In San Diego the other night, Milwaukee Brewers slugger Yuni Betancourt whacked a home run.
On lots of nights, lots of players hit home runs. But this particular home run ended its journey in the grasp of a guy in the stands who made a one-handed, tumbling catch worthy of Willie Mays in his prime.
You can witness the catch on any number of electronic devices. The fan was an instant if evanescent star.
It has been a fine spring for dandy catches with no bearing on the score. Earlier this month, Jayson Werth of the Washington Nationals smacked one that would have banged up against a seat had not a fellow standing up with a small child in his right arm snagged the ball with his left hand.
The images of these plays reminded me of my first baseball days, when I would not have dreamed of going to the Polo Grounds or Yankee Stadium without my glove, prepared for the fly ball that I was sure would come my way, though even an acrobatic catch wouldn’t have been caught on video, since nobody near me – in space or time – had a cell phone.
I never got a ball as a kid.
I nearly got one as a young adult one day in the bleachers at Fenway Park. The Red Sox were hosting the Yankees, managed, sort of, by Billy Martin. Before the game Martin was in the outfield shagging flies. Every time he caught one, he’d turn and toss the ball into the bleachers. A friend, standing next to me, got one. That evening I could have slipped it off the shelf in his living room and tucked it under my shirt. But I didn’t.
As an older adult, again I almost got one. I was in the open lower press box, known as the sling, in Memorial Stadium, late the home of the Orioles. Mo Vaughn of the visiting Red Sox fouled off a pitch that came screaming toward me. Remember the Peanuts cartoons where a ball hit through the box would send pitcher Charlie Brown summersaulting backwards while his cap, his shoes, and his shirt flew off in different directions? That was me in the sling that afternoon in Baltimore.
The ball went rocketing past my ear, crashed into the wall of the sling, and came to rest at the feet of the reporter beside me. He picked it up and smiled at it. I hauled myself off the floor and righted the chair out of which I’d toppled, lucky to be alive, and lucky, I suppose, that cell phones still hadn’t arrived.