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?