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 face.

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."