Thursday, August 25, 2005

Roberto Hernandez, the Fish and a Happy Pre-Teen

Getting a ball and proving your Dad wrong...priceless!

I’ve snagged two balls in 34 years of attending Major League Baseball games.

My son Andrew equaled his old man’s lifetime total during one Florida Marlins game last year.

You need to know that my Dad spoils me wildly, and we were at Joe Robbie-Pro Player-Dolphins-Whatever This Week’s Name Is Stadium as the gates opened for a July 26, 2004 game against the Phils.

I don’t know about you guys, but I have set routines for going to a game. I’m incapable of going right to my seat and plopping down until the last out. I have to walk the entire concourse to see every concession booth -- on the off chance that one has different stuff – and scout out the assorted food options before settling in for batting practice.

My Dad lets me get away with this.

We had already inspected everything along the first base side and were working our way around rightfield looking for glorious arepea stands when Andrew spotted Roberto Hernandez – he was a Phillie then – and other pitchers shagging flies and tossing some balls into the stands.

Andrew, who had just turned 12, immediately asked to go down where the other kids were. In one of those all-knowing father voices, I said “You will never get a ball. Keep walking with us.”

But Dad said he wouldn’t mind a break if Andrew wanted to give it a shot.

“That man’s name is Roberto Hernandez. Remember to say ‘Please’ and ‘Thank you.’ You have 5 minutes,” I said, though he was already halfway down the aisle by the time I finished. Dad and I grabbed a seat in the last row of the section.

I swear that within two minutes of Andrew reaching the first row, a ball was hit over Hernandez’s head and stopped near the base of the wall, right where Andrew was standing.

I sat there in disbelief as Hernandez picked up the ball, looked up and placed it in Andrew’s outstretched hand.

Andrew walked back up the aisle with his trophy and said “See, told ya.”

There is nothing that makes a pre-teen happier than being able to tell his father “Told ya.”

We found the booth selling the areapas, a Latin-American treat made from two slices of sweet cornbread grilled with cheese. It's the Marlins' version of selling a knish. Then we and settled in to our seats for the game, which featured A.J. Burnett going up against Kevin Millwood. Dad landed primo seats, 12 rows behind the Marlins’ dugout.

Now, I haven’t brought my glove to a game since I was a kid because I can’t remember the last time a foul ball came to my section, much less my row. Plus it’s hard to keep score wearing a glove. And besides, I can catch anything that comes close, right?

But about midway through the game an absolute screamer goes right past me. I thought about reaching out for it for a millisecond, and it’s probably a good thing I didn’t. It struck an empty seat about five away from me. A slow-moving elderly man had been sitting in that spot until the inning before, and I can only imagine what would have happened to him had he still been there.

So we missed out on a second ball. Or so we thought.

Later in the game, an inning ended with a throw to Marlins first-baseman Hee Seop Choi, who tossed it into the stands on his way to the dugout. It was caught by a guy in the row behind us who tapped Andrew on the shoulder and said, “Here you go, bud!”

And just like that, the 12-year-old had his second Major League ball, just as many as his Dad. Someday, I'll hear the end of this.

A local hobby shop had one of those stands that hold a card and a ball, so I found Topps Total cards of Choi and Hernandez, now proudly displayed with the balls in Andrew’s room.

His conquests were exciting to be sure, but I’m still partial to that magical, misty night in Tiger Stadium when Frank Thomas cemented by fandom.

In other words...

Roberto Hernandez, of course, is now one of the best relievers in the Mets bullpen. So he likely won't ever appear on Mets Walkoffs list of the worst Mets relievers, an awesome post. As an added bonus, it inspired Metstradmaus to reveal how he once taught Donne Wall and Lenny Harris lessons they won't soon forget!


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Metstradamus said...

Where did you find those arepas? I never saw them when I was there...damn!

And my condolences on your jaunt through the concourses of Joe Robbie...if it was anything like mine, you probably saw the most lackluster selection of memorabilia in the league.

Mets Guy in Michigan said...

You missed them? Yikes! They were only at one stand, which surpised me. They used to have them on carts throughout the stadium.

We got lucky on some of the memorabilia. This was the year after the World Series, and they were blowing out all sorts of NL Champs and Wild Card t-shirts and caps for $5. (Andrew, in the photo is wearing a new NL Champs caps.) Otherwise, you're right. Not a ton of stuff.

The Ghost of 1986 said...

Great story. I am still 0-my lifetime at getting a ball at a game. I do have a Ron Darling Bat from 1986 though...

Mets Guy in Michigan said...

A Darling bat? That sounds cool! Do tell!