A perfect game

The ball was heading right to me. It was déjà vu all over again.

I know. I try to limit myself to two baseball stories a year, and I already shot my limit before the All-Star break.

But here’s the scene. I was at Parkview Field, home of the minor-league Fort Wayne TinCaps.

It’s a night game against the Dayton Dragons, but the sun would be up for another two hours and we’re still in the upper 80s, hot and muggy.

If life ever brings you to Fort Wayne in the summer, check out the TinCaps’ schedule and take in a game. It’s an old-school stadium, and they can squeeze in over 8,000 souls.

The park is downtown. It sits comfortably in the shadow of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, the see church of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend.

We got there early, the only on-time possible at a ball game. Our seats were in the front row, first-base side.

It was me, my son home on leave from the Army, and my twin grandkids. The third grandkid is too young for baseball. He was back at the house being entertained by mom and his grandmother.

The TinCaps are the stepchild of the Fort Wayne Wizards, the city’s original minor-league franchise. The Wizards played in a concrete box — ugly as sin — that has since been reduced to parking-lot status. But I was at the Wizards’ first game back in 1993 with my son who was then in his first year of high school. We had seats a few rows behind the home-plate screen. Ugly it was, but it was also a little bit of heaven.

Somewhere around the third inning of that game, a lazy foul pop cleared the screen and floated down toward me. It hit me in the hands. And I flubbed it. The ball wormed down to the seat in front of us where some lady — some lady! — scooped up the souvenir.

I shrugged. I figured there would be a lot more games and a lot more chances to catch a ball. Well, I saw hundreds of Wizards games over the next eight years and not once did a ball come reasonably near me again.

I left Fort Wayne in 2001, and in 2009, the Wizards became the TinCaps and moved into their new stadium. This was my first TinCaps game.

We were sitting there watching the TinCaps’ starting pitcher warm up on the sidelines. He uncorked a wild one that bounced up and away from the catcher and headed straight for me. The symmetry of it all – first Wizards game, first TinCaps game for me. And a ball coming my way once again. A chance at redemption, 22 years later.

It hit me in the hands. I flubbed it again. The ball bounced into the next row. A kid grabbed it. Sigh.

Then my son said, “Hey, remember that Wizards game ...” and the grandkids got to hear the story of the first error of my ways.

They laughed. I laughed.

A few innings later, a pop-out to the first baseman ended the inning, and as he trotted off the field, he tossed the ball toward the stands. Toward us. I leaned forward to get it. But the ball drifted away. To my son. He caught it easy and handed it to the grandkids.

They lit up like they’d just been given the crown jewels. They had.

And I’m sitting there overwhelmed at that very moment by the goodness of God. Three generations at the ballpark. Sharing fun, memories, laughter and love on a warm Hoosier night.

It’s perfect. It’s more than worth a grateful prayer.

When we were leaving, an old man at the gate spotted the ball and said, “Hey, you guys got the real thing!”

We do.

We surely do.

Robert P. Lockwood writes from Indiana.