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July 22, 2011

Wezen-Ball

The Joy of Catching a Foul Ball

by Larry Granillo

I have never caught a ball at a baseball game. Not a foul ball, not a home run ball, not even a batting practice ball. There have been opportunities, I guess. Twice, I was at a Fresno Grizzlies game when my buddy went home with a ball (once a foul ball, once a home run off the bat of Joe Thurston) that I could have fought for. And the line drive foul ball at Progressive Field that would have thumped me in the chest if I didn't lean to the left probably should have been mine if I had had the presence of mind to pick it up right away (or, you know, put down my beer and reach out for it!). But, however you slice it, I've gone home empty-handed throughout my long baseball-going career.

Well, I guess that's not entirely true. I was lucky enough to sit in some special seats at Miller Park near the Brewers bullpen one day in 2009. The pitching coach tossed the Terrific Girlfriend a ball as he and Yovani Gallardo walked into the bullpen before the game started and, later, Claudio Vargas tossed me a ball from the bullpen completely unprovoked. We gave that second ball to a nearby kid but took home the ball from Bosio. It now sits on the desk at home, quietly getting thrown in the air every now and then. It was pretty exciting to get those balls tossed up to us that day, but I'm not kidding myself into thinking that they're anywhere near the same thing as catching a foul ball or a home run.

And, boy, do I want to catch a foul ball or home run ball. Who doesn't? I don't bring a glove or do anything but sit in my seat keeping score, but that doesn't mean I'm not actively hoping for the chance. When I first get to my seats at any game, I try to determine if there's any chance of a foul ball or home run reaching me and, if so, how that might happen. When a ball reaches the fans on the opposite side of the field, I do some mental math to see how close it would have landed to my section if the ball had been hit from the other side of the plate. Nothing ever comes of it, of course, but I like to hope.

I've been thinking a lot about this recently for a couple of reasons. First, there was the father in Texas who died after falling fifteen feet after reaching out too far for a ball thrown by Josh Hamilton. That is just unbelievably sad. I've purposely not watched the video of the fall since I heard about it; I'm not anxious to see that kind of thing. Moreso, though, are the everyday reactions I see when watching home runs for the Tater Trot Tracker.

As you might imagine, there are many different reactions to catching a home run or foul ball. There are the nonchalant fans, who pick up the ball that falls right to their feet, hold it up for a brief second with a bit of a smile on their face, and then tuck it away and go right on back to doing whatever it is they were doing. There are those who throw the ball back if the opponent has just hit a home run. This happens at more than just Wrigley Field - Rangers Ballpark and Target Field are almost as automatic as Wrigley, but you see it in just about every stadium throughout the year. I'm always saddened to see the fans (old couples or very young kids, usually) who are obviously pressured into throwing the ball back; do they really want to throw it back?

There are the ballhawks, of course. These are the guys who go to every game they can and spend the time standing around in prime foul ball/home run territory, hoping to be the one to get the ball. In Texas, they run through the centerfield grass; in Baltimore, it's the flag plaza in rightfield; at Wrigley, it's Waveland Avenue. Some are legitimately excited to get the ball while others like to pretend to be cool about it. I never know how to feel when I recognize a ballhawk catching a home run. Happy for a fan, or annoyed at their business-like ethic? And then there are the excited fans, who do anything from pumping their fist to dancing (or jumping) around and screaming, high-fiving everyone in their path. These are the majority of fans and the group you or I would mostly fall into. There's nothing to be embarrassed about here.

But the best group is, far-and-away, the children. When a little kid catches a ball (or is the first to pick it up), that pride and excitement that you see on their faces is fantastic. They're excited when a parent or adult gives them a ball that they caught, but catching the ball themselves is the best. The Giants and Diamondbacks had two interesting moments this week, when young fans were caught on camera at their two ballparks almost catching balls. The videos are a ton of fun to watch - here's the Giants kid and here's the Diamondbacks kid - but that's only near-joy. For the best example of this joy, check out the video above.

He only shows up for about five seconds (beginning at the 16-second mark), but that's the joy I'm talking about. The toothless smile, the hands upraised, the grinning high-fives... no one can watch that clip without smiling. Whenever I finally catch my foul ball, I hope I look half as cute as that. Something tells me I'm about twenty-five years too late, though, so it'll probably just be a quick high-five and nothing else. What was it like the first time you caught a home run or foul ball?

20 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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pandroid

Twenty-four years old at Wrigley. Friend got a pair of tickets along the third base line, April or May 2007. Best seats I ever had, right in front of the Cubs' bullpen, we got there early and watched Rich Hill warm up and talked about how great it was for the Cubs to have a good young lefty. Anyway at some point Soriano fouled a ball way over our heads, and like in a dream I watched the ball bounce off the front of the first deck, right to me, slowed enough that I actually caught it--well, trapped it--with my hands before it caved my chest in. Later that inning a guy came over and offered me $10 for the ball. I told him, "that's less than the material is worth," so he offered me $20, and I told him to Go Away. He didn't seem to have a kid with him, which I would have given the ball away for free, probably, had there been one (well, I SAY that...), but the guy just seemed to want it for himself. Is that a thing, middle-aged men going to a ballgame and trying to buy souvenirs? The whole thing felt mildly insulting, like I'd just been offered Pabst.

