Catching a dream

More than just a baseball

The sight of a baseball fan nearly falling out of the stands trying to catch a ball at the All-Star Game’s homerun derby got a lot of attention on television this week. The visual is irresistible, but the problem is that guy is too old. The dream of catching a ball at a game is really the stuff of kids.

When I was kid, my mitt was good at catching balls, but never did it snag a dream. That’s why I marvel at the story of 12-year-old Mark Morrison who recently traveled from Toronto to a Chicago Cubs game. The score sheet doesn’t mention him, but his star was shining that afternoon.

Jarry Park, home of the Expos '69-'76

Before I tell you about Mark, let me tell you about going to Jarry Park in the early 70’s. That’s where the Montreal Expos would play, and where I’d go to games in the bleachers with my brothers, and any assortment of friends with names like Yates, Wood, Charton, Whitworth, and Hasse. We’d all bring our gloves, hoping against hope to catch a homer, or a foul ball (if we snuck into the seats closer to home plate). But never did any one of us catch the elusive drive, a kind of incomplete mission that wasn’t that different from the travails of our team, the expansion Expos in their multi-colored uniforms. Bringing a mitt to the stadium is a time-honored tradition in the great summer game, but it’s not unlike playing the lottery – the prize is almost always out of reach.

Rusty Staub, "le Grand Orange", was one of the players we'd watch for

So I marveled when I heard the story of how Mark and his dad (Hockey Hall of Fame writer Scott Morrison) decided to make a 4-day trip to the Windy city when school ended at the end of June. As they packed their bags, they no doubt thought twice, even if momentarily, about bringing Mark’s mitt. Lets be realistic, they had to think, is it worth the trouble? Not to mention that Mark is 12, which means he’s reaching the outer limits of feeling that it’s still cool to bring your glove to a game. Well, sometimes you just gotta believe. But wait, this story is about more than just the chance of catching a ball.

Mark and Scott got to the park early to watch the Cubs take batting practice. When they stopped to get some food, a team marketing employee randomly asked Mark if he’d like to be one of the kids who goes on the field in the pre-game ceremony to pick a player who he thinks will hit a homerun.  Better odds than the lottery, but still a long shot. But hey, what a thrill -getting on the grass at historic Wrigley Field alongside Major Leaguers! Not to mention seeing your name up on the scoreboard and the PA introducing you to the crowd, before announcing the starting line-ups for the Cubs game against the San Francisco Giants.

Mark Morrison behind the plate at Wrigley Field

And then Mark is off to his seat behind home plate, clutching his glove, and sending positive vibes to his pick, Aramis Ramirez, the Cubs slugging third baseman who’s having a bounce-back year after struggling in 2010.  No homerun early in the game, but the magic continues in the second inning when a rising cutter is fouled in back of the catcher. It takes him a moment to register, but Mark sees the ball has cleared the protective screen, and is dropping to the seats …and not just any seats. It’s coming right at him. Out goes the glove, and IN goes the ball. We’ll forgive him if he skipped a breath or two, as he lived the sacred moment most baseball fans only dream of. I am on my knees as I write this, bowing to his greatness.

This is also where I pause to reflect that sometimes people who deserve to catch a break actually do catch a break. I can’t say that I know Mark, but I do know of him because I work with his dad. The one time I did meet him was a couple of years ago, at a funeral home. It was the visitation for his mother Kathy, who had died after more than one bout with cancer. He wasn’t ten years old yet, and you can well imagine the challenges that came with his mother’s illness and her death.

So when that ball fell from the sky, I wonder if Scott didn’t look up and think, “what took you so long?” And perhaps he got an answer because on this afternoon, it seemed that two gifts from above wasn’t the limit.

Scott and Mark Morrison in Chicago

Fast-forward to the bottom of the ninth inning, and the Cubs are trailing with two outs. Mark’s pre-game pick –Ramirez- is at the plate and he’s the last hope for the home team who are losing 2-1. San Francisco Giants closer Brian Wilson is throwing heat. Strike one. Strike two …..and then, wouldn’t you know it, Ramirez gets a hold of one and it’s out of the park for a homerun to tie the game.

The Cubs went on to win in 13 innings, and Mark received an autographed Cubs jersey for picking a homerun hitter.

But that’s not all, because when it rains, it pours. Mark and Scott are at Harry Caray’s famous restaurant for a post-game meal, when the waiter brings over an autographed baseball in a case. It’s a gift from the next table over, where Cubs pitcher James Russell, who had pitched a scoreless ninth for the home team, is sitting. Russell was eating with his dad, a former major leaguer.

