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foul mood

Update [2007-2-27 10:34:55 by lboros]: there's a community projection thread up on the diary bar --- anthony reyes. file your numbers by wednesday night; we'll look at results on thursday or friday.

steve marantz has posted a very good interview with columnist joe posnaski of the kc star; good stuff about buck o'neil, the state of the royals, and other subjects of interest.

i've been writing this blog for close to two years, and somehow i've never gotten around to the subject of foul balls. everybody's caught one, or nearly caught one, or been haunted for years by one they really should have caught . . . . maybe all three. there's a certain sensation one gets --- only occurs a few times in most fans' lives --- of feeling as if you're the center of the universe and the force of your gravity is drawing an approaching baseball toward you. you know this one's not simply going to be close, it's going to make impact. you just want to keep it from leaving a crater.

in our family, no foul-ball story can touch the mccarver kerfuffle. this dates to 1969; i was 6, my older brother 8, my younger brother just 2 ---- rookie rookie rookie rookie ball. we were sitting at old busch stadium (itself only 3-plus years old at the time), watching the two-time defending nl champs --- el birdos --- from section 162 of the field boxes, about even with the 3d base bag and roughly 20 rows up. steve (the 8-year-old) and i were both wearing our rawlings baseball gloves, full of childish hope that the finger of foul-ball fate would point at us. i remember thinking at that age that the odds of catching a foul ball must be infinitesimal, on the order of encountering a two-headed calf . . . . in spite of which, we watched every inning with a slight air of expectancy. in my memory (increasingly faulty, but no less game, as time goes by), we never removed our gloves for a single pitch in those days; we were as locked-in as the infielders and outfielders --- poised to react.

on this particular night, tim mccarver (then in his final year as the cardinals' everyday catcher) smoked a line drive into section 162 --- right at my mother's head. my mother did not wear a glove to the baseball game; she was not poised to react, as her eager sons were. very likely she had no inkling whatsoever that a hard round object was coming rapidly to bean her; night games didn't start until 8 pm in those days, and i can only imagine the stupor she --- a stay-at-home mom of 3 boys --- must have been in by that hour. i picture her sitting peacefully, half-lidded, her mind idling, taking little enjoyment from the game itself but luxuriating blissfully in the 2-hour respite from parenting. the meteor off mccarver's bat came rocketing into her orbit, and my ever-poised brother and i recoiled from it --- the only prudent thing to do. but my father went for the ball, either out of a heroic impulse (ie, to defend the integrity of his wife's skull) or out of the simple, universal adult male instinct to lunge toward any moving baseball within reach. he went for it barehanded but couldn't catch it; the thing was too hot. it dropped to the floor and rebounded toward my older brother, who (poise instantly restored) scooped the ball up in the pocket of his glove. then he held it aloft, palm up, crying: "hey dad, i got it!"

whereupon some beered-up dick seated one row behind us reached into steve's glove and plucked out the ball.

whatever force the laserlike foul might have carried was as nothing compared to the seething ray of anger my father now shot at this offender. dear dad --- an admirer of the late dr king and firm believer in the principle of nonviolence --- was ready to throw down, and maybe would have if mom hadn't flat-out forbade it. (benjamin --- the children!) the pilferer, shruggingly unapologetic, asserted his right to the baseball and resisted all threats, shaming insults, and appeals to common decency; either he could not admit error in public, or he really really wanted that ball. this jerk withstood an inning's worth or so of verbal abuse from my father, evincing no discomfort or unease but (we may hope) dying of disgrace on the inside. at length he departed, ho-hum, for a change of view, taking his plunder with him.

steve wrote to mccarver c/o of the cardinals and told him the whole sordid tale of the ball he'd hit into section 162; and mccarver, as if personally responsible for guaranteeing proper custody of every foul that came off his bat, sent a signed baseball --- "to steve, best wishes, tim mccarver." it sat enshrined for some time in a special place of honor on one of our bookshelves, until one year somebody threw our last baseball into the bushes or the creek or whatever, right in the middle of a competitive backyard game of indian ball or hot box. the signed mccarver ball came off its throne and went into service; the autograph gradually disappeared under layers of grass stains and scuff marks and dirt.

that's my best foul ball story.

it's better than the story of the one i actually caught --- also at old busch, in what must have been 1978, off the bat of pittsburgh's omar moreno. now, i could have sworn i corralled this ball in '77, when i was 14 years old; but i'm dead certain the pitcher was bob forsch, and forschie didn't start a home game vs the pirates in 1977. he started two such in '78 . . . . whatever the year, moreno popped one high and soft into the night, and it appeared headed for the mezzanine, right behind us --- we were in our longtime seats in section 158, in the last row of the field boxes. a few fans in our section stood up hopefully, but i knew better; i'd been judging foul-ball arcs for most of my life from those seats, and this one obviously was headed up into 258. i guess moreno must've put some english on the ball, though, because it changed trajectory mid-flight --- honest --- and started coming straight down. i still had my eyes on it but hadn't stood up yet, and i still didn't; kinda slow on the uptake. not until the ball was almost upon me did reality sink in: it was headed straight for me. still steated, i reached up with my right hand --- my left was holding the pen and the scorecard --- and the ball fell into it.

piece a cake.

in the same year, or one very close to it, one of steve's friends, a kid named scott johnson, also caught a foul ball one-handed in those seats --- a line drive. he showed up at school the next day in a cast; broke his hand.

one last thought: i distinctly remember a game in which terry kennedy hit a grandslam, and a fan made a barehanded, one-handed catch of the thing out on the rightfield concourse. i'd thought it was a walkoff hr, but kennedy never hit one of those for the cards; he did hit a slam to right field, though, off tug mcgraw in this game.