I like sports. I’m a sports fan. Specifically, I’m a baseball fan. I come by it honestly, both my parents liked baseball. They were natives of Detroit, so they rooted for the Tigers. But we lived in northern Illinois where the Cubs ruled. Even so in our house it was all about the American League. My first trip to a ball park was to old Cominsky. So I grew up a White Sox fan, something of an anomaly in the land of Ernie Banks. That’s my background as a baseball fan, my provenance if you will. How people become fans of their teams is very interesting to me. Anyone can be born into a household of Red Socks hating Yankees or blue sky loving Dodgers. These fans are just following a crowd. But I’m interested in a fan whose team of choice is not from their hometown or region. How was that fan’s provenance formed?
That brings me to the other baseball fan in my house, the one I know best his baseball provenance started out routinely but transformed to another team over time. This is his story. And let me tell you, sports fans, you’re going to love this story.
It was 1982 my husband and I had returned to our college town after he completed grad school to live and work. Tom, born and raised on the east coast, an avid baseball fan had grown up following the Mets and the Yankees. He still speaks of Tom Seaver in dulcet tones. But our four years in Milwaukee at Marquette University had found us at many a Brewer game and we found it easy to root for the home team. Players like Yount, Molitor and Cooper, made it easy to watch baseball in our adopted city. And that year would be the franchise’s second time in post season play. So with a pinch on our limited finances, we luckily secured four seats in the right field bleachers for both the playoffs and the possibility of a World Series. Good friends of ours would join us in the bleachers of the old County Stadium.
The playoffs were a best of five series in those days and the Brewers had dropped two straight to the Angels in Anaheim. They would have to sweep three games, something that no other team had ever done, to advance to the Series.
It was a chilly October evening and the Brewers had won the first two games after retrning to Milwaukee setting up an improbable game five. But the Angels took and early lead and in the fourth inning it was California 3 Milwaukee 1. And that’s when the fun began. My husband’s favorite player on the Brewers, was out fielder Ben Oglivie. Tom loved Ogilvies’s out look, athletisim, and reputation as something of a scholar. But in the fourth inning nature called and Tom was in the men’s room when Oglivie came up to bat. With one out, and no one on base, Oglivie launched one for a solo home run. A midst the cheering and the applause, our friends and I could not believe that Tom had missed this very important homerun by his favorite player. It was what we kept saying to each other as Ben rounded the bases. We were still cheering the home run when Tom made his way back to his seat. “You missed it ! Can’t believe you missed it!” We shouted above the roar of the crowd. And that’s when he pulled from his pocket and shouted for everyone within ear shot to hear “I caught the ball!” Well, he actulally added an adjective which I won’t use in this post. But you get the idea.
You see as he exited the men’s room and walked back under the stands to our seats he heard a roar go up from the crowd. He stopped to try to see the scoreboard and as he has described many times, he looked up through the tunnel in the bleachers to see, the ball. “It looked like something out of a movie, with the ball slowly dropping toward me. It actually hit me in the chest. I simply put it in the pocket of my coat.” Yes my husband caught a homerun ball from his favorite player in the decisive game of the playoffs coming out of the men’s room. The Brewers won the game and went onto the World Series.
But the story doesn’t end there. After the game and later after the World Series Tom contacted the Brewers and offered to return the ball to Ben. Nothing ever came of it and the baseball resided in one of those acrylic boxes meant for noteworthy baseballs, in our family room for 25 years. And then last year the Brewers hosted a reunion of that 1982 World Series Team. Tom made another effort and wrote to the team owner. This time his letter was answered. So on July 15,2017 Tom finally got to meet his favorite Brewer and return the home run ball to Ben Oglivie. Tom shared his story with an incredulous Ben and posed for a picture.
I’ve always found it ironic that a guy who had been to hundreds of baseball games, as a kid growing up, watching both teams in New York, and in the cities we would visit together, never caught a baseball, not even a foul ball. That the ball he would finally catch would be a home run ball off his favorite player in a championship game, while exiting the men’s room is almost to wild a story to believe.
It’s October again, and the Brewers are in the playoffs once more. This year it’s in a different league and a different stadium. The fans in my family will be watching again. But somehow I don’t think we’ll be able to top that memory. Our fan history, our provenance was forever altered by a baseball dropping out of the sky into the hands of my husband. An improbable, funny, story to add to our family lore. Ahh baseball… at our house it’s still the national past time. I’m just say’n.
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