Baseball reference.com might be my favorite dance partner. Sweetheart, I love the way you revive my memory.
I caught my first foul ball at County Stadium some time in the early 1980’s. The game was memorable for something. Don Sutton’s 300th win? Robin Yount’s 3,000 hit? or maybe it had something to do with Nolan Ryan. I give up. Baseball reference to my rescue.
It couldn’t have been Yount because it says his big hit happened in 1988. Couldn’t have been Sutton’s 300th win either because that happened AB (After he was a Brewer). Ryan? I doubt it. But then I saw the Sutton’s K column on his b-ref page and it hit me. It was during Sutton’s 3,000 strikeout game.
On June 24, 1983, Sutton struck out Alan Bannister of the Indians. I sort of remember a standing ovation, but barely. What I remember more is a Brewer player hitting a foul ball towards the upper deck and it landing on the black tongue sticking out from the mezzanine section. It then ricocheted and began its descent towards the lower grandstand.
I reached up my hands as high as they could go and somehow that ball eluded grown up hairy hands and landed in my palms. The ball still has the black streak from the tarry mezzanine tongue and some grass stains we added from our years of fielding ground balls at Watertower Park.
There’s all kinds of ways to catch a ball, just ask Zack Hample the sportswriter and baseball author. He’s caught 7,176 since 1990.
The kayak and fish net from McCovey’s Cove is interesting to see and so is wandering Waverly Avenue outside Wrigley Field in Chicago for a stray home run ball. Some even return home run balls hit by the visiting team. I’m too selfish to give up the ghost. The few times luck steered me some cowhide, I stashed her like gold.
One of my favorites I call lean and snare. It only happens down the first or third base line. I was sitting in the first row-first base side, again at County Stadium. It was the only time I ever sat that close to the field.
I brought my glove like I always did and still do, but I smacked the pocket with more urgency. I was nervous. A foul ball went rolling past whoever was playing first base and I leaned over the red metal railing and touched earth with my extended glove hand and scooped her up.
Another favorite I call the phantom chase. It was the year Rod Carew was flirting with a .400 average. County stadium again. Musta been 1978 or 77. One of my first games. We were in the upper grandstand and there was no one for at least 3 sections east or west.
Carew hit a towering foul ball. I think it was just to the right of home plate. My brother and I made a b-line for the ball. There was one other guy in hot pursuit coming from the opposite direction. He was fatter than us, but our strides were short. He got their first, reached down almost in slow motion. There was a pause and still some hope, but then he raised his hand, ball looking like a beacon of light. Terrible tragedy.
There’s also the skip to my Woo-the easiest of em’ all. It was October 2001, no baseball reference required.. September 11 still on people’s minds, but the baseball show went on. The Diamondbacks were visiting Miller Park-Milwaukee’s new stadium to close out the season. It was the year they beat the Yankees in 7 games.
Byung-Hyun Kim walked off the mound after shagging balls for the batting practice pitcher. We were lined up behind the Diamondbacks dugout- our mouths open like seagulls begging for worms. He pointed at me or at least that’s how I remember it. He set the ball free. It skipped off the dugout and into my hands.
My friend slapped the back of an empty seat and yelled out, “DAMN.” He was pissed off. It was just a rubber ball wrapped in yarn and cotton and covered with leather and red stitches. I would have been pissed off too.