Behind The Ball

Oh sure... kill them with cuteness, then bore them to death with baseball.  If it weren't for me, nobody would follow your blog anymore...

Oh sure… kill them with cuteness, then bore them to death with baseball. If it weren’t for me, nobody would follow your blog anymore…

Rather than stock asswipe at work tonight, I decided I’d stay home instead and work up another fantastically mundane entry for Marilyn’s Wednesday Frisbee Photo Prompt.  She’s baaaaaaack, and so is Ody and my silly baseball stories.  I promise to make this one a somewhat interesting read…

squirrel toilet

Hey, what else do you have to do right now?

For some people, one of the thrills of going to a Major League Baseball game is the possibility that you may get to take a piece of that game home with you.  And while you are not allowed to leave with Derek Jeter should he jump into your lap chasing a foul popup, you can keep any ball hit or thrown into the stands (If you aren’t badgered by the idiots who didn’t catch it into giving it to a stupid kid).  The holy grail of all bleacher souvenirs is the homerun ball.  I have one, which I ambushed Ody with above.  I was just minding my own business during the fourth inning of a Reds/Cardinals game on August 18, 2004 when the home team’s third baseman Scott Rolen decided to launch an opposite field line drive just up and over the wall.  It rebounded up into my fourth row and came to rest in a pile of napkins and peanut shells underneath the bleacher plank in front of me and to my left.  I managed to blindly fish it out, tweaking my back in the process, and brought it home with me to marvel at for the rest of my life…

Not that I need more things to marvel at in my spare time.

Not that I need more things to marvel at in my spare time.

In trying to come up with an interesting angle on this once in a lifetime souvenir to write about, it occurred to me that the fates of the on field personnel who were involved in making this moment happen were all quite star-crossed.  Let’s start with Rolen himself…

Gee, Scott, you look so happy to be appearing on The Nest today.

Gee, Scott, you look so happy to be appearing on The Nest today.

At the time I scooped up his homer, Scott Rolen was steamrolling to a fourth place finish in the 2004 NL MVP voting on a terrific Cardinals team that would go on to be embarrassed in the World Series by a team that hadn’t won a championship since Woodrow Wilson was in office.  A star on both offense and defense, by ’04 Rolen was well on his way to establishing himself as a potential Hall of Fame player.  But the following season, he plowed into Dodgers first baseman Hee Seop Choi while trying to beat out a groundball, and the South Korean human doorstop won.  He missed most of that year… and other than flashes of the old magic in 2006 and 2010, was never the same player again.  There will probably not be a plaque waiting for him in Cooperstown when he becomes eligible in 2018…

Just your typical clean cut, professional looking baseball player.

Just your typical clean cut, professional looking baseball player.

Calling the pitch that led to that ball becoming a permanent part of my mini museum was Reds catcher Jason LaRue.  While Jason had a decent run as Cincinnati’s everyday catcher from 2001-2005, he quietly spent the last five years of his career toiling in backup backstop mediocrity… the last three of those seasons for the Cardinals.  On August 10, 2010, the Cards were playing a game in Cincinnati when a brawl erupted in the first inning.  Despite the fact that he was not playing in the game (being the backup to Yadier Molina is the ultimate Maytag Repairman type of job), LaRue wound up in the middle of the festivities and got his head stomped on by Reds pitcher Johnny Cueto.  Cueto will go on to sign a contract worth more money than you can possibly imagine this offseason.  LaRue on the other hand wound up with a concussion out of the beatdown that forced him into retirement.

That's wonderful, Ed, but you forgot to give the catcher a reach around.

That’s wonderful, Ed, but you forgot to give the catcher a reach around.

