It’s one of the highlights of visiting a ballpark – the possibility of being lucky enough to have a ball come your way, catch it and take it home.
But some MLB fans aren’t old enough to be aware of how special such a moment is, and when a stray ball headed towards young Charlie Mulligan at Fenway Park during the Red Sox’s game with the Yankees on Sunday, he didn’t know that he was about to participate in – and literally throw away – a baseball rite of passage.
During Sunday’s match, the Yankees’ Jake Bauers hit a foul ball deep into the Fenway Park stands. An adult fan called Mike – a friend of Charlie’s family who was attending the game with them – got hold of the ball and passed it on to Charlie and his brother Jack, who were attending the match with their parents.
Problem is, Charlie didn’t understand what was happening and – figuring the right thing to do was to throw the ball back where it came from – hurled it onto the field of play. His more seasoned sibling, of course, couldn’t hide his frustration at the missed opportunity and started crying to his dad.
Gladly, all’s well that ends well though and TV reporter Jahmai Webster was on hand to lift spirits and gift the Mulligans a signed baseball and signed jersey from Red Sox star Kenley Jansen.
The Steve Bartman Incident
While this was a funny example of fans catching stray balls, there have been a few more infamous instances during baseball’s long history, none more so than the Steve Bartman moment of 2003.
Chicago Cubs fan Bartman was attending the Cubs and Florida Marlins’ post-season match at Wrigley Field in October 2003 when a fly ball came his way.
With the Cubs 3-0 up in the seventh game of the series and holding on to a slender 3-2 lead overall, Marlins hitter Luis Castillo smashed a ball into left field.
Cubs outfielder Moisés Alou headed to the fence to catch it, but Bartman reached out and deflected it. The incident was not judged to be fan interference, but this worked against the Cubs who would have notched up their second out of the inning and needed just four more to win had Castillo caught the ball.
It all fell apart from there on in. The Cubs lost the game 8-3 and fell in the final match which was played the next day, losing the series overall and crashing out of the play-offs.
Bartman was blamed by his fellow fans for the capitulation and was subject to ongoing abuse directly after the match and in the weeks after it. The ball itself was eventually sold at auction (and destroyed by the winner) and Bartman’s seat went on to become a tourist attraction, so infamous was the incident.
The story has a happy ending though. When the Cubs finally won the World Series in 2016, the team sent him a championship ring to make up for his poor treatment at the hands of his fellow fans.