Last night was the first time I’ve been to a game with someone who doesn’t really know anything about baseball. My friend and Spanish teacher Gina and I decided to do a bit of two-way learnin’. I could try and speak in Spanish, and teach her some basics about baseball. It was kinda fun. Especially as she seemed to enjoy the game. One of the first things I mentioned about the game was to keep her eye out, because foul balls could come into the stands and it would hurt, but, “I’ve never been near one, so, y’know, it’s not likely.” Several innings and beers later, I excuse myself to go to the bathroom. I trot down the steps towards the exit as a ball is fouled out and flies up over my head, hits a seat, and lands near my feet. I lean down like a Victorian lady picking up a fallen apple from her orchard, and continue my trip to the gents.
It seems like balls here have the Liga Mexicana logo rubber-stamped rather than properly printed.
It was my first ever foul ball. But foul balls are something I’ve thought a lot about. Especially here where the stands are often sparsely populated and I’m often sat in an area where a left-handed batter could ping one. I’m not a person who likes attention. When I get a haircut or a new shirt, I’m happiest when people don’t mention it at all. And I worry a lot about what I would do if a foul ball were to come near me. I’ve made a promise to myself that I won’t ever run for a ball. I’d walk if it were close. I’d never get into a situation where I am in battle with someone else for the ball: you can have it, dude, my dignity is more important than a second-hand baseball. I worry about the mocking jeers I’d get if a ball came right at me and I dropped it. And I always make a note of kids in the section to whom I could give the ball. (Unless the kid looks like a spoilt brat then fuck ’em.) At a recent game sat in prime territory, there was a teenage with Down’s Syndrome nearby. I spent way way way too long debating with myself if it would be good or patronising to give a potential foul ball to him as there were no other children around. I think too much.
The orange mark on the ball is paint that came off of the seat on its way into my pocket.
As it happens, there were no kids near me when I got back to my seat last night. But there had already been some jeering. The worst possible thing happened. I got the ball, but I got a mild smattering of jeers for something completely out of my control. As I leant down to pick up the ball, a beer vendor on the steps behind me must’ve lunged to try and get it, but slipped and fell over. Not my fault. God’s honest truth, not my fault. And all that accumulated worry about what to do when I acquire a foul ball, well, I did nothing wrong but still had to listen to jeers. Maybe they were jeering at him for his dumb lunge, though. But my bladder didn’t know that.
I stood at the trough, back pocket bulging with its new leather and yarn goiter, legs shaking because of the nervous energy, and my bladder decided that he was not gonna comply with my wishes. I have a shy bladder in public bathrooms at the best of times. There’s no reason for it, just over time it’s become a mental block. At the Champions League final between Liverpool and AC Milan in Istanbul in 2005, I was busting for a slash at half time, but the bathrooms were really busy. I queued, waited my turn, then an opening appeared, got it out, and… nothing. C’mon Craig, you’ve been drinking all day, your bladder is the size of a Space Hopper: just go! Nothing. I spent the second half of the game, and the 30 minutes of extra time, and the penalty shoot out dying for a leak. But lately, I’ve noticed that thinking about defensive plays helps. “6-4-3,” I’ll mutter to myself. Wahey! If it needs more than a simple double play to get me going, I replay Jeter’s flip in the 2001 ALDS and that works a treat. But last night, nothing.
When I finally calmed down, I returned to the stands. The first person I saw was the lunging beer vendor. He smiled a big friendly smile. He shook my hand. We had a brief laugh. The nervy leg shakes disappeared. Sadly, the Diablos lost 8-7 despite a valiant effort, coming back from 7-1 down. So close to a fantastic comeback. But more importantly, Gina now knows that runners have to tag up.