As a child, I brought my mitt to Jarry Park too many times to count, and I’ve since embraced the notion that chasing dreams is the most important thing in life. I draw comfort, from the idea that other kids just like Mark were closing their gloves on the balls that fell out of my reach.

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8 responses to “Catching a dream

  1. Love that recollection Dan.
    Bratty and kids are often found side-by-side when talking about summer sports camp! A great indulgence.

  2. This entry was great! Overbay and his family are class acts. What is really nice are my own personal memories at different sports related events, arenas, local ball parks that flash back after reading this story. I’ll always remember going to hockey camp one summer when I was about 10 or 11 and watching local future NHL’s Rob Blake, Nelson Emerson, Jassen Cullimore, and I think Dwayne Roloson play shinny after Blake and Emerson taught me all day at the camp. All of them seemed so humble and down to earth even though they were all about to start their careers in the NHL. Blake and Emerson were the actual camp leaders and they would watch game tapes from Bowling Green in between on ice workouts with a bunch of bratty hockey kids.

  3. That Roberto Clemente Rawlings mitt was one of a kind. They don’t make ’em like they used too. The only ball it couldn’t catch was the one that would have clinched you’re no-hitter in pee wee in 1977. If I played every defensive position over the years, it’s because I couldn’t really play any one of them! But I had a helluva time trying at each one of ’em!

  4. I bet he didn’t have a tri-colour red, white and blue glove. Now that was a classic…The Cro

  5. JUST ANOTHER REASON TO PULL FOR THE PITTSBURGH PIRATES THIS YEAR (LYLE OVERBAY)

  6. Got his note from Scott Morrison, shortly after the post went up:

    Hi Bob:
    That is great.
    Let me share another story with you.
    In August of ’08, when Kathy had really taken a turn for the worse, a friend gave us a pair of Jays tickets. They were 28 rows behind the Jays dug out and they were playing the Yankees.
    I had to get them at will call, so we went down early. Mark was wearing an Overbay shirt, a Jays hat and had his first base glove. We watched BP and an older gentleman comes up to us and says he really likes Mark’s shirt. He hands him an autographed Overbay baseball card in the plastic holder.
    We thank him and he disappears.
    When we went up to get food the usherette was all excited Mark got the card. I asked what that was about and she said it was Overbay’s Dad. When he is at a game, he walks around and looks for kids with Lyle’s sweater.
    So we get the second inning and the Yankees hit into a double play to end the inning. Overbay has the ball and is jogging to the dug out. Only a few people stand up asking for the ball, one of them is Mark – 28 rows up, in a Jays shirt and hat and with a first base glove.
    I am watching Overbay and I know he sees Mark. He takes a step back and throws a rope up to Mark – except four or five rows ahead of us a guy stands up and intercepts the throw. Mark was devastated. With all that was happening in our world at the time, he was crushed and crying.
    I consoled him for an inning or two, telling I would get us a ball, but the
    problem was it wasn’t that ball.
    About an inning later, this young kid who was sitting in front of us, about
    16, returns to the seat. He says to me, what’s his name.
    “Hey Mark,” he says. “I’ve got your ball from Overbay.”
    Turns out the kid saw what happened and saw how disappointed Mark was. I asked him how he got the ball. He went to field level, where he knew the ball boy, got a new ball and brought to the guy who had intercepted the throw. He told him what happened and got the original ball and brought it to Mark.
    Incredible.
    I shared the story with Bob Elliott, who asked Overbay about his Dad and
    about that ball and he said he saw the kid with the first base glove – Mark.
    Bob told Overbay what was happening and he autographed a ball and wanted Bob to bring it to Mark, which he did at the funeral home.
    After Kathy had died and before the funeral, the Leafs played an exhibition game and they mentioned on the telecast that Kathy had passed away. Overbay and one of the Jays trainers heard the name and Lyle asked if that was the same family. When he found out it was, when they ended their season that weekend, he took his game jersey and autographed it to Mark and had the Jays get it to us.
    Random acts of kindness that restores your faith in people.

    SM

  7. Dave,
    You can add to the list: baseball, softball, and stickball at Mohawk Park (through various eras)…the closest of our fields to Jarry.

  8. BOBO brings back great memories of not only Jarry Park, but stickball at Carlyle/Algonquin, Sip Sacs at Perettes, METS memories, The “J”, Graham Drugs (the store), Kanes Pharmacy and much much more!
    David Stein

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