'Something every little girl dreams of': Why WCWS ushers return HR balls to players' families

·5 min read

Jocelyn Alo has put everyone on notice of her power-hitting this season.

She broke Oklahoma’s single-season home run record after all.

And the senior for Oklahoma, showed everyone her power one more time in a 6-2 win against Florida State in Game 2 of the Women’s College World Series on Wednesday night. Alo smashed a ball over the right-center outfield wall that sent the crowd at the USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium into a frenzy.

Alo’s two-run home run set many milestones for the Sooners.

It gave the Sooners their first lead of the night in a win-or-go-home game, broke the tie for the team record for home runs in a single season with the 159th of the season, and gave the Sooners the record for most runs in a season with 630.

More: WCWS finals Game 2: Jocelyn Alo, Sooners set NCAA record for home runs in single season

Safe to say, the ball would be pretty special to the senior and would probably be worth a lot to her family and friends.

That’s where the WCWS stadium staff steps in.

Karl and Sara Mason pose with the home run ball their daughter Elizabeth Mason hit during the second game of the Women's College World Series championship series between the University of Oklahoma Sooners (OU) and Florida State University at the USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City, Wednesday, June 9, 2021.
Karl and Sara Mason pose with the home run ball their daughter Elizabeth Mason hit during the second game of the Women's College World Series championship series between the University of Oklahoma Sooners (OU) and Florida State University at the USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City, Wednesday, June 9, 2021.

In a tradition that nearly everyone can appreciate at the Women’s College World Series, stadium ushers work diligently to return any home run ball to the family of the player that hit it. And every fan in the section helps out — usually pointing out the teary-eyed parents to the usher so they can make the delivery.

“I’ve been doing it 12 years...,” said a right-field usher who just went by John. “I don’t know if it was before then or what, but it’s (special). I mean how many kids get to hit a home run in the World Series?”

Hitting a home run in the Women’s College World Series is a feat that should be remembered — it’s the biggest stage a softball player plays on, and a home run is the best way to represent a player who was on the top of her game on a single pitch.

Sara Mason, the mother of Florida State’s Elizabeth Mason, made that known on Wednesday. When she arrived to Game 2 of the WCWS, she still had the home run ball Mason hit from an earlier round. And in just the first inning, she added to the collection when Mason hit a two-run home run to left field.

An usher get the home run ball hit by Florida State's Elizabeth Mason (5) in the first inning from a fan who caught it during the second game of Women's College World Series championship series between University of Oklahoma (OU) and Florida State University at the USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City, Wednesday, June 9, 2021. Oklahoma won 6-2.
An usher get the home run ball hit by Florida State's Elizabeth Mason (5) in the first inning from a fan who caught it during the second game of Women's College World Series championship series between University of Oklahoma (OU) and Florida State University at the USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City, Wednesday, June 9, 2021. Oklahoma won 6-2.

Sara knew exactly what she was going to do with her daughter's softballs.

“It’s going to go in her house,” Sara said. “We have the ones from 2018 and she’ll get those, too, and she’ll do whatever she wants with them. Right now, it’s really emotional since it’s her last year. It’s awesome.”

Fans get to keep foul balls, but home run balls are much more special to the hitter and the family and mostly everyone is aware. So there usually isn’t much pushback from the person who caught a home run ball — typically a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. But the fan isn’t left empty-handed. The staff makes sure of it.

There’s an entire process.

An usher working the outfield bleachers will retrieve the ball from the person who caught it and then trade them the home run ball for a stadium-provided softball. The usher then tosses the home run ball to the dugout-side usher who takes the ball to the family. Ed Koch, the usher working the left-field foul line in Game 2, said the process is beneficial to everyone involved but it also makes his job easier.

Usher Ed Koch watches during the second game of the Women's College World Series championship series between the University of Oklahoma Sooners (OU) and Florida State University at the USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City, Wednesday, June 9, 2021.
Usher Ed Koch watches during the second game of the Women's College World Series championship series between the University of Oklahoma Sooners (OU) and Florida State University at the USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City, Wednesday, June 9, 2021.

“It really just gives me a chance to interact with the people,” Koch said. “And that just starts a conversation and with all the rules that we have to go by it’s just perfect that these fans know that I’m here for them. It’s just very pleasing.”

Koch works the games with his wife who was working on the other side of the stadium on Wednesday. The return process is fun for both of them. They get to be everyone’s favorite person for a few seconds.

As they hold the home run ball in the air for the fans to see, they’re met with cheers as they give the ball up. They also have a chance at getting some air time on national television.

“Of course ESPN always tries to video us when we try to deliver those balls,” Koch said. “And with everybody that’s watching this, I get a lot of texts and phone calls telling me, ‘Hey, I saw you on TV.’ But it is what it is.”

Oklahoma's Jana Johns (20) hits a home run in the third inning during the second game of Women's College World Series championship series between University of Oklahoma (OU) and Florida State University at the USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City, Wednesday, June 9, 2021. Oklahoma won 6-2.
Oklahoma's Jana Johns (20) hits a home run in the third inning during the second game of Women's College World Series championship series between University of Oklahoma (OU) and Florida State University at the USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City, Wednesday, June 9, 2021. Oklahoma won 6-2.

The staff is very efficient in their delivery. When OU’s Jana Johns hammered a solo blast to left field in the third inning to get the Sooners on the board, it took the family less than 10 minutes to get the ball.

“That’s like a highlight,” said Ian Johns, Jana’s father. “We’re very thankful that they do that for the parents, it’s pretty awesome.”

There were three home runs hit in OU's Game 2 win Wednesday night. To softball fans, the home runs were exciting, but to the parents of the players, they were special. It meant the world to them to receive the ball that they can hang on to forever.

“It’s something every little girl dreams of,” said Becky Johns, Jana Johns' mother. “They talk about it, ‘If you ever hit a home run there you get your ball.’ So, it’s a dream come true.”

This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: NCAA softball: Why WCWS homerun balls are returned to players