One of the greatest thrills for baseball fans of any age is going to a game and getting a ball. Whether it’s a foul that was chased down a section over, a toss-up from a player during pregame warm-ups, or the ultimate, a home run caught on the fly, there’s just something about wrapping your hands around roughly $15 dollars worth of leather and yarn that satisfies the enthusiastic child in your soul and makes your day at the ballgame complete. Even as I approach 30 years old, I still go to baseball games and cross my fingers for a ball. Maybe it’s a bit childish to do so, but I feel pretty justified since it took nearly 20 years of A’s games to get my first one. I’m just making up for lost time.
I didn’t get a ball until the 2007 season. I can’t remember my first A’s game, but I’m guessing it was sometime in the late 80s, possibly 1989 at the latest. So for 20 years of games, I waited and waited for that first elusive ball to fall in my lap, or glove, or whatever, I just wanted a damn ball. Despite sitting in many different parts of the Coliseum growing up, I never got a ball. In fact, up until that first ball I never really even had any come close to my seat during a game. I just figured it would never happen. Thankfully, my patience would finally be rewarded.
During warm-ups before an afternoon game against the Toronto Blue Jays, an errant ball from their batting practice rolled towards the base of the right field wall. I knew this was my chance. Calling down to the field, I asked politely if somebody could toss it up (I couldn’t tell who was down there). Sure enough, a few moments later it came floating over railing and that first elusive ball was finally mine. Oddly enough, I wasn’t excited as I thought I would be. I guess it was probably a sense of relief that I finally got one after all this time, like when Susan Lucci finally won an Emmy (hey, I was going to say John Elway winning the Super Bowl, but I wanted to make a non-sports reference).
After that first ball it seemed much easier to get balls after that. I’m not exactly sure why, I really don’t do anything differently than I did before. All I do is ask really, really, really nicely. I suppose it gets easier with time, sort of like sex. After two decades of not getting any, I find myself being extremely disappointed if I don’t get one at least once a week. Once again, sort of like sex.
As you saw in the photo, I’ve got a shoebox full of balls now, 27 in all. Most of them are toss-ups from batting practice, and a few of them were given to me by friends at the game because they had an extra. I’m not sure if any of them are foul balls because I sit in fair territory, so that’s nearly impossible. However, two of them are home runs. Better yet, one of them was a grand slam by my favorite A’s player at the time.
It was Thursday, May 7, 2009 and the A’s were taking on the Texas Rangers. In the bottom of the fourth with no score, Rangers pitcher Brandon McCarthy, now an Athletic, loaded the bases by giving up a single to Kurt Suzuki then walking Jason Giambi and Matt Holliday. The next batter was everybody’s favorite outfielder, Jack Cust. On a 0-1 count, Jack absolutely unloaded on a fastball, blasting it into the right field bleachers. As soon as I saw it coming my way, I knew it was mine. Not having a glove, I tracked the flight of the ball and waited for it to land. It bounced off a seat about three or four rows behind me and ended up coming to rest under a seat in the section above that sits in front of the luxury boxes in the back of the bleachers, about 15 rows back. I was already running toward the top of the section once it hit off the seat, and I saw two guys a few rows behind me start after it as well. I guess they didn’t see where it bounced, because when I ran to the top of the section they stopped halfway, ensuring that I wouldn’t have to straight arm anybody to get it. In the video below, you can actually see me jump out of the first row and start running up.
When I got to the ball, I just sort of stood there and looked at it for a second in disbelief. I really couldn’t believe my favorite player just hit a grand slam, and I easily got the ball. Life was good. But it gets even better.
As it just so happened, Jack was actually going to be appearing at the Englander Sports Pub in San Leandro (literally right down the street from the stadium) after the game to sign autographs. I rarely go to signings, but when your favorite player hits a slam to you and is signing autographs down the street after the game, you don’t even think about skipping it.
The A’s won the game handily and I headed to the bar. After waiting outside for about an hour in the most disorganized line of all-time, I finally got inside. When I got up to the table I was actually a bit surprised since he didn’t look as big as he does on the field. I told him I was a big fan, showed him the ball and told him it was the grand slam, and he asked if he should put that on the ball. Well, duh, Jack (I didn’t say that).
After he signed the ball I told him that I’m the guy in the bleachers who leads his chant (we have different chants and drum beats for each player while at-bat). He thanked me for the support and shook my hand, and I strolled on out. I didn’t even look at the ball until I was outside in the parking lot because if I had I would’ve noticed something just a bit off.
I figured since everything else went perfectly one small screw-up wasn’t a big deal. I was thinking of trying to rub off the ‘4’ and replace it with a ‘5’ but thought better of it. I’d probably just mess the ball up, and it’s a funny story the way it is. Unless I get a home run ball during the World Series, there probably will never be any ball that can top this one.