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#39 | FOUL BALL

“The most dangerous moment comes with victory.”

—Napoleon Bonaparte

Thursday, April 13, 1978

I’m twelve years old, in my bed on a school night. The only light in the room is coming from the illuminated station finder on my alarm clock radio. It’s Ned Martin’s last year calling the Red Sox, play by play, and I listen every night.

On this night the Sox defeat the Texas Rangers, 5–4. Led by the middle of the lineup, Fisk, Remy, and Rice each collect two hits, while Butch Hobson, batting cleanup, adds three. Dennis Eckersley nearly goes the distance for the win before yielding to Dick Drago, who secures the final out.

Growing up in rural Maine, I am all in on the Red Sox. This is how I fall asleep every summer night that I can remember as a child.

Sunday, July 15, 1990

The Red Sox are getting pounded by the Kansas City Royals on a hot summer day in Boston. It’s late in the game and the crowd has cleared out, but Dave Hancock and his two boys never leave early.

With rows of empty blue wooden seats below, we move down from the left-field grandstand all the way to the second and third row. I’m sitting in front, my brother Matt and my dad are behind me. From this vantage point we are staring pretty much straight down the third-base line as one of the greatest athletes of the twentieth century strides to the plate.

Bo Jackson takes a strike and then a ball. The count is 1-1. On the next pitch he drives an absolute rocket down the same base line we’re observing. There’s no time to think, only to react. I stand, momentarily blocking my brother’s view. Then I duck.

The ball catches Matt squarely in the chest (I think he still has a dent there some thirty years later). As my brother slouches, gasping for air, the ball falls to the concrete below him and then rolls down one row before coming to rest at my feet.

I pick the ball up and turn toward the field, both hands raised in triumph. The television cameras find me. The few remaining fans cheer.

At the age of twenty-four, I’ve just secured my first Fenway Park foul ball.

Saturday, August 21, 2004

Our daughters are twelve and ten. Gloves in hand, we ascend the stairwell to our seats atop the legendary Green Monster. The game itself is still an hour away. We are here for batting practice. We are here to catch home-run balls.

The Chicago White Sox are in town and Paul Konerko and Carlos Lee are taking turns in the batter’s box. They each get three pitches and they each hammer one of them our way. The first rattles off the metal and concrete above before Abby gathers it up. Moments later Sydney does the same. Red and blue hats cover two blonde ponytails. Two girls have their first big league ball. The number of years it took to get a ball had just been cut from twenty-four to twelve in a generation.

Hours later, the Red Sox win, 6–5.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Tampa Bay is in town for four games and they’ve won the first two by a combined score of 14–3. The Sox need a victory.

The stands are packed as Dustin Pedroia fouls one our way. The crowd rises, reaches, and all but one fail. As the activity dissipates, one middle-aged man stands victorious, celebrating a clean catch.

Unexpectedly, the crowd begins to boo. The booing multiplies, gathering tribal steam. The man who made the catch is confused, but I’m not—I’ve seen this before. It’s the new foul ball expectation at Fenway Park.

“Give the ball to a kid!” someone yells.

“Don’t be selfish,” yells another.

None of these people know each other.

Nearby several youngsters, none capable of earning a foul ball on their own for years, look on hopefully with cream-puff eyes.

The man with the ball hesitates before relenting. He picks a small child nearby and hands over his ball.

Everyone cheers, except me. I don’t like it.

It took me twenty-four years (and a dent in my brother’s sternum) to get a baseball at Fenway Park. As a child at games I had come close many times only to have someone bigger, taller, and faster beat me to it. An official major league game ball was something to be earned and fought for, awaited and anticipated.

Although perhaps a bit of a leap, it all reminded me of the recent college admissions scandal—parents paying to get children into schools they hadn’t earned the right to attend.

There’s also a second component to this newly ritualized foul ball exchange that bothers me, and that’s all the assumptions the crowd is making about the guy who did catch the ball.

What if he had never caught one before? What if he had a sick nephew in the hospital at home who loved the Red Sox? How could the crowd judge the choice of a person they didn’t know? How do you boo a guy for catching and keeping a foul ball?

When I was a kid, foul balls were fought over at Fenway. Now they are given. Does this generational shift say anything or nothing about America today?

Ha! I don’t know. I just don’t like it. On that fateful day in 1978 it never occurred to me to give the ball to my brother. Nor did it occur to my brother to ask for it. He had his chance. It hit him right in the chest.

I liked Fenway better when foul balls were dreamed over and scrambled for. Sometimes you made a great catch. Sometimes you caught a lucky bounce. But either way, everyone in the stands understood—you had to get your own foul ball.

“The rewards for those who persevere far exceed the pain that must precede the victory.”

—Ted Engstrom

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Thank you for considering my thoughts. In return I honor yours. Every voice matters. Nestled between our differences lies our future.

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This is the thirty-ninth post in a series of short essays to be posted by Kevin to www.thebusinessofsharedleadership.com in 2021. Kevin is dedicating these writings in honor of Black Elk, the Oglala Sioux holy man who was escorted as a child on a sacred vision quest by the 48 horses of the four directions to visit the six Grandfathers. My horses, prancing they are coming. They will dance; may you behold them. On that journey Black Elk understood the sacred power that dwelled within him and lives within us all. He also recognized that this power could be used for good or bad. Intentional we must be about the path we walk. To invite others to join The Business of Shared Leadership and receive these posts, just pass this link along. The more who join, the deeper the energy field of engagement will become! Thank you!