On July 2nd, 2008, the St. Louis Cardinals took on the New York Mets at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. The Cardinals, a much underestimated, young club was making a push toward the weekend when their division rival Cubs would come to town to duke it out for first place in the National League's central division.
On that same night, Rick Ankiel started in center field and in the fifth inning, he belted a homerun that screamed into the right field bleachers, bounced off the jaw of a loyal season ticket holder and rolled under my seat. I bent over and picked it up. It was Ankiel's 17th homerun. Just another day in his career. A nice day and a nice surprise but just another day and just another homerun. And it just rolled under my spot on the bleachers and I just bent over and picked it up.
Immediately, my face was on the jumbo scoreboard in center field and on televisions across the country. Not once. Not twice. But, apparently, three times. Me... holding the ball, looking into the camera.
I am THE WORST person to catch a ball on a nationally televised baseball game. There are three reasons why I am the worst. One, I am not a jump up and down and get excited kind of fan who is dying for tv time. I don't scream and holler and point my index finger in the air while tugging on my jersey and yelling to the television audience that my Cardinals are number one. I love my boys and I am loyal to them but... I just don't do all that crazy fan stuff.
Two, there's a part of me that doesn't really get it. What's the big deal? It's a ball. I adore that Rick Ankiel. Years ago, during the spring following Ankiel's initial signing with the St. Louis Cardinals, I met Rick at a gas station in Florida. A teammate of his, who was a friend of mine, introduced us. I believe he was introduced as the "four million dollar boy." I have followed his career. I have cheered him on the way up and on the way back down. I prayed for him when times got rough because I realize that the ballplayers are people with real lives, not just entertainers. And I was proud and thrilled when Ankiel made his way back. I am a fan. But that homerun ball was just a ball.
Three, I don't know what to do with it now. I got a ball two years ago from Randy Flores who threw it up from the bullpen and it is in my underwear drawer. I'm afraid Ankiel's ball with be joining it there. Is there something else I'm supposed to do with it? Am I supposed to hunt Ankiel down and get it autographed or put it in a case on a shelf? Maybe I should give it to the guy who got hit in the face...
Please don't be confused. Homeruns excited me. Cardinal wins are the best. And I am proud of the team and honored to sit in the stands 50 games out of the year. I am just the wrong person to catch a homerun ball. Or to lazily pick it up from under my seat.