006 4:46PM
All of us in the luxury box were taking turns going and sitting in the front row, and in the fifth inning Sam and I got our chance. We went on down, and just before Texas pitcher John Koronka took the hill in the bottom of the fifth, I noticed a little sign posted in front of me that read "BE ALERT -- FOUL BALLS." We were so close that it was a little unsettling. I took about a dozen pictures with my camera phone, in case I never get that close again.
Before we knew it, the comforting, strangulated tones of Bob Shepard announced over the Yankees PA system: "Now batting, the shortstop, Number 13 ... Alex ... Rodriguez."
A-Rod stepped in, Koronka started him with an inside fastball and A-Rod pulled it hard, foul. The ball bounced foul about five feet in front of him, and began coming toward us in the third base stands. I thought the ball was going to bounce a second time and then smack into the wall in front of us, and I briefly thought about standing up and leaning over the wall to try and grab the ball.
The next thing I knew, the ball hit a second time and spun right toward our heads, bouncing higher than it had the first time. Before we could act, we had to react: the ball shot over the wall, still on the upward jolt of its parabola. Sam dove to his left, I dove to my right. And at the last second, I figured I'd go for it. I took a final glimpse and blindly raised my left hand.
Baseball met skin, flesh, bone and cartilage, striking the base of my left hand. Hard. My wrist flew backward. My head was cradled in my right arm -- in something like a crash safety position -- so I wasn't sure exactly what was going on, except I knew that I did not have the ball. As I became more certain that I'd avoided any blunt head trauma and started sitting up, I looked left and saw a flash of ivory somewhere between Sam and me. I plunged my left hand down and somewhere in between us found the baseball, resting innocuously between Sam's ribs and the armrest.
I've been to about 200 baseball games in my life, and this was the first foul ball I'd caught. You do a lot of strange things when you catch a foul ball, things unplanned and, no matter how cool you're trying to look, things that just seem to happen. I wasn't sure what my reaction should be. I looked at Sam and we were both wide-eyed, like a couple of kids. "Hold it up!" Sam said. I thrust it skyward, and a subdued cheer went up from the crowd. For reasons neither of us recall, Sam and I punctuated this with a high five. The last time I gave someone a high five might have been playing intramural sports in college, I realized; still, it seemed to fit the spirit of the moment.
A few pitches later, A-Rod ripped a double off the center field wall. The crowd erupted, but Sam and I were engrossed, breaking down an instant replay in our minds, millisecond-by-millisecond. We had myriad questions:
1. Did we look like a couple of girls diving away from the ball? 2. Surely everyone in the Stadium knew that ball was coming as hard as it was, right? 3. Thank God it was a Yankees player so we didn't have to throw it back. 4. That whole thing just really happened, right? 5. And most important, why did we high-five afterward?
It was about this time I looked down and noticed a red, baseball-sized lump bubbling forth on my left wrist. I'd knocked the ball down and in the process sacrificed my wrist. There was even a series of bloody scrapes where the laces on the ball had chewed up my skin, like a carpet burn. Nothing was broken, but it hurt pretty good.
Almost one week later and the bruise is gone and the wrist mostly back to normal. Three or four minuscule scabs remain from my lace laceration, and even the scabs are trying their best to heal up and move on. The moment is over, but I still have the ball, the one thing they'll never take away from me.
Just looking at the ball, it's impossible to tell if I made an incredible one-handed grab or maybe just snagged a loose foul that ricocheted around the outfield stands and came to rest on a row of empty seats. But I know that I made the play, and now, oddly, Alex Rodriguez, who I never cared for before, will forever be a player I keep an eye on.
Tyler Snyder has said he's looking to sell Bonds' home run ball. My ball doesn't have near the same value. But I'm hanging on to this one. Forever.
Game of the Week
Couldn't find a foul-ball-catching game, but this online putt-putt challenge game is pretty engrossing. I was trying to finish this column when I was challenged by someone named "VMP," whom I quickly vanquished.