When a foul ball flies toward you, a spectator, there’s not much time to prepare. It’s pretty much instincts. Either you try to catch the ball or try to get out of the way, right?
But on May 29, the foul ball at Sheldon High that shot into the air like a NASA rocket launch and arced over the estimated 45-foot-high screen and toward me wasn’t so simple. Though the ball was probably in the air for only six to eight seconds, it seemed to have provided hours of philosophizing on my part. And it was only the first of two foul balls that would come my way on successive nights, an uncanny juxtaposition of opportunity.
At the core of my thinking was the question: Do I risk trying to catch it or, as the poet Dylan Thomas wrote, do I simply “go gently into the good night?”
This is the first baseball season I’ve experienced since qualifying for Medicare. That would suggest not making an attempt. At 65, going after a foul ball is an invitation to an anecdote that ends with a 32-year-old emergency-room doc looking at the goose egg on your head and saying, “So, it says here that you were attempting to catch a foul ball. Is that right?”
And I’d feel as if I were on the witness stand, having been charged with Failure to Yield to the Twilight Years.
Then again, I’d never snagged a foul ball in mid-air as a spectator; this could be personally historical.
But what if I missed? There were only few dozen fans at this game, but that’s a sufficient quorum for embarrassment. And among them was my 39-year-old son—standing right next to me in the open area flanking the stands—and, of course, a grandson who was playing third base and would probably be able to see I was the guy they were loading into the ambulance.
“Guess he was mumbling something about ‘taking one for the generation,’” one EMT would say to the other.
As Baby Boomers, our wooden ship has sailed; goodness, the youngest member of Crosby, Stills & Nash is 74 (Stills). And we’re being replaced by a generation that runs ultra-triathlons and rigs up remote-control cameras on backstops so they can take photos of their kid at shortstop — in whose pocket a computer chip tells the camera on what subject to focus.
Against such impending forces, what right did I have to impose myself into a potentially gaudy moment of grander? Catch that ball and I’d never pay for my own hot dog at any concession stand in town.
No, don’t be a showboat.
But part of me whispered: Really, how many chances do you have to catch a foul ball? And you’re not getting any younger.
The other part said: Physics, pal. This is no little blooper. That thing’ll be dropping with the speed, and weight, of a runaway elevator.
But my 92-year-old mother still sails at Fern Ridge and kept a pair of swim fins in the back of her car well into her 70s; she’d probably go for it.
Alas, the time for philosophizing was ending. The ball had reached its apex and started its descent—right at me, as if this had all been predestined and I were somehow the Chosen One.
Then came the words from the son standing beside me: “It’s all yours, Dad.”
Suddenly: the pressure of expectations. When our children were young they stepped into the batter box and we cheered them on. Now, 25 years later, it was me in the batter’s box. My son was watching. My grandson. And what seemed like 50,000 fans, all of them, I imagined, chanting “Catch it! Catch it! Catch it!”
I exhaled. This was my moment. The ball was falling fast. I reached out my right arm hand, palm open and up. I then closed my eyes—and waited.
Smack! Right in the palm.
For a moment, the earth stood still. Nearby, birds fell from telephone wires as if in death swoons. Off Yachats, a slight tremor jostled the ocean floor. In Africa, a herd of elephants skidded to a stop.
I had caught the ball.
As if I knew what I was doing, I casually tossed it over the fence to a coach. I don’t remember how loud the cheer was or if someone started the wave or if the umpire, in my honor, stopped the game to hand my grandson the ball that I’d caught.
I do remember that the next night, at my 8-year-old grandson’s game at a different park, I entered the complex with a new sense of chutzpah. I could feel the eyes on me. But I tried to act if I didn’t notice people staring.
I took my usual position, standing next to my daughter-in-law, the still-athletic, still-tall, 34-year-old mother of three about whom my son had once remarked: “Dad, how cool is it when your girlfriend says, ‘Wanna play catch?’ And means it.”
Me. Her. Two generations. One nearing the late innings but, as my performance the night before had suggested, not quite ready for the showers. The other generation chomping to take
Amid my mental meanderings a batter popped a high foul ball headed high and — oh, my gosh! — right for me. What were the chances? This time there was no hesitation; forget personal history, catch this and I could be CBS News’ “Person of the Week.” Two nights. Two fall balls. Who does that?
I positioned myself. I reached my right hand high. I — wait. Where had this other outstretched hand come from, the one about six inches higher than mine?
Smack! Right in the palm.
My daughter-in-law flashed me a quick smile. Then, as if knowing what she was doing, she casually tossed the ball over the fence to a coach.