Excerpt for A Ball's Game by , available in its entirety at Smashwords



A


Ball's


Game






Stefan Mathis














Introductions



Hi! What’s your name? Where are you from? I’m glad to meet you. Well, today is the big day. Are you excited? I bet you are. I know I sure am. I can’t wait for the game to start. I guess I should introduce myself. I am the Rawlings Official Major League Baseball or ROMLB for short, and I am the narrator of this story. My friends call me Bennie.

Where am I from, you ask? I’ll be happy to tell you. In the big inning. Oh, wait! I’m getting ahead of myself. I’m really excited about the game, you see. I meant to say, in the beginning. The beginning of me, that is to say. I'm only one of 2.2 million Major League baseballs produced each year.

I am the All-American kid. . . I mean ball. . . for the All-American game. Well not exactly. We (my friends and I) are actually made in Costa Rica. However, the parts all come from America. My center is a small rubber ball with a cork center (my heart) which comes from Mississippi. Yarn, twine and string from Vermont. I start out as a small rubber ball. Then approximately one mile of string is spun very tightly around the rubber ball. This is done by machine to keep the string consistently tight.

Next, my shiny white cover is sewn around the string. My cover is made of leather from Texas, Oklahoma and Colorado. The leather is tanned in Tennessee. My cover is sewn around me with 108 red stitches. This procedure can be done only by hand. It can't be done by machine. The human race can put a man on the moon, but cannot make a machine that can properly stitch a baseball. Go figure.

It takes approximately 20 minutes to make each baseball. It takes ten minutes to wind the string and be stamped with the MLB logo. Then the stitching process takes about ten minutes. After that, it takes a few hours for the logo to dry depending on the weather. Costa Rica is in Central America, south of Mexico, where the weather is usually hot and humid at the Rawlings factory. So, let's do some simple math. If we multiply 2,200,000 balls by twenty minutes for each ball, we get 44,000,000. Divide by 60 to get hours and that equals 733,333 hours and 20 minutes. My brain is hurting from all this math. Can we please change the subject?

Now I'm ready to go! Well, not quite. Due to the drying time for some glues used to secure the string to my center, I must spend another week in Costa Rica. Then I'm put in a box that holds a dozen balls. That's twelve balls, if you weren't able to figure out the last problem. Four balls wide by three balls deep (4×3), or is it three balls deep by four balls wide (3×4). My brain is starting to hurt again. Wait! I don't have a brain, just a heart. Remember?

Now my box, along with lots of others, will go to the warehouse awaiting our trip to the Major League Baseball stadiums in the United States and Canada.


Getting A Ball


There are two ways to get a ROMLB like myself. The first way is to buy one at a store or gift shop. It might go like this:

Kid says to store clerk, "Sir, I'd like to buy an official Major League baseball."

Clerk: "Come right this way. Here they are, on the top shelf." The clerk hands the child a baseball.

Kid: "Mister, this box sure is dusty."

Clerk: "I don't sell very many of them."

Kid: "How much does it cost?"

Clerk: "Twenty dollars."

Kid: "That's a lot of money. Is there any other way I can get one?"


Yes, there is, kiddo. Indeed, there is. Remember me, Bennie? I'm the one telling this story. I mentioned there are two ways to get a ROMLB. The second and most fun way is . . . . drum roll, please . . . . go to a Major League Baseball game. At the ball game there are three fun ways to get your hands or glove on me or one of my friends. (1) catch a foul ball (fun). (2) have a real, live Major League player toss or give you one (funner). (3) catch a home run ball (funnest).

If you want to catch a home run ball, you need to buy seats beyond the outfield fence. Try to sit close to the fence to increase your chances of catching one. There are only a few home runs hit per game. In some games none are hit. The best and funnest home runs are those hit by the team you are routing for. In some major league stadiums, home runs hit by the visiting team are thrown back onto the field. That poor ball will become tomorrow's batting practice fodder; carefully crafted and handmade, yet sent to the dungeon of batting practice. Oh, the indignity!

The next way to get a major league ball is to be handed or tossed a ball from a player. Lots of times this is done by the defensive player who records the last out of the inning. As the player leaves the field he usually tosses the ball into the seats. To get a ball in this manner, it helps to have the more expensive seats closer to the field. More often than not the player tosses the ball in the seats without regard as to who gets the ball. However, if you cheer and shout about how great a player he is, his toss may be directed more toward you. If you get a ROMLB in this fashion, treat it like a prized possession.

Now to add folklore as to how you came into possession of a genuine major league baseball, you should have a player autograph the ball after the game. On a side note, here's a story I heard while waiting to leave Costa Rica. There was once a young boy who borrowed his dad's autographed ball to play a baseball game at the sandlot with his friends. The ball had been autographed by Babe Ruth. If you don't know your baseball history, Babe Ruth was one of the greatest home run hitters ever. That particular ball was possibly worth a fortune. If the player who autographs your ball ends up in the Hall of Fame, you could have some money coming your way.

Now let's talk about the most common way to snag a genuine major league baseball, namely catching a foul ball. In most games, foul balls are quite plentiful. There are two kinds of foul balls: the ones that stay on the baseball field and those which reach the seats where you watch the game. Little can be said about the foul balls which stay on the diamond except, "Mis pobres amigos," doomed to be tomorrow's batting practice balls. Mis pobres amigos is Spanish for "my poor friends." I learned that while down in Costa Rica.

