Monday, August 18, 2008

Foul Play

Yesterday, a first. Sitting at the Red Sox-Blue Jays game, talking to an old HS school friend I hadn't seen in about 20 years. I mentioned to him that I'd sat in these seats-in-law (owned first by my father-in-law and now by my brother-in-law) for more than 30 games over the years, but had never come close to getting a foul ball, even though the seats are along the left-field line, close to 3rd base, just six rows back from the field. About 5-10 minutes later, a high popup seemed to be tracking right in our direction which, to be quite honest, made me nervous. I'm pretty sure I've never tried to catch anything falling from such a height. Fortunately, the ball landed about 5-6 seats away. It bounced (off what I'm not sure), disappeared, and suddenly rolled right up under my seat where I grabbed it before a hand reaching under could get it. Just like that, I had my first foul ball, though hardly acquired in heroic fashion.

The game was horrible (down 6-0 after half an inning, and then it went downhill), which gave me plenty of time to catch up with my old buddy and to ponder this little gift from the baseball gods. Everyone wants to get a foul ball, but what does it mean? It's just a scuffed-up baseball, for which I have no real use. Maybe I'll throw it to my son in a year or two, but it's not better for that than any other baseball. I had a variety of passing thoughts. When an usher passed by with an enormous trash bag to collect empty cups, wrappers, etc. I wondered if I should toss in this bit of game debris. Later, a more mischievous side of MM thought how easy and disruptive it could be to toss the ball back in play the next time a base hit bounced around in left field. No, I wouldn't have done either of those things, especially since the latter might have ended up with me on the street and my brother-in-law having his tickets revoked.

But, picking up from the half-baked musings of my last post (now featuring new pic), what's the point of this foul ball that happened into my hands? It's not a glamorous homerun ball. It was hit in the first inning by Lyle Overbay - not exactly a glamorous player. It was thrown by Josh Beckett, a great pitcher who had an awful day, so I can say it was touched by an all-star. Really, its main distinction is that it was used in a major league game and, out of 37,000 or so people at the game, I was one of maybe 30-40 to go home with such a souvenir. It's a door prize.

All it really has is some supply-demand based sentimental value (I'm guessing the monetary value isn't much more than a Wal-Mart baseball), which also endows it with some value as an objet d'anecdote. I already posted a Facebook boast about getting my first foul ball, and here I am blogging about it. It also made the whole trip to the park seem worthwhile, even though it was a forgettable game; in fact, for once a lousy game seemed like an advantage, because it made a good backdrop for catching up with an old friend (no distracting big-game situations after the first couple of innings), and I already had my story. Would I have traded this ball of dubious meaning for a Red Sox victory? Probably not, although that would change if it had been a game of greater magnitude. So, the main purpose of this story is that the main purpose of this souvenir is to be the subject of just such a story.

P.S. And while we're on sports, can I just mention that, impressive as Michael Phelps' eight gold medals are, they do not make him one of the greatest athletes of all time. First of all, it's true that no athlete has ever won eight gold medals in a single Olympics. However, is there any sport other than swimming in which there is even a long-shot opportunity to go for eight medals? The only one I can think of is men's gymnastics, with the team competition, the all-around, and the six individual events, but that seems less plausible than a fast swimmer being sufficiently dominant to win a bunch of different events. And what percentage of potentially great athletes would ever consider devoting their life to swimming? It's still pretty much a sport of privilege (who wouldn't want to spend all day at the pool?), whatever Phelps' background, and there are likely many athletes who could swim faster if they devoted their lives to it. His accomplishments are remarkable, but still achieved within a pretty tightly circumscribed field of endeavor. But, of course, the only thing better than a good story is an exaggerated version of that story. In fact, come to think of it, let's say that baseball you see pictured above was actually snagged out of the air, one-handed, as I reached up above the grasp of several lesser fans. And, of course, let's remember that I was sitting in the seats above the Green Monster, so this was a homerun ball, hit by David Ortiz on an 0-2 count with two outs and the bases loaded, down 3-0 in the bottom of the 12th of Game 7 of the ALCS against the Yankees. Or maybe I bought it at the souvenir stand. After all, it wouldn't look any different. (Actually, a World Series ball would probably be marked as such, and might have a GPS-embedded chip within, but this is PS is long enough.)

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