November 4, 2010
This isn't the story of the first baseball I ever owned. That one is long gone-I got it sometime in the late eighties when I first got into Little League. No, this is the story of my first Rawlings Official Major League Baseball, the first baseball used by a professional baseball player I ever got to take home. I wasn't a ballhawk or any kind of baseball collector. I also wasn't a little kid. I was just a guy who happened to arrive in time for batting practice to Angel Stadium of Anaheim back in the summer of 2005.
It was a blazing hot afternoon and the rival Red Sox were in town to face my beloved Angels. I didn't live in Orange County at that point in my life; I commuted from Riverside, about an hour away. I brought my girlfriend, who has since become my wife. I was twenty-one years old. No, I didn't get a friendly "look-at-this-little-kid" toss from a player. I was a college guy who had his glove with him-a guy who was just waiting for a home run to be hit his way. I missed the home team's batting practice-we arrived to the outfield just as they headed off the field. There was a lull in activity and I remember thinking, "Well, the Sox can hit... maybe one will come my way."
I didn't know to run back and forth between sections. There was so much I didn't know. Who was Zack Hample? Different hats for different teams? The world of ballhawking was something I had never heard of and, quite frankly, something I would not have been interested in at that time in my life anyway. I just wanted one-one baseball to call my own-I wanted to be able to tell my friends, "Yeah, I got one." I wanted there to be a reason I brought my glove to the game.
There was a little luck and a little skill involved in my first snag. The Red Sox were swinging away in the cage and I was hanging out about six rows back from the wall in the pavilion in right field while my girlfriend sat nearby. I could tell that she was a bit bored... and uncomfortably warm. The summer sun was out in Anaheim and she told me she was going to head up to the shade of the covered concourse. I said goodbye to her, watched her head up the steps, then turned my attention back to the field. A right-handed batter was in the cage, cranking BP tosses out into the bullpens past left field. I stood stationary but focused out just past the eighteen-foot right field wall.
Then, CRACK! And the next BP pitch was sent flying high toward right field. It was arcing toward me and I, for a moment, couldn't move. Initially I thought that if I moved I'd have no chance to follow the path of the ball. Was it even going to make it to the seats? It might... I moved toward the aisle (Why wasn't I already there?)-three steps to my right. Then I started heading down toward the wall, down the stone steps. The ball was descending now, and fast. I tripped on the staircase and quickly looked down, regained my balance, and then popped my head back up. I tried to find the ball again against the sun. My feet were back where they needed to be and I locked onto the ball again, spinning just to my left. I sidestepped through the front row and tried to block the sunlight as best I could. At the last moment I reached out and to my left as far as I could, stretching my black Mizuno out over the railing. The force of the ball knocked my arm down a bit, out of my line of sight over the wall but I heard a satisfying smack and froze in place as I closed the glove instantaneously. I pulled up my black Mizuno carefully and turned it over. I felt the weight and saw through the webbing a glint of white leather and I took a breath. I actually caught it. The batter left the cage... Manny Ramirez. Wow--a Manny (almost) homer. Oppo.
I stared at the ball. Nothing completely remarkable about it. It was a baseball; it was beat up a bit, scuffed, scratched, and stained. It had Bud Selig's signature stamped on it. I realized I had never really looked at a Major League Baseball very closely before. I held it up, still nestled in the pocket of my glove, to show the other early birds to the game I had, indeed, held onto it. I remember hearing somebody cheer a section or two away. I turned around, grinning from ear to ear before taking off up the steps toward the concourse. I was looking toward the tunnel and taking the steps two at a time... I had to show her! The ball was still in my glove and then I found my girlfriend returning to the seats. She asked me why I was so excited and just held out my newly acquired souvenir. It was the first time I'd held it in my hand. It was perfect in my mind.
After a moment I put it in the pocket of my cargo shorts and we headed toward our assigned seats. Looking back--I can't believe I didn't finish BP out in the stands. About every inning or so I'd take the ball out of my pocket to examine it, talk about it, relive the catch... it's something I still do. I've never put it in writing until today.
Now that the World Series has wrapped up and there's no baseball for five months I imagine a lot of us will be going through our memories of the 2010 season and thinking about past seasons, too. That's what inspired this entry to MyGameBalls... memories. What's the story of your first baseball? Do you remember the day? The weather? The player? Who was with you and how'd you get it? It's funny--I didn't start collecting until about three years after I'd snagged my first ball. I know each baseball has a story (and an emotion or two) attached to it. So, this offseason I challenge you to share your own. Happy Fall, everyone.
Matt Jackson is a contributing columnist to myGameBalls.com and also maintains a Blog.