John Grindrod: Baseballs, both fair and foul, flying again


By John Grindrod - Guest Columnist



The subject of today’s offering is that object that no baseball game can really do without, the baseball itself.

The subject of today’s offering is that object that no baseball game can really do without, the baseball itself.


John Grindrod/The Lima News

For many of baseball’s longtime fans, so very much of the acrimony that marked the longest work stoppage in two decades has been forgotten. They’re just happy there is indeed a full season.

The subject of today’s offering is that object that no baseball game can really do without, the baseball itself. On average, a baseball’s in-game lifespan is only about five-to-seven pitches, so a typical Major League game may require as many as 50 balls. The average cost for each is just under $6, which really isn’t much for an item coveted by so many mostly male fans, men who treat a baseball as some sort of horse-hided Hope Diamond.

Now, when it comes to acquiring one of those $6 treasures, I’ve established my own set of rules. First fair balls that wind up in the stands — ground-rule doubles and especially home runs — are always higher on the desirability scale. Second, balls caught in the air are surely better than ones scooped up after ricocheting off concrete steps. And, third, balls caught barehanded are always higher on the scale than those caught with a glove.

When it comes to snagging those treasured baseballs, there is 45-year-old Zack Hample, who’s recognized as the greatest spectatorial ball snatcher of all time, having caught more than 11,000 of them. A lengthy Wikipedia entry validates his fame, although that notoriety comes with a caveat. He’s also been called the sport’s most hated spectator for his occasional bumping children out of the way to snag another ball.

Recently, I breakfasted with my pal Jim O’Neill, who still follows the game, although not with the same passion as he once did when, say, his Detroit Tigers thrilled him with their 1968 World Series win over the St. Louis Cards. Jim recalled his running down a treasure in 1979 on a cold April day at Comiskey Park, then, the home of the Chicago White Sox.

“Yankee catcher Thurman Munson hooked a foul line drive into the stands down the left-field line. Because day games in early spring are often lightly attended, I had almost no competition as I took off running and easily corralled it. What added a certain poignancy to it is, looking back, it wasn’t much more than two months later when Munson was killed in a small plane crash.”

As for me, I’ve attended dozens of games in my life, but I’ve only had one opportunity to bring home a treasure. And, fortunately, given the paucity of opportunities I’ve had, I didn’t blow it. It was back in 2002 at Detroit’s Comerica Park, a game I attended with three pals as we watched the Tigers play Oakland.

Robert Fick, the Tiger catcher, who, the previous year, became the answer to a trivia question when he became the last player to homer in Tiger Stadium before its closure, a grand slam as well as the numerically quirky 11, 111th homerun in the stadium’s history, lofted a ball in the direction of our seats several rows off the railing in foul territory even with third base. Of course, right off the bat, pretty much all men instinctively rise, anticipating that Rawlings ball heading in their direction will be theirs. Then a few seconds pass as the ball travels, and the reality sets in when the ball lands 100 or more feet away.

However, for me, this time, as the seconds elapsed following that delicious sound of wood on rawhide, a sound for me trumped only by the sound of a baseball squarely smacking the pocket of a glove, I realized on that day, it just very well could finally be my time. After all those earlier games I’d attended, from the first at Comerica’s predecessor, Tiger Stadium, then called Briggs, with my father back in 1960 to that mid-summer Saturday afternoon, this surely would be my moment!

As the sphere was in descent, I could see I had only one competitor for that treasure, the guy directly in front of me in the next row down.

Four hands were up, each set making a catchable fleshy cup at the moment of truth. Actually, initially it was a simultaneous catch, but, for two reasons I won the prize. First I had two hands on it to his one, and, second, I was above him and, thus, had the leverage almost always granted to the person occupying a higher platform in this life, both metaphorically and, in this particular ballpark case, literally. A quick jerk back above my head, and the prize was mine.

Showing no hard feelings, since he, no doubt, understood the one golden rule involved when guys go after their $6 treasures at a ballpark, and that is it’s every man for himself when an opportunity for a ball presents itself, my competitor turned, shook my hand and congratulated me. Other guys around me also shook my hand, which kind of made me think I’d done something pretty special.

And, of course, I HAD done something special, at least for that single moment in time in that singular setting, Section 135 at Comerica Park, and it mattered not at all how many times it had been done before or since.

https://www.limaohio.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/54/2022/05/web1_Grindrod-John-CMYK-1.jpg
The subject of today’s offering is that object that no baseball game can really do without, the baseball itself.
https://www.limaohio.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/54/2022/05/web1_IMG_4351-flipped.jpgThe subject of today’s offering is that object that no baseball game can really do without, the baseball itself. John Grindrod/The Lima News

By John Grindrod

Guest Columnist

John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at [email protected]

John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at [email protected]

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