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WHAT’S IT WITH ME AND BASEBALLS?
by Rodney E.J. Chang
was seventeen seasons ago that I sat in this reserved seats section of
the bleachers, just above third base. It was Sunday, the start of the Chinese
New Year, and college baseball and its spring season was here in
At first, I stayed in my assigned seat higher up where it was cheaper. But later, after going for snacks, I decided to plop my body into the section below that was reserved. It was pretty empty this day so I knew nobody cared. As importantly, I wouldn’t have to climb the many steep stairs back to my designated seat way at the top, balancing my large cup of beer, along with my fries in the other hand.
In the reserved section my preferred seat was empty. So there I was, once again in the same seat (had it and the two adjacent ones reserved for many seasons) that I sat in back in 1989 when I held my first born in my arm.
I remembered, sitting right there in that seat, how a line drive foul ball by a left hand batter suddenly came zeroing in on us. Parental protective instinct took over because, instead of dodging, I instantly stood up, held eighteen-month old Bronson away in my left arm from the projectile zooming towards us, and defiantly smacked down the sizzling ball with my free hand as it “attacked” us. In such an instant, defensive situation, I discovered that my parental brain perceived the ball as an alive, assailing creature. I recalled the loud swatting sound of impact which left a red welt in my soon to be swollen right palm. Luckily, no bones were broken.
It was a perfect defensive play! The crowd cheered as father saves son. The operator in the upstairs booth, who operated the electronic sign above the center-field fence, keyed, “GREAT DEFENSIVE PLAY!” in blinking lights. The animation of a base runner getting tagged out didn’t matter. Everybody knew what the overall message referred to.
I felt proud, and as a nerd, even athletic. A boy brought the deflected ball to me and I placed it in my son’s little hands. It might have seemed symbolic to spectators as well as to myself. The toddler looked down at it and started to play with it, oblivious to our recent endangerment. At one-and-a-half years of age, the mind doesn’t have the comprehension or attentiveness to watch a baseball game. Then, after about only twenty seconds, the child tossed it away. It bounced down several level of seats, never to be seen again. Some kids dived for the baseball and kept it. I never found out whether Bronson threw it because he had become bored with it, or if he mimicked what he saw the players do on the field.
Now here I sat again, feeling a bit guilty that I was sitting in a higher priced seat that I hadn’t paid for. But no guilt that a cold beer couldn’t eliminate. The Rainbows were down 1-4, now in the 5th inning. They had lost the previous game, 4-10.
A paperback novel, “Roswell One,” that dealt with UFOs and
But suddenly it felt like déjà vu! A left-handed batter had just launched a missile straight at me! Unlike the past, this time I was frozen, almost from disbelief. No child this time in my arm to trigger parental instinctive defenses, but instead, a bag of french fries in one and a large cup of beer in the other. And now, at 61, my reflexes were gone.
There was no time to put my food and drink down, and I refused to drop them (especially the beer I just purchased). I remember the sense of bewilderment – that of all 2,000 fans in the large park, a ball chose me as its target. Again!
I also recalled thinking, Everybody’s watching me- again- to see how I react - in the next split second!
I felt I was on stage with an audience on the edge of their seats. And I knew they’d see I didn’t “bring my game,” this time around.
With the swift ball closing in, at about ten feet I judged it was going to get me. If it was a direct hit, I speculated it would bash me in the face. But now I was not quick enough to reflexively duck or block with a hand. They both were clenched, carrying refreshments.
I felt like a deer paralyzed in the middle of the road by fast approaching headlights. Or was I just having a “senior moment?”
The comedic scene of french fries flying all over the place and beer splashing on my face, causing people to roar with laugher - at me, flashed in my mind’s eye. Not my life, which was reassuring.
The projectile coming in at high velocity was about two feet from my face - when I finally managed to order some muscles to lean me to the left. That was just enough to make the hardball miss my face – Whew!
But then – “Whack!”
My head jolted forward from the force of the ball as it ricocheted off the concrete platform only two feet behind me (on which the next row of seats were elevated higher), and blasted me in the back of my skull. The force was probably the same as getting hit directly (but in the back instead of the front of the head), considering the loss of energy absorbed by the wall was replaced by the ball’s compression and immediate acceleration from colliding with the surface. From the extreme velocity, the loud thud (inside my head too), and the stadium-loud, unified “OH!!!!!!!,” I too expected the worse. Maybe a fractured skull? Or at least a concussion? Possibly with some internal hemorrhaging on the side?
