From Chicken Soup for the Baseball Fan's Soul

A Little Faith Led to Miracle Catch

Don’t be afraid of the space between your dreams and reality. If you can dream it, you can make it so.

Belva Davis

On a June evening, my eight-year-old son, Conor, and I take the 5 P.M. train from Oakville, Ontario, to Toronto to see a Blue Jays game. We plan to arrive early for batting practice in the hopes of catching a ball hit into the seats. The night is full of promise because our tickets are for the front row down the third-base line, a great location for foul ball scooping.

Having umpired semipro baseball after high school, I know many of the subtleties of the game and enjoy teaching them to Conor. The best part is when he asks me a question. I sometimes quote a rule, and if we are at home, we go into the backyard to play it out.

Conor remembers these lessons. At the last game we attended, against Oakland, Rickey Henderson swung and missed for strike three. The catcher dropped the ball, and Henderson ran to first, the runner on first going to second. Although both arrived safely, the first-base umpire called Henderson out and sent him to the dugout. The two men sitting in front of us were asking each other what was going on when Conor leaned forward and recited in his most confident voice, “The batter may not advance on a dropped third strike with first base occupied and less than two outs.”

Tonight we’re seated in Section 130D near the left-field fence, where we can expect some flys or one-bouncers from right-handed batters pulling the ball in batting practice. We yank our gloves out of our bag and are looking toward the plate when a Yankee batter lifts a long foul ball directly at me. I settle under it. I hear a man behind me say, “Boy, he’s right on it” and I say to myself, Yes, I am. But suddenly I lose my focus, everything blurs and moves much too fast, the ball hits the end of my glove and bounces away. I chase it, get my foot caught between the seats and watch helplessly as a teenager in a backward baseball cap scoops it up.

I could sit down and cry. “How could I miss it?” I yell at myself. I’ll never get another chance like that. I suddenly feel eight years old myself, bobbing a Peewee League popup in front of the whole town. How could I be such a klutz in front of Conor?

Conor rescues me. He smiles and stares up at me. “Too much pressure, Dad? Don’t worry, we’ll get another one. We have good seats.” No matter what he might be thinking inside, he doesn’t criticize or speak in anger as I have done when he missed a ball I thought he should have caught. Despite his belief in me, I can’t forgive myself as easily.

Between batting practice and the game, we leave to get something to eat. There’s a sign near the food vendor that says: THE ODDS OF A FAN CATCHING A BALL ARE 300,000 TO ONE, YET EVERYONE BRINGS THEIR GLOVES. My heart aches and my stomach churns, even before my double chili dog with sauerkraut. I know we will never have another opportunity as good as the one I missed, though Conor remains optimistic. The seats we ordered the previous November are in the first row, he reminds me.

The fellow just on the home-plate side of me and his twenty-something son have their gloves hanging over the field, ready for anything. I saw them during batting practice and hoped our seats wouldn’t be close to them because they would scoop up everything that came their way. But, sure enough, here they are in better position than us.

In the top of the first inning, Don Mattingly hits a foul fly down the third-base line. Against all odds, it comes at us again! The fellow on my right and I get up at the same time, his glove in front of mine. Everything blurs together once more and whap!, the sound of a horsehide ball in a cowhide glove echoes in my ears. I look in the other fellow’s glove for the ball, but it isn’t there. I look in my glove, and there, cradled snugly, is Mattingly’s fly ball.

“Conor, we got one!” I shout, so excited that I don’t even think to show the ball off to the crowd like I’ve seen others do on TV. I give it to Conor and we sit, heads together, inspecting every square inch of that ball—a black smudge where Mattingly’s bat hit it and a brown, rough spot where it had been scuffed in the dirt on the previous pitch. Conor congratulates me. “You see, Dad? I knew we could do it.”

The rest of the game has a unique magic: pure and clear. I discover that my neighbor isn’t disappointed about missing Mattingly’s foul: He scooped a ball during batting practice about the same time I was fumbling my first chance. Our successes had flip-flopped with each other’s failures.

At least once an inning, Conor and I get the ball back out of our bag and look at it again. Conor wears No. 10 and plays catcher on our T-ball team because of Pat Borders, his hero. Sure enough, the Blue Jays rally in the bottom of the eighth on Borders’ two-run double and win the game 5–4.

My thoughts keep returning to the moment of catching that ball. I never really saw it, didn’t follow it at all the last several feet. The oddest part was, I couldn’t believe it had gone into my glove. I was sure our neighbor had caught it—his glove was in front of mine. It was a miracle in the middle of a baseball game.

After the game Conor and I stay a few moments to savor our good fortune. Our neighbor gives me a small wave from the river of spectators when he leaves, as if to acknowledge our sharing of games with sons.

Then on the train home, with Conor sleeping against me, I consider the lessons taught tonight. If we tally the results of our little competitions with others, we might find that things usually even out. But most of all, I can now appreciate that miracles do happen, especially when helped along by the faith of an eight-year-old boy in his dad.

Steven Moore

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