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Hobbs Column: Having a ball with my daughter

Last Modified: Friday, July 26, 2013 2:50 PM

By Scooter Hobbs / American Press

To be honest, it wasn’t even really on my bucket list.

Never really thought about it.

But now that it’s happened, well, I’ve got to say my life is pretty much complete now.

The rest is gravy.

Anyway, you no doubt would have seen it on SportsCenter’s web gems, but for the fact that I have this knack of making the truly miraculous look routine.

Such as snagging a foul ball at last week’s Cardinals-Astros game at Minute Maid Park in Houston.

“Same guy who once caught a softball with his eye,” a friend texted back when he heard the happy news.

I had to stay home, sequestered from the public for weeks after that stunt, lest I be exposed to any young children with an Elephant Man phobia.

But this night was different. This night was magical. This night it all came together.

And I can’t help but think of my old dear old friend Buddy Carter, who attended hundreds of major league games and went to his grave pouting like a 6-year-old that he never caught a foul ball at one.

I really haven’t been to all that many.

This all started when my daughter Jennifer, now all grown up, living and working in Houston, decided it would be a swell Father’s Day present/outing for her to pony up for expensive tickets to the Astros game against the Cardinals, the latter of which I’ve been a lifelong fan of.

It couldn’t be done on actual Father’s Day, of course, because the father was in Omaha for the College World Series.

That has happened a lot to her. Daddy missed a lot of her special things, mostly while in a press box far, far away.

But we’ve tried stuff like this before.

In 2001, when she was still just a youngster, we were in New Orleans where I was covering LSU in the Sugar Bowl. She discovered that, two days before, the Saints would be playing the Redskins in a Sunday night game.

“You’re going to take me to the Saints game,” she announced with childish defiance, “And you’re not going to sit in the press box, you’re not going to cover it, you’re going to sit with me because you’re always working games and I never get to go to them with my dad and all my friends’ dads take them to games but my dad is always working the games so I never get to go with him and …”

“And how many of those dads ever let them meet Shaquille O’Neal and had him pick them up over his head?” I reminded her.

“That was pretty cool,” she admitted.

Anyway, yeah, we went to the Saints-Redskins game.

I even sprung for the genuine, official Aaron Brooks “2” jersey, soon to become a collector’s item.

I’m a fish out of water, so to speak, when out of the press box, but after no more than an hour’s searching, we found our perch well up into the Superdome’s upper deck, from where we could almost make out which team was which.

This was not a banner year for the Saints. There was lots of father-daughter bonding, of course, but along about midway through the third quarter, the Saints were 33-10 in arrears.

“Can they come back?” she asked, just before the score ballooned to 40-10.

It was then that we had one of those deeply touching father-daughter moments, one I know I’ll never forget, as she looked up at me with those wide, innocent eyes and said:

“Dad, this really stinks.”

We were outside the dome, headed back to the hotel before the fourth quarter started.

All grown up now, we tried again at Minute Maid.

She was even paying. She’s good like that with money, which doesn’t explain why she paid $45 apiece for a pair of tickets from an Astros team that is having a lot of trouble giving them away these days.

But I was playing along. Great seats, they were. Some kind of special club level, with a private bar and couches right behind the seating area on the middle level.

Two pitches into the game, the Cardinals led 2-0 — first pitch, bunt single, second pitch, two-run homer.

We settled in. Jennifer mentioned that it’d be cool to catch a foul ball.

Not likely, I said with wisdom.

I pointed out that we were behind home plate, just to the left of it, which had that screen going up about 25-30 feet. A ball that could get over the back screen and still slip in under the upper deck overhang above us had about a 5-foot window.

Along about then the Cardinals’ Matt Carpenter led off the third inning and … omigosh, it’s coming right at us!

This was no can of corn. This was a screaming line drive, just over the backstop, just under the overhang.

Womenfolk screamed. Children fled. I stood up gallantly, deftly shielding my first born with one hand while snagging it with the other (bare) one.

Just a little sting.

OK, it went between my hands and hit me in the stomach, but I got it on first bounce when it came back up off the concrete. It’s really all kind of a blur.

But I ended up with it, as the crowd gasped and I took a well-deserved bow, waving the ball in the air, another bow, raising both hands, and then a curtain call and then another and …

“Dad, you can sit down now. You’re embarrassing me.”

“It’s always got to be about you, doesn’t it? Can we let me have my moment?”

“Sit DOWN! You’re causing a scene.”

Anyway, it’s a moment we’ll always have, one very few will ever have, with astronomical odds to overcome.

I’ve even researched the matter.

There’s a website dedicated to advice on how to catch a foul ball at a major league game and … no, no, no, they’ve got it all wrong.

Take it from an expert here, from somebody who’s now been in the trenches and came away clutching the coveted horsehide.

Here are the site’s four steps to increasing your odds:

1. Buy tickets along the first and third base seats in the lower bowl.

Me: Bull. We were sitting in the middle level behind home plate.

2. Keep your glove handy at all times.

Me: There being little chance that the Cardinals were going to put me in, I honestly didn’t bring along a glove.

3. Stay alert for rebounds.

Me: There weren’t going to be any rebounds.

4. You must be willing to “mix it up” with other fans. At the same time, you must be respectful of other fans, especially children, who are just trying to get out of the way.

Me: Only flesh wounds. They’ll get over it.

• • •

Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at shobbs@americanpress.com

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