Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Fans falling from the skies! Is a genuine major league baseball worth it?

First, Arlington, Texas. Now Phoenix. Is it destined to happen someday in Chicago?

I’d like to think that it is just a Southwestern U.S. phenomenon that makes those people go too far to try to catch a foul ball while attending a professional baseball game.

BUT THE REALITY is that it isn’t. If anything, I’m surprised we haven’t had more incidents, including at the two ballparks right here in Chicago.

At stake is the concept of people in the upper decks of seating at stadiums who are so eager to catch a stray baseball hit into the stands that they wind up falling over the railings.

Just this weekend, a Texas Rangers game turned tragic when a fan who supposedly was trying to catch a baseball as a souvenir for his six-year-old son tumbled out of the stands and fell to his death.

Then on Monday at the festivities leading up to the All Star Game, a fan nearly fell out of the stands. Only the fact that his brother and a friend were able to grab him and pull him back up kept him from taking a 20-foot plunge – which could have been crippling, if not fatal.

IN THAT CASE, the fan was present to catch balls hit during the Home Run Derby that is part of the All Star celebration He and his buddies had already managed to get three baseballs.

It was the attempt to catch Ball Number Four – a ball hit into the stands by Milwaukee Brewers slugger Prince Fielder – that caused the near-fall.

Now I’m sure there will be some people who will claim that the fans in Arlington and Phoenix were being absurd in their desire to get a baseball, and that somehow it is their own fault. We may well hear that canard from the ideologues about “taking responsibility for one’s actions” who won’t want to hear any sympathy for these two.

Yet I can’t help but think that these two are merely among those types who let themselves get swept up in the moment when a stray baseball gets hit in their vicinity. Throughout the years in various stadiums, I have seen this kind far too often. Something like this will happen again.

NOW IN ALL the years I have attended ballgames, I have never caught a foul ball or home run ball (I prefer to sit near the infield, so the latter is less likely for me). But I have seen the types of people who get all excited at the scramble that inevitably results when a ball winds up in the stands.

I even recall the closest I ever came to such a catch of my own. It was the one  game I watched at U.S. Cellular Field from the club level – those mid-level seats intermixed with the private boxes that some people swear is the only way to watch a sporting event; and other people just swear at.

I was in a seat overlooking home plate and to the left of me was open air. If I had been sitting about five feet further to the left, I would have caught this particular foul ball.

But nobody was sitting there. I would have had to make a seriously-risky reach to come close to catching it. I probably would have come crashing down on a fan sitting in the lower deck, so I let it go. Which got me an inning’s worth of derision from the people sitting around me, many of whom thought I should have made something resembling a dive to try to get the ball.

I HAVE NO doubt that some of those people, if they had been in my particular seat, would have made the dive.

All to get a baseball with no particular significance to that particular game – which in and of itself was merely one of 81 games the White Sox played in their home stadium that particular season.

It’s not like the ball would have had any particular value to a collector of sports memorabilia. It would merely be one of thousands of foul balls that get hit into the stands at major league games every year.

Which is why I was pleased to see on Saturday that when Derek Jeter of the New York Yankees got that 3000th base hit of his career with a home run to the left field seats, there wasn’t some massive scramble that resulted in somebody getting hurt.

THAT BALL COULD have had some value to Yankees fans, at least one of whom would have been enough of a sucker to pay for it if given the chance. But would it have been worth getting hurt? I can’t see it.

So as we prepare for the baseball season to resume on Thursday (following the American League’s 5-1 loss Tuesday to the National League in the All Star Game), perhaps we should be giving some thought to the way we behave while sitting in the stands.

That is, if we're not obsessing with the beginning Wednesday of the perjury trial of former star pitcher Roger Clemens.

We ought to be agonizing about why the White Sox can’t get their act together and play up to their potential (I’d argue the Cubs ARE playing to their potential). Not about which fan is going to lose his (or her) balance and come crashing down upon me sitting in the lower deck, all in pursuit of a souvenir whose market value is $169.99 per dozen.


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