Thrill of competition even better than thrill of victory

July 14, 2012|Tony Mulieri

Have you ever walked into a situation and thought to yourself, this is too good to be true?

It happened to me recently when I attended an Orioles game against the Washington Nationals at Camden Yards in Baltimore.

My sons wanted to take me to a game for a Father’s Day gift, and I told them I wanted to see the Nationals play. I wanted to watch Bryce Harper, the Nationals’ 19-year-old rookie sensation, play.

So we arrived at the stadium early on a Friday evening, and I walked into the stadium before anyone else in my family and found my seat in the center field bleachers.

As I sat down, I realized the Nationals were taking batting practice and Harper was at the plate. He put on a show. He must have hit eight to 10 balls into the flag court area and the bleachers where I was sitting.

All of a sudden, I realized I was in the line of fire. Home run balls were falling all around me like bombs. Three of them looked like they were going to hit me right in the forehead.

I could have just sat there and watched the proceedings, but no, I had to get up and start going for the elusive spheres like everyone around me.

Last week on ESPN’s “SportsCenter,” they showed a replay of a father reaching out nonchalantly with his left hand to catch a foul ball while he held a baby with his right hand.

I’m telling you, it’s not that easy.

In the stands where I was sitting, I noticed there were about 10, 9-year-olds with gloves running around scooping up the baseballs like it was nothing.

In addition to Harper, his teammates would jump into the batting cage and they were hitting bombs my way, too. Some fell short of the fence and the Nationals players in the field would catch the balls and flip them up into the stands.

There were balls coming from all directions.

I will state right here and now that I did not, I repeat, I did not catch a single ball.

I think one of them might have grazed my hand, but it also might have been a 9-year-old’s glove that swiped me. Another ball hit the seat behind me and rolled tantalizingly slowly along the aisle behind me before several young people converged on the spot and scooped it up.

At one point, I saw an adult, who looked like a coach, taking a photo with his cellphone of the 9-year-olds all holding up baseballs in the air with smiles on their faces. They all were wearing the same color jerseys.

I’m not sure what I would have done with a baseball even if I had caught one. I probably would have given it to one of the few 9-year-olds who didn’t have one. After all, it wouldn’t have been a real home run ball. It would have been a batting practice home run.

But it was the thrill of the competition that was so exhilarating. It reminded me of a game we used to play as kids. It was called Three Flies Up. One guy would hit fly balls, and the rest of us tried to catch them. If you caught three balls in the air, you got to be the hitter.

There were no rules in Three Flies Up. You went after the balls like your life depended on it. Kind of like the way it was at Camden Yards on a Friday night in Baltimore when the Nationals’ 19-year-old Harper put on a hitting exhibition.

I will admit that I have lost a step, my vision isn’t what it used to be and my reaction time, well, that is now in another time zone.

But I had a blast. 

Of course, when the game began, Harper didn’t do much that night as the Birds won the game 2-1 behind some terrific pitching from Jason Hammel who struck out 10 Nats. The Orioles also received some timely hitting, with a home run from Mark Reynolds and a run driven in by J.J. Hardy.

The only run the Nationals scored was a gift from the Orioles on a throwing error.

It was a good first half of baseball for the Orioles, who were in second place behind the Yankees when the All-Star break arrived.

The fact that fans still are talking about the Orioles in July is a testament to their solid play. They have to get more consistent pitching and find a way to compete with the likes of the Yankees, Rangers and Angels.

They’ve had a problem with their fielding, committing more errors than normal.

Maybe they should send some of those players into the bleachers before the game and see if they could catch some of those batting practice home runs.

Tony Mulieri is community editor of The Herald-Mail. He can be reached at 301-791-7647 or by email at

The Herald-Mail Articles