It hurt at the moment of impact. It felt like getting hit on the head with a baseball bat. My head jetted forward at least six inches from the impact.
But for some strange reason, I was uninjured!
Pain exploded inside my head, but I hadn’t collapsed from my seat. The crowd went silent, totally confused – like I was.
Blinking as if to clear the cobwebs, I was surprised that I was still conscious.
A young woman came dashing across the aisle. I thought she was coming over to assist me (maybe a nursing student?) and I was ready to tell her, “I’m okay.” But instead, without even an “excuse me,” she dived between and under my legs to snatch the ball, with her big buttocks sticking up close to my slumping dazed face, to fetch the ball that was under my seat.
Even in a stunned state of mind, peering at her wiggling butt inches from my face, I remember thinking, I hope she doesn’t fart.
Having secured her prize, without a word or look at me, she scampered back to her seat. Her heavy male friend, holding a large beer, high-fived the successful retriever. Together they were all smiles.
I heard someone in the crowd shout, “Aw, give the guy the ball, ...bitch!”
Not that I wanted it. What would I do with it? Brag how this is the ball that smacked me silly?
Some fans were now booing. Not that she cared. I later judged that woman as the type of person who would not bother to stop and render aid to someone she saw hit by a car on the highway.
Looking down, I was thankful that my fries and drink were still intact! Considering the blow I had just taken, it was amazing how everything was not strewn all over the aisle. Till this day, I still can’t figure out how the heck the drink stayed in the cup and the fries remained intact in the sack. I must have really wanted to have that cold beer (that I had just bought) and down those salt and ketchup-covered fries.
A couple seconds later, a stadium attendant came up to me and said,
“Are you okay? There’s a nurse downstairs.” That’s how bad it looked.
“I’m okay,” I answered, nonchalantly taking a sip from my beer to demonstrate to the still gawking crowd that I was indeed unharmed, in fact, cool, acting like nothing had happened (when a better man, against the girl, would have darted and make a play for the ball). I was glad I wore my cap’s visor low and had dark glasses on, to conceal my embarrassment.
I remember thinking, I’m lucky I didn’t get a fractured skull but, from that kind of force, I can expect a big lump later. But moments later, it occurred to me that it didn’t even hurt anymore.
Nobody has that thick a skull!
I reached for the spot in the back of my head where the ball collided. My finger went straight to the back of my baseball cap where the adjustment metal buckle was situated.
The ball had hit that tiny brass plate of the cap!
Several layers of extra strap length folded through the small attachment, excess for my head size. The cap was well made with a double-layered fabric with thick cord-like thread that constructed the rim of the hat. The buckle rested upon this reinforced border trim of the cap.
The projectile had hit the tiny 1/2”x1/2” metal buckle with four layers of fabric wrapped through it. The stray ball had rocketed off the bat, over a hundred feet away, to tag the tiny, adjustment buckle of my cap. Imagine that. Talk about good fortune! That baseball cap might have saved my life.
out the cap was RED (good luck to Chinese), with golden lettering (good luck to
Chinese), and embroidered with “USC – DAD.” It was the first time that I
wore this Christmas present from my son Bronson. I had unwrapped it only three
and a half months prior while he watched, home for the holidays, during his
first year at the
I can’t help think of the paradox of it all - I saved my boy from an errant sizzling baseball years ago, and now his gift returned the favor! Both times while sitting in the same seat! I can’t thank Bronson enough (who wants to be in the hospital with a fractured skull?).
I also can’t help but wonder how there exist phenomena in this world that we aren’t aware of or will ever understand. Or maybe, it was merely divine intervention or my guardian angel. But then again, it could have been sheer luck. Whatever the reason, it wasn’t my “time” yet. Whatever the reason, I am very grateful.
And next time I’ll sit somewhere else. Or pay for the reserved seat.
A final thought – I
remember before I left the house for the game, trying to decide whether
to wear the pristine USC cap or the hard-luck
最后的想法 - 我记得当离开家去看比赛的时候曾经犹豫是戴这顶崭新的USC帽呢，还是那顶让我马拉松失败、带来坏运气
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