The gentleman on the right of this photo is Darren Spagnardi, a name that even the most ardent of baseball fans probably don’t know.  But as the home plate umpire, he was the man who took the ball out of his hanging black bag and threw my future souvenir into play.  Spagnardi rose through the ranks of the Minor League umpiring system and got a cup of coffee as a fill-in umpire during the 2002-04 seasons (He was subbing for the somewhat better known Charlie Reliford in my game).  However, despite coming along at the perfect time to take one of the multitude of cushy full time umpiring jobs being opened up by many of the grizzled vets being forced out by MLB… Spagnardi never resurfaced in the Majors again after that 2004 season.  Darren currently trains and evaluates Minor League umpires, which probably involves a lot of babysitting and changing diapers…

Saving the best for last, huh?

Saving the best for last, huh?

Finally, there’s the Reds pitcher who served up the longball that wound up in my collection, Josh Hancock.  Unfortunately, I can no longer ask Josh Hancock to put his John Hancock on my baseball because just three years after he coughed up a bad 3-1 pitch to Rolen in that 2004 game, he managed to make an even bigger mistake that cost him his life…

ouch.

ouch.

This is what happens when you run your Ford Explorer into the back of a parked tow truck at 90 miles per hour while talking on your cell phone and are intoxicated well beyond the legal limit.  Hancock had just come over to the Cardinals in 2006 as a relief pitcher, and helped them win the World Series that year.  In the wee hours of the morning on April 29, 2007, Hancock got himself totally plastered and then drove aimlessly around the St. Louis area until he did this.  You can count on two hands the number of active Major League ballplayers who have died during this young century, but throw in Darryl Kile and Oscar Taveras, and the St. Louis Cardinals have had the rather horrific honor of having lost three of them in such a short timespan.  Perhaps this entry came with a little evil nudge from the unlucky fates that seemed to be doled out by my one moment of baseball fan good fortune…

A curse upon your silly homerun ball!

A curse upon your silly homerun ball!

I’ll try to do better next Wednesday…

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About evilsquirrel13

Bored former 30-something who has nothing better to do with his life than draw cartoon squirrels.
This entry was posted in Picture Day and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to Behind The Ball

  1. I’m sorry for Mr. Hancock, that’s scary what happened to him… and I swore a howly oath that moment to ignore my phone while driving. It’s great that this ball found a place in your collection, it’s a super special one…

  2. I looked at that destroyed car and said “ouch” which was obviously more than the driver could possibly have said. Did the team open a cursed mummy’s tomb or something? Or did the lingering curse of the Bambino, made more malevolent by having to change ball parks, work some sort of terrible spell? A sad fate for too many.

    • For a team that has had so much good fortune on the field in the 2000’s, the players themselves have sure had a string of bad luck. Here’s a professional photograph that ran on the front page of our local Sports section on June 21, 2002 which seems rather innocent at first…

      The image on the scoreboard is of our legendary broadcaster Jack Buck, who had died on the 18th. The photo was taken at the public memorial service held at the stadium for Buck on the 20th. The pitcher shown warming up in the foreground is Darryl Kile (The memorial was held prior to an afternoon game, thus why there were players getting loose on the field).

      The day after that photo ran, Kile was found dead from a heart attack at Age 33. How is that for a spooky instance of foreshadowing?

      BTW, I just now noticed one of the vehicles is a hearse. Even spookier…

  3. Garry Armstrong says:

    Dear Squirrel,
    This is so much better than stocking asswipe at work!
    This is, in my humble opinion, a TERRIFIC piece on so many levels.
    On a four ball rating scale, you get FOUR balls!!!
    Of course, I remember the ’04 Cardinals. How could I forget? I quietly swore they were going to ruin the Red Sox miracle season. I just sat there stunned as the World Series played out.
    Your “rest of the story” stories are boffo. You’ve really personalized these guys and the ballpark aura for fans. I’m still internalizing our recent Cooperstown trip and think I’m ready to put fingers to keyboard with you as a catalyst.
    Take 2 and go to right.

