Mary was tugging on my sleeve while I squinted at the left field scoreboard. She pointed up at the soaring baseball. I glanced at her and shrugged.
I’ve never caught a foul ball before. It’s truly one of the biggest disappointments of my life. In a hundred plus games, sitting in every part of the stadium, bringing a glove up until the age when it was too embarrassing (well, maybe a little beyond that), it’s just never happened.
I gazed up at the ball again; it did seem to be heading our way, but having been let down so many times before, I was sure it would sail over our heads or be caught in a wind current and fall several rows in front of us.
I blamed my father for my foul ball jadedness. I was six when he took me to my very first game. As we walked to our seats, my hand in his, he said with a lilt of excitement in his voice, “Hey, maybe we’ll get a ball today.” That entire game I followed the track of every foul ball, convinced one would land in my little glove. Since then I had been consumed with getting a ball. But inevitably, after that first game and every game since, I went home disappointed, rarely even sniffing a foul ball near my seat.
“It’s getting closer, Brian.”
Sure, I had come close to getting one a handful of times, painfully close.
Yankee Stadium, 1989: I was sitting in the mezzanine section on the first base side when a ball glided over about three rows away. I always thought if I somehow could’ve anticipated where it was going to be hit, and then stood on the railing and dove for it, I would’ve gotten it.
Camden Yards, 1992: Left field line, a sharp line drive that probably would’ve broken my hand, had I jumped the five feet to snag it.
Shea Stadium, 1993: Behind home plate, a weird ricochet off a seat a couple rows away. Fenway, 1995: Upper deck third base side, caught by a guy with a net behind me. Philly, 1999; St. Louis, 2002; Shea again, 2006. All close but no cigars.
But now this plummeting orb, this beautiful, gleaming treasure seemed to be headed right for me. And somehow it seemed different than any foul ball I had ever seen. In fact the whole situation felt different, like I could, nay, would actually catch it.
I quickly glanced around at the people near us. There were a few older women who didn’t seem to be paying any attention and a couple kids with gloves; I wasn’t worried about them though, I was at least a foot taller.
My biggest competition appeared to be a middle-aged man with a bright red bald spot sitting two rows in front of us. I had noticed him earlier because as he made his way to his seat, the sun shining off his mirrored sunglasses had nearly blinded me.
As the ball got closer, a few people started yelling. I scampered to the aisle; Mary yelped as I stepped on her foot. Bald Spot stood up and peered back at me; the glare off his shades hurt my eyes again and I swear he smiled.
This is it, I thought a little nervously, this will be my best chance, maybe my only chance I’ll ever have to get a foul ball.
I stuck out my hands and prayed, actually prayed that I would catch it, and amazingly, incredibly, the ball fell into them. I was stunned. Just as I was about to hold up my trophy for everyone to see, it slipped out of my grasp. Shockingly, I watched it descend to the outstretched, overly-tanned arms of Bald Spot.
I took a step down and, slipping on a hotdog wrapper, lunged forward. I collided with Bald Spot and we both fell to the hard steps. He let out a cry of shock and his flailing elbow crashed into my nose. An instant later I felt the blood start flowing. He groaned as my knee sank into his gut and the ball bounced off my back.
“I got it!” a raspy-voiced woman screamed.
Shoving Bald Spot aside, I spun around. An old, chubby woman with a head of curly white hair was slowly leaning down to pick up the ball as it rolled to her. I reached out desperate for the ball but found her ankle instead. I yanked sharply; she shrieked and sat down with a thud.
But now where was the ball? I frantically looked around, twisting on my sore knees to scour the seats.
All of a sudden I spotted a small boy about ten feet away with a crooked baseball cap and a huge mitt on his right hand. He was crouching down and staring at something on the ground. The ball was at his feet. I got up quickly and took a couple steps. Jumping up onto one of the seats, I launched myself through the air.
Just as the kid picked up the ball, a huge smile on his face, I sailed by and grabbed it. I banged my head on the metal railing and landed painfully on my left arm.
I was a little dazed but when I glanced down at my hand, I realized I was clutching the ball. I grinned. I had it! Finally, finally I had my foul ball. Squeezing it as hard as I could, I slowly got to my feet. Blood was dripping down my dirty, ripped shirt as I held up my prize.
Aside from the little kid crying, I noticed how oddly quiet it had gotten. Everyone around me, including Mary, was staring daggers into me. I was confused; I had seen people do worse for a foul ball, I mean I didn’t kill anybody, I’m sure Bald Spot and Grandma were going to be fine, after all-
Suddenly I noticed nothing was happening out on the field. In fact the umpires and even most of the players were staring at me as well. The first baseman was covering his face with his red cap.
“Um, Mr. Harper?”
One of the coaches had walked to the edge of the bleachers.
“We only have about ten balls so we’re really gonna need that one back.”
I looked at the ball for a couple seconds and then tossed it to him. He caught it and threw it to another coach who placed it back on the rubber tee.
Holding my throbbing arm, I limped back to my seat.
“Nice catch,” Mary grumbled as I sat down.
I heard what sounded like a growl and glanced to my right to see the old woman; she was rubbing her back and giving me the stink eye. When I turned back, Bald Spot was glaring at me; his shirt was covered in what appeared to be mustard and there was now a large crack in the middle of his sunglasses. He started getting up.
“Maybe you should just go, Brian,” Mary said softly. “Jaime’s hockey game starts in ten minutes anyway.”
I smiled. I had never caught a puck at a hockey game before. Sure, I had come close a handful of times…
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Portland Fiction Project
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