by Kent Sterling
My Dad had no interest in catching a foul ball or home run with a mitt at a Cubs game. First of all, Dad could never have caught a home run because the bleachers were where the rabble sat. Second, men are able to catch a foul ball with their bare hands.
As the Cubs played the Astros in 1970, my Dad caught a foul ball at Wrigley Field off the bat of Jesus Alou. Our seats were on the right field side in the last row of the box seats, and Alou fouled a ball toward us. It landed over our heads against the step across the aisle that separated us from the section above. It ricocheted off the step directly to Dad, and he caught it like he knew it was coming.
I can still see him passively sticking out his bare hand in the exact spot where the ball bounced. I thought at the time it was an impressive feat because there was no way to prepare to catch a baseball bouncing so randomly. I was also impressed that while others jumped up and down when they caught a foul ball, Dad just put the ball in his pocket and sat down without so much as a smile.
Last night, a 65-year old fan resembling former vice president Dick Cheney in the last row of the left field bleachers in a Cubs jersey caught a Mark Reynolds home run in a mitt, and then switched the home run ball with a dirty used ball he used to play catch with his dog before throwing it back – as is the custom at Wrigley Field.
There is no way my Dad would have watched that without casting massive judgment toward the old guy. First, Dad thought anyone too old to trick or treat should leave his mitt at home. Catching a foul ball is a frivolous pursuit, but if one is hit your way, catching it barehanded is how a man should handle that challenge.
Second, Dad’s feelings about throwing home run balls back were unequivocal – never do it. Ever. Why toss back a perfectly good baseball – a nice memory of a day at the ball park? Dad caught another ball several years before that game in 1970. It was oddly hit by Felipe Alou, Jesus’s brother. Dad would bring it to events where he thought he might be able to get an autograph. A couple of years ago, I had Billy Williams sign it, so it not bears the signatures of Ron Santo, Bill Hands, Ernie Banks, and Williams.
Just like Dad believed, it brings back great memories.
If a guy is going to toss the ball back, Dad would have wanted him to have the stones to throw the real ball. The switch that has become ridiculously routine at Wrigley is a dishonest act – a canard that requires no guts or sacrifice. There is no honor, no legitimate stance being taken as the ball is switched for another. That’s especially true when the ball is so obviously not the original – as was the case with the old man’s ball.
Dad would have dismissed the old man as an idiot, and decried the erosion of honor and priorities among men. He wasn’t indifferent to the fun of snagging a free souvenir, but he sure as hell wasn’t going to show up at Wrigley Field wearing a mitt when his bare hands were perfectly capable of making the play.
If he had ever caught a home run, and would have laughed at the fans who would yell trying to compel him to throw it back. He would have defiantly put the ball in his pocket and ignored the rabble with a smile.
The old guy last night had a chance to show fans how men should comport themselves at Wrigley Field, but he acted like a typical stooge not ready for the big stage. Childishness should be left to children, or so Dad thought.