Monday, April 7, 2008

The Day I Almost Got a Ball

I published this story for a site with whom I used to be affiliated, Most Valuable Network ( I no longer write for them but you should still check them out - they cover a fair gamut of sports fairly well. Anyway, this took place August 14, 2005, in a rain-shortened game against the Chicago White Sox. Enjoy.

Sunday I was at Fenway Park, taking in a little Big Club baseball and a lot of water. But it wasn’t all rain, and the day wasn’t all wasted.

It started off pretty poorly, actually. I’ve seen a lot of baseball this summer and wasn’t feeling particularly well all weekend, and truth to tell, I wasn’t looking forward to trekking all the way into Boston (I’m a Rhode Islander) and sitting in the 95-degree heat for three hours. But the seat I had that day was just too kick-ass to pass up. FB 51, row B — three or four seats to the third-base side of the screen, four rows off the field. Closer to the action than the guy on deck. So I had to go, even though on the train and for the first inning or so I was sweating profusely and cursing baseball for taking place in the summertime.

Of course, the weather broke spectacularly when the heavens opened up, so I didn’t have to worry about that for too long. In fact, between the first and second rain delays it was quite comfortable, if you don’t mind being a little waterlogged, which believe me, I didn’t.

In the row in front of me was a kid of no more than 8 or 9 years, with blond hair bordering on white, longer than you normally see nowadays. It was obviously his first game. He brought his glove and kept pestering his dad for a foul ball, as if a word from him would be all that was necessary.

In the third inning, he got his ball. The home plate umpire took a ball out of play and rolled it to the ball boy. This kid went over to the rail and stuck out his mitt, and the ball boy tossed it right to him. The look on his face, predictably, was pure ecstasy.

A couple of minutes went by during which he looked at his trophy over and over again, turning it this way and that in his hands, pretending to throw it for the winning putout of the World Series, tossing it up and catching it. After a while he asked his father a question I couldn’t hear and saw him shrug his shoulders. He turned around to face me.

“Excuse me,” he said, which was the first good sign, “is this your first time here?”

“Umm, no,” I said with a bit of a smile - it was by my count the 32nd time this year.

“Do they [meaning the players] stay after the game and sign autographs?” he asked.

“Not really, no,” I said. “You might want to try the player’s parking lot an hour or so after the game.”

At this, the kid turned crestfallen. His shoulders slumped and his hopeful expression turned blank.

“But listen,” I said, “You’re still a lucky kid - I’ve been coming here since I was your age” — my advanced years must’ve made a suitable impression here — “and I’ve never gotten a ball, ever.”

He gets this thoughtful look on his face - I assumed that my comment had made its desired impact. But then he huddles in with his dad for a little while and turns around to face me again. This time, he’s holding out his ball.

“Here,” he says. “You take it.”

It took six or seven times before I could convince him to put it back in his glove. It’s tough to sound forceful when you have a lump in your throat. He finally did but said to me, “If I get another one, I’ll give it to you.”

I said, “If you get a second one, you can do what you like with it - but you gotta keep that first one.”

Well, he never got his second one, and unless we see each other at the make up game (the game was postponed after a ridiculous 4 hour delay) the point will forever be moot. I’ll never even know the name of the special little kid who made an impression on me that will last the rest of my life.

However, if he does show up, and does get a second ball, I will take it from him, and ask him for his autograph on it - for, as I plan on telling him, we get autographs of people we respect and admire. And that little towheaded kid earned both of those things from me Sunday with that one simple, unselfish, magnificent gesture.