John Grindrod: Baseballs, both fair and foul, flying again
For many longtime baseball fans, much of the acrimony that marked the longest work stoppage in two decades has been forgotten. They’re just happy that there is indeed a full season.
The subject of today’s offer is that item that no baseball game can truly be without, baseball itself. On average, the lifespan of a baseball game is only about five to seven pitches, so a typical Major League game may require up to 50 balls. The average cost for each is just under $6, which really isn’t a lot for an item coveted by so many mostly male fans, males who treat a baseball like some sort of Hope Diamond. on horseback.
Now, when it comes to acquiring one of these $6 treasures, I’ve made my own set of rules. The first fair balls that end up in the stands – double ground rules and especially home runs – are always higher on the desirability scale. Second, bullets caught in the air are surely better than those picked up after ricocheting off concrete steps. And, third, balls caught with bare hands are always higher on the ladder than those caught with a glove.
When it comes to catching those precious baseballs, there’s 45-year-old Zack Hample, who is credited as the greatest ball thief of all time, having caught over 11,000 of them. A lengthy Wikipedia entry validates his fame, though that notoriety comes with a caveat. He has also been called the sport’s most hated spectator for his children who occasionally shove children around to catch another ball.
Recently I had lunch with my buddy Jim O’Neill, who still follows the game, but not with the same passion he once had when, say, his Detroit Tigers delighted him with their 1968 World Series victory. against the St. Louis Cards. Jim recalled his run for a treasure in 1979 on a cold April day in Comiskey Park, then home of the Chicago White Sox.
“Yankee receiver Thurman Munson snagged a foul line in the stands along the left field line. Because early spring daytime games are often sparsely attended, I had almost no competition as I took to running and easily corralled it. What added some emotion to all of this was that, in hindsight, it wasn’t until two months later that Munson was killed in a minor plane crash.
As for me, I have attended dozens of games in my life, but only had one opportunity to bring home a treasure. And, luckily, given the few opportunities I had, I didn’t miss it. It was 2002 at Comerica Park in Detroit, a game I attended with three buddies as we watched the Tigers play in Oakland.
Robert Fick, the Tiger catcher, who the previous year became the answer to a trivial question when he became the last player to homer at Tiger Stadium before it closed, a grand slam as well as the numerically offbeat 11 , the 111th homer in stadium history, threw a ball in the direction of our seats several rows off the railing in foul territory, even with third base. Of course, from the start, almost every man instinctively gets up, anticipating that Rawlings’ ball heading in their direction will be theirs. Then a few seconds pass as the ball travels, and reality sets in when the ball lands 100 feet or more.
However, for me, this time, as the seconds ticked by after that delightful sound of wood on rawhide, a sound to me surpassed only by the sound of a baseball hitting a glove pocket squarely, I realized that day, it was just very well might finally be my time. After all those previous games I had attended, from the first at Comerica’s predecessor, Tiger Stadium, then called Briggs, with my dad in 1960 to that midsummer Saturday afternoon, this would surely be my moment !
As the sphere was descending, I could see that I had only one competitor for this treasure, the guy directly in front of me in the next row.
Four hands were up, each set making a meaty cut catchable at the moment of truth. Actually, initially it was a simultaneous take, but for two reasons I won the prize. First, I had two hands over his, and, second, I was on top of him, and therefore almost always had the leverage given to the person on a higher platform. brought up in this lifetime, both metaphorically and, in this particular case, literally. A quick shake over my head, and the prize was mine.
Showing no hard feelings, since he’s no doubt understood the one golden rule that applies when guys go after their $6 treasures in a ballpark, and that’s that it’s every man for himself when a ball opportunity presented itself, my competitor turned around, shook my hand and congratulated me. Other guys around me also shook my hand, which made me think I had done something pretty special.
And, of course, I HAD done something special, at least for that single moment in time in that singular setting, Section 135 at Comerica Park, and no matter how many times it had been done before or since.
The subject of today’s offer is that item that no baseball game can truly be without, baseball itself.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, freelance writer and editor, and author of two books. Join it at [email protected]