Jul 21, 2011 22:18 PM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Larry Granillo
BP staff

That does feel odd. And what happens when he gets home? "This is the game-used ball that I paid some guy $20 for"?

Jul 22, 2011 10:44 AM
 
DandyDan

Then there are the embarrassing drops. It was the day before high school graduation and a number of us classmates went to the Kane County Cougars game and some long forgotten player on the opposition hit a pop foul right at me. Naturally, I try to barehand it, I get my hand on it and drop it and I spent the rest of the night getting heckled by the drunks near us. One of my friends goes "so are you going to drop your diploma tomorrow?". I have been to numerous games in numerous ballpark since and never been close since.

Jul 21, 2011 22:45 PM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Larry Granillo
BP staff

Yeah. The fear of an embarrassing drop (and a damaged right hand) is what prevented me from sticking my free hand out at the Indians game to try to catch the line drive. Of course, realizing how hard the ball must have been hit to still be screaming like that 300 ft later may have had something to do with that...

Jul 22, 2011 10:44 AM
 
Noel Steere
(965)

Re being pressured to throw back the ball: If I ever sit in the bleachers at Wrigley, I'm bringing a decoy ball just in case.

Jul 22, 2011 06:20 AM
rating: 1
 
pandroid

I saw a guy bring a whiffle ball, once, which was cute.

Jul 22, 2011 07:13 AM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Larry Granillo
BP staff

Be careful... they notice those things on tv!

Jul 22, 2011 10:45 AM
 
jrmayne

No catches, no one adjacent to me catching one, majors or minors. I'm 45, and have probably attended a little over 100 games in person.

Great article, though. I think you've captured the spirit of getting a ball, and that's really fun.

Jul 22, 2011 07:25 AM
rating: -1
 
mrdannyg

I've been to hundreds of games, and can't remember anyone in my row even catching a ball. The closest I came was diving out of the way of a screaming A-Rod liner, but after seeing the damage it did to the face of the guy who did not get out of the way, I don't have any regrets there.

I caught a foul ball while selling raffle tickets at a semi-final game for the Canadian Men's Senior league (senior referring to the level, not their ages), and my wife made fun of the goofy smile I had the rest of the day.

I actually gave that ball back, since a couple innings later, I noticed they were running short of game balls!

Jul 22, 2011 08:55 AM
rating: 1
 
bobbygrace

When I was a kid, I brought my Catfish Hunter Mizuno to every Twins game I attended, hoping to get my ball. (It was a well-worn glove, autographed on the thumb by Randy Bush, whose signature my mom stood in line at the grocery store to obtain for her probably insufficiently grateful six-year-old.) Even when we sat in absurdly remote upper-deck seats during the 1987 ALCS and the 1991 World Series, I had that glove, just in case. Dave Kingman once hit a fly ball into the Metrodome roof, so hey -- anything could happen.

Twins fans would prefer to forget most of what happened for the rest of the 1990s, but it was late in the decade when "anything" finally did happen to me. By then I had traded in the Mizuno for a Dale Murphy Rawlings, which of course I brought dutifully to every game. We were sitting in the left field bleachers -- or rather, the blue, plastic, sunless bucket seats of the 'Dome -- and we were higher up than I wanted to be. I always explained to my dad that we'd have a better chance of getting a ball closer to the field, but he'd always bring up "sightlines" -- as if I cared about those! -- and we would take our place 25 rows up or so.

Even at that altitude, the glove turned out to be an inadequate defense when Dave Winfield hit a line drive straight at my face. The moment was confusing; I remember a general scramble for life in the three-row vicinity of the ball's deadly path. Then, from my cowering position, I saw the ball rattling around under the upturned seats. I scrambled through the peanut shells and I had it!

It turned out to be Winfield's last grand slam. After the game, my dad and I stood in the rain next to the runway with a handful of devoted autograph hounds. Half an hour or so passed, then the players began to file out. They walked past quickly, eyes on the ground, but Winfield stopped when he heard my prepubescent shout: "Mr. Winfield! Your grand slam!" I shielded the ball like a baby bird all the way to Washington Avenue. The autograph faded anyway -- cheap pen, sunny bedroom -- but who cares? It's still my ball.

Jul 22, 2011 09:38 AM
rating: 2
 
BP staff member Larry Granillo
BP staff

Thanks for that story! Just terrific. Glad Winfield heard you and signed it, even if it ended up fading.

