The foul ball that was glory awaiting

Published 8:30 pm Friday, June 28, 2019

Glory hovered just beyond my grasp. It was right there. In the words of Maxwell Smart, “I missed it by thiiiis much,” and he held his index finger and his thumb a dime-width apart to illustrate how close, yet how far away. Missing something by “this” much is still missing it and might as well be a hundred miles. You still missed it, and you still watched glory fade away into the wide blue yonder for somebody else much less deserving to snatch.

The unfortunate events of this story transpire when my family and I went to the Astros-Pirates game at Minute Maid Park this past Tuesday evening on the way to our annual oceanside retreat in Galveston. Our seats were up in the highest section, just a few feet to the third-base side of home plate. There was a concrete wall just below us leading to a landing and more seats, so the drop off from our first-row seats and the next level was only about eight feet. The amazin’ blonde asked me if I thought any foul balls would make it up to us, and I said, “Nah, we’re too far up for that.”

Being $1 hotdog night at the ballpark, my crew — the amazin’ blonde, my daughter and grandkids — headed to the concession stand around the fourth inning and returned with a healthy stash of hotdogs, one of which I had finished by the fifth inning. Rach handed me a little box with one of hers in it, so I held that hotdog in my left hand, while I finished my second. I was two bites away when Josh Bell, a power hitter for the Pirates, fouled a 3-2 pitch off of Gerrit Cole.

That towering foul ball immediately seemed to be headed in our general direction. You could tell that, wherever it landed, it could make the upper deck, contrary to what I had told the amazin’ blonde. I watched it, still thinking, “Nah, that ball won’t make it up here.” But the ball had no intention of being limited by physics or probability — a fact that, in itself, would have been a good life lesson for our story today if not for the overriding plot that awaited just at the end of the ball’s rainbow.

When I say “my direction,” I don’t mean generally. I mean, the ball seemed pigeonholed to come right to me. So, I jumped up — holding my hotdog carefully in my left hand — and watched that ball sail right up to me. Courageously, I reached out with my bare hand to catch the ball; but the ball was falling short of my hand, how far I cannot say.

It happened so fast. I watched it sorrowfully as it landed at least a foot below my grasp and banged against the concrete wall, then bounced away toward others who a moment prior had just watched the ball sail mightily over their heads.

There I stood holding my hotdog, watching others scramble for the ball that Josh Bell and providence surely meant for me. My family began to protest immediately, saying, “Popman, why didn’t you catch it? It was right there. All you had to do was reach down and grab it.”

You understand.

But my chagrin came not just from my family. I could hear the buzz of everyone in the section where we were sitting. Every eye was on me, and every head was shaking sideways with a, “Why didn’t that boy just reach down and catch the ball? It was hit right at ‘im.”

Still standing — not having even budged — I instinctively turned to the murmuring crowd, smiled, and pointed at the delicious $1 hotdog I still caressed safely in my left hand, and said, “My hotdog.”

The crowd laughed, and I did, too — laughing without, while shedding a thousand regrettable tears within.

With my moment of non-glory fading, I sat down about the time Josh Bell struck out and the stadium cheered. So, I laid that sorry, no-good, glory-snatching, $1 hotdog on the floor below my seat and settled in to enjoy the game.

And to lament the glorious foul ball that could’ve been.