It only took 62–years, but I finally caught a foul ball. Well, I didn’t actually catch it, but it never hit the ground. It landed on the shoulder of a pitcher and I plucked it off like a fox stealing a pheasant’s egg from its nest.
This was the first time in a few years that I went to see a professional baseball game. Most of my experiences have been with the Phillies, although I’ve seen a few Chihuahua games in El Paso (what a great name for a team!). Of recent, however, all the walking and distance have me playing couch potato, watching on TV or the radio. This game, however, was different. It was a Christmas gift from one of my sons. He, my grandson, his father–in–law and I were seated along the rightfield line in a long box, right behind where the bullpen pitchers sit and throw.
It was the 8th inning and our team was losing. Oh, they were winning, but lost the lead several times in this seesaw battle of two Double A teams. It looked like our Fightins were doomed. A miracle would be required for this below .500 team to come back and win. Well, in the bottom of the eighth inning things started happening. It started with a long ball misplayed in the outfield. We got to see the rare, but exciting, inside–the–park–home run. Eventually, the bases were loaded and then a grand slam home run put our team in the lead for good. But right before that there was a towering fly ball headed my direction.
It brought back a forty-eight-year memory of a home run ball hit right toward this young teen who had glove in hand. Only, I was in shock and never moved the glove to catch it. It took place in leftfield at the old Connie Mack Stadium in Philly. The 3rd baseman for the Cubs hit the home run. A man in front of me stood to catch the ball. It went right through his cupped hands, ricocheted off my shoulder into a lady’s lap two rows down. I was mortified that I had not caught it. Further, all my friends were at concession stands getting food. Would they ever believe me?
This time, I watched the ball as it soared into the air and followed it coming down. It was going to be close, real close. I stood and saw it land on the shoulder of a relief pitcher who crunched himself into the fence in front of me, trying to get out of the way of the charging right fielder who hoped to catch the ball. I actually never saw the right fielder until he retreated. My eyes were on the ball. There it sat on his shoulder between the head and the fence of this pitcher. A pregnant second went by and it was still there. So I plucked it off his shoulder and handed it to my grandson. No interference on my part, although I now know why some do interfere with a ball. You’re taught as a little leaguer to keep your eye on the ball. Moreover, when you are at a live game, you must be alert at all times for balls that come your way. When that ball is headed toward you—it’s you and the ball. I followed that sucker all the way until it landed. Had it come in my box, I would have done the same, clueless of the fielder trying to catch the ball even if he stretched–out with his glove to do so.
Sometimes you have to experience things to understand what someone else is going through. Admittedly, I’ve often wondered why fans at the park interfere with a ball just like the infamous, non-catch by Chicago’s lifelong Cub’s fan, Steve Bartman. It was a catchable ball in foul grounds for left fielder Moises Alou during the 8th inning of the 6th game of the National League Championship Series with the Cubs one game away from going to their first World Series in 58–years. But the interference, which resulted in Bartman being escorted from the game—for his own protection, seemed to be the turning point. Florida, who was shutout up to this point, ended–up scoring eight runs in the frame, beating the Cubs, winning the next game and the series, and advancing to the World Series whereupon they beat the Yankees.
When the Cubs finally won the World Series 13–years later they gave Bartman a World Series ring. Nice touch. Sign of forgiveness and redemption.
From my recliner, I can see when a ball is clearly still in play, but now I know why people interfere. It’s not necessarily because they want to alter the game. But, like Bartman and me, their eye is on the ball and its coming at them.
The older I get the more I’ve mellowed. Perhaps it’s because I have walked in the shoes of so many others or have traveled alongside them through their life challenges. I’ve learned not to be so judgmental and am more accepting of those who may not embrace what I do. It’s true tolerance. Not the updated and misdirected version of tolerance which demands one not only tacitly accept someone’s belief or practice, but embracing it and confirming it as truth. No, I have very strong conviction, gleaned from an ancient book on which I will not waver. But since everyone is loved by God, I should love them as well with all their warts, blemishes, foibles and even diametrically opposed differences.
So, maybe I won’t be so critical the next time a fan interferes with a ball . . . unless it is against my team. Then I’m still yelling at the TV!
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