Jul 22, 2011 10:46 AM
 
ScottyB

I was recently at my local minor league team's game with my 6 year old son, who REALLY wanted a ball. None came right near us, but the few times a ball got even remotely near our section a HORDE of 11-year old boys crashed through people to try to grab it. This group also spend the entire game haranging the visiting team's players to give them balls after between-inning warmups.

I sometimes shudder at the parenting skills of those around me.

Jul 22, 2011 09:38 AM
rating: 2
 
blanouette

Never caught a ball - never even came close. I did, however, catch a bat.

About 17 - 18 years ago, I had choice seats behind and to the right of the A's dugout as they played Toronto. Pat Borders strikes out to end the inning and the bat helicopters toward my section after it slipped out of his hand. As everyone scrambles out of the way, the bat lands in my seat and I calmly pick it up. When it was clear that nobody was coming to retrieve it, I waved it madly above my head in excitement (made it on the highlights that night too).

Alas, the friend I was with wanted to show it to her kindergarten class the next day, so I let her take it home. As a surprise, she waited at the Blue Jays clubhouse door after the game to see if Borders would autograph it for me. (later, when she was telling me this story, I immediately said "Noooooo!) Instead, he asked for it back (it was his gamer, of course) and traded it for a new, unused one.

Oh well, I guess that part makes the story more interesting.

Jul 22, 2011 10:17 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Larry Granillo
BP staff

I always knew Pat Borders was a dodgy guy.

The closest I've come to a bat was at Dodger Stadium. Brother's friend had great seats and we didn't, so he used his ticket to get us down to that section in the 5th inning or so. Shawn Green threw his bat into the crowd in the bottom of the ninth and it landed in my row, just one section closer to home. As we all stared at the woman who got hit by the bat, Green quietly popped up. I was surprised to look up and see someone else at bat.

Jul 22, 2011 10:50 AM
 
BrewersTT

Nice article. We are kindred spirits in this. I also liked bobbygrace's story about Winfield. "Like a baby bird" - beautiful.

The closest I have come was standing near concessions far behind 1B at a Frederick Keys game, with a friend who had just bought an ice cream cone. A foul ball that we never saw coming obliterated the cone, but was pursued by a horde of scurrying kids, so we had no shot at retrieving the offending ball. The lucky kid probably wondered why it was sticky and tasted like strawberries.

Jul 22, 2011 11:53 AM
rating: 1
 
asstarr1

Great article. Loved the Dbacks fan giving the Brewers fan the ball. From firsthand experience, Arizona fans are some of the best in the game. The only ball I ever caught was a foul ball off the bat of Mickey Morandini at County Stadium. I was sitting down the left field line and probably had a few too many beers to realize that putting a bare hand up to catch a line drive is dumb. I spent the rest of the game alternately rubbing my hand and the ball.

Jul 22, 2011 14:33 PM
rating: 0
 
adambennett

I've gotten three foul balls, once at an Albuquerque Dukes game, once at the Staten Island Yankees, and once at the House that Ruth Built.

That last one occurred the only time I ever got to sit in a luxury box. My (then) wife's firm had a box and she was beng rewarded for something or other. They actually gave you fishing nets up there so you could easily snare balls that were fouled back and rolled up the netting. But for some reason, every ball that went back there all night got dropped by the drunken corporate bigwigs. Finally, around the 7th or 8th, a Derek Jeter ball came straight at me. I just let the ball roll into the fishing net and scooped it up. I was greeted by a round of derisive and sarcastic applause from hundreds of nearby fans--so much that the Yankee captain actually turned around to see what happened.

I still have the ball, stained with Jeter's pine tar, on my trophy case.

Jul 22, 2011 16:02 PM
rating: 0
 
Llarry

Never had a ball even come anywhere near me until the last game I attended (DBacks/Nats at Chase). Line drive came screaming at me (and my hands were full of scorebook) and slammed off the empty seat back in front of me. Somebody a section or two away got the ball. A girl 2-3 rows in front of me got hit by the seat number which ball tore out of the seat back -- now *that's* a souvenir!!

Jul 22, 2011 17:58 PM
rating: 0
 
BurrRutledge

Summer of 2001, sitting in the left field lower level seats in foul territory at Yankee stadium. I was on a double date with my girlfriend of a couple months, her friend, and the guy her friend had just started dating. I had just bought a round of beers for everybody from a roaming vendor, and we were passing the plastic cups down the line when everyone around us stood up suddenly.

*smack*

The guy in the seat in front of me had just reached back and barehanded a liner that would have hit one of the two women if he hadn't caught it. At least that's what my conscience tells me for losing my focus on the game. It all ended well, however, because within four years both women had married their dates of that day.

Jul 22, 2011 21:36 PM
rating: 0
 
matthewkenerly

I've had.a few foul balls end up flying right over my head back at Beiden Field and then at Chukchansi. Small world.

Jul 23, 2011 14:11 PM
rating: 0
 
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