Aug 31, 2010
Sometimes a foul ball bounces around the seating bowl of a stadium and gets nabbed off the ground by an excited fan. Other times, however, someone makes a Gold Glove-caliber play in the stands and receives a nice ovation for their efforts. After parting ways with the first couple of fans to seize their rubbed-up gamers I meet Ben, Fan Gold Glove Award winner on this warm summer evening. On my way to see about another foul ball chance I stop dead in my tracks as I see a ball come flying back into the seats and I watch a man with a beer in one hand stand up as the ball bounces off the Press Booth, hits an overhang and ricochets straight down. He reaches straight up with his free hand (gloveless) and makes a Web Gem-worthy grab. Within moments he's talking to me about the experience, smiling and laughing the whole time. The Melvin Mora ball, smacked into the Loge in the seventh inning, is still in his grasp.
Ben lives in L.A. and is originally from Napa. He's sat in the seats we're in before thanks to some friends that occasionally hook him up with tickets. When I ask him if he's ever thought that he'd have a chance to catch a ball in these seats he instantly responds, "Definitely!" It's something Ben has wanted to do for years: take home a foul ball from a Dodger game, but when I mention he didn't bring his baseball mitt, he laughs. I ask how he managed to make such a great catch and he replies. "Skills."
Ben is a concise, confident guy, and genuinely happy about his experience. In his eyes I can see that this event just made his night. Can you describe the catch for me, Ben? He tells me that as soon as he saw it coming up toward him his first thought was: "I'm gonna catch this friggin' ball." We both laugh and I ask him what sort of feelings he's got flowing through him. Joy? Jubilation? "All of the above. I can cross this off my bucket list." After fifteen to twenty years of going to baseball games, he's finally got the long-awaited prize. And what is he planning to do with it? Well, Ben hasn't decided yet but the ball's still in his hand ten minutes later. He's letting it sink in. The Dodgers are winning on the warm summer night and Ben's got his very own foul ball. How are you feeling right now, in this moment, I ask. "Ecstatic!"
In each inning of a baseball game, so much happens that can really get lost on the casual fan. Coaches give signs, players change positioning based on the hitter, guys keep their arms loose by playing catch, and a young fan named Cole, out in the right field bleachers, knows what that means. A baseball could soon be headed his way. Yep, that's right. You don't have to wait for a foul ball or a home run in order for a ball to come your way. Cole's got a keen eye for the game and shows a bit of strategy to snag a ball from Kemp, his favorite player. I track Cole and his dad, Chuck, down in the right field bleachers in the fifth inning. The duo hails from Placentia and they're seated in the front row of the section, which I notice is a full two sections away from where young Cole obtained the ball. When I inquire as to how Cole knew to be near the center fielder he responds, "Because it was Kemp's turn to throw it." The observant fan goes on to tell me that he knows that the right fielder and center fielder switch off throwing the ball to the seats each inning.
Throughout the interview, both father and son are ready with baseball gloves, just in case a homer comes their way. So, you seem to know what you're doin' out here. How many baseballs have you ended up with this season? Cole starts, "Um... like maybe eight..." and his dad jumps in to finish his sentence, "But only maybe one or two that he catches." They both assure me that there aren't any favorites in their collection: they're all equally special. Chuck explains that at batting practice sometimes they'll find an Easter egg waiting for them or a ball might bounce around so either of them can pick it up.
I ask how Cole knows that Kemp's baseball is going to get to him... what does he do to insure he catches it? "Just scream at him," and he'll wave his glove and yell out "Matt, over here!" Cole elaborates that once he had been heard he saw it in Kemp's eyes. "He just, like, walked right at me," and then the throw came up and now Cole's smiling with a baseball from his favorite Dodger. Has he ever dropped one in a situation like that? Nope-he's got a perfect record. His dad, however? What about your dad, has he ever dropped one, Cole? "Probably." Chuck just laughs and shakes his head... and I thank them both for their time. I don't want to distract them from any possible homers any longer. Home run snags, after all, are the fantasy of many fans situated in the outfield seats at any MLB game... but sometimes the fantasy of taking home a home run ball hit by your favorite team becomes a reality and, as you'll read next time, a Dodger fan who hails from about 6,000 miles outside of L.A. became one of the luckiest people in the stadium.
Stay tuned to myGameBalls.com for Part 3 of this series, coming tomorrow.