The thrill of snagging a once-in-a-lifetime ‘can of corn’
When he went to the ballpark, my dad was a magnet for baseballs. So much so that as a kid, every time pop went to a game, I expected him to bring me home a souvenir ball.
A PLGGOH LnfiHOGHU DnG captain of his college baseball team at Illinois State University in the early 1950s, he had good hands. I saw him snag three baseballs during batting practice at Busch Stadium in St. Louis once in the late 1960s, all barehanded. At Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh in the early 1970s, we were sitting behind home plate and under the netting when a foul ball hit by Pirates third baseball Richie Hebner rolled up and through a hole in the netting and dropped right into an empty seat next to Dad. He reached over and scooped it up.
And in 1972, I actually saw my dad catch a ball on TV during a game between the Cubs and the Cardinals in St. Louis. Cubs Hall of Fame third baseman Ron Santo KLW D ORnJ GULYH GRwn WKH OHIWfiHOG line that had home run distance but had hooked foul at the last moment. The camera panned in on the crowd as Cubs Hall of Fame broadcaster Jack Brickhouse said, “Hey, nice catch by a fan.” There was my dad in a white t-shirt, cigar hanging out of his mouth, holding up the baseball. Once again, he had made a bare-handed catch.
Forty years later, it was my turn. After sitting through hundreds of EDVHEDOO JDPHV Ln Py OLIH, , finDOOy got a chance to make a play during a game. And it almost didn’t happen. A previous commitment on the same evening had forced me to look for someone to take my tickets for the Sept. 11 game between the Phillies and the Miami Marlins. But I couldn’t get rid of the tickets in advance and was going to have to eat them.
About 4:20 p.m. on game day, The Blonde Accountant texted me that our plans had changed and that I should just go to the game. Appreciative of getting last-minute clearance from the tower, I rushed home to change clothes, grab my gear and head to the park. It was much too late to ask anyone to go with me.
Everybody who knows me knows that I really geek it up at a game: I have my glove, my notebook and scorecard, pencils, pens, radio and red high-top Chuck Taylor shoes to go along with my Phillies shirt and hat. I have no problem at all turning back into a 10-year-old kid when I’m at the ballpark.
And I’ve been sitting in that same aisle seat — Section 105, Row 11, seats 1 and 2 — for nine seasons, ever since the ballpark opened in 2004. Never once has a home run ball come at me while I’m sitting there. (But when I’m home watching on TV, every home Uun WR ULJKWfiHOG DSSHDUV WR ODnG right in my seat.)
So here was the scenario: Sixth inning, man on, Phillies up 6-3 and Jimmy Rollins at the plate. He hits a foul pop-up behind home plate, which Marlins rookie catcher Rob Brantly dropped. Given new life, on the very next pitch, Jimmy slammed a long drive . . . and it was coming right at me!
In situations like this, there’s likely a little luck involved. Since nobody was with me, seat two in my row was empty. Fortunately, there was nobody sitting in seats three and four either. As the home run sailed toward me, I slid to my left — essentially three steps — stuck up my glove and made the play. It was in baseball parlance, “D FDn RI FRUn.” (An HDVy fly EDOO.) But if there was anyone in the three seats to my left, I wouldn’t have gotten a chance to make the play.
And then . . . absolute pandemonium. Not just by me, but by everyone in my section. People were hugging me and slapping me on WKH EDFN DnG KLJK-fiYLnJ. 7KH Juy who sits across the aisle from me to my right — who had slid down to the left as I did and was on my right hip when I made the play — was jumping up and down and hugging me so much I thought he was gonna kiss me. (It was exciting enough that I probably would have been OK with that given the circumstances.)
When my hands stopped shaking a bit, I texted my brother in Illinois about what had happened.
“Tell me you caught it barehanded and not with a glove,” he texted back.
“Glove. Always the glove,” I responded.
“Dad would have been ashamed. Bare hands only at a ballgame! You should know better!” he wrote.
Ah, horsefeathers. Dad would have said, “Did you get the ball?” If anything, Dad would have cared more about if the play was made successfully, not how it was made.
The Phillies have a promotion called “Hometown Homers,” which allows those in the stands who catch a Phillies home run to have it signed by the player who hit it. It’s quite a nice touch by the ballclub to put an exclamation point on the experience.
A few minutes after the excitement had subsided, an usher came over and escorted me to JuHVW VHUYLFHV, wKHUH , fiOOHG out some paperwork and put the ball in a big, padded envelope. It would be sent to the locker room for Jimmy to sign and then be mailed back to me.
As a collector who had waited a long time for an opportunity like this, I wasn’t exactly crazy about turning the ball over to anybody. But three days later I received the ball back signed by Jimmy. Very cool.
I wish my pop was still around to hear this story. He would have gotten a kick out of it.
Because just for a moment, I got to be that 10-year-old kid again.
Mike Morsch is executive editor of Montgomery Media and author of the book, “Dancing in My Underwear: The Soundtrack of My Life.” He can be reached by calling 215-542-0200, ext. 415 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. This column can also be found at www.montgomerynews.com.
Here is the scorecard, ticket and Jimmy Rollins autographed home run ball from the Sept. 11, 2012, game against the Miami Marlins.