I’ve been a baseball fan all my life. I’ve attended countless Mariners games at the Kingdome, too few at Safeco, five-ish Spring Training games a year for nine years, and 30 or so Diamondbacks games. I’ve sat in the nosebleed seats, on the outfield seating grass, behind home plate and feet from the dugout. I’ve been in press boxes, clubhouses, and locker rooms.
I’ve come to games early (two hours!) and stayed late (19 innings, Seattle vs Boston, 8/1/2000). I brought my mitt to games when I was a kid.
I was a baseball player most of my childhood, and managed the WSU team for a semester.
I’ve seen a lot of baseball, but never, ever have I caught a batting practice, foul or home run ball as a fan. Not once. The closest I came was spring training 2011 when Ichiro fouled a pitch, just left of the home plate screen, that slammed into the wall I had been standing a second earlier. No, I didn’t even get a piece of it.
But on my first trip to Salt River Fields to see the AZ Diamondbacks in March 2012, my fortunes changed. While waiting for the game to start by watching the Rockies take batting practice, I chased down a ball that had rolled across the parking lot.
Yep, my first ball. While I didn’t catch it, it counted. Finally, FINALLY I had a baseball story. Finally, my journey as a fan was complete. Finally I had a memento to take home that didn’t cost me $30 at the team store.
Boy, was I stoked. I didn’t care that I hadn’t actually caught it, nor did I care that the sidewalk and parking lot had scuffed the crap out of it. I had a REAL MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL. My first visit to Salt River Fields had brought me my first baseball and the game hadn’t even started yet.
At 11am, the main gates opened and I walked to right field in hopes of watching the Diamondbacks batting practice. They had a few lefties up, but none of them were pulling the ball much, so I walked to fence hoping to see a player I knew. There, warming up in their right and center field positions, were Justin Upton and Chris Young. I watched Kirk Gibson sidle (how do bow-legged gunslingers walk?) from player to player, mumbling in baseball speak.
“Hey Justin! You know where you’re ranked in fantasy baseball this year?”
“Top 5 man!”
He smiled, and then turned back to the field.
Then I turned to Chris Young.
“Chris, really love the way you play center.”
So yeah, you could say I’m on a first-name basis with professional ballplayers.
And then I saw it. High, arcing and about to come down right next to the outfield usher, a BP ball had made it over the fence. It landed with a thud on the grass and I scampered over to pick it up.
TWO BALLS! TWO BALLS! I HAD TWO BALLS!
32 years of never being close to anything and today I had TWO BALLS. Man, what I would have given to have caught them 25 years ago. My adult self was excited, but me as a kid would have been ecstatic. I imagined my brother, Dad and myself at the Kingdome decades earlier, me with my glove and mesh Mariners hat; my brother with his glove and dorky glasses. Oh man, what we would have done to even have a chance to catch a ball when we were kids. We would have never forgotten it.
But I’m 32. I have no use for two baseballs. The best part of the experience is the story , and I’m sure as hell never going to forget it, so why did I need two baseballs? I didn’t. But you know who did need a baseball? The little kid that arrived just as BP shut down. I saw him come in with his family, dressed in shorts, a DBacks tshirt and hat, with a glove almost as big as the TPS ones my dad told me would help me to catch EVERYTHING (TPS is a softball brand).
The kid, realizing he was too late, didn’t lose excitement. His parents called him back from the fence and I watched him bound up the hill. I was that age once. I had really, really wanted a ball. Hell, at that point I had never touched a REAL MLB baseball and I bet that kid hadn’t either.
I relaxed in the sun until I saw the boy leave with his dad toward the concessions. Although I don’t THINK I look creepy, I was a little hesitant to walk up to a blanket filled with kids and overprotective moms, so I figured waiting until the kid was without his siblings would be best.
I strolled over, tapped him on the shoulder.
“Have you ever caught a ball at a baseball game before?”
“Okay, stick out your glove.”
He did, and I took three steps back. The kid, who, um, likely won’t be making a living as a baseball player, held his glove out as far as he could. I underhanded it toward his mitt, he took a step to his left and cradled it. I told him to have fun as he sprinted back to his blanket, smiles everywhere.
