Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Dangerous Pastime

Last week, a fan reached over a railing and tragically fell to his death in an attempt to catch a baseball thrown into the stands at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Texas. He hoped to catch it for his young son, who was sitting beside him. Yesterday, it seems yet another fan came very near tumbling over a railing to catch a baseball at the All-Star game’s Home Run Derby in Phoenix.

As a younger man, I occasionally attended Mets’ games at the dearly departed Shea Stadium. And, admittedly, I would have loved to return home with a game baseball as a souvenir. Never did though. In fact, I enjoyed nothing more than going to the games early for batting practice, when recurring cracks of the bat sent baseballs whizzing to and fro, some of which landed in unpopulated areas of seating. These baseballs coming to rest in Nowhere Land always initiated mad dashes, with fans sprinting from every direction to reach them.

I could never bring myself to compete in these frenzied ball chases. In its many incarnations, stadium baseball chasing has always had an Old West feel to it. During one memorable batting practice, a ball landed just a few feet to my younger brother’s right and settled under an unoccupied seat. There was nobody else nearby. But as he shimmied over and bent down to pick up the baseball, and assume lawful possession of it, a mob materialized seemingly out of nowhere. A cluster of fans after the same thing—and, believe me, it was every man for himself—quite literally jumped on top of him as he was grabbing hold of the baseball.

When the dust settled in this cartoonish scenario—of a pile of human bodies in pursuit of a couple of dollars worth of tightly wound leather, wool, and rubber—a bruiser-type had somehow managed to snatch the ball away in the melee. Oblivious to his crime—we were, after all, in the stadium jungle where the laws of civil society are suspended—he returned to his friends in a state of galootish ecstasy and received high-fives and boorish howls of commendation for a job well done.

There is something about catching a baseball—or even picking one off the ground—at the ballpark. But, really, I don’t think it was worth risking life and limb in pursuit of a batting-practice ball off the bat of Kelvin Chapman or Junior Ortiz in the mid-1980s. Nor, I daresay, is it worth risking life and limb for a Derek Jeter fair or foul ball a quarter of a century later.

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