All is fair when chasing foul balls

I’ve dropped softer tosses wearing a baseball glove.

But this was a clean, barehanded snag of a ball thrown from the front of the Chicago White Sox dugout to our seats 10 rows up. I handed the ball to my wife Sherry, then made eye contact with the thrower and tipped my cap.

All-Star shortstop Tim Anderson, in turn, nodded and smiled.

This drama played out minutes before the start of a recent cold and rainy Sox game against the Royals. The weather forecast was so dreary that we debated whether to even make the trip to Guaranteed Rate Field.

Turns out many others had the same question and decided against it. That left fewer fans for Anderson to choose from before lofting the ball over the protective net and into my sure left hand, which I must confess might have come a bit close to the fan on my left.

But he never called for it.

I wasn’t the only one to be gifted with a souvenir ball that day. Every inning was followed by Anderson or a teammate flipping a ball into the crowd.

There were T-shirts too. Sherry and our friend Jim both left the park with shirts hurled by Sox employees into the crowd. Thick sweatshirts would have been more appreciated on this day.

But, really, it’s baseballs that fans want. You see it at every game: Men and women putting themselves in harm’s way to catch a ball batted or thrown into the stands. 

Some of those foul ball adventures are more memorable than the games.

I have never experienced the thrill of catching a foul ball or home run at an MLB game, but I have scooped up a few “live” balls here and there. One was a home run hit by the Orioles’ Kevin Millar that I gave away on the spot.

Another was, again, at a Sox home game when a different Jim and I, seeking relief from the hot sun in the outfield bleachers, watched the final inning from the concourse behind home plate.

A fast ball from Sox closer Bobby Jenks was fouled off by a forgettable Tampa Bay Rays hitter and landed in an empty concession area next to where we stood. I climbed over the counter, head first, and was picking up the ball when another fan — not Jim — literally stepped on my back to try to reach over me.

I got the ball and a sore back. When I got home, Sherry asked, “Why do you have a foot print on your back?”

That souvenir ball wound up in a South Bend Tribune employee auction for charity. Think it went for $2.

A year or so later at that decrepit park on the north side of Chicago, a foul ball was headed my way when Bill — yes, the Bill of Moorandmore fame — crashed into me in attempt to snare it. Neither of us got the ball but Bill was flagged for pass interference.

Before that, there was the Braves-Dodgers game at old Fulton County Stadium in Atlanta back back in the ’70s. When brother-in-law Roger and I escorted our four young sons to the concession stand, missing an entire inning, we returned to find that a foul ball had bounced off my empty seat and into the hands of the fan seated behind me.

He thanked me for leaving and bought me a beer.

The aforementioned Jim — the first one — has one of the better foul ball stories I’ve heard. He was at Milwaukee County Stadium for the MLB debut of Sox pitcher Alex Fernandez, whose very first pitch was fouled directly into Jim’s hands.

Led to the Sox clubhouse by Fernandez’s friends after the game, Alex signed the ball but insisted that Jim keep it. After a few years, Jim left the ball and a note for him at a Sox game. A month later, a signed photo and baseball cards arrived at Jim’s home.

Then there was the time I watched from a few rows above as a former work colleague was lucky enough to grab a Cal Ripken Jr. foul ball — after it had bounced off a few things, including a young boy. The boy started crying, prompting nearby fans to began chanting “Give it to the boy!”

The colleague kept the ball — “Hey, if it was anyone other than Cal,” he protested later — while the boy was given various souvenirs from sympathetic stadium personnel.

As for the Tim Anderson ball, I gave it to Jim to take home for his mantel in Georgia. It never got there. A day later, he passed it on to his nephew.

Next thing you know, it will be going for $3 in a charity auction.