It was a cold, cold night at Progressive Field.
Over 23,000 fans supposedly braved the wind and rain last night to watch the hapless Indians get pummeled by the slightly less pitiful White Sox, though it looked more like 23. Because no one was there to claim the seats, my Row Q bleacher tickets got me into Row A.
Beside me sat a young kid, probably 10 or 11, decked out in White Sox paraphernalia. His voice didn't carry very well, but that didn't stop him from shouting "Indians suck!" at regular intervals. He shut up only during the pre-inning warm-ups, when he stood up in hopes that Matt LaPorta would throw him the ball.
LaPorta seemed to have been in a pretty bad mood last night, because he refused to throw anyone a ball. While it's unreasonable to expect an outfielder to throw up a ball each time, even the orneriest of players usually give the fans a souvenir every couple innings.
By the fifth, you could see Trevor Crowe trying to throw the ball back to him right before the game resumed so he could toss it into the bleachers; LaPorta just waved him off. He threw one up in the eighth inning, though he hurled it to the other end of the bleachers, completely ignoring the small but passionate cluster of fans directly behind him.
Finally, in the ninth inning, he suddenly turned around and whipped the ball towards us. I took a step back and made a Gold Glove-caliber catch. As I admired my souvenir, still pristine in color, the White Sox kid put on his Bambi eyes.
I knew that he would appreciate the ball more than I did, but that didn't mean I wouldn't have enjoyed it. I'm too old to get a pity ball, but I'm still young enough to keep one that I caught. I imagined a pickup game with my friends, played with an official Major League Baseball instead of whatever small round things we dug out of our garages.
But I couldn't say no to a kid. I told him I'd think about it. I'd listen to what he shouted over the next inning to determine if he would fully appreciate a ball thrown by an Indians' player. Hubris.
Without missing a beat, the kid turned to the Cleveland fan he was sitting with. He said he was cold and asked to borrow his Chief Wahoo sweatshirt. "How's this?" the kid asked me as he pulled the hoodie over his head.
Meanwhile, the Indians were in a jam. Jensen Lewis had come in to pitch the ninth. After two batters, there were runners at the corners as Gordon Beckham stepped to the plate. I felt my trophy ball bulge in my pocket.
Beckham roped the first pitch into the gap in left-center. It caromed off the wall for a two-run double. I realized my hat was still in "rally cap" mode, and sheepishly said that it was the source of the bad luck. As I turned my cap right-side-out, the ball grew heavier.
Paul Konerko then lined a single into center field. As Beckham rounded third, Crowe, whose bullet to the plate in the second inning had saved a run, came up gunning.
While Crowe's throw was strong and certainly fast enough to make it a play at the plate, it was way off target. Konerko headed for second as the ball bounced towards third base.
Catcher Lou Marson chased it down and whipped it at Lewis, who was covering the plate. I use the word "at" loosely, as Marson's throw was just as errant as Crowe's.
Beckham crossed the plate with ease. Konerko was safe at third without a throw, which has probably a good thing.
Every Chief Wahoo hat in the stadium was buried in its wearer's lap. The loyal fans who had braved wind so strong they had closed the upper deck knew from the start that their team was likely to lose. But this? This was pitiful.
The ball started pounding in my pocket. I suddenly realized what I had done.
Trying to touch the damned object as little as possible, I reached into my pocket and tossed the kid the ball. "Take it," I said, "and take your curse home with you."
As in ancient Thebes, the trouble then subsided (the Indians still lost). And like Oedipus, I cannot return to the Prog. At least until next year.