I’ve never been a believer that an adult should be bound to hand a foul ball off to the nearest child at a Major League Baseball game.
Hear me out. I’ve spent a lot of my life going to games at Royals Stadium and now Kauffman Stadium and not once did I have someone gift me a souvenir as a kid.
Instead, I bided my time — first collecting a bullpen ball from not-so-memorable Royals reliever Dusty Hughes following a Sunday afternoon win over the Cardinals in 2010. My first foul ball came off the bat of Alcides Escobar in June of 2014 while sitting in the Diamond Club with a friend.
Luckily, I corralled the bouncing ball with no one else really around. Wouldn’t have mattered. I planned to keep that thing no matter what.
Last week, I took the opportunity to attend the Royals vs. Rockies on a Wednesday night — just me and my 3-year-old, soon-to-be-4 son Cale. We packed as many snacks as we could and headed to the stadium with me hoping to convince him to stay for as much of the game as possible.
Cale enjoyed meandering about the stadium and checking out the fountains and statues in the outfield.
I hoped the game would provide a chance for him to fall a little more in love with baseball, but he remains more interested in the concessions than the game. Those around us were still able to crack a smile when he yelled, “Come on, Salvy” or “There’s the Melk-man.”
Balancing the snacks and the oversized lemonade Cale had me purchase proved difficult — literally.
As I attempted to consistently shift my focus, Colorado Rockies second baseman DJ LeMahieu swung late on a foul ball in the top of the third and hit a screaming line drive to the right field side. I watched in slight horror and then amazement as the man to Cale’s right reached up and snagged the ball with both hands.
Incredible. Maybe the best fan catch I’ve ever seen. Still not sure if he suffered a fracture to his hands, but they sure looked red.
Immediately, the man leaned over to the little boy between us and handed the ball to Cale. The smile on his face can’t be described, but I immediately felt bad about the action.
While the man seemed to be “doing the right thing” to most, I wanted him to have his ball, to have the physical memento to show off and tell the story later.
Throughout the game, I asked my son, “Do you think we might want to give him his ball back?” Steadfastly, the answer came back no multiple times, but I continued to talk with him about why the man might want to have it, how we could come back and try to catch our own.
Eventually, Cale agreed, and I asked him to hand the ball back. He did, and the man seemed perplexed.
I have no idea if that was the first foul ball he’d caught or if he kept a room full of them back at his house, but I assured him we wanted him to have it. Cale, although unable to say much, agreed and didn’t shed so much as a tear as the game dragged on and on.
The man and his wife were very tolerant of an antsy toddler oscillating attention between tri-colored cotton candy and the field. They even agreed to switch seats with him when he decided to be a little ornery while entertaining himself.
I never caught their names but we exchanged photos of the foul ball and then some texts later that night.
We left after the bottom of the seventh inning with the Royals down one run, Cale unable to last the nearly 4 hour duration of the game. A bit regrettable when I listened to Denny Matthews call Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer’s first-ever walk off home run as I drove back to Platte City.
I like to think I learned a couple of lessons that night, and one was more important than “don’t let your kid talk you into leaving a baseball game early.”
On the way home, Cale told me, “Dad, I can’t wait until I can catch a ball at the Royals game and give it to someone else.” I couldn’t have been more proud to hear those words, but I’ll make sure he knows to keep one for himself first.
Ross Martin is publisher of The Citizen. He may be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @Citizen_Ross.