Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Foul Ball Fever ... Catch It!

From Chris Mauger comes a great essay on the life-long aspiration all (real American) men have to catch a foul ball at a baseball game.
(I discovered Chris’ blog after he left a very nice comment on my previous post. He is an elementary school principal so he can understand the maturity level of my humor and the aptitude level of my writing. He is very funny and you should read his blog).

Reading about his foul ball dreams, immediately sent me back to Dodger Stadium – I’m sitting in the stands with my mom and I have my mitt on, ready to catch any ball that comes near me. Nevermind that I am in General Admission, high above the field (just above the blinking red light that warns away airplanes). A home run travels only 400 feet or so; how is a foul ball going to reach me in General Admission, where we have to listen to Vin Scully on my transistor radio to know what we are “seeing” below? None of that matters; the fantasy of catching a ball from the game and taking it home to treasure is the lure that attracted every male to that ballpark.

Oh, we sometimes sat in the bleachers, which were also cheap seats at Dodger Stadium, so I might have caught a home run. But these were the early 60s Dodgers. Runs were manufactured by Maury Wills stealing 1st then 2nd, followed by a sacrifice bunt to move him to third and a sacrifice fly to get him home. Home runs were things other teams got because they – I’m looking at you, Yankees – were in league with the Devil. (That would specifically be the American League). So I sat in foul territory to increase my chances.

Men love action, thrills and violence and yet baseball was still our national pastime when I was a kid. Basketball offers fast-paced action – hockey even more so. Football offers physical contact, maiming and death – hockey even more so. Of course hockey is hard to follow and surely you couldn’t do that on what passed as television in the 60s. Baseball you can turn on at any point and get caught right up to the moment:
"Willie Davis at bat now. Gaylord Perry gets the ball and looks in to the catcher. Davis got the base hit in the first inning and scored on Gilliam’s double, providing the only run in the game. Perry shakes off a couple signs. Koufax has struck out 4 in the first three innings. Perry winds and throws. Of course, Gilliam made one heck of a catch on a hard line drive by Aaron in the second. The ball is approaching the plate now. The Dodgers have three hits, one run no errors. Davis looks like he might swing at this one. The Braves have 4 hits, no runs and one error which … Davis grounds back to the mound .. .put Davis in scoring position for that run … Davis is out at first.”
So baseball is easy to keep up with, which is why your girlfriend goes with you: you can explain all the rules between actual player motions on the field. But it is the foul ball that brings in the guys. You never hear this at an NFL game: “Fans are welcome to keep any errant passes thrown into the stands…” Hockey does let your next-of-kin keep any errant pucks you catch with your face, but you aren’t going to come back for more.

The promise of a caught foul ball indoctrinates kids into baseball worship. Sitting there with your glove on makes you part of the game. So I sat there as a kid, waiting. And waiting. Years later, in Cincinnati, I sat in Riverfront stadium (too embarrassed to wear my glove) waiting. One day I took a friend to the game. About the 5th inning I got myself some ice cream: a sundae served in a miniature, plastic replica of a batting helmet. I looked down to scoop up a mouthful. When I looked up, a foul ball was coming directly toward me. Things began to happen in slow motion – okay, everything was already in slow motion, this was baseball – I saw my friend’s arms reach out and I saw his hands catch the baseball. God had sent ME that baseball … but he was really punking me by making me get that ice cream first. The point is I’ll never forget the roller coaster ride of emotions from seeing the ball finally come and then losing it. I’ll never get the chocolate sauce out of my shorts either.

I don’t know if kids today build the same dreams. There are so few day games, and the night games are so late, it’s hard to bring kids. Without as many young boys learning to reach beyond hope for that ever-elusive foul ball, the popularity of baseball has declined. They try to attract us with hot dogs or t-shirts fired out of a canon, but, come on! That doesn’t make you one of the players like catching a real ball. And the “kiss cam?” Ew, gross! (if you’re a young boy there with your mom or dad, I mean).

Thinking about that, I just had a recovered memory. About 3 years ago, I did get a ball in the stands. There was a foul that bounced around the seats and came to rest in front of the guy next to me. Being that he was a five-year-old, my arms were longer than his and I reached down and snatched the ball right from under his little, 5-year-old feet. Oh my God, that is horrible! No wonder I blanked that out. But, come to think of it, had he got the ball, his dream would have been fulfilled and he could have put aside baseball for one of the other sports. My quick action established one more lifelong fan of America’s pastime.


Cali said...


Basketball is my sport-viewing choice. :)

Chris @ Maugeritaville said...

Thanks for the shout-out and link, Johnny. You did a great job here of capturing the feel of the stadium. I'll even ignore the "I'm looking at you, Yankees" comment.

Excellent post, my friend!

Anonymous said...

word verification:
1.what happens to you when the ball finally comes your way and you make a fool of yourself "not" catching it on the jumbotron.
2.what happens to you when you sit outside through a day game in August. bleh.


JohnnyB said...

Cali, thanks, College or pro B-Ball? I used to watch the Lakers but now I prefer the college version.

Chris - thank you also. I look forward to reading more of your stuff

Karen - excelllent definitions. Thanks! said...

Nice blog Johnny. I am fan of Chris' blog as well so I'll have to check it out. I've been probably to 100 games or so and I to wish to catch a ball. I already have my excuse not to give it to the kid next to me (nephew or my kid) even though I have neither yet. I also will never throw it back if its a homer. They Phillies fan do this now but its a rip off Chicago and why start a bad fad. Like the other team cares you didnt keep their dinger. I'll keep it and take the boobirds. nice blog.

JohnnyB said...

Walt, thanks for th nice comments. I agree completely about keeping the HR ball but I can't understand being a Philly's fan. I guess it's just bad child rearing by your parents.