Mar. 15, 2012; Glendale, AZ, USA; Kansas City Royals first baseman Billy Butler (16) attempts to catch a foul ball during the third inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Camelback Ranch. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-US PRESSWIRE

Foul Ball Follies

The foul ball is the sacred relic of any major league baseball game.

According to the Stub Hub commercial on the radio, as a knowledgeable Royals’ fan, I know exactly where to sit in order to catch a foul ball.  But to this day, despite the numerous games I have attended with the very hopes of catching a foul ball, I have never caught one.

I grew in my passion as a fan of the Royals listening to the games on the radio in Springfield, Missouri.  At one point, I could practically carry on a conversation with Hall of Fame Broadcaster Denny Matthews, knowing what information he’d give out next.  Numerous times throughout the season, Denny would comment on a fan’s catch of a foul ball.

“He brought his glove to the stadium tonight and showed us he knew how to use it.”

Or…

“The fans are really cheering a great catch made on that foul ball.”

Or…

“That poor guy had no idea how to react to that foul ball.”

One of my friends compares the battle for a foul ball to a fish feeding frenzy at a children’s zoo pond.  Every time a ball enters the stands, he says, “Feed the fish, but keep some hungry.  They’ll come back again.”  As the game progresses, he simply retorts, “Feedin’ fish.”

According to major league statistics, there are an average of 60 to 70 baseballs used in every game.  Many of these become “free” souvenirs to the fortunate fan.  (At one game I attended last season I actually tried to count how many balls were used.  There were five used in the top half of the first inning.  Alex Gordon led off the bottom of the first with a home run and I forgot to keep counting afterwards.)

In the blessed summer of 2003, I went to a Saturday night ballgame with some friends.  We had seats in the first row of the upper deck, where the railing forces you to keep changing positions based on the location of the action on the field.  The Royals had a comfortable lead in the later innings, and as the sun began to set, my friend propped up his feet on the railing.

“Do you think I could move my feet fast enough to catch a foul ball if one comes our way?” he asked me.

No sooner had he asked the question than we discovered the answer.  Raul Ibanez (who is now a Yankee—another one bites the dust) was at the plate.  The very next pitch was a bit inside and Ibanez made a defensive check-swing, more by accident than intention.  The ball rocketed in our direction.

I always think of foul balls as lazy, high pop flies—supposedly relatively easy to catch.  I forget about the blistering line drives pulled into the lower decks or the glancing check-swing ricochets that send people scattering for any semblance of protection.

I did not have any time to think.  Instinctively, I reached forward with my glove-less left hand and proudly bare-handed the treasure.

Until.

The momentum from the ball pushed my hand back against the rail and my hand involuntarily released the hallowed cowhide into the seats below.  My heart broke.  My friend turned to me and said, “Huh, I guess the answer’s no.”

I’ve always wondered how Denny called that foul ball, because I did, in fact, catch it.  Had it been hit a few inches higher or lower, that ball would currently be displayed in my Royals sanctuary at home.

The next day I was playing guitar at church and noticed that my left hand had two bruises.  There was a bruise along the meat of the hand where I had caught the ball and a second bruise across my knuckles where my hand was pinned against the rail.

So, Stub Hub commercial-maker, I don’t really know where to sit to catch a foul ball at the K.  But if you’ve got any advice, I’ll be sure to take my glove next time.

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