I never liked the term “Ball Boy.” I’m 24 years old. I’m not a little boy. I prefer “Ball Man,” but I get it. It’s not as catchy; you lose the alliteration factor. Maybe “Bullpen Protector” would work, but that’s a little dramatic, like I’m some kind of bodyguard or super hero.
But I’m no hero. I’m just a guy out there doing his job, patrolling the third base line for stray foul balls and making sure none of the guys in the bullpen get hit in the face.
So I guess “Ball Boy” will have to do.
Whatever you call me, it’s a job I take very seriously, and I’m always willing to sacrifice my body in the name of bullpen safety. Every home game, I put on that uniform and I do the same thing the rest of the guys on the field do: I keep my head in the game and wait for my chance to make a play.
When the Rays came to town recently, I got that chance.
It was the bottom of the second inning. Tie game. Two men on and one out. Marcus Semien was at the plate with a chance to put our Athletics ahead early. Erasmo Ramirez was on the hill, and he left one over the plate that Marcus got around on good.
Marcus fired a rocket down the third base line into foul territory — my territory — and it was headed right for the bullpen.
I got a late jump on it. The only way to get it was to go all out. It’s a tricky angle and an unnatural motion, going from sitting in my chair next to the water cooler, to upright, to full sprint in one motion, but that’s what I did. And after just a few strides, I lunged forward, threw my glove out and hoped I could at least deflect it. No relief pitcher was getting drilled with a foul ball on my watch.
And they didn’t because I didn’t deflect the ball.
I caught it.
I got a huge ovation from 30,000-plus fans — it was fireworks night, so it was pretty busy — but I played it cool. You know, act like you’ve been there, right? But inside, I thought it was pretty cool. I tried not to break into an ear-to-ear smile as I walked over to the stands, handed the ball to a young fan and made my way down the bullpen bench for hi-fives and knuckles, and back to my seat next to the water cooler. They showed the play on the Jumbotron a couple of times, too, and the crowd went nuts again.
The guys in the bullpen were like, “Hell of a catch. Can’t wait to see you on the SportsCenter Top 10!” I was thinking, Nah, it wasn’t that big of a deal. But it was. I made the Top 10 that day and then the Top 10 of the weekend, too. I was even trending on Twitter — I got a lot of new followers out of it.
In the couple of days after the play, the media attention was crazy. I had radio call-ins and I had reporters wanting to interview me at games. One reporter wanted to interview me so badly, he tried to jump on the field during the game and come down to my station, and security had to grab him and escort him off the field.
I felt bad, and after the inning was over I went down to him and gave him a quick interview. You gotta do stuff like that. You know, for the fans. It’s all part of the job.
That was probably my finest moment on a baseball field since Little League All-Stars, but there’s more to my job than just protecting the bullpen. When the game’s not going on, I’m a clubhouse assistant. I’m kind of like a players’ assistant as well. They’re always sending me on personal errands. Really, I’m just there to help out.
But there’s nothing like being out on that field.
It’s my first year as the A’s Ball Boy. I guess that makes me a rookie. I don’t know if they have rookie awards for Ball Boys — or Gold Gloves or anything like that — but hey, a guy can dream.
Speaking of dreams, do you know what today is? It’s September 1st. Time for rosters to expand and for some of the young guys to have their dreams come true and get the call-up to the big leagues.
So, Coach Melvin, if you’re looking to add a young, scrappy kid with a pretty good glove, you know where to find me.