    • I’m glad I worked the count for a walk with this piece! Somewhere out there, Billy Beane and his analytical team are smiling upon me…

      Boston just rode the snowball from their epic comeback to buzzsaw the Redbirds. My everlasting takeaway from that postseason was the fact that while all eyes were on the ALCS (Especially since FOX was relegating the NLCS to their obscure FX channel in all markets but St. Louis and Houston), it was the championship series on the Senior Circuit side that really had all the drama. Everyone knows about the bloody sock and the unprecedented 0-3 comeback (One thrilling momentum changing game bookended by three ho-hummers on each side), but few people outside of the Midwest realize just how much nail-biting tension there was in that year’s NLCS, and that your Sawx were one amazing Game 6 Jim Edmonds catch away from playing the Astros in that historic World Series…

      I eagerly await your report on Cooperstown…

  4. Trisha says:

    Wow, the people involved in that homerun really were star-crossed. But Ody doesn’t look too worried about a curse. He does, however, look like he might be plotting some sort of revenge against you for making him pose with a cursed ball!

  5. Quirky Girl says:

    All this talk of baseball brings back so many fond memories, but I’m pretty sure the one that takes the cake is the time I went to Cooperstown. I was an 8 year old kid who loved baseball and everything at Cooperstown was so fascinating to me.

    So fascinating, in fact, that I set off security alarms.

    Turns out I got too close to a display consisting of Joe DiMaggio’s locker filled with an assortment of his jerseys, gloves, and balls.

    But hey, what do you expect from a kid? All I wanted to do was reach out and touch something. 😀

    • I’m surprised they didn’t send out the umpire to eject you from the museum! Must be some really secret stuff in there… perhaps a pair of Marilyn Monroe’s unmentionables? 😀

      • Quirky Girl says:

        Haha! No umpires were around at that precise moment, but I did get a talking to from a security guard. He didn’t look very amused, which leads me to believe there definitely must have been some top secret items in that locker! 😀

  6. draliman says:

    Baseball. That’s rounders only with a bigger bat, yes?
    Hang on. You skived off stocking asswipe? What about your poor diarrhoeic patrons who turn up at your store in desperation only to be faced with empty shelves? 😦

    • The wonderful thing about working at Mecca is there’s always someone to do my job for me when I decide to take much needed time off. They may not do it as well as I do, but let’s just say nobody’s going to be wiping with leaves today!

  7. Doesn’t everyone use leaves? HaHa! Ody makes the sport ball thingy look cute. 😀

  8. Mental Mama says:

    Baseball, ick. I have kindly given the link to this post to someone who appreciates baseball and good writing and will no doubt become your new biggest fan. I “like” for the pic of Ody and Rainbow Donkey Wizard dude, and your evilness of course.

  9. donbowen says:

    That was a really cool post. I love going to baseball games and just feeling the energy around a stadium. I have never been lucky enough to catch a home run ball or even a foul ball. The few autographed baseballs I have are because of my past life as a journalist.
    I am a die-hard baseball fan and an avid Cardinals fan. 2004 was painful. Hopefully, this year will prove to have a happier ending for the Redbirds.
    My girlfriend Erin sent me a link to your blog. It was a great read. It’s good to meet other baseball fans.

    • Thanks, and I’m glad to see another baseball fan on my blog! I don’t write about it as much as I’d like since most of my audience doesn’t care for it. I’m generally more fascinated with the oddities and weird stories of the game, as should be apparent by this post!

  10. fanrosa says:

    Oh, don’t EVEN get me started on that whole stomp on the head incident again!

    Meanwhile, this is why I don’t watch baseball. Because I might be tempted to go to an actual game and then a homerun ball would surely come my way since I would sit in the cheapest of the cheap seats and then I would just automatically catch the ball out of reflex (even without having my prized left handed Yaz glove…..) and then a meteorite would probably land and wipe out every player and umpire on the field. And I just can’t deal with having that kind of power…..

    • I think I would have been disappointed had you not commented on Spikesgate!

      I didn’t have my prized Willie Montanez first baseman’s mitt with me the first time I had the chance to catch a homerun, and my reflexes caused me to back away from it while the guy behind me caught it in his ballcap. Nobody involved with that homerun has died yet, and that was 23 years ago.

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