The Story Hall
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The Story Hall

Batter Up! Top of the Sixth — Foul Ball

Reversing a 43 Year Curse

At Nationals Park — One of my favorite places to be, with one of my favorite people in the world — son J.B.

I was born about 3 weeks after my paternal grandfather passed away. I knew him only through stories told by my Dad and others. He sounded like quite a character. One of the stories I heard was how he had caught a foul ball at Forbes Field, way up in the corner of the bleachers. He’d caught it bare-handed and apparently broke his thumb doing it.

I attended my first game at Forbes Field in June, 1962, where I sat in those very same bleachers where my grandfather that I’d never met had caught a foul ball. I became inspired by his story and determined to do the same thing, only I usually brought a glove with me, so I wouldn’t break my thumb in the process.

That’s Grandpa Bridgeman on the left — “Big Pete” Egan on the right was my maternal grandfather, for whom I was named While I did know him, I never called him Grandpa — he was always Big Pete, and I was always Little Pete. That’s my oldest brother, Jim, in Big Pete’s arms.

Plenty of foul balls made their way into the left-field bleachers, but none made their way into my glove. I remember one game where, every time a ball got hit into the bleachers, I would go and sit near where the last ball got hit. My brother tried to explain to me that the chances of two balls landing in the same spot twice in one game were pretty slim, so I stopped doing that — but I really wanted a real, live game ball. I wanted it so badly!

In the nine years I attended games at Forbes field, between 1962 and 1970, I never got that foul ball. I got a player’s hat once — but no foul balls. I went to every game with the hope of getting me a ball.

This practice continued as I eventually attended games at ballparks all over the country, and even one in Montreal, Canada. Years went by — 10, 20, 30, 40 years, in which I went to games in Philadelphia, Baltimore, New York City, Cincinnati, Milwaukee, St. Louis, Texas, Anaheim, San Francisco, San Diego, Boston, Kansas City — not one foul ball.

My ticket for the first home opener

Sometimes I thought it might be the curse of the Pete Rose hat — I’d taken something that wasn’t mine, so the baseball gods were not going to grant me any free gifts, like a foul ball.

Then the Montreal Expos became the Washington Nationals in 2005, and I went to more games in one season than I ever had in my life — 41 games that year. I had never been a full season ticket-holder before, but I went all in on baseball that year. That was also the same year I returned to playing competitive softball after a 25 year hiatus from playing. Since I was honing my skills at hitting, throwing, and catching the ball, I felt like it was safe to declare — “This season after 43 seasons of attending major league baseball games, I will get my foul ball.” I was determined to break the curse and finally get that ball.

That was such a memorable season, in so many ways. We thrilled to the Nationals’ two month run in first place in the National League East Division. At the mid-point of the season, they had an unlikely record of 50 wins and 31 losses — they were defying all the odds, and going to games was a totally joyful experience. Even as the they fell back down to earth in the second half of the season, producing a mirror record, 31–50, finishing at a dead even .500, 81–81, we still knew that was a lot better than anyone had expected them to play coming into that season. That team of scrappy misfits and castoffs had won our baseball hearts, forever.

Coming into the final weekend that I was planning to attend games that season, I still hadn’t gotten that foul ball. Oh, well, you can’t have everything. At least, we now had a hometown team! They were planning to play one more weekend at home after that, but I had other plans and had sold my tickets.

As it turned out, my other plans fell through, and Hugh called me up to tell me Lisette wasn’t able to make it to the final home game of the season — would I like to take her ticket? I did, and so I was at a bonus game, one I hadn’t even planned on attending, the very last game of the entire season. I still had a shred of hope for that foul ball. It was the bottom of the 8th inning when a foul ball came skipping over towards the Nationals’ dugout. Nats’ pitcher Tony Armas fielded it cleanly on the top step of the dugout and immediately flipped it over the roof of the dugout into the stands — where it landed right in my glove (yes, I still brought a glove to the games with me — I still wanted to catch a foul ball, but didn’t want to break my thumb like Grandpa Bridgeman had). I looked around to see if there were any kids I could give it to — that was the code at Nats’ games, if you were an adult and you caught a foul ball, you gave it to a kid — but Hugh informed me, “They’ve all gotten balls already, Pete. That one’s yours. The gods of baseball have finally smiled on you today, my friend.”

My First Foul Ball!

I had a moment with that ball. It took 43 years to get it. I thought of Grandpa Bridgeman, whom I never met but who had first inspired me to begin this 43 year quest for a foul ball, and I could swear I felt him smiling at my good fortune after all these years. I finally had a ball of my own! That ball found a special place in my man-cave in the basement of our house.

It wouldn’t be long before I had to make room for another one…and another…and another. I continued going to a lot of games over the next 3 seasons, until my softball playing really took off and simply didn’t leave me with enough time to get out to as many games. But, over those three seasons, I got a total of seven baseballs hit into the stands. I became a foul ball magnet! People I took to games would get foul balls, sitting beside me. It was crazy how they all kept finding me for those three years. I just figured, whatever it was I had done to piss the baseball gods off, I must have made appropriate amends that first season the Nats were in town, and the gods lifted the curse. The foul ball flood gates had opened up!

That was a fun ride, those three seasons. After 43 years of getting shutout, I got seven foul balls in three years. After that, I didn’t even care — I’d gotten it out of my system, and I was able to start going to games to simply enjoy the game itself, and just the atmosphere of being at the ballpark — one of my favorite places to be. What a concept!

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Hawkeye Pete Egan B.

Hawkeye Pete Egan B.

Connecting the dots. Storytelling helps me to make sense of this world, and of my life. I love writing and reading. Writing is like breathing, for me.