Tuesday, April 01, 2014

It Still Counts by David LeBounty

Long before last year’s Opening Day, Gabe brought me the Oakland A’s schedule.

“The A’s will be in town in May and September.”

“Good for them,” I replied.

“When do you want to go see them?” he asked.

“Not going,” I replied.

“Yes, you are, Dad.”

“I told you I wasn’t going back to that stadium.”

“We’ll see.”

After my last trip to Arlington (see Zisk #22), I swore off the stadium—I was boycotting The Ballpark. I know what you’re thinking, ‘What kind of fan doesn’t go see their favorite team when they come to town?’ (Or maybe you’re thinking, ‘What kind of fan doesn’t just root for their hometown team or move?’ I’d move, but it’s Oakland, people. Come on. Get your head in the game.) In fact, there aren’t many places I wouldn’t go to see Oakland play, including the Coliseum. We were already planning to drive down to Houston the first weekend of the season to see the A’s play our newest AL West rivals, and in July we were making a stop in Pittsburgh to see the Green and Gold. I just didn’t want to go back to Arlington.

But, of course, I did.

The A’s and Rangers battled all summer for first in the West, but heading into September, Oakland had a 4.5 game lead on the Rangers.

Gabe came to me the week before the A’s came to town and asked again if we could go. Previous commitments meant the only game we could attend was the Sunday afternoon rubber game, so this is what I told him:

“I’ll take you to the game on Sunday, if Oakland wins the Friday or Saturday game—and Alabama beats
Texas A&M.”


(A smarter father probably would have asked for an A on the next chemistry test or at least have the kid take out the garbage.)

My reasoning for the bargain was simple. I didn’t want to go if there was a chance the A’s would be
swept, not with such a tenuous lead, and I didn’t want to be around A&M fans if Bama lost. (Every time I’ve worn my Alabama shirt to an A’s game in Arlington, we’ve won. It’s all about the statistics.)

Well, damn if the A’s didn’t win both the Friday and Saturday games and Alabama won a nail-bitter in College Station. So, we got tickets behind right field. It was the perfect spot to get a good view of Josh Reddick and maybe catch a homerun. (And it was in the shade. It’s still damn hot in September down here.)

It was actually a pleasant day for a game, and the crowd was surprisingly large for a Sunday afternoon (the Cowboys were playing in Philadelphia). Our section wasn’t empty, but there was room to spread out, and as the game went on, more and more fans left as they realized the Rangers were still slumping. By the end of the 8th inning, with the A’s leading 3-1, there were large swaths of empty seats in the stadium.

We were cautiously optimistic at the start of the 9th. After getting the first out of the inning, the Rangers’ pitcher, Joakim Soria, walked Derrick Norris on four straight balls. Then Reddick came up to bat. Reddick, who was having a down, injury-plagued year, connected with the first pitch he saw, and I said to Gabe, “Holy crap! It’s coming straight for us.”

Sure enough, Reddick’s ball was on a straight line for our seats. Gabe and I rose just as the ball cleared the wall and smacked into the empty seats a few rows in front of us (you could actually see us on the replay on TV).

Frankly, I was a little shocked. Earlier in the season, Gabe and I sat in the Crawford boxes in Minute
Maid Park in Houston. They are great seats behind left field that usually see a lot of home runs, and we actually had two come into the section during the game we were at, but nothing close enough to scramble after. Reddick’s ball was right in front of us. It was ours for the taking.

But by the time Gabe pointed it out, and I spotted it under the seats in front of us, someone had already rushed over to snag it.

The lucky bastard held up the ball, then did something that angered me to my core:

He threw the ball back on the field.

The few remaining Texas fans applauded this simpleton.

I was stunned. Sure, I had seen this act of arrogant ignorance on SportsCenter, but never in person.
By the time I recovered, I was speechless, except for what I said:

“What the fuck!?”

(I often forget I am not in the comfort of my own home when I express my irritation. Happens a lot when I drive. But not when I play Grand Theft Auto. Go figure.)

But I wasn’t done. I was so mad I started chanting, “It still counts! It still counts!” like a four-year-old.

Gabe, for his part was the model of maturity. (I’d like to think his silence was shock-induced, but I now realize he was probably trying to distance himself from his tantrum-throwing father.)

The A’s went on to win, I think, by a score of something to something. I was just so mad, I didn’t care. And it wasn’t that I was mad that we didn’t get the ball or that the jackass somehow “disrespected” my team. I was mad because that doofus was given a gift from the baseball gods, and he tossed it back like so many empty peanut shells.

Do you know the odds of catching a homerun at a major league ballpark? Neither do I, but it’s probably lottery-like numbers. Probably struck-by-lightening-indoors numbers.

People don’t throw foul balls back. They proudly hold them up in triumph, as if they just made the game-winning out, even though those things don’t mean jack.

This was an honest-to-god home run. Why the hell would you throw the damn thing back?

On the drive home, I asked Gabe who started the whole throwing-the-homerun-back heresy. He didn’t know, so when I got home I went straight to the trusted Internet.

Legend has it that this phenomenon can be traced back to 1969 and a Chicago Cub’s fan named Ron
Grousl. Ron, the man who is credited with starting the “Bleacher Bums,” caught a Henry Aaron home run and was so upset, he threw it back.


Leave it to Cubs fans. You can have your billy goat curse and Bartman incident theories. I’ll tell you the real reason the Cubs haven’t won the Big One in forever: They started throwing home run balls back on the field. Henry Aaron home run balls, no less.

I’d be willing to bet that on that beautiful day in ‘69, the baseball gods were up in Heaven (or Iowa, or wherever), and one god turned to the other and said, “You know, I think it’s time to let the Cubs win the Series.”


“Sure. It’s been fifty years. I think they’ve suffered enough. Hey, Henry’s about to hit a homerun.
It’s your turn to pick the fan who gets it.”

“I’m thinking I’ll send it over to those guys in the bleachers. I like their spirit.”

“Good call. And there it goes. Henry has got a sweet swing, doesn’t he?

“Nice catch . . . wait. What the hell was that? Did that asshole just throw a Henry Aaron homerun ball back onto the field? That’s it. Another hundred years of the curse. That’ll show those bums.”

It seems I’m not the only one with a strong opinion about catching and releasing homeruns. Some
argue that throwing the ball back shows you are a real fan. Some say it’s not just bad sportsmanship, it’s childish.

But what if there is some potentially historical significance attached to it?

One of the best baseball moments I’ve had at a ballpark did involve a homerun being returned to the

We were in LA during one of our Bookstore and Baseball tours a few years ago, watching the Angels play the Kansas City Royals. It was only the second game for a young Royals player named Mike Moustakas, and in the fourth inning, he knocked a pitch into the stands. It was his first major league home run, and the fans were surprisingly appreciative, giving Moustakas a rousing ovation.

Then the Angels right fielder, Torii Hunter, asked for the ball back. There was a pause in the game until the fan threw it back and Hunter promptly threw it to the KC dugout.

Now that was classy.

But not every ball hit into the stands is a Moustakas first homerun. Most dingers are just one of many statistically insignificant scores, but for the person whose lap it lands in, it can be the souvenir of a lifetime.

So here’s what I’m asking if you are ever lucky enough to catch an opposing team’s homerun: don’t throw it back. If you don’t want it, give it to a kid. Better yet, look around your area. If there is a kid wearing the opposing team’s jersey, toss him the ball. Do that, and you will have made a friend for life.

Maybe the gods will even smile on your team. You bums listening?

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