After hundreds of visits to Fenway, I almost experienced a first Saturday – and even though I didn’t, things turned out OK (albeit a bit wet).
It was the eighth inning of the Red Sox-A's game. I was seated in Section 30, Row 3 with my son Jason (10 years old), my friend Ross, and his son Micah (7). Keeping score as always, I was deftly managing to keep an eye both on the field and the never-ending food requests of the kids -- or so I thought.
When smoking-hot Carl Crawford hit a Brad Ziegler pitch foul down the left-field line, I momentarily lost sight of the ball -- only to have it rematerialize about two feet in front of my face. Now I’ve been going to ballparks at every level of professional baseball for nearly 40 years, and the closest I’ve come to catching a foul was when a ball smashed off my Radio Shack laptop in the press box at Harry Grove Stadium in Frederick, Maryland in 1993. This was my big chance to grab a shot off the bat of a potential future Hall of Famer, get a hand from a sellout crowd, and look like a hero to my son.
I flubbed it.
Well, it wasn’t entirely my flub. The guy in front of me went for the ball first, it bounced off his hands, and then it bounced off mine. The guy in back of me was next in line, and he grabbed it and held on – just as his buddy, in his haste to get out of the way, poured half a beer down my back. It all happened in about 10 seconds, but it’s what transpired next that made me quickly get over my gaffe.
The successful catcher – his name is Eric Jalbert, a 28-year-old accountant from Westfield, Mass. who goes to “a couple” games a year – handed the ball to Micah. (That's Eric in the photo with Jason (in red) and Micah above.) Micah, who had not even known he was going to Fenway until 45 minutes before the first pitch, yelled with delight. Eric’s beer-dumping buddy (I’ll leave his name out to avoid him any embarrassment) apologized profusely for my afternoon shower, and Eric’s mother, Kathy, offered me a bunch of napkins to clean myself off.
This was a surprise on several levels. Anybody who has been to Fenway, especially in the bleachers or upper grandstands, knows that idiots who can’t manage to hold two cups of beer while simultaneously texting their friends will inevitably leave half their lager on your seat, shirt, or hair. The few times I’ve actually confronted these numbskulls about their behavior – when my wife or kids were the ones getting doused – I’ve gotten glassy-eyed stares and stupid grins. This guy, however, was genuinely sorry for what he had done, and Eric was so mortified he never hesitated before giving Micah the ball. He said it was the least he could do.
As I wiped myself off and we got to talking more with Eric's crew, I realized they thought Micah was my son. This was OK too. My boy Jason had already gotten a foul ball a couple years back, a Jacoby Ellsbury special tossed to him by a ball boy during the dreadful last inning of the ’09 ALDS, and his little sister Rachel had one as well. Micah was the perfect recipient for this ball, and Jason made me proud by not questioning the choice. In fact, he immediately began telling Micah how he could preserve it in a Lucite case after first inscribing it with the date and pitcher/batter involved. I felt better than if I actually had made the catch, as did Eric’s mom, who was at the game with her three sons and was beaming over the selfless act of her oldest.
Most of you know what happened next. The Sox blew a four-run lead in the ninth, Varitek and Papelbon were tossed from the game for showing their displeasure with strike-challenged umpire Tony Randazzo, and the contest eventually went 14 innings – including, to the delight of the 10,000 or so of us still on hand – a second seventh-inning stretch and chorus of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” By the time J.D. Drew knocked in Crawford (who else?) with a walk-off single to right, Micah had not only gotten his first foul ball, he had also had his first conversation with a real, live ball boy after we moved down to the front row behind the visitor’s dugout for the final two innings. It was such a perfect day that there wasn't even a ticket waiting on our car when we returned to the Brookline side street that has become my new favorite day-game parking spot.
Of course when I tell this story to my future grandkids, Crawford’s hit will be a scalding shot that slammed off my outstretched hand -- and not a blooper I bobbled like a tee-baller. Only those intrepid youngsters who fact-check my tale like good young reporters will find this entry – and with it the truth. But by then, hopefully, I’ll have finally caught one.
Any other good foul ball stories out there? If so, please share your tales here.