I was at Busch Stadium in Saint Louis last weekend, home of the city’s beloved Cardinals, one ticket among forty-five thousand enjoying a summer evening sans heat and humidity. Buy the weatherman a beer! Philadelphia’s Phillies were in town for a three-game set, their lineup top-heavy with heavy hitters Ryan Howard and Chase Utley, while the Cards countered with Albert Pujols, Ryan Ludwick, and The Bormann Family Reunion. (Scouting reports advise against trying to sneak a fast ball by any of them. My wife’s family, especially, is full of line-drive hitters.)
Our seats perched above left field in a section dubbed Big Mac Land (for ex-Cardinal slugger Mark McGwire and That Famous Burger), where home runs measure 403 feet at a minimum. Lotta beef in one of those. Ushers hand out yellow foam fingers before the game which are to be waved enthusiastically just in case, and everyone…the entire ballpark…gets a free Big Mac when a Cardinal hits one out there. As Eddie will tell you, it doesn’t happen often.
The Phils struck first…and second…solo home runs that put them ahead in a fast-moving game. Then, in the bottom half of the seventh inning, with nobody on base and Ludwick at bat, a commotion suddenly began down in the lower aisles, becoming noisier with people standing excitedly and pointing…and that’s when I noticed the ball coming our way!
It soared westward and on its descent landed three seats to my right and one row back. Those seats were empty so there wasn’t the usual scramble for the prized souvenir, which grazed the underside of a seat, struck a plastic container (beer?) and rolled lazily across the cement to me. All I had to do was turn in my seat and pick it up.
My first thought skipped back forty-odd years to the Class A minor league games I’d gone to with my grandfather, when chasing foul balls that came over the backstop was the real fun and somehow they always bounced the wrong way and you left empty-handed but optimistic. Next time.
Boisterous cheers and congratulations quickly dissolved my reverie. One row down Cousin Carla whooped it up and snapped my picture, and then we were front-and-center on the Big Scoreboard. (I assume Ludwick completed his home run trot and returned to the dugout during this interval, but I didn’t see it.) It dawned on me that I should stand and acknowledge the moment, holding the cherished ball aloft as though I’d accomplished something, so I did.
Being sports, the excitement fizzled as quickly as the Cards’ rally (they lost, 2 to 1). Vendors came with frozen lemonade and beer and made life bearable for another inning. A man appeared at my elbow and asked quietly if he could buy the ball: it was his son’s birthday and my good luck would make a great present. I told him no, and why, and I think he understood: I’d waited a long time for that bounce to go my way.