There are certain things that every man must do in his life. It’s different for every man. Some men aspire to literary greatness; some pine for the glories of rare athletic feats. But for me, I just wanted to catch a foul ball at a Major League baseball game.
It finally happened a couple of years ago, in the most fucked-up, convoluted way possible. This is me we are talking about, after all.
Every single goddamned word of this story is true.
I was dating a hot blonde from Philly who for the sake of her pride and my safety shall remain nameless. We were pretty serious — she came to Pittsburgh every couple of weekends, partied with me and my Southside friends, there were talks of marriage, whatever. I was drinking A LOT back then … and hot blonde was no teetotaler. I have long maintained that two alcoholics can not coexist in a loving relationship, and I’m pretty sure there were never two bigger drunks in the whole recorded history of human civilization. Our favorite drink was vodka; our second-favorite drink was more vodka. Our preferred method of birth control was alcohol and malnutrition — a winning recipe, as to this day, to my knowledge, I have fathered no bastards.
She wanted to take me to a Phillies game. She was insistent upon this. Being that I was/am a loser with no adult responsibilities, I did the 5-hour drive to Philly one weekend, to cash in on the offer. Only problem was, I had a throbbing toothache that made driving difficult. The pain was so bad, I had begun to suspect the infection had spread to my brain. My tooth was literally rotting out of my head.
Now, my father is a dentist. Thinking I would kill two birds with one stone, I arranged for him to fix my tooth a few hours before the game. As he fired up the drill, I said to him: “Look, I have a date in an hour, is this going to, like, interfere with that?” He said, and I quote: “Oh, you’re definitely not going to be able to eat, drink, or talk for at least the next twelve hours.” Pzzzz! Shot of lidocaine, right in my jaw. My whole head immediately went numb. My father is kind of a dick.
I decide to drive to the game anyway. I pick up hot blonde at her friend’s house, blasting Sonic Youth out of my sweet-ass Honda Civic. She has a bottle of vodka in her purse. As luck would have it, I have a flask of vodka in my jeans. I also have some Percocets my dad gave me for pain, in addition to my usual cornicopia of anti-anxiety medications. Hot blonde has her own mini-pharmacy of random pills, which she proceeds to grind into a fine powder using the blunt end of a knife. So I’m driving through downtown traffic with a paralyzed right arm and a flask of vodka between my knees as hot blonde snorts rails of Vicodin and Xanax and God-knows what else off the dashboard. I do not recommend this.
By some miracle we get to the game without causing a ten-car pileup, and it’s just a sea of cardinal red and oily Philly douchery as far as the eye can see. Which is fine — I grew up in that environment, and am sort of an oily douche myself. I am wearing a purple shirt and wraparound sunglasses. Hot blonde has settled on an ensemble of stiletto heels, a mini-skirt, and a cutoff shirt that barely clears the undersides of her breasts. To say we looked out of place is an understatement. You could have spotted us from a low-flying aircraft.
The seats are great. First base line, three rows back. I probably could have — and, given his play in the World Series later that year, perhaps should have — spit on Ryan Howard. I immediately locate the one vendor in the stadium who is selling non-watered-down beer (Railbender Ale, 7% alcohol by volume, thank you very much), and by the end of the second inning I am completely shithoused. It has not yet occurred to me that we are playing the Atlanta Braves, a hated NL East rival. I’m more concerned with the kid sitting directly in front of me, a 10-year-old boy with blond hair and apple cheeks who’d brought his own glove to the game. It was like something out of a movie. A very bad, very feel-good movie.
“I’m going to catch a foul ball,” I manage to say, or rather, to moo like a cow, “and when I do, I’m going to give it to this kid right here.”
And maybe it was due to the copious amount of alcohol and drugs we had just consumed, or to the absolute confidence with which I had made my declaration … but hot blonde BELIEVED ME. She actually thought I was going to do it!
What happened next is kind of hard to describe. I remember hearing the crack of the bat — Atlanta was batting, I don’t remember the player — and then what can only be described as a “hubbub” in the stands around us. Everyone stood, so I stood. The ball was coming our way. The gentleman directly to my left — a Braves fan — got his hand on the ball, but he couldn’t quite wrap it up; the ball banged off his hand, ricocheted off the back of my seat and curled around to the front of my chest, suspended in mid-air. I didn’t so much catch the ball as reach my hand out and pluck it out of the air.
Total silence in the stands around us. No one really knew what happened, where the ball went. I looked at the ball in my hand, looked at hot blonde, then back at the ball, then at the people in my section, and let out a war cry of victory which, due to the drugs in my system, sounded less like a war cry and more like:
I believe the people in the stands may have thought I was retarded, because they erupted in a thunderous applause the likes of which I have never heard.
