Non-Prospect Diary: Oct. 19

See also: Non-Prospect Diary Archive

It shot off the dirt in front of the
dugout, scattering players who lingered there. After a hard bounce,
it skipped off the railing and into the stands, catching a lady by
surprise. Her hands weren’t fast enough to stop the ball. She managed
only to slow it down before it clipped her on the side of the face.
Nothing serious, just a slight jarring.

Attendants immediately came to her aid.
She tried to wave them off as she rubbed her cheek, but they insisted
she take an ice pack. The gentlemen accompanying her held his “ice
cold” beer up to her face as if to say he had the situation
covered. Everyone chuckled, including the lady, and the issue seemed
over, except for one thing: The ball.

The attacker had bounced off the lady’s
cheek, a stadium seat and back onto the field where it was corralled
by the third-base coach. As is common baseball courtesy, the men in
uniform often compensate fans who “take one for the team”
by giving them the ball.

The coach walked to the stands and
flipped it underhand to the lady with the beer pressed against her

This time she caught it. No rookie to
foul-ball etiquette, she hoisted it up for onlookers. She even
managed to wave at the camera broadcasting on the video board. Fans
clapped, not a roaring cheer, but a gracious happy-ending applause.
The drama was over, and the game resumed.

I imagine that lady will discuss her
experience. Maybe after the game she’ll have the ball signed and give
it to her son who loves baseball. Maybe she’ll stare at it and wonder
what’s so special about it now that she’s got one.

Regardless, it will be one day at the
park she won’t forget.

I can remember when I was a boy, and a
ball found its way off the stadium roof and into my seat, falling
into my lap. My heart raced as I clutched it tightly. I shot up and
waved the ball all around to the sound of applause. I was so excited
I couldn’t speak.

I hyperventilated until my grandfather,
calmly sitting next to me, asked to see it. I’ll never forget that
moment. He took it gently from my hands, and looked deep into it,
like a soldier looks at the flag.

Something about it held his eyes. When
he finished, he took my hand, put the ball in it and closed my
fingers with his. With a wise smile that I didn’t quite understand,
he said, “This is a good one.”

My grandfather is gone now. So is that
ball. I think I used it to play catch one day after I ran out of
“borrowed” balls from my Little League team.

After all, I was just a kid who wanted
to play.

That precious white bauble was just the
same as any other ball we played with. It tattered just like all the
others and eventually it was lost, thrown away, or eaten by the dog.

But the memory of sharing that ball
with my grandfather lives on. Sure, it would be nice to have it now,
a testament to our time together. Yet, when I think of playing catch
with grandpa, seeing him at my games and having ice cream with him
afterward, I realize those memories are just as priceless, though I
have no souvenirs from them. Baseballs come and go; he was a
once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Now I’m on the field tossing balls into
the crowd, to injured fans and smiling children. I’m one of the
fortunate ones that grandfathers and grandsons come to watch play the
game they love. Now I know why my grandfather stared into that ball
the way he did all those years ago; he was lost in the memories it
brought back to him.

He could see his son pitching, his
grandson hitting, games in old stadiums, legends of time long past.
He could see the special ones, the good ones, and the ones yet to be.
In the years to come, I know I’ll see those same things when I grip a
ball, the little leather witness to so much of my life.

I look back at the moment my
grandfather put that ball in my hands. I wish I could have spoken to
him with the knowledge I have now and tell him what those moments
were worth to me now that he’s gone.

I wish I could take his
weathered hand in mine and say, “This is a good one grandpa, but
then again, they’re all good ones.”