Fan drops ball
COLUMBUS, Ohio >> It was a night of almosts for a lifelong baseball fan.
I almost saw my first no-hitter and I almost got my first ball at a game.
But in the end, all I walked away with were memories, a souvenir program and the knowledge that I blew a golden opportunity.
I've been going to Major League Baseball games since I was 5, mostly in Pittsburgh, but also in San Diego, Los Angeles and even at Aloha Stadium when the Cardinals and Padres played a series in 1997.
The Hawaii Islanders were long gone by the time I moved to Hawaii in 1994, so Tuesday night's game at cozy Cooper Stadium was my first experience with minor league baseball. My girlfriend and I took in a contest between the Columbus Clippers (the New York Yankees Triple-A team) and the Louisville Bats (Cincinnati Reds).
I was disappointed at first to see that highly touted pitcher Brandon Claussen wouldn't be throwing, but the Clippers' Jorge De Paula made me forget all about Claussen.
De Paula walked the first batter of the game and I settled into my seat 13 rows behind the home team's dugout thinking it might be an ugly game.
Boy was I wrong.
The game sailed into the fourth inning before I noticed that De Paula hadn't given up a hit. He worked through the fifth and sixth innings, and still no hits for Louisville.
Now, I've seen some great feats at the ballpark, including game-ending home runs, division-clinching victories and inside-the-park homers.
I saw Barry Bonds as a skinny rookie in 1986 (after he spent 40-plus games in an Islanders uniform), Willie Stargell in his final season and certain Hall-of-Famers like Rickey Henderson, Dennis Eckersley and Tony Gwynn.
But I've never seen a no-hitter.
De Paula worked through the seventh and the first two batters of the eighth, and I was thinking I might actually see one. After the right-hander ended the eighth with a strikeout, he pumped his fist a couple of times as he walked toward the dugout, got the baseball from his catcher -- and lobbed it directly toward me!
I jumped out of my seat, arms outstretched, tracking the ball as it descended toward me.
I knew I had it. The people in the row ahead of me weren't tall enough to reach it. I was going to get a baseball directly from a pitcher who was about to toss a no-hitter!
I reached up for the ball, it hit my cupped hands.
And I dropped it.
It rolled away down the aisle (I momentarily thought about diving for it) and was scooped up by a little girl. And I was left empty-handed and at the mercy of the fans around me.
My error must've unnerved De Paula, because he allowed a single up the middle to the first batter in the ninth. The crowd gave him a standing ovation as Columbus manager Bucky Dent walked out to the mound to relieve him, and he responded by tipping his cap.
He'll most likely be pitching in pinstripes some day at Yankee Stadium, but I bet he'll always remember his near-miss.
I just hope he doesn't blame me for messing with his mojo.
I'll add his gem to my list of baseball memories. And you can bet I'll take a lesson from my experience: Always bring a glove to the ballgame.
Tim Crouse is a freelance writer in Columbus, Ohio, and former copy editor for the Star-Bulletin.