Tuesday, June 05, 2012

When the Foul Ball Comes Your Way

Last Saturday afternoon in the bottom of the first inning at Kauffman Stadium, Kansas City Royals Outfielder Alex Gordon fouled off a pitch and launched it like a laser beam to Section 215, Row HH, Seat 6, which happened to be where I was sitting.

That this ball hit me in the face is not in question--I am married to an eyewitness and she has volunteered this information to several people who then looked at me with what I interpreted as admiration, although pity might be a possibility. Usually they wanted to know if I got the ball. Personally, I thought the question of whether I was blind in my right eye was more pertinent but there is no accounting for the priorities of baseball fans.

The answer to the question about the frigging ball is that I did not get it, primarily because it was hit so hard that it bounced off my thick skull and landed in what was undoubtedly at least four sections away. Certainly in the upper deck. Possibly in the parking lot. It is probably now owned by some wuss who doesn't understand the grand tradition of recovering baseballs hit into the stands.

All of this requires a little context.

This year Kansas City is the host of the Major League Baseball All Star Game and it has caused quite the buzz in town. I had a special interest in this weekend's game between the Royals and Oakland A's, largely because it was commemorating the year 1960, when the All Star Game was hosted by Kansas City, whose major league team at that time was the Kansas City Athletics. (The A's moved their team to Oakland after the 1967 season and a new expansion team, the Royals, was established in Kansas City, beginning play for the 1969 season. But I digress...)

I had a more personal reason for attending this game and that is because 1960 is the year I became a baseball fan. (That's another story involving a third baseman named Ed Charles stealing home in the bottom of the ninth while I, a 13 year old recently moved from Canada to the States, was listening on the radio. Been a baseball fan ever since. But I digress...)

The promotion also provided that each fan entering the game received a nice vintage cap with the year 1960 and the Royals logo on it. (It also has a rather obtrusive Taco Bell logo on it. I checked and Taco Bell was founded in 1962 so I'm willing to give it a pass. But I digress...)

It was the cap that saved me.

Anyone familiar with baseball knows that fans carry a secret hope that they'll catch a foul ball. Kids bring baseball gloves, sometimes their dad's tattered variety and sometimes a brand new shiny thing made in China and sold by Wal-Mart. Most of all they carry the vain hope that the foul ball will come their way. They dream that the line drive will be a couple of feet over their head and they will leap and spear it, resulting in an explosion of cheers as it is documented in high definition on a gigantic scoreboard. If the ball bounces nearby there is a scramble involving people of all ages and once the ball is retrieved there is often a drama between some husky college kid working on his third beer and a tearful eight year old learning the injustice of life.

I'm not saying that any of that was on my mind as Alex Gordon approached the plate in the bottom of the first. In fact, I know my head was down for some reason--getting the food properly balanced on my lap, getting my bum knees into a position where I can flex them now and then, or whatever else one does to get settled in for the ball game. But then within a nanosecond or so I heard the crack of a bat and a sudden rush of air, a gasp from people around me, and then a thud followed by a cacophony of ball-smacking, people-scrambling, voices-calling. The sounds were immediately conjoined with tactile sensations--a cap askew, eye glasses knocked off my nose, and a general feeling that my head hurt a bit, not horrible pain but not pleasant either.

I was immediately surrounded by ushers and other Royals staffers, probably a few lawyers working undercover. I declined their offer to have a medic take me somewhere to ice my forehead. I'd suffered enough humiliation in one day.

The foul ball had come my way and I wasn't looking.

I don't think I've ever carried my glove to a ball game. I've not been obsessive about getting a foul ball. They've kind of ruined it these days anyway. Any ball that makes it to the field, whether through base hits or player warmups or any other method, usually gets tossed back into the stands for the kids. So you see, they don't have to earn it like I did on Saturday, looking downward at my nachos and then taking the darn foul ball right on the chops.

Which takes me back to the cap and how it saved me. I've thought about it and I'm positive the ball hit me on the brim of the hat, knocking it downward so as to change its trajectory sufficiently to minimize the impact while still giving me a jolt and knocking my glasses to my lap. This is kind of like the soldiers who tell stories of putting their small Bibles in their shirt pocket, subsequently repelling the bullet that would otherwise have penetrated their heart. I'm left uncertain as to whether to claim this as a spiritual experience. Some would. I probably won't.

I mentioned that I wanted to get that cap because 1960 was the year I became a baseball fan. My family moved from Canada to the U.S. in 1959 and I was all about hockey. But it was a late night game on my radio in 1960, I thought, that won me over to baseball. Ed Charles stole home in the bottom of the ninth to win the game. I'll never forget. I was 13 years old.

But yesterday, just on a whim, I looked it up and it seems that Ed Charles was traded to the Kansas City Athletics on December 15, 1961 and was traded away from the A's on May 10, 1967. I dug a little deeper and I'll be darned if I didn't find the newspaper clipping of the very game I have carried around in my youthful memories. Ed Charles stole home in the bottom of the ninth inning on August 8, 1962, defeating the Minnesota Twins 4-3.

Ed Charles did not play in Kansas City in 1960, which kind of messes up the significance of the cap. I now have to date my love of baseball as beginning in 1962 when I was 15 years old. This is not a life-changing piece of information, to be sure, but still a tad unsettling. It means I've been a baseball fan two years less than I thought. It took a whack on the head to get my facts straight.

As for the cap, well it put its brim between my eye and Alex Gordon's line drive. It will at least give me a pretty good story to tell about what happened in Kauffman Stadium back in 2012 when the foul ball came my way.