Snaring a foul
ball is among a baseball fan's fondest dreams. From the 8-year-old who holds up
his mitt and implores each batter to "hit one over here," to the
businessman in the three-piece suit whose season box is deductible, to the
little old lady with the home-team jacket and cap, there is hardly a fan who
wouldn't love to go home with a major league baseball as a souvenir.
In the 35 years
I've been going to ball games, I've witnessed all manner of catches and misses
by people in the stands. The classiest catch I've ever seen was made by a
fellow who was returning to his seat in the first row of the second deck behind
home plate at the Oakland Coliseum. While clutching a full, jumbo-sized beer
cup in his left hand, he was sidestepping down the row, carefully inching along
with his back to the field, when a ball was fouled straight back toward him.
Just as he reached his seat he turned, saw the ball, nonchalantly stuck out his
right hand and made the catch. He pocketed the ball and casually sat down in
his seat—all this without spilling a drop of beer!
characteristic, though, is the fan who has the ball in hand, or worse yet, in
mitt, only to see it go squirting out, gone forever. Rarely is a person who
fails to make a clean catch able to regain possession in the ensuing scuffle,
where anything short of outright assault is fair play, and for every fan like
the man with the beer, there are perhaps a dozen who let the moment slip
through their hands.
Over the years I'd
often wondered how I would fare if given a chance to make a play on a foul
ball. I've always thought of myself as a pretty good fielder with quick, sure
hands, but there was still that secret doubt, a lurking fear that if and when
the time came I might just muff it.
Until last season
I usually brought my mitt to games. I knew that if I had it, the chances of my
dropping a ball would be almost nil. But it was also a matter of
self-preservation—the idea of fielding one of those screaming line drives
bare-handed was never very appealing to me. Then for some reason I stopped
taking my glove with me. Maybe it had something to do with turning 40—I mean,
does a 40-year-old man really need to take a mitt along to a ball game?
worried more than ever: If a foul ball were hit to me, would I be able to make
the clutch catch, or would I choke and blow the chance of a lifetime?
The closest a foul
ball ever came to me was when I was at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn. I was about 10
that time. My dad and I had our lunch spread out on our laps and were enjoying
the sandwiches when a ball was cracked our way. It landed a few rows below us
and clattered around the empty wooden seats in our sparsely populated
rightfield section. By the time we could get the food off our laps to go hunt
for the ball, someone else had grabbed it.
I have acquired a
few balls in another way. As a free-lance writer working on baseball stories,
I've asked such major league notables as Rickey Henderson, Frank Robinson, Earl
Weaver, Harmon Killebrew, Damaso Garcia and Steve Boros to autograph balls for
me or one of my kids.
The evening I
finally got my chance at a foul ball, last April 22, I had two other official
American League balls with me, tucked away in my day pack. One had been signed
for me a few hours earlier by Oakland Centerfielder Dwayne Murphy, whom I was
interviewing for the A's fan magazine. The second ball was one I'd picked up
last winter while covering the A's training camp. It was torn and scuffed and
of little use to the ball club, so I took it and planned to have it autographed
when the occasion arose—perhaps tonight. After talking to Murphy, I made my way
over to the seats behind first base to join an old friend who has season
tickets behind the visiting dugout.
The game started
off as a pitchers' duel with very little real action. In the bottom of the
fourth Carney Lansford led off for the A's. A righthanded hitter, Lansford
fouled off the first pitch into the upper deck behind us. On the second he hit
a slicing line drive, which at first didn't seem headed my way but, because of
the slice on the ball, began quickly to hurtle closer and closer. The four
seats between me and the aisle were empty, so I got up and moved down the row.
It was now obvious that the ball was hit directly at the fellow in the aisle
seat of the row behind me. As I slid along, my eye on the ball, I noticed him
in my peripheral vision, cupping his hands in preparation, poised for the