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The greatest baseball catch I ever saw in person
When you grow up a Seattle Mariners fan in the 1970s and '80s, there isn't much to cheer for on the field. Even the team seemed to know this early on, so they took advantage of every promotional opportunity. In 1979, the Mariners signed an aged slugger named Willie Horton, who had played for many years with the Detroit Tigers before bouncing around for the last couple of seasons. On June 6 of that season,Willie hit his 300th career home run. Granted, he did hit 288 of those home runs prior to coming to Seattle, but the Mariners celebrating the feat like it was all done in the Pacific Northwest. This number of home runs was a bit bigger before the steroid era and it was an important milestone for the Mariners, who had just started playing baseball a few years before.
To celebrate, the Mariners announced that they would be throwing out 300 baseballs at an upcoming game that had been autographed by Horton. By today's standards, this type of promotion has lawsuit written all over it. Try to imagine a team of today intentionally throwing 300 hard baseballs into the stands where unsuspecting fans and their lawyers are waiting. As it turned out, my dad and I had tickets to that game. I took my glove along because even though there would be thousands of fans in the stands, I was obviously going to get one of those autographed balls. Granted, I was only seven years old, but my optimism was undiminished.
Before the game, the Mariners commenced with their promised giveaway. A small pickup truck entered the field, and a man in the bed of the truck started throwing baseballs into the stands, as the truck drove slowly around the edge of the field. Our seats were not stellar, but we seemed close enough to at least have a shot. As the truck got closer to our section, you could feel the energy of the fans around us. Would the ball reach us? Who would get the coveted prize? I remember clutching my glove but feeling a bit intimidated by the tall adults that started to stand up around me.
To this day, I marvel at my dad's quick decision-making skills. As a surgeon, his hands were his livelihood but I imagine that like any father he wanted to see the joy of his son getting a precious souvenir. A ball left the man's hand and it floated almost in slow motion in our general direction. If this were a Disney baseball movie starring Kevin Costner, the emotional and inspiration soundtrack would be coming up at this moment. I somehow imagined that the crowd would magically part and the ball would fall softly into my outstretched glove. That, however, is not how things transpired. Before I knew what was happening my dad had grabbed my glove from me, shoved his hand into it, and reached out between two fans who were in the row in front of us. The ball sailed perfectly into the webbing, and he pulled it to safety before the crowd could jump for the outstretched glove.
This event was only witnessed by me and a few fans around us who did not get a ball that night. For baseball fans, this catch won't rival a wall-climbing grab by Torii Hunter(notes) or Mike Cameron(notes). This catch won't live in the memories of baseball fans everywhere like the miraculous catch by Willie Mays at the Polo Grounds. Still, for a young baseball fan like myself, it was the closest thing to a highlight reel, and I got to see it happen right in front of me.
Thanks for the ball, dad. I still have it.
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