If you weren’t on the internet over the holiday weekend — and you shouldn’t have been, it was a freaking holiday weekend — you probably missed the latest in a string of ugly ballpark incidents that are staining the fine name of baseball.
In this case, the event was an Ohio State-Minnesota game at the Big Ten championships, and the adult and the kid were both headed the same empty row to chase the ball. The adult got there first, and snapped up the ball like a pelican spearing a fish. Here’s the video:
Now, I’m sure that gentleman is a decent fellow who made a bad decision; we’re not going to shame him by name, only by deed. And it later came out that the kid got a ball signed by all the members of the Ohio State baseball team. But, come on — that’s a consolation prize.
This falls smack into the realm of Things Adults Shouldn’t Need To Be Told, but here it is: If you’re an adult and you find yourself with a foul ball in your hand, give it to the nearest kid. If you’re an adult scrabbling around for a foul ball in the seats with a kid, back off. And if you’re a grown-ass adult and you’re racing a kid for a foul ball, take a hard look at your life.
The only exceptions to this rule I’ll even consider are this:
If you make the catch on the fly in some badass, juggling-nachos-and-snagging-the-ball theatrical manner.
If the ball is some sort of milestone, like a 500th home run.
If you catch the ball in your cup of beer.
Under any other circumstances: the foul ball goes to the kid.
But why???? you protest. I got there first! It’s mine! Kids need to learn hard lessons! Yes, they do, but not from you, and maybe if someone had given you a foul ball somewhere along the line you wouldn’t be an emotional gnome.
A foul ball is a powerful bit of sports memorabilia, a difficult-but-achievable totem of fandom. Basketballs don’t stay in the stands, and footballs ended up there only when Jay Cutler was throwing, and he’s retired. Hockey pucks and NASCAR car parts usually come with the added bonus of hospital bills.
But foul balls? Man, they can change the trajectory of your entire life as a sports fan. If you’re an adult, all that’s already hardwired.
True Foul Ball Story #1: I was about 13 years old, and one day while we were preparing to leave for Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, I decided that I was officially Too Old To Bring My Glove To A Game. Our seats were lower level, third-base side. You can guess what happened next: A foul ball rifled back toward us, slapped me right in the hand where a glove would have been, and kept on going another couple rows. I learned two hard lessons that day: 1. I was more cut out for writing about sports than playing them, and 2. Don’t be in too much of a hurry to grow up.
I know all this is easy for me to say; I’ve been to a lot of ballgames; the allure of “Wow, that’s a ball used in a major league game!” has worn off. There’s a general protocol among members of the media that you don’t hang onto the foul balls that come your way.
Check out, for instance, the announcer who narrated his own recent foul ball catch:
This announcer caught a foul ball on the fly and he's very proud of himself. 😂pic.twitter.com/jSGqfISeL1
— Cut4 (@Cut4) May 17, 2019
…and tossed the ball to the crowd without even pausing his own commentary.
Which leads me to True Foul Ball Story #2: I was covering a Braves game at old Turner Field when Chipper Jones fired one back into the press box. It came about one seat away from destroying my laptop, but it just bounced around my backpack. Knowing the routine, I took the ball, looked down at the fans far below, pointed to a kid, and dropped the ball to him. Sure, the ball bounced right off the kid’s forehead, but hey, I can’t be responsible if he can’t judge a fly ball.
Look, the important part of the foul ball isn’t the ball itself. There are a billion balls out there just like it. The crucial part of a foul ball is the story, and that lives on whether or not you get the ball.
To prove my point, I asked a simple question on Twitter:
Please tell me, in a tweet, your best story involving a foul ball.
— Jay Busbee (@jaybusbee) May 28, 2019
And check out the replies I got, very few of which involve actually getting the ball itself:
My wedding rehearsal dinner at an Idaho Falls Padres game in 2001. We have about 50 friends & family there. My friend James, who can get a bit out of control over the prospects of something being free, pushes over my wife’s 78-year old great aunt in the stands to get a foul ball.
— Donald Leroy (@TheTeflonDon) May 28, 2019
During a little league game, saw a small girl take one directly in the top of the head and she just kept on walking- didn’t even drop the nachos she was carrying.
— Craig L. (@Im_Ole_Craig) May 28, 2019
Birmingham Barons game in 1994. Seated on 1st base side. Michael Jordan steps up to plate. Hits a high foul ball coming right down on me. I stick up my hand. Ball bounces off my palm and directly into the glove of a little kid right behind me.
— Monte Burke (@monteburke) May 28, 2019
7th grade. Tigers/Red Sox spring training game, Winter Haven FL. Waiting to get Chet Lemon’s autograph. Foul ball bounces off fence, breaks my nose. Dropped my baseball cards - someone took them. Dad left my sister w/ random strangers while he took me to dr. A good story now :)
— Marcela (@makw) May 28, 2019
Braves game at Turner. I was 14. To my left were three empty seats, then a group of 20-something-year-old girls. I was looking at them, not the game. Foul ball hit the seat right next to me, and one of them picked up. Saw her walking around Underground Atlanta later that night.
— Josh Vitale (@JoshVitale) May 28, 2019
Mom used to make me sit about as high up in General Admission at Milwaukee County Stadium when we’d go to games (gotta sneak in rum!). I’d complain to no end, “balls never come this high!” Then: Bo Jackson. Hit one about 15 rows behind us. She held off 3 people so it’d be mine.
— Jay Kosier (@Maluhaka) May 28, 2019
My only chance to catch one came my first week on the job. Got invited by the managing editor to join him and his family at an O's game. 7th inning, ball gets fouled back, bounces into the empty seat next to me. Me and his 15-yr-old both reach for it, grab & lock eyes. I let go.
— Kevin Van Valkenburg (@KVanValkenburg) May 28, 2019
Aren’t those great? And the point’s clear. Hold onto the story, let the ball go. A ball’s going to mean a lot more to a kid than you. Friends: Give foul balls to kids.
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