There's an admitted ball hog in the community

May 19, 1997

I am a pig. I am a pig because I kept the ball.

After maybe attending 38 spitillion baseball games, I had never, ever caught a foul, and only twice been close. Both times I elected not to catch the balls, because they were coming at approximately 186 miles an hour, straight for my teeth.

Like all fans, I never attend a game without fantasizing about catching a foul ball. In my mind I knew exactly how it would be. I'd make a nonchalant, one-handed stab, then grandly, and without a moment's hesitation, flip the souvenir into the eager hands of the nearest awe-struck child.

I had admired an older gentleman at the Suns' games who sits in the third-base box seats. A couple times I've seen him reach out with his cane to pull a foul ball up from the field and then, with a grandfatherly smile, toss it to a waiting boy.


"I wish I'd get a ball so I could do that," I thought.

Careful what you wish for. At the Sun's game Saturday night, the ice was broken.

My head has a habit of - how do I say this - not always being in the game? So I wasn't fully alert when a foul ricocheted into my section. Had my attentions been focused directly on the ball, I surely would have choked. As it was, just as I'd pictured, I absentmindedly reached out my hand and the ball just sort of stuck.

"A kid," I panicked, "Find a kid." Sure enough, waiting to complete the fantasy was a small tyke 10 feet away with longing eyes and hopefully half-opened glove. This was the moment. All eyes were on me. For a half-second, though, I did nothing. This is the half-second in which you must act. Just as if you hesitate even for an instant to think about diving into freezing water you never do it.

And just as I was going to act, a second kid caught the corner of my eye. He had a black Orioles helmet and deepest, saddest, most expressive blue eyes on Earth. And a half-opened glove. My glance shifted. Suddenly, little urchins with sad eyes and half-opened gloves were everywhere. I felt exactly as if I were on the set of Les Miserables.

They knew the routine. The adult always gives up the ball. Yet there I sat, paralyzed. I couldn't choose. If I made one happy, 19 would be sad. Slowly I put the ball in my pocket.

Oh I tried to enjoy its smooth hard surface and tightly raised stitching as I rotated it round and round in my jacket pocket, practicing different pitching grips.

I tried to think how cool I must have looked when I made the catch, or how wonderful it was to have my first foul ball.

But there was no comfort in it. The rest of the game was a misery. Kids kept looking up, kept hoping. How many disillusioned children have I created, I thought. How many kids will bitterly turn their backs on the game of baseball because of me?

Innings dragged by. I was ostracized by the rest of the adults in the section, who sniffed and turned their backs. It was like Megan's Law applied to sport. There was a ball hog in their community and everyone knew it.

A freckled boy in a ball hat came up and, I swear, said: "You ever catch a foul ball before mister?" "No," I croaked. "Me neither. I usually sit right here. If I'da been sitting there I'da put my glove up just like this (he put his glove up) and caught it. If you'lda leaned over you'lda probably fallen right on me."

I couldn't take it. I fled, with the game tied in the eighth. On my way out I ran into my friend Kim. Frantically I grabbed her by the sweatshirt and stuffed the ball in her face."Here," I hissed. "Have this. You be the monster. You be the one who gets everybody in the stadium looking at you. Go ahead, take this spherical curse straight from the pharaohs crypt and you get killed."

She wouldn't touch it.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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