THE LOST BALL

THE LOST BALL

From Chicken Soup for the Baseball Fan's Soul

The Lost Ball

This story is about a little kid and an autographed baseball.

It’s a story about that awful feeling in your stomach when you lose your prized possession.

This story is also about rediscovering the joy of childhood, no matter how old you are, and this story is about brotherhood.

The story starts around Christmastime 1954.

My oldest brother, Jerry, was less than a month old. My parents wanted to buy him something special, and they learned about a promotion at a local department store. Bob Turley, a pitcher with the first-year Baltimore Orioles of the American League, was signing baseballs one afternoon. An autographed baseball seemed like a perfect, inexpensive keepsake so my parents waited in line for Turley’s autograph.

When it was time for Turley to sign my parents’ ball, my mother mentioned that it was for her newborn. Turley responded that he, too, had a new baby.

That was enough for my mother, who could make small talk with a brick wall. For the next few minutes, Turley and my mother talked about newborns while my father rolled his eyes and the rest of the line waited.

My mother will never forget that encounter, always remembering what a nice man Turley was, but that’s only part of this story.

Now it’s 1965.

Jerry is ten and his younger brother, Chuck, is about eight. They want to play catch in the back alley, but they can’t find an old ball to use. So they make a mistake that thousands of little boys and girls have made over the years. “Let’s use the autographed ball.”

They promise not to drop it. But, eventually, the inevitable happens. One overthrows the other, and the baseball skips down the steep alley. The two boys run after it as fast as they can. When they reach the end of the alley, though, the ball has disappeared. Two older boys say they saw the ball hit the sewer grate and fall down into the sewer.

Jerry and Chuck check out the scene. They find nothing except that sick feeling in their stomachs.

Flash forward to Thanksgiving 1991. My family has eaten turkey and stuffing and watched football.

Now it’s time to sit in the living room and talk—our favorite pastime. As it always does, the conversation eventually turns to baseball. And to the Baltimore Orioles.

Six weeks before, the team had hosted its last game in venerable Memorial Stadium, which was being replaced by Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Many former Orioles had been invited back to say good-bye to the old ballpark, including Turley, the man who threw the first pitch for the Orioles in their first game in Memorial.

The mention of Turley’s name brings the old stories rushing back. First, my mother and the tale of the department store line. And then the sigh from Jerry Jr.

“Are you going to cry again about how you lost that ball?” I chide my brother.

“I didn’t lose it,” he responds with the high-pitched voice of a ten-year-old. “Those older kids—they stole it. I know it didn’t go down the sewer.”

My family burst into laughter.

Twenty-eight years had passed, but the memory still pains my brother. He’s a successful businessman with a wonderful wife and two beautiful daughters. He can buy as many autographed baseballs as he wants.

But that’s not the point. He’ll never forget the ball that got away.

“Do you know how silly you sound?” I ask him.

A slight smile crosses his lips.

“You don’t understand,” he says in an anguished voice. “Those older kids stole my ball.”

We laugh for a few more minutes at Jerry’s expense before the subject changes to something else, but his anguish stays with me. He is my big brother, after all.

Two weeks later, I devise a plan. It seems like a long shot, but it is worth a try. I make some phone calls. And some more phone calls.

Finally, I find the man I am looking for. He laughs when I tell him the story of the old ball. He graciously agrees to help me out.

On December 24, the package arrives. And, on Christmas Day, we all meet at my brother’s house.

After opening all of the other presents, I hand Jerry a small box. Our mother readies her camera. His wife giggles.

“What is this?” he asks as he lifts a baseball out of the box. “Is this for real?”

I nod.

“This is unbelievable,” Jerry says, laughing as his face turns red.

“Well,” our mother says, “read it aloud.”

My brother clears his throat.

“To Jerry. Don’t lose this one. Your friend, Bob Turley.”

Dan Connolly

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