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Every baseball writer knows the first rule of our work space: No cheering in the press box. It was even the title of a famous oral history of the craft, by Jerome Holtzman. Cheering by a baseball writer sounds as off-key as calling the manager “Coach.” You just don’t do it.
Another rule, though, is less about avoiding ridicule and more about practicality: When a foul ball screams into the press box, you’ve got to protect your laptop. Foul balls and laptops do not mix.
I’ve seen many computers destroyed by foul balls, including Jake Kaplan’s at the 2016 All-Star Game in San Diego. Kaplan, who covers the Astros for The Athletic, was sitting beside me in the press box at Minute Maid Park in Houston last Tuesday night. Before the game, I reminded him that the hitter who smashed his laptop, Jonathan Lucroy, was in the ballpark with the visiting Oakland Athletics.
So that memory was fresh in my mind when the game began, with Houston’s Justin Verlander facing Oakland’s Dustin Fowler. I’ve written columns on both players this season, so I was especially attuned to the matchup.
Verlander quickly got ahead in the count, 1-2. But then Fowler stayed alive with three foul balls.
One came right at me.
It wasn’t a scorcher. More of a soft line drive.
But incoming foul balls somehow seem to speed up as they get closer, and plenty of press boxes — including Houston’s — have permanent pockmarks on the walls. Still … I went for it.
But first, the laptop. Protect the laptop!
I flipped down the screen. The ball was carrying enough that I knew — well, hoped — the machine would be safe on the tabletop.
I backed up a bit in my chair, stuck out my left hand and snared it.
That’s right — no bobbling, no juggling. It was a clean, barehanded grab, like Kevin Mitchell’s in the left field corner in St. Louis or Geena Davis’s at Wrigley Field in “A League of Their Own.”
I heard a few cheers, from the press box and the stands just below.
For a moment, I thought about bringing the ball home to my children, or giving it as a gag gift to my Times colleague Ben Shpigel, a big Verlander fan. But then I remembered another rule of the press box: Give the ball to a kid.
I’ve gotten other foul balls over the years — always scooping them up on a bounce — and the exercise of giving the ball to a fan is always fun.
In many ballparks, like Houston’s, the fans are so close to the press box that it’s not much of a drop. You can pretty much select which fan gets the ball and toss it right there.
Players, if they choose, can go through a similar exercise every day. Fans always want something from them — an autograph, a ball, a selfie or just a hello — so they always have the power to make someone’s night.
Fans usually don’t want anything from writers — we’re just part of the background scene. But giving away a foul ball made me feel good, since I remembered how desperately I wanted a ball every time I sat in the stands as a kid.
I looked out at the seats just below my perch where a few dozen fans were pleading for the ball. I spotted a girl in an orange Astros T-shirt who was maybe 10 years old, like my youngest daughter. I pointed in her direction — to make sure folks knew I had a specific target — and tossed it to her mom. Cool moment.
Then I went back to the laptop to do what we do these days — check the tweets. Kaplan had tweeted about my catch, as had Susan Slusser of The San Francisco Chronicle and the radio broadcasters for both teams. I tweeted about it, too, of course.
That’s yet another rule of the press box: If you pluck a foul ball from midair with your bare hands, while saving your laptop and making a kid happy, you absolutely must brag about it on Twitter.
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