Fifty years ago last month I attended my very first Tiger game, and for half a century of attending dozens of Tiger games I had never come close to catching a foul ball…until last Tuesday night.
On a very warm and beautiful evening I took my 17-year old daughter to Comerica Park to see the Tigers face the Yankees. For me it was a special opportunity to spend time with her before she leaves in three weeks to become a college freshman.
As we sat in our seats seventeen rows from the field down the foul line between first base and right field, Kathleen asked me if I had ever caught a foul ball.
I told her that in all my years of going to games I had never had an opportunity to catch a ball and that usually the first person who has an opportunity typically misses it.
The Baseball Gods must have heard me.
In the bottom of the first inning, Yankee hurler Phil Hughes was looking in for the signal from catcher Russell Martin with the Tigers’ powerful slugger Miguel Cabrera standing at the plate. On the first pitch Cabrera hit a foul ball that hooked into the stands between home and first. Home plate umpire Bob Davidson then pulled out another new baseball that had been freshly rubbed with Delaware river mud two hours before game time. Martin tossed it to Hughes as Cabrera stared the pitcher down.
Hughes throws……………Cabrera swings and sends a high foul fly hooking down the first base line towards the stands………….suddenly, it looks headed our way…………the sphere is coming in faster……..the ball is looking bigger………….I stand up from my seat and look back three rows across the aisle as a twenty something puts both hands up to catch Cabrera’s rocket…………..it bounces off his hands, and ever so lightly pops up into the air………… and softly lands ………..into by hands.
I hear light applause and then I give it to Kathleen who can’t believe that her Dad finally caught that elusive foul ball. We both can’t believe that just minutes before she asked if I had ever caught one.
I’m thrilled, perhaps not unlike what that seven-year old kid sitting down the first base side at Tiger Stadium on July 7th 1962 might have felt had Rocky Colavito sent one into the stands and into those small hands.
For a split second I thought about tossing it back to the guy who missed it. If he was sitting with his little kid, would I have given it to him? (I sure hope so.)
I’m 57 years old so why does catching this ball mean so much to me now?
Is it because for just a brief moment, and in a very small way, I was part of The Show?
Or is it because another fond memory has been created by the magic of our National Past Time?
A Rawlings baseball released from Phil Hughes’s right hand, violently redirected off a bat from a powerful swing by Miguel Cabrera, bouncing off the hands of a complete (and disappointed) stranger, then into my hands before it is transferred into the hands of my smiling daughter…now headed off to college.