A Saga in the Park

subtitle: In baseball anything can happen, and usually does.

Summer and the minor league season had almost ended. It was Labor day weekend, and both Florence and I were not looking forward to classes starting. We decided to go to the ball game. Laura had reserved seven general admission tickets. As a bonus, there were to be fireworks after the game.

The evening started badly. A few hundred yards from my friend Barry's house, we got a flat tire. The car limped to his place, and we changed the tire, putting on the mini-tire spare. We (Laura, Florence, me, Barry, and his two kids) then piled into Barry's van for the hour drive to Pawtucket. Barry's wife couldn't make it at the last minute, because they decided their new puppy couldn't be left alone for too long. Her ticket, three whole dollars, down the drain.

We arrived at the stadium in time to hear the national anthem, but unfortunately we still had to park the car and pick up the tickets (and give away one to the grateful guys behind us in line). By the time we got inside, it was the top of the second, and the place was packed.

Now this is the minor leagues, but the Pawsox are part of the iron of the triple-A. McCoy stadium seats 10,000, and virtually all those seats were taken. Sometime in the third inning we found some dreadful seats in the bleachers a little past first base. We squinted into the setting sun, and tried to watch as Brian Rose, a send-down from the Boston Red Sox, gave up a 3 run homer to Steve Garver.

Then it was time to round up food for the kids. Our seats were as far from the concessions as one can go, and the lines were extra long because of the sell-out crowd. ("Buy the food now," Laura had said when we first arrived. Being guys at a baseball game, Barry and I ignored this sage advice, of course, and now had to pay for our sins). We missed solo homers by Creighton Gubanich (former Red Sox back up catcher) and Dernell Stenson (who is being groomed as the next Mo Vaughn)

By the top of the fifth, the kids were happily eating somewhat smushed pizza and frozen lemonade, and the by now rather grumpy grownups settled down to watch the second half of the game, or at least that fraction of the game that is played on the portion of right field that could be seen from our seats.

And that, surprisingly enough, is when everything started to go right.

The hated Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons were still ahead 3-2, when one of them hit a towering foul ball. On the first base side. It rose up, up, up, like a bird a flight, then slowly began diving toward earth. Toward us. Exactly towards us. Suddenly, the majestic bird was a hurling projectile with our number on it. Laura ducked, I started to reach up, and then Barry suddenly jumped up, mitt in hand, and stabbed the bullet while he and it were still airborne. Barry then gave the victory wave, ball in hand, while everyone around congratulated him. Nearby moms with little kids in tow asked in awe if they, and their kids, could touch the treasure. Barry's eight year old son was proud of his dad, but regretful that he himself wasn't the chosen one.

At the bottom of the seventh inning we hoped enough families with little kids had left the park to free up some seats, and headed for the grandstands. After a little hunting, we found a row of six empties. Good seats, maybe twenty rows up from third base. We settled in, now in relative comfort (the seats have backs), to watch the final innings.

Soon it was the bottom of the ninth inning. Two outs, and the score was tied, 3 to 3. Jim Chamblee (the shortstop, who must spend every night hoping for a trade, since he's likely to be an old man before Garciaparra gets replaced), was on first. The immortal Izzy Alcantara was at bat.

Red Baron reliever Tom Jacquez threw a fast ball, somewhat outside. Izzy swung with all his might, shattering his bat. The barrel of the bat flew all the way to third base. Fortunately, the ball went with it, skipping down the line, just fair.

Chamblee took off towards third. The Red Sox third base coach waved him home (Red Sox third base coaches are always waving them home. One local sportswriter has said that if our third base coaches were air traffic controllers, Boston harbor would be littered with fuselages.) Fortunately, the Baron outfielder was less than deft (this is still the minor leagues) and Chamblee, narrowly sidestepping chunks of bat, raced for home.

The throw was late, so the Pawsox had won, 4-3. On their way off the field, a player picked up the game-winning ball where it had rolled to, near third base, and chucked it into the stands. Somewhere towards us. Exactly towards us. Towards me, in fact. I was surrounded by a dozen outstretched arms, but despite the clutches of an octopus of fans, no one could prevent the ball from grazing my leg and landing practically in my lap. It was my turn to do the "I got it," ball in hand, victory wave. The folks behind me begged to touch the jewel, then cursed their fate at being so close, but still coming up short.

Barry's son announced that he's going to kill himself, having now had the unheard of opportunity of barely missing glory twice in one evening. We all were stunned at the one in million occurance (I later realized that if say, 20 balls go into the stands in a typical game, with 10,000 fans, the odds of both Barry and I each catching a ball are only about 1 in a quarter of a million. About the same odds as winning the $50,000 second prize in the Mass. lottery. Also about the same as the odds of dying in a plane crash on my next business trip).

We all basked in glory while waiting for the fireworks. During the preparation time for that, the stadium speakers played the chicken dance. A guy with a tv camera panned the crowd, and within seconds we saw our daughters on the jumbotron screen, doing the chicken dance.

The fireworks were great, the trip home was fine, the weather was superb, and our china cabinet now contains a scuffed up, grass stained international league ball. The end.

Arthur Lewbel, Sept. 1999