LOS ANGELES – A couple hours before, when Joc Pederson's first major-league hit fluttered to the grass in center field, that baseball found its way to the Dodgers' dugout and now was being presented to him in the clubhouse. Adrian Gonzalez did the honors, even sold it with a hug.
Pederson looked at the ball, smudged with grass and dirt from Dodger Stadium. This would go to his parents, he said. His family was at the ballpark on Tuesday night; father Stu, an outfielder for the Dodgers for a short while in 1985, mother Shelly, brothers Champ and Tyger.
He noted shyly his first name was not spelled correctly. He shrugged. No big deal.
"Oh," Gonzalez said. "That's not how you spell, 'Joc?'"
Pederson didn't want to complain. Still, he said, "You're oh for two. 'Pederson' is misspelled too."
"Sorry," Gonzalez said. "Spelling's not my thing. But congrats."
And he hit him with he hug.
"OK," Pederson said.
He rolled the ball in his fingers. There was an inscription.
"Fister off Fister," it said.
"Ha," Pederson said.
See, he'd singled softly off Washington Nationals right-hander Doug Fister. So it was what they call a fister. Off Fister.
If he's really very lucky, and he works his rear off, and an organization believes in him, a man gets exactly one first big-league hit. And if he's lucky, that ball comes back to him and he holds it in his hand, and it stands for something big. Forever. Little jokes on the ball, therefore, aren't really necessary.
But, hey, Pederson was happy. He'd gotten his first start. He'd swung hard. He'd had a hit. And one day he could explain to his children, even his grandchildren, how he'd stood in there against a very good pitcher on a perfect night in Los Angeles in the midst of a pennant race and sort of lined a ball into center field to start his career. (It's his story. He gets to tell it.) And then he could explain to them the whole fister/Fister thing.
"Hey Joc," clubhouse manager Mitch Poole said, "you get your ball?"
Pederson held it up. Poole, one hand behind his back, looked it over.
"Fister off Fister," he murmured. "Huh."
Poole took his hand from behind his back. In his hand, a plastic baggie. In the baggie, a baseball.
"Here's the real one," he said, ending Gonzalez's time-honored rookie prank.
Untouched. Smudged with grass and dirt.
Pederson smiled. That one would go to his parents.
"Thanks," he said.
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