The closest I ever came to grabbing a foul ball during a baseball game was Aug. 7, 1987. My family was on vacation in Philadelphia, and the Phillies were pummeling our Cardinals. (The game was such a blowout that Jose Oquendo pitched and Willie McGee played shortstop.) In the seventh inning, Tom Lawless hit a ball foul, deep into the leftfield upper deck at Veterans Stadium, near our seats. It was clear, even to an 11-year-old, that the ball was headed straight toward us.
There is a moment, as it becomes apparent that the arc of a foul ball is landing in your specific vicinity, when every person panics. We all love the idea of catching a baseball at a game, until we actually have the chance. Then it comes toward us, and the thought is unwelcome and undeniable: Please don't come to me. We are all awkward 8-year-old rightfielders when we're holding our phone and a beer and an object is hurtling in our direction. We want the ball. We would just like it to stop moving first.
The Lawless ball landed a few seats over and rattled around some empty Vet seats. It rolled to a halt in front of an older man's feet. He bent over, picked it up, smiled and looked at me. "Here ya go, kid," he said, and flipped the ball … to my little sister. She grabbed it and beamed. There's always a smaller kid.
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On Monday night, at the Colorado Rockies game, a man, with a group of friends, caught a foul ball. When he secured it -- something instant replay was not required to determine -- he had several options. He could have stashed the ball in his pocket. He could shown the ball off to all his pals. He could have thrown it back on the field. (This would have been unwise.) He did none of those things. He instead handed the ball to a kid sitting behind him.
This was an excellent decision. The kid, as you can see from this set of GIFs, was a bit appreciative of the ball, and the man's generosity. It is one of those moments from a ballgame that makes you feel positive about the world, and humanity and the unifying nature of sport. It makes you wanna hug that kid and buy that guy a beer.
It is also rare. People are usually jerks about it.
The most famous example, of course, are the two Rangers fans from a game last year who swiped (unknowingly, they claimed) a ball from a little kid and proceeded to pose with it while the child cried next to them. Here's the gruesome scene, if you can stomach it.
But it's hardly just them. Just a couple of weeks ago, Derek Jeter tried to hand a baseball to a kid along the railing … and basically had to fight off a horde of adults to do so.
And don't think kids can't be little monsters about it either. (After all, they are merely small, future adults.) The worst I ever saw was this kid from earlier this year, who seems to be the cartoonish embodiment of capitalism in its rawest, most pure form. (That is what I imagine Wall Street traders to be like all day.)
But mostly, what draws our ire most are adults taking balls away from kids. We get so caught up in these games, so invested, that we forget that they are games, not real life. (This is especially true when you write about these games for a living.) Children are supposed to remind us that these games are diversion, distractions, silly universal entertainment, so when human greed and avarice emerges, particularly at the expense of a child, the feeling is so familiar -- a reminder of how things really work -- that we strike back with a vengeance. (That couple who took the ball from the kid at the Rangers game above? They actually went on the Today show to defend themselves and demand an apology from Yankees broadcaster Michael Kay. They did not receive one.)
To make sure this doesn't happen to you -- to make sure your natural human excitement when you snatch a baseball at a game does not make you into a viral monster -- you should remember you are an adult, and unless you are a professional baseball player, balls are for kids. I understand: This is easy to forget at a baseball game. Forgetting you're an adult is part of the point of going to a baseball game.
After the Rangers incident, Tom Scocca, then of Deadspin, put together a handy flowchart for people to use to decide whether they should keep a baseball they get at a game or give it back. You should check out the chart itself, but in short:
If you are an adult who catches a line drive with your bare hands -- a superhuman achievement that supercedes any niceities -- or there are no children around you, you deserve the ball. If you are not, give the ball to a kid, preferably the smallest one who isn't acting like a crazy spoiled brat. This is not that hard. Look at that Rockies fan from Monday night. That's how it's done.
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