I've been going to baseball games for 26 years. In that time, the closest I've come to a ball was losing a scrum for one during batting practice at Yankee Stadium.
Cameron Ervin, all of three-and-a-half years old and attending his fourth baseball game, walked away with his first foul ball Saturday night.
Some of you will remember Cameron, the son of my friends Mike and Lisa, from last summer's trip to Anaheim Stadium. They've just had their second child, a beautiful girl who they've named Marisa, and over the weekend, my wife and I visited them in Fresno. During the trip, we did the only proper thing you can do, introducing Marisa to the religion that is baseball by taking in a Grizzlies game on Saturday night.
I'd like to say that Marisa's first game is one she'll be eager to tell her children about, but I'd be lying. Dinner before the game had run long, so we arrived a bit late. In the time it took us to walk from the parking lot to our seats, Joe Nathan had coughed up six runs and worked his way through the Memphis Redbirds' lineup, all in the top of the first. It's a bit strange to walk in and see the same guy batting who had been at the plate when you left the car, as if they'd held things up while you walked the two blocks to the ballpark.
The game pretty much over at that point, as the Redbirds would go on to win 11-1. As I discussed after last month's trip to Sacramento, there wasn't much to watch on the prospect front, either, as both teams are built for MLB-affiliate fodder rather than player development. Given the score and the players–"batting third, the shortstop, Wilson Delgado"–the game itself was pretty much a dud. I skipped scorekeeping in favor of holding Marisa for two innings–quite possibly the most fun I've ever had at a game–and taking a stroll around the new ballpark. If the game wasn't much, the company was great and the setting quite pleasant.
In the bottom of the seventh inning, though, the night became special. Grizzlies' third baseman Tony Zuniga fouled off a pitch high into the crowd behind home plate. The ball arced high and curved left, and appeared to me like it was going to land well behind us. It died a bit, fell through the hands of a gentleman to our left, bounced once, and was snatched out of the air by Mike, who completed his grab with a flourish, handing it to Cameron and shouting, "That's yours!"
For the rest of the night, Cameron and that baseball were inseparable. He stared at it, gripped it, even got his parents' houseguest to play an ill-advised game of catch with it in their living room. (Note to Bob Watson: Cameron likes to throw "Inside fastballs!" and isn't shy about telling you they're coming. Come 2020, you've been warned.)
I can't say I know much about Tony Zuniga, but for one night, he was the greatest player in the land to a little boy who will always remember his first foul ball.