What you are hoping and praying for is a ball hit toward your seat. My dear friend, please take note of the following important fact. I weigh 5.25 ounces and am very hard. There is a reason why catchers wear protective gear, batters helmets, and fielders gloves. I can hurt you if I hit you. That, however, is not my intention. I'm just looking for a loving home. You don't even have to feed me like that puppy you brought home from the pet store. And, remember don't let that puppy chew on me. I am a hand stitched ROMLB and deserve to be treated with respect.

Here are some things to keep in mind when you see me approaching your seat. First and foremost, I'm coming towards you after being hit with a bat made of solid wood. Also, the person who hit me is a professional athlete with a lot more strength than a 10-year old from the little league field. I could be coming toward you as a soft pop-up or a screaming line drive.

If I'm coming your way softly, or have bounced already, thus taking off some of my speed, you may be able to catch me with your baseball cap or maybe even your bare hands. If I'm a scolding hot line drive, use a glove or move out of the way. Most of the time the first person to touch me does not end up with me. Due to sheer surprise, speed, ball hogs, whether you're holding a drink or hot dog, getting me in your grasp is like trying to catch a greased pig in a rainstorm. The one who finally lays claim to me needs to be sure-handed, fleet of foot, and just plain lucky.

There's one more thing to consider if you want to go home from the game with a new ball, and that's where should you sit. To almost guarantee you'll leave the game with a foul ball you should sit somewhere along the first or third base side of field. Consider where major leaguers hit foul balls. If he swings a little bit early, he will hit the ball behind him. If he swings a little bit late he will hit the ball in front of him. If he swings perfectly on time but hits me a little lower than dead center I will fly into the backstop behind home plate. I will then fall to the ground, be picked up by the ball boy or ball girl and put in the batting practice bucket. If a right-handed batter swings too early he hits the ball down the third base side. When he swings too late, the ball goes toward the first base side of the field. With a left-handed batter, the opposite is true. Swing early, first base side. Swing late, third base side.

Having said all this, if I had my choice and the seats weren't sold out, I would sit somewhere along the first base side. Why, you ask? First of all, most people in the world are right-handed, including major league batters. Second of all, pitchers throw more fastballs than any other type of pitch. The faster the pitcher throws the ball, the greater the likelihood of the batter swinging late. So, a right-handed batter will usually foul the ball in front of him (first base side). This is the science of foul ball grabbing in all of its inaccuracy.

I hate being the bearer of bad news, but it is entirely possible to leave the game without that white and red globe of joy. But before you break down and buy that elusive ball at the stadium gift shop, let me give you one more option. Try MiLB. You say, "I just went to a Major League Baseball game and I didn't get a game-used ball. So now I guess I’ll have to buy one." Let me say this to you again. Try MiLB. You missed the letter "i." What I'm referring to is Minor League Baseball. At a Minor League game, you get a ball the same way as a Major League game. Home run ball, foul ball, and schmoozing with the players.

Here are a few facts about Minor League Baseball. First, there are more minor teams than majors, which means more opportunities to snag a ball. Second, smaller crowds equal more ball hawking chances. Also, tickets to Minor League games are cheaper. This allows you to go more often. So give the younger guys a try. Some of them will be major leaguers one day. Just imagine an autographed ball by a minor leaguer who goes on to the Hall of Fame. You'll be able to say, "I knew that guy way back when." Remember the Babe Ruth ball.

Don’t upset yourself over the idea of getting a Minor League baseball instead of a Major League ball. Are there any differences between the two? There is one: where they are put together. A Minor League baseball is made in China. However, both balls are made by Rawlings from the same materials from America. Same amount of string. Same cork center. Same leather cover. One hundred eight, you guessed it, hand sewn stitches. A Minor league ball is stamped with the word "China" on its cover. This satisfies a trade agreement between the United States and China. Major league balls have no designation as to where they are made [Costa Rica].

Pre Game


After my long journey from Costa Rica, I finally have arrived at a major league stadium. I don't know exactly how I got here because I was in a box, and it was dark. My box is put in the stadium equipment room. Many of my friends from Costa Rica are here. I see Bill, John, Mike and Bobby. It's a big ROMLB reunion.

Hey, look! We are being moved and set on a table. Our box top is being removed. Ahh. . . fresh air and. . . ouch, ouch my eyes. . . bright blinding sunlight. Am I still at the Rawlings factory? Wait! Wait one second! That's not a real sunbeam burning my eyes. It's a sunburst logo on the wall. The sunburst logo of the Tampa Bay Rays.

I must be at the Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg Florida. This is the home of the Tampa Bay Rays. The locals refer to Tropicana Field as The Trop. In reality its never hot and sunny at The Trop because it’s a dome stadium. I know what you're thinking. Baseball and sunshine were made for each other. That's true in most places in the country, but not necessarily in Florida. Due to Florida's lower latitude the sun's rays and heat are very intense. If you suffered sunburn or heat stroke while watching a game, you might not want to come back.

The sun and the heat also results in water evaporation. Water evaporation forms clouds which turn into rain. Are you beginning to see a problem? In the early part of the game you'd get sunburned, then later, rained on. This is a miserable way to watch a baseball game. The sun and heat combination also leads to thunderstorms which often produce lightning. The Tampa Bay area is the lightning capital of the United States. All these weather elements would hinder an enjoyable game. Without a domed stadium, the Rays games would be frequently canceled due to rain or lightning. From June until late September it rains almost every day in Tampa Bay.


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