I need to clear up some confusion, but it will require a couple of stories. A few weeks back, I went to a baseball game at the Miami Marlins new indoor/outdoor stadium. By indoor/outdoor, I mean it has a retractable roof and can thus be open on nice days and closed on days when the weather is nasty in Miami. I think it was open on April 3rd and has been closed ever since. I would estimate that I’ve attended something on the order of 300-400 major league baseball games in my life and this was my first indoor experience. It was weird. It felt a little bit like being in an airport, only with a baseball game going on around me. I didn’t like it. But, that’s not the point.
I was sitting in about the 3rd row, behind the visiting dugout. Whenever the inning ended with a ground out, the first baseman jogged directly toward us and flipped the ball into the stands. By the time the ball reached the stands, there was a gaggle of kids with baseball gloves who had run down to the bottom of the aisle to try to catch the ball. Sitting in front of me was a guy in his late 20s who looked like he should be playing for the Marlins. After one of the innings that the ball ended up in the first baseman’s glove, the dude in front of me darted down just as the first baseman tossed the ball, elbowed a 10 year old kid in the back of the head, reached over him and snagged the ball. I swear I’m not making that up. He sat down in his seat with the ball and all his 20-something buddies high-fived him, hugged him, took iPhone pictures of him, and generally fawned over him with the adulation ordinarily saved for folks who have just won an Olympic gold medal.
Not me. I gave him shit. I said, “C’mon, you stole that ball from the kid over there! Give the ball to the kid.” He replied, “I am a kid.” OK, I give him round one. But, then he snatched defeat from the jaws of victory by saying, “this is the first ball I’ve ever gotten at a Major League game.” Bzzzzz. Wrong answer. And, here’s the point I really want to make. He did NOT “get a ball” at a major league game. Let’s be really clear about what qualifies as “getting a ball” at a Major League game and what does not. Having a player flip a ball to you because you’re sitting behind the dugout is just a step behind stopping at Dick’s Sporting Goods on the way home from the game and buying a baseball. It categorically does not count as “getting a ball.” Now, I realize that this stance is going to really piss off my own children. My Nats season tickets are a few rows behind the Nats dugout and they have received balls from players by this method for years. My daughter once got 4 balls flipped to her by players in one game (I made her give 3 of them to other kids, even though some asshole adult Mets fan once got 3 and kept all of them). Sorry, kiddos, neither of you has ever “gotten a ball” at a Major League game.
To qualify as “getting a ball” at a Major Leauge game, the rules are quite simple. The ball has to come off a bat, untouched by human hands, other than perhaps the guy in front of you whose beer is now all over your shirt. And, that leads me to my second story, the one about how I finally “got a ball” at a Major League game.
It was the summer of 1998, which means, in round numbers, I had been attending MLB games for about 32 years without getting a ball. I was desperate, but also felt like my time had come. I had just started a new job and was attending a conference in Chicago with some of my new colleagues. We all decided to take in a Cubs game – indeed, my first trip to Wrigley. We were sitting on the 3rd base side, about half way between the third base bag and the foul pole, in the last row of the lower level of seating. I was on the aisle. At some point in the game, a foul ball went screaming right over my head, landed in the walkway between our section and the section behind ours, then went into the tunnel leading to the concessions, where it rattled around a few time before rolling into a big disgusting room filled with dumpsters.
How do I know all this detail? Because the instant the ball flew over my head, I bolted out of my seat, wearing the suit I had donned for the conference that morning, and went right after it with a vengeance. With several big guys chasing me, equally desperate to “get a ball,” I watched it bounce around and finally roll into the room full of dumpsters. As the ball finally came to rest between two dumpsters, I pounced on it like a linebacker recovering up a fumble on the 1 yard line in the Super Bowl and clenched the ball to my stomach in the fetal position as I awaited the other dudes who were chasing it to jump on me and try to wrestle it away.
Only, there’s one problem with this accounting of the story. Apparently, I was the only person to have gotten out of my seat when the ball flew overhead. I was the only one to give it chase. I was the only one in the room full of dumpsters. Well, other than one very confused custodian who was wondering why the hell some businessman in a blue pin striped suit (now covered with gook) was lying on the floor in the fetal position between two dumpsters with a baseball held to his tummy. But, yes, I “got a ball.” I wouldn’t have played it any differently if I had it to do over.