Now, one thing I learned from this experience is that when you catch a foul ball at a baseball game, you have maybe 6 to 10 seconds where YOU ARE THE MAN. Play on the field has stopped, the next pitch has not yet been thrown, and you are a member of this mini-community in the stands, you have beaten the odds, you have just come up with the ball, and people are happy for you. But those 6 to 10 seconds are all you get, and after they’ve passed, you are just another shlub at a baseball game, sit the fuck down, you’re blockin’ the view.
I was not about to let those ten seconds pass and then fade off into obscurity. I remembered my promise, tapped the kid in front of me on the shoulder, handed him the ball.
He looked at me with wide, blown-glass eyes, like I’d just brought thunder down from Mount Olympus. I don’t think he really understood what was happening. An official Major League baseball — straight from Cole Hamels’ glove! — with the Lena Blackburne rubbing mud still on it! — was now in his hand. It was all too much for him to process. His mother broke the spell by turning around and asking me earnestly:
“Are you giving it to him, or showing it to him?”
“I’m giving it to him.”
“Because I’m a grown-ass man, what the fuck do I want with a baseball?”
She stopped talking to me then. Her husband — the kid’s father — ordered two Miller Lights for me and hot blonde. Our tribute. We would feast and drink wine like ancient Romans come sundown.
But first, I called my sister. I got no more than ten words into the story when she said: “Wait, are you wearing a purple shirt?” Apparently she was watching the game on TV, and there was a bit of a delay. She saw the whole thing happen as I was telling her the story. And, according to my sister, the longtime Phillies announcer Harry Kalas, whose voice I had pretty much grown up on, said something to the effect of:
“Now that’s the power of sports. You see something like that, and it restores your faith in people. What a fine young man. A great day for baseball.”
A fine young man. I was twisted out of my fucking mind on vodka and prescription pills!
We didn’t make it past the fourth inning. We bailed on the game, went to a casino in the bad part of the city. I think some other things happened, though I can’t be sure. We ended up at a Holiday Inn just a few blocks away from the stadium. It was here, in a hotel room with a dogshit view of South Philly, surrounded by empty airplane bottles of liquor, that hot blonde asked me to choke her out.
“It feels really good,” she explained, placing my hands on her neck to demonstrate the appropriate technique, “if you climax while you’re being choked,” she added helpfully.
Remember what I said about two alcoholics not being able to coexist in a loving relationship?
Anyway, I had never asphyxiated anyone in bed before, and wasn’t about to pass up the opportunity — not on this day, not with the gods of baseball and young love, not with Dionysius, the trickster god of poetry and libations, smiling favorably down upon me.
I grasped her neck … and she stopped me. She whipped off my studded belt, snapped it once for good measure, and handed me the belt.
“Wait … you want me to choke you with A FUCKING BELT???”
“It’s better that way.”
“You’re fucking insane.”
And she was. And she is. But with hot blonde, it was always a good kind of crazy, a fun-loving crazy, never a mean or manipulative crazy. The kind of crazy that causes men to get in their modest vehicles on a random Thursday morning and to drive halfway across the state on a whim. The kind of crazy that makes you feel utterly, inexorably alive … until, utterly, inexorably, you’re dead.
So I get behind hot blonde, and now I’m fucking her doggystyle and strangling her at the same time, and after like thirty seconds of this she kind of slumps over and falls partially off the bed at an awkward angle.
I guess she’d passed out. But I didn’t think she’d passed out. I thought I’d killed her.
Now, please bear in mind, this was before nursing school, before I had ever seen a dead body, before I had even felt a pulse. Everyone likes to fantasize about how expertly and heroically they would handle such a tender situation, but I am here to tell you that, when push comes to shove, your survival instincts do not always match those lofty expectations. I gathered my clothes, fled the hotel like it was on fire, got in my car and drove to my grandmother’s house in Atlantic City.
I spent the whole day wandering around the beach like the walking dead. At one point it occurred to me that I could just wade out into the ocean and drift away into oblivion, just drown out the memory of killing a person I had loved, get stung to death by jellyfish, or eaten by a shark, and that would be that.
Later that afternoon I finally got the balls to call hot blonde’s cell phone. If it went through to voice mail, I was fully prepared to abscond to Jamaica with whatever pathetic sum of money I had in my bank account. In fact, by the fourth ring, I was already calculating the precise amount of money it would take to commission a puddle jumper to take me across the border and live the rest of my life as a fugitive. But she answered on the sixth ring.
“So,” she said. I could tell from her voice that she was already drunk. “You gonna come over tonight and smash me or what?”
It was like nothing had ever happened.
I miss those days. I miss hot blonde and her dumb Philly accent. We text sometimes, mostly to trade music, and to update each other on the losers we are dating. That was probably my last great Ernesto experience before I went to nursing school and became a passably normal and decent human being. Anyway, that’s my baseball story. I hope you enjoyed it, and will share it one day with your children.