Having a Ball

 Those guys who say the best day of their lives was when they got married or were there for the birth of their children, obviously never caught a foul ball at a major league baseball game.

 At least not at Yankee Stadium.  And not against the Red Sox.

 But on August 30, 2007, I did.

 Let me tell you what happened:  It was a tight game, the rivalry tension  thicker than pine tar when Kevin Youkilis came to bat representing the tying run for the Sox.  Yankee fireballer  Joba Chamberlain uncorked a 100 m.p.h.  fastball and Youk got just enough lumber on it to send the ball shrieking directly toward me along the first base line.  I reached out with my bare hand and it stuck with a resounding pop just before it  would have creamed the gray-haired lady in a wheelchair.

 Now let me tell you what really happened:  The Red Sox , playing flatter than stale beer, were down 5-0 with one out in the ninth. I was sitting back in my seat dejectedly when Youkilis popped up a high one and Douglas, my father-in-law, said, Heres your ball Robby!  I perked up.  A little.

 I had just been telling him how Ive never been within 30 feet of a chance to catch one.  The ball came down in the row behind us, bounced off the hands of a few would-be lucky spectators and headed toward the hands of a guy who had turned around for it two rows in front of us.

 He missed it, and the ball headed into the vacant row in front of us.  I dove for it.

 And came back up with glory.

 A foul ball has no sense of justice.  Two people deserved that ball more than me, though neither of them was one of the people who had a crack at it before I did.  If you miss it, you miss it.  Thats how the game is played.

 There was a kid, Id say about 14 and wearing a Boston jersey reason enough for a reward at Yankee Stadium who came down from another row and sat with his mitt at the ready in the very place where the ball ended up.  He left after the eighth inning.  His dad must have wanted to beat the traffic.

 My friend Tony also deserved the ball.  After all, we were sitting in his seats. 

 Tony is a Bronx guy.  Big Yankees fan.  Big.  He once told me that when he was a kid, his friends would dream of Corvettes and big houses while he would sit in the bleachers at Yankee Stadium, gaze across the field at the box seats along the baseline and think that all he wanted in this life was to do well enough to own those seats.

 And he did.  Hes a partner in a big law firm.   But hes living in London right now and doesnt always get back for the Yankee games. 

 So on this day, I got his tickets.  Ill bet hes been to 10 or 20 times as many games as I have, but hes never caught a ball.

 Id give the ball to either the kid or to Tony, but it wouldnt be the same for them.  You have to earn it.

 Its easy enough to get a ball.  Theres a baseball aficionado out there named Zack Hample with 3,159 of them.  He wrote a book a while back How to Snag Major League Baseballs. His tips include arriving when the park opens and roaming the mostly-empty stands during batting practice.  Hes also learned how to ask a player for a ball in several languages, including sign language.

 For $500, Zack Hample will go to a game with you with a money-back guarantee you will get a ball.

 I can see why some people might do that but I wouldnt.  To me, getting a ball should be the touch of Providence reaching into the randomness of wood bat and leather ball and seat location and directing it, somehow, into your hand.

 Sort of like it feels better to find a twenty-dollar bill than to have one already in your pocket.

 It was a great day.  The kind of day you want to tell people about.  I hope it happens to you.


September 2, 2007