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The batted baseball approaching directly is the most deceptive.
From green grass to technicolor grandstand to gray sky and then back, from muted speck to white-red comet, from impact’s distant crackle to approaching shriek, all designed for disguise and surprise and evasion.
Rick Frohock, 31 years old, wind in his face, Old Style beer in one hand, measured the flight of this baseball. He had five seconds to sort it out, give or take a few heartbeats.
“That’s gone,” he thought.
“It’s gonna leave the park,” he adjusted.
“It’s gonna hit the building,” he readjusted.
“It’s on the roof,” he amended.
So was he.
The five-story brick structure went up in 1909. Five years later, across W. Waveland Avenue, Wrigley Field opened.
On May 11, 2000, Frohock, along with colleagues from the local phone company, sat in a block of bleachers atop that building, maybe 500 feet from home plate, so some kind of a jolt for a right-handed pull hitter.
Baseball’s a tough sport to watch from 500 feet away, starting with the half-second delay of the sound of baseball off bat, but the rooftop at 1032 W. Waveland wasn’t just about the baseball. There’d be laughs and stories and beer and cheers no one else would hear and the special occasion of baseball from a different vantage point. The sun might even show itself on a spring Thursday afternoon. It didn’t.
Frohock was born in Michigan, attended Michigan State, and was since he could remember a Chicago Cubs fan. He watched WGN on channel 9 on so many afternoons he’d fallen in love with the whole vibe of the Cubs, of Wrigley, and especially Dave Kingman and Iván de Jesus.
Previously, he’d attended games at Wrigley and sat in the grandstand. Or in the bleachers. But he’d not been on one of the rooftops before, at a game but apart from it, too, almost hovering over it. Everyone was getting comfortable in just the second inning when a tiny Glenallen Hill stepped in against a tiny Milwaukee Brewers right-hander, Steve Woodard.
“It landed about the third row of the other set of bleachers,” Frohock said.
He saw it bounce and then roll under the bleachers, then into the area behind the bleachers. He jumped to his feet, charged through a gap between the seats and emerged with the only baseball ever to land on that rooftop during a game.
Nearly 22,000 people were in the stadium. About all of them watched as Rick Frohock, some guy in a green windbreaker, raised the baseball in his right hand, trusty Old Style, foamy but intact, in his left.
“It was surreal,” he said. “I didn’t do anything. I mean, I didn’t catch it. I was just the first one to the ball.”
Within minutes, the television and radio guys ascended to discover the man who’d come away with that baseball. Frohock called his wife, Christina, home pregnant with their first child, a son, to tell her to set the VCR. A gentleman — presumably affiliated with the Cubs — approached him about bringing the ball to the field postgame, as Hill would like to have it. Afterward, he was offered a signed bat, other items, maybe a chance to meet Hill. Frohock said sure, that would be fine.
The Cubs lost the game, however, and so the trade was put off to another day for the sake of appearances. (On May 13, the local paper reported Hill had exchanged a personal bat for the ball, but that never happened.)
Christina was pretty far along in her pregnancy, and to be on the safe side, Frohock wasn’t going to any baseball games for a time. The Frohocks figured they’d have all summer to return to Wrigley, maybe by then with young Andrew in their arms. On a square of masking tape, Frohock wrote “Glenallen Hill HR Ball 5/11/00 Rooftop 1032 Waveland.” He affixed it to the ball, which he stored in a plastic cube.
On July 21, the Cubs acquired two players from the New York Yankees — Ben Ford and Oswaldo Mairena — for Glenallen Hill. And summer, as it related to Hill in a Cubs uniform, was gone.
Twenty years later, Hill said he had little attachment to the ball, even if it is the only one of its kind.
“That’s not important to me,” he said. “I didn’t have any interest in that. We play the game to entertain the fans.”
So, the only game-used ball to land on a Wrigleyville rooftop has been packed up and moved three times, most recently to a home in Inverness, Illinois, northwest of Chicago. It has company in an autographed Willson Contreras jersey, a ticket stub from when Michigan State beat USC in the 1988 Rose Bowl, two old seats from Wrigley Field, a Cubs pennant and some framed magazine covers from when the Cubs won the World Series.
Frohock has never once thought of selling, he said. He’s never wondered how much it would bring. Instead, when asked, he tells the story of the day he was in the right place at the right time, or close enough to it he could scramble the final few feet. He’s never been back to that rooftop, but when he attends games at Wrigley he always steals one glance up there and thinks, “Yep, that’s the roof. That’s where I was at.” The masking tape is yellowed, and still he is the guy at the rail on top of that building, all of Cubdom staring up at the guy in the green windbreaker. He is grinning.
“It was fun,” he said. “Basically, it was your 15 minutes of fame thing. Because of the internet, it stretches to 20 years.”
As for the concepts of right place and right time, Rick Frohock had to laugh. Going on five decades as a Cubs fan, this winter he chose to make his hardest commitment yet.
For the first time, and just in time for a promising 2020 season, Frohock became a season-ticket holder. Sometimes, life comes right at a guy.
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