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A long-ago tale of two boys and a baseball

August 24, 2003|by Tony Mulieri

It's funny how your memory works.

I can't tell you what I had for lunch on Tuesday, but I can remember a day back in the early '60s when I caught a foul ball at a major league baseball game.

Now, I can't pinpoint the exact date, but the scene is so clear in my mind it's like it happened yesterday.

We were Baltimore Orioles fans, but we went to Washington to watch the Senators play the Chicago White Sox. My dad was a member of the National Press Club and he got tickets to the game that day in D.C. We had enough tickets that I was able to invite my best friend, Paul.

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Paul and I were sitting behind home plate, so when the balls were fouled back they hit a netting over our head and rolled back down to the field.

As the game progressed, Paul and I inched our way over from inning to inning until we were in seats outside the netted area. There weren't many fans in the stands that day and the usher didn't seem to care that we had moved.

Foul balls had been flying right and left of us but none came close enough for us to get one. It's every kid's dream to catch a foul ball at a major league game and we were praying one would come our way.

Now it's about the seventh inning and we're running out of game. I can't recall who won the game, but what happened next was pure joy for a kid who grew up loving baseball.

Hoyt Wilhelm, a knuckleball pitcher for the White Sox, was up at the plate. This was before the designated hitter rule and the pitchers still had to bat in the American League.

Wilhelm, who had earlier pitched for the Orioles, fouled one off and it went screaming over our heads as we turned to follow the flight of the ball. It was hit high enough that it struck the cement part of the stadium at the mezzanine level.

The ball ricocheted off the wall and it was headed in our direction. As my heart started pounding, the adrenaline pumping, the ball hit my raised hand and fell into the seat I had vacated.

Paul and I both lunged for the ball at the same time. My hands were on the ball and Paul's hands were wrapped around mine. We were probably on TV in Chicago, two boys wrestling for a foul ball.

It was as if we had found a diamond.

Now, this was a ball hit by a pitcher from a team we didn't even root for. But it was a major league ball.

After the game we went to the National Press Club in D.C., and there were players from the Senators on hand. They signed the ball.

Paul and I made a pact that day. I would keep the ball for a day and then he'd have it for a day. This went on for about a week until one day when we were making the transition from his house to my house.

As kids do, we were playing catch with the ball as we made the short trip to my house, which was only about 100 yards away. As we got closer to my home, I threw one to Paul, but it went over his head and rolled directly into the sewer.

We watched the ball float away into the murky depths as our hearts sank with it.

Today, a ball signed by the old Senators would probably be worth something on eBay. For me, it remains a terrific childhood memory.




Tony Mulieri is managing editor of The Daily Mail. You can reach him at 301-733-5131, extension 7647, or by e-mail at tonym@herald-mail.com.

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