***After Rickey Henderson got elected to the Hall of Fame on Monday, I debated whether or not to tell my Rickey story. After nearly a week of deliberation, I’ve decided to unburden myself. Perhaps if I write about this humiliating occurrence I can finally move on.***
Back on June 23, 1990 my dad and I decided to achieve the rare Bay Area baseball doubleheader — an afternoon Giants/Astros game at Candlestick Park followed by A’s/White Sox at The Oakland/Alameda County (as it was known back then) Coliseum that evening. After watching the Giants lose to the Astros, we got to Oakland about two hours before first pitch and got to cruse around the park and check out a stadium we’d never seen before.
My dad and I were floored. The food selections, weather and pre-Mt. Davis views were all far superior at The Coliseum than at The Stick (at that point the only place I’d ever attended a baseball game). Maybe it was due to sitting in the sun for four-plus hours already, but when it came to our first A’s game my father and I didn’t quite bring our “A-games.” Or our gloves.
We started off by our introduction to the Athletics by watching Mark McGwire take batting practice from the leftfield bleachers. My dad was about 10-15 rows below me when McGwire slammed a line-drive homer that went about 130 mph, curving right towards my dad. I watched in awe as my father — who stood watching the ball, bare hands outstretched as if he were getting ready to catch a pass from Joe Montana — stood his ground as the ball whistled towards him. That is, until the ball was about 100 feet away and my dad turned to his right and sprinted away from the ball’s final destination as if the police were chasing him. Probably a good decision, since the ball nearly broke the seatback of the chair one row behind where he was standing before bouncing back onto the field.
Anyway, back to the Rickey story, which I’m obviously procrastinating on. After BP, the A’s were out on the field stretching and playing catch, and Rickey was bantering with the fans and generally having a good time as he always did (no outfielder ever interacted with the crowd like Rickey). I edged up to the rail next to a HUGE A’s fan, both literally and figuratively — we’re talking authentic XXL A’s road jersey, A’s hat with 47 pins on it, the whole deal. He kept calling out to Rickey, asking for a ball. I figured a superstar like the A’s leftfielder wouldn’t possibly answer a request from a pudgy 14-year-old A’s fan. Then to my surprise, from about 75 feet away Rickey pointed to the portly young fan and tossed one directly to him. And I lost my mind.
Sure, my undersized 12-year-old left hand wasn’t wearing any leather, but that would stop me from getting this ball. Hell, Kevin Mitchell caught a 325-foot flyball with his bare hand a couple years before; why couldn’t I snag a softly thrown floater from Rickey Henderson? I waited until the last second, and right as the ball arrived I leaned out and stuck my hand right in front of the Oakland fan’s gigantic outfielders glove and the ball bounced off it like a Shaq free-throw off the rim.
As the souvenir fell to the ground in between the rail and the outfield fence, Rickey let out a hearty guffaw, shook his head and yelled, “Oh man!” The kid to my left was understandably beyond pissed, since I not only stole his Rickey ball but dropped it…wasted it! All I could offer was a meek, “Sorry man” before turning tail and going back up the stairs to find my dad, who was off getting some nachos or a malt or something.
Just reliving this story makes me feel like I just ate three Angry Whoppers. I not only lost my chance at getting my first Major League baseball, I got clowned by Rickey Henderson. In short, I choked. I was like Steve Bartman, the only difference being I could still show my face around the Bay Area without receiving death threats. Actually, only two people saw the most epic FAIL of my life, the fat A’s fan and Rickey.
I guess I could look at the bright side. Not everybody has been laughed at by a future Hall of Famer, and I have caught two foul balls since that day, both at The Stick off the bats of former Giants (a BP foul popup by Willie McGee and a line-drive foul by Jeff Kent during a Giants/Expos game where the attendance was hovering around 8,000).
And yeah, this did happen almost 20 years ago. Doesn’t feel like it, though.