That felt good. Real good. Good enough for me to celebrate with Italian Ice and a beer (not a good combination) as I reclined again in the grass. I rubbed the last ball a few times, found a garbage can for the food, and again got up to search for a kid deserving of a ball.
I found one near the Diamondback offices in deep left-center field. They had just finished an autograph session (Brad Ziegler, I think) and a few kids had been turned away. Two of them whined a bit, but the third whirled around and pulled his dad back toward the field. He seemed like a good kid.
I walked toward him—nodding to his dad as I approached—and asked the kid if he’d ever caught a ball. He said no, so I told him to stick his glove out. He did, and I tossed the ball a bit above his head. The kid took a step back and closed his glove. His face lit up, as did mine. I turned to the dad, shook his hand and walked toward the main concourse, feeling great.
So far, I’d been at the stadium for 90 minutes and ‘caught’ my first two balls. I’d had a beer and an Italian Ice. I’d made not one, but TWO little kids’ eyes light up. All I needed now was to find a spot to sit and enjoy the game.
But it was not to be. I made it about a hundred feet and saw a flash of a white and red polo to my right. I turned to see a Diamondbacks employee, the SAME Diamondbacks employee that had booted me out at 10am (after I walked in a propped-open gate) and sent me to the Rockies practice field, catching up to me.
Shit. Twice in one day? What could I have possibly done?
“Did you give that kid your ball?”
Oh god. The kid probably fell on it or broke something with it or threw it at someone and I was in trouble. Crap. Crap. Oh, well, the worst they could do is kick me out, right? It’s not my crime if a kid does something with a ball that I gave him! We’re at a baseball game! Go talk to his dad!
“Yes,” I said, wishing I had sat back down.
The Diamondbacks employee introduced himself as Eric George and thanked me for being nice to the kid. He said that the team likes to reward good deeds like that, and that I should take his business card and let him know if there’s anything I’d like to team to do for me. Maybe some tickets, a hat or signed something. He didn’t promise anything, but made it clear he intended to reward me.
I promised to email him, thinking that all I’d probably get was a drink coupon or $1 off ticket discount. I left the game in the third inning, positive that my day wasn’t going to get any better. And I had work to do.
As soon as I got back to my office, I emailed Eric. I had thought of stuff I’d like the entire way home and had dismissed hats, bats, signed baseballs or coffee with a player. I figured it couldn’t hurt to ask for something big, so I took a shot.
I asked to throw out the first pitch. Yes, I was completely serious. No, I didn’t think he’d be able to make it happen. Yes, I was legitimately worried if I’d be able to throw a baseball without warming up. No, I didn’t think it was too much to ask, but just in case it was, I asked for tickets for a military veteran friend of mine, Debbie Walker. I told him that she was a disabled veteran that liked baseball and would very much like to attend a game that didn’t require tons of walking up stairs. Debbie’s asthma, while not usually life threatening, can certainly be a deterrent in enjoying cool things. I figured this was my chance to do something cool for her. I also asked if Eric had remembered kicking me out that day.
Eric replied the next day. Yes, he remembered booting me; no, he didn’t have the power to let me throw the first pitch; yes, he certainly could accommodate my requests for Debbie. But instead of giving us two tickets for Debbie and a guest, he insisted on me going and awarded us three.
I requested tickets to a day game against the Phillies and Eric responded by getting us seated in the handicap area in Section 115. We’d be close to the game and Debbie wouldn’t have to walk up any stairs, both of which are awesome. Cool story, right? Still not done.
Eric also mentioned us getting in early to watch batting practice. But because the teams don’t take batting practice for a day following a night game, we wouldn’t be able to see the players hit. We could walk on the dirt surrounding the grass and take some pictures in the dugout. I said yes.
We attended the April 25, 2012 game against the Philadelphia Phillies, on Katie’s 29th birthday. Debbie, Katie and I arrived when the gates opened, walked around on the field, took a bunch of pics, sat in the dugout and enjoyed the ease of the handicap section above Section 115. While Katie and I felt a little guilty sitting in the section the usher manning our area said that we weren’t displacing anyone, so the guilt passed quickly.
Not bad for giving a kid a ball.
TL;DR – I gave a kid a ball and the Arizona Diamondbacks gave me tickets and a tour.