Saturday, September 14, 2002

Tha baseball hung in the lights, turned ovoid by the spin from Barry Bonds' bat.

We went down to QualComm stadium last night to watch our Giants play the San Diego Padres, who are good at taking a beating. Of course, the Giants won, but the real highlight of the game occurred just after we arrived, having screamed down Interstate 5, past the border checkpoint, and pulling into the parking lot just after the first inning.

Whenever I go to a ballgame, I look at my seats and gauge the possiblity that I'll be able to catch a foul ball at the game. Sometimes you're sitting behind the screen behind home plate and there's just no chance. Sometimes you're under an overhang and the only way a ball could find its way up to you would be if it bounced off some poor unfortunate's head.

This time, our seats were on the third base line, the very first row of the loge level. That's the level right above field level. Great seats. We had the first row, which seemed to be the result of some clerical error. We were asked for our ticket stubs by ushers about four separate times, and when I asked about it one of them said that they don't sell the first row for safety reasons. We were sitting right behind the railing, and I guess I could see how some overexuberant fan could launch him/herself over the rail. You probably would't die falling from that height, but you'd at least break something. And the people you landed on probably wouldn't be too happy about it either.

So when we sat down in these seats, I thought "These are foul ball seats. I bet one comes over here." If you've gone to enough games and sat relatively close to home plate, you've seen a few fouls come your way. They always land in the next section, or a gang of kids swarms the area before you can even react. Sometimes, a lucky soul will make the catch, and get a cheer from the crowd. Sometimes, they'll miss dramatically, and the crowd will boo, good-naturedly of course. You look at the fan who made the catch, and think how they'll be boring people with that story for years to come. But the foul ball never comes right to you. It's always someone else.

The ball came off Barry Bonds' bat and shot up into the night sky. It was high, but not too high. When a foul comes toward you like that, you can see the distortion of the ball, from the spin and the impact of the bat. It gets sort of ovoid. This ball was doing that. It looked like it was going to land about five sections to our left, but then the spin kicked in and it started to bend back towards us. Moments like that later seem to have happed in stop-motion. I don't know if that's the result of growing up watching TV and movies, where grand moments are beamed at you in slow-mo, letting you see all the angles, the looks on the faces of the crowd as they spill their beer, the reflection of the ball in the eyes of a little kid at his first game.

But you couldn't argue about it now. The ball was coming for me. Right at me in a bending arc. And it was coming pretty fast.

I was there with my wife and a friend from work, another displaced Bay Area Giants fan. My wife had a full beer in her hand, and my friend had both a beer and a sandwich in his hands. These beers cost $7.25, so you're loath to spill them. I had secured my beer under the seat with Bonds coming to the plate. A left handed batter, and the Big Star. Bonds is larger than life. A man among boys. He is baseball, in a lot of ways. The arrogant star for whom everything is so easy.

I got up from my seat and stepped to the railing.

It was weird because whenever you see foul balls on TV, there are maybe twenty people pushing each other out of the way to get a piece of it. But this was just me. I don't know if it was because we were the only people sitting in that first row, or because of the strange arc of the ball, making people think it wouldn't curve over to us, but no-one else even tried for it. My wife, I'm sure, was ducking. My friend didn't even react. I was right at the railing, thinking, "It'll come down on the field level. It can't make it up here."

And now it was coming down right into my hands. I put my hands out like I was catching a football. I didn't think about it. I figured I was leaning just enough out over the railing to get it. I didn't want to fall over and get hurt, after all.

All of a sudden I thought about the ball sitting on my desk at work. Or at home. People would see it and ask what the significance of the ball was. And I'd tell them how it was like winning the lottery. In a stadium with 25,000 other people, this ball was mine, as sure as if Rawlings had printed my name on it at the factory. People would hear the story and think how lucky I was, how they'd been going to games their whole lives and never had a chance like that. I wondered if I should get one of those glass dome things for it.

And then the ball was there.

I don't know if I even touched it. It went right through my hands, that's for sure. Bounced off the railing with a resounding clang and down onto field level as a chorus of boos began from the crowd.

I can't catch. I guess I have to accept that. Just for a minute, though, I thought I could be the guy on the highlight reel who leans out and makes the grab.

And maybe that minute was worth it, anyway.


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