A fan in the bleachers of the Texas Rangers’ ballpark died recently after falling over a railing while reaching for a ball thrown to him by outfielder Josh Hamilton. This was a tragic incident that got me thinking about what it must be like for professional athletes and the dilemma of whether or not to respond to heckling/begging fans who simply want a souvenir to remember you by.
Almost a year ago to the day I was sitting in right field at a Mets game. It was probably the second inning and outfielder Jeff Francoeur was warming up, tossing a ball back and forth with someone from the Mets’ bullpen. As the inning was about to start the inevitable flurry of screams from my section were hurled at Francoeur:
“Jeff, throw me the ball!”
“Jeff, you suck! Can I have a ball though?”
“Jeff, Jeff, Jeff!”
As Francoeur surveyed the crowd, he spotted an old woman sitting three rows in front of me who was wearing his jersey – as odd as this story is about to get, the weirdest thing about it is that there was an elderly woman at a Mets game?! And she was wearing a Jeff Francoeur jersey?! Back to the story. Francoeur spotted the old woman and lightly tossed the ball up to her. The ball sailed over the old woman’s hands and landed one row behind her, smack in the face of a little girl who immediately began shrieking and crying. The little girl’s nose was bleeding and her dad furious. He grabbed the ball off the ground, stood up, started cursing at Jeff Francoeur and then launched the ball at the right fielder while the game was still going on.
For the rest of the inning, Francoeur was visibly distracted, looking over at my section after every pitch, watching as the emergency medical crew took this little girl and her still-fuming father out of our section. When the inning ended, Francoeur ran over to our section and asked me to run up and give the little girl his batting glove. Naturally, I did it (hell, I’d do anything any baseball player asked me to do!). I ran up the aisle and caught the father of the little girl and told him the outfielder who threw the ball wanted me to give him this, and I pointed to Francoeur who was still standing right by the stands. The father grabbed the batting glove, threw it on the ground, spat on it, and then proceeded to jump on top of it over and over again before walking off. I ended up keeping the batting glove.
As far as sports souvenirs go, what is the ranking on desirability? The batting glove is pretty high up there, but by far the best throwing-shit-into-the-crowd moment ever came during this year’s Wimbledon final about three weeks ago.
After winning the tournament, an overjoyed Novak Djokovic threw all three of his tennis rackets into the stands for random fans. Retail, those rackets are probably worth upwards of five hundred dollars. Now, add on the fact that it’s a Novak Djokovic game-used racket from the Wimbledon Finals? That’s gotta be worth $10,000. He might as well have thrown three mid-sized Korean cars into the stands.
So what’s the moral of the story? Djokovic throws three large, heavy objects into the stands and immediately becomes the most likeable person in sports. When Jeff Francoeur does essentially the same thing, he’s an asshole who gets his kicks out of injuring adolescent girls. Throwing, hitting, or kicking things into the stands is a risky game for everyone: players and fans alike. Is it really worth it to hurt or kill yourself for a ball made out of yarn and leather? If you really want a souvenir, perhaps it’s best just to come early and try to get players to write their names on stuff. Or you could do what I do and try to get every player to sign stuff as Derek Jeter.