ROFL: Random Outbursts From Lar!


What I Learned From Catching a Foul Ball With My Butt

a foul ball in a plastic cubeI used to resist the idea of calling life unfair. Being a non-conformist, I resist cliché. This works against me sometimes, because clichés can be accurate.

Now when it comes to calling life unfair, I burn with the passion of the converted. I look back at my ultra-naïve youthful self and laugh: "You once believed in the Tooth Fairy. Even worse, you clung to the idea that life could be fair!"

What brought me to this point? Forgive me for using a cliché, but it was a straw that broke the camel's back (for a more cruelty-free comparison, it was a drop that burst a hole in the bucket.)

So what was the small event with the big impact? I caught a foul ball at a pro baseball game. I wasn't that excited to get it and I'm still not that excited to have it. Contrast that with the complete insanity with which people catch (or try to catch) foul balls or balls thrown into the stands by players, "ball girls," etc. Just this past summer, baseball souvenir mania seemed to hit a fever pitch (Is that another cliché or a pun? Or both?):

  1. First, a man tragically fell to his death going for a souvenir ball. (Link.)
  2. Then Major League Baseball pushed hard on the story of the guy who caught Derek Jeter's 3000th hit, almost as if to quickly move on from the dead guy story, IMHO. (Link.)
  3. Then another guy almost died. (Link.)

There is no shortage of other shocking incidents involving the rabid quest for baseballs:

  • There was the woman who stole the ball from the kid. (Link.)
  • Bartman: the bizarre, almost fable-like story of a fan who is blamed for his favorite team losing. (Link.)
  • Just as this was going to "press," there was this incident: a man drops his child while trying to get a ball. (Link.)

The very first story hurts the most. How can life be fair, when a man falls to his death trying to get a ball thrown to him by a player? Absolutely nothing and no one involved in that incident was cruel or reckless or part of the "struggle for survival," any of the usual descriptions we use to explain away a horrible situation. If that incident doesn't prove life is unfair, then nothing does.

We all know that when you want something, you have to walk at it backwards, pretend you're not looking, then spin around and snatch it. The moment fate realizes you want something, it's going to dangle it in front of you and pull it away quickly, like a jackass on the playground who grows up to be a jackass at your job.

Or maybe that's backwards. Maybe we want what's hard for us to get, because if it's easy, we get it. Simple as that. So it's inevitable that something among all the things we desire will be difficult to obtain. And for the things we get easily? Shrug.

So what does this have to do with baseball? I presented all the examples of souvenir ball nuttiness for a reason. Those people clearly desired a ball strongly. They struggle and most fail to get it. As for me, I have very little interest in baseball and yet, of the very few games I've attended, without even trying, I caught a foul ball. With my ass.

No jokes, please. Oh hell. Okay, jokes are permitted.

Here's my story:

Everyone knows someone who promises you sports tickets like this: "My job gets awesome tickets for visiting VIPs but when no one is visiting, they give them out. If I can get them, you can have them!" And of course such gifts are free maybe once every five hundred years.

I suspect upper management is swiping them most of the time, but no matter. Such a five hundred year window opened during my teen years, so I ended up in some good seats a couple dozen rows from third base. It was a daytime, weekday game and not televised.

The date was August 9, 1983 [game stats]. Greg Gross [info] (at the time playing for my team, the Philadelphia Phillies, now their hitting coach) knocks a pitch foul. Everyone around me stood up. I felt confident it wasn't going to come near me, but I stood up anyway, so as not to get hit in the head, just in case. As the ball entered the crowd a few rows in front of me, everyone was shoving and grabbing for it. The ball hit the back of someone's seat and took a crazy bounce. The feeding frenzy was on. People scrambled and flailed trying to snag the ball. In the chaos, the ball tumbled closer. Two or three more weird bounces and/or collisions with bodies and/or chairs, and just like that, the ball landed in my seat. To protect it, I sat down on it.

And that's how I caught a foul ball with my butt.

Totally awesome, right? Well yeah, I guess. Once the foul-hunters sat down again, I grabbed the ball and stood up with it triumphantly. That's tradition, right? Besides, I wanted to be on the jumbo screen, or on TV. But this game wasn't televised and whoever was running the camera for the jumbo screen didn't care to show me.

But so what? You're saying. You caught a foul ball. True, but I was thinking: hey, why aren't I on the jumbo screen? Because that's what I would really have enjoyed.

After the game, I gave the ball to my dad. He's the baseball fan. I've always been a follower of faster-moving sports, like... well, like anything.

After years of my dad holding the foul ball he finally insisted I take it back. You caught it, he said, you should have it. So I have it. Shrug.

I can hear you now: you could sell it on eBay. I could. eBay has created a reason for people to collect anything and everything, because surely someone else will pay more for it than you did, even if it is intrinsically worthless. What's that? No, I didn't intend that as a critique of "investing" in gold, but yes, it does serve as one. Can't a piece of junk just be a piece of junk anymore? Is nothing sacred?

I guess I could sell the foul ball and donate the money to charity, but no. It means something to me now: a reminder that sometimes clichés are universal truths, that life is unfair and the grass is always greener on the other side.


Larry Nocella writes the blog ROFL: Random Outbursts From Lar! at He's the author of the novel Where Did This Come From? The world's first CarbonFree(R) novel according to The book is available as an Amazon Kindle eBook. It is also available for reading online. P.S. You don't need a Kindle to read Kindle eBooks. Download the FREE Kindle app for PC, Mac and smartphones. You can then purchase Kindle books or download free ones. Enjoy!


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