I am 58 years old and have attended hundreds of baseball games in my life, but I have never caught a foul ball. I’ve come close several times — like, two seats away — but I just don’t seem to be a ball magnet. When I was a kid, I’d bring my glove to the game, certain that I’d snag any balls that came my way, but I never got the chance to use it. At some point I stopped bringing the glove — in part because I felt like I’d gotten too old to keep doing that, but also because I’d accepted the sad reality that no balls were likely to be hit in my direction.
Why am I telling you this? Because I’ve seen two recent articles — one by Toronto Star writer Murtz Jaffer and another by Philly-based sportswriter Mitch Nathanson — about how an adult who catches a foul ball should not have to give it to a kid. More specifically, Jaffer and Nathanson both said that the next time they catch a ball, they’re keeping it.
A bit of context here: I’m not sure when it became a standard thing to give a foul ball to a random kid. It definitely wasn’t the way things worked when I was a kid, but I’m vaguely aware that it has become the norm in recent years. I’m also vaguely aware that the crowd will sometimes attempt to shame adults who violate this new protocol, either by booing or by chanting something like “Give it to the kid!” (although I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed that myself, so maybe I’ve just read about it).
Jaffer and Nathanson have their own reasons for refusing to give up a foul ball — Jaffer because, like me, he’s never caught one, and Nathanson because of what seems like sheer contrarianism. In any case, I’m with them on the broad strokes, if not necessarily on the fine details: If and when I finally catch a foul ball, I’m keeping it.
I should stress here that I’m referring to a ball that was hit by a player (not lobbed by a coach or ballboy), during the game (not during batting practice), and caught or at least touched by me on the fly (not retrieved from under a nearby seat). If the ball fails to meet those three criteria, I’ll be happy to surrender it to the nearest snot-nosed tyke.
But if I can check off all three of those boxes, that ball’s coming home with me, no matter how much booing I have to endure. Here’s why:
- Come on — I’ve been waiting my whole life to catch a foul ball, so I want to keep it! Yes, I realize it’s a silly thing to prioritize, but it’s a longtime itch that I still need to scratch. Once I finally catch one, maybe I’ll give away the next one, but the first one will be all mine.
- The ballpark is where we all get to feel nostalgic and eternally young. Give the ball to a kid? Hell, at the ballpark I’m like a kid! I’d get a kick out of catching a foul ball the same way I still get a kick from eating ice cream out of a helmet cup.
- When I was, say, 10 years old, would I have liked getting a foul ball from a random grown-up? Maybe — it would’ve been interesting to see a real big league baseball — but I suspect there would’ve been something unsatisfying about having a foul ball given to me instead of getting to catch one myself. It’s not as exciting, not as good a story. If someone had offered me a ball, I’m sure I wouldn’t have turned it down, but I’d like to think that some part of me would’ve found the experience a bit inauthentic, like losing your virginity to a hooker instead of to a romantic partner (although I probably wouldn’t have used that particular metaphor as a 10-year-old).
(As an aside: Just as I went to the ballpark 50 years ago thinking, “I hope I catch a foul ball today!,” are today’s kids thinking, “I hope a grown-up catches a foul ball and gives it to me”? That’s kind of a weird thing to imagine.)
So that’s why I’ll be keeping that foul ball, if I’m ever lucky enough to snag one. But that’s just me — what about you folks? What do you think of all this?