Just before entering a big league park, everybody has the same thought. Deep down, they are hoping it will be the day that they catch a home run in the stands.
Over a decade ago, I was thinking that when I went to Turner Field to catch the Braves play the Padres. The group that I was with decided to increase our odds by showing up early and going into the outfield during batting practice. I didn’t bring a glove because I thought after 400 feet, the ball would be easy to catch.
And really, I figured it was a long shot anyway.
Batters came and went with just a few balls flying into the stands, none in our general direction. Just before we were going to give up, Adrian Gonzalez stepped to the plate. As the giant lefty with the reputation of sending balls into orbit started swinging, I figured this was my last chance.
Just then, he hammered a ball our way. It started tailing at the end, like it was on a direct course to my hands. At the last minute, I tried to two-hand cup the ball on the catch, only to have it ricochet right out of my hands.
It quickly skipped to the empty seat behind me, then bounced right back to me. I was able to snag it on the second try.
When I left that afternoon, I had a souvenir and a stinging, swollen palm on my right hand.
I thought a lot about that ball this week. Mostly because of where it stayed for the last decade.
I grew up a sports nut, so my whole family knew the easiest way to get my attention was to talk about sports. That even applied to my great grandmother, Elsie Safley. Or to all of us in the family, Granny Elsie.
She used to show me all the baseballs she collected over the years when she and my great grandfather, Clarence E. ‘Red’ Safley, would go down to Florida for spring training. She would date them and put them on display.
When I returned from Atlanta with my baseball, I took it to her. It felt like the only place where it should be called home.
We’ve probably talked about that ball 100 times over the years. And sadly, we won’t have a chance to talk about it again. She passed away today at the age of 92.
Whether you knew her from church, the school library, the VFW or anywhere else, you remembered her. She was always super kind and friendly; I’m not sure I ever saw her in a bad mood.
If you know me, then you wouldn’t be surprised that I can eat a lot. Still, I think the first time I ever realized my eating habits would be noticed by others was when Granny Elsie was left in awe one day after school.
She picked me up from elementary school and asked if I was hungry. It was a rhetorical question, she was already heading toward McDonalds. I asked for three cheeseburgers (no pickles) and she gave me a puzzled look, but ordered them anyway.
Before we could get back to her house in Westwood, the food was gone. She thought I had thrown it out the window – she couldn’t believe I could finish three burgers in the span of a five-minute drive.
I had wonderful times in Westwood at her house. It was one of the first places where I had a basketball goal in the backyard – we went and bought it as a family and took it to her house. For years, she would keep a basketball and an airpump in her garage, knowing I could show up at any time just to shoot some hoops.
She didn’t mind playing a few games of HORSE either. Her favorite shot – as you may have guessed – was the granny shot, a two-handed, underhand free throw that she swished way more times than I did.
She had a passion for her family, one matched for her passion for service. She spent years working with the VFW and telling me stories about my great grandfather’s experiences in World War II. We would sit on the back porch at our house in rocking chairs and she would talk about everything she had seen over the years. I could have passed US history exams just by listening to her – she had lived through so many things.
Granny Elsie also wanted to make sure Crain Hill cemetery and the building that was there would always stand. That piece of Rocky River history goes way back in our family and she wanted it to be preserved forever.
I went to many decoration days over the years, walking with her as we would visit family graves. She would always stop a little longer at Red’s grave, he passed away when I was just 1. In my younger years, I was puzzled to see her name already on the tombstone. It felt morbid – kids really don’t think about death, and they sure aren’t preparing for it.
She would tell me that she had her final resting spot and it was beside Red. As I got older, I realized how at peace she was knowing that it was there.
We’ll lay her down at Crain Hill Cemetery sometime soon. And I’ll go back for the rest of my life to visit, just like she did for other family members over the years.
And if I ever catch another foul ball at a big league game, I know exactly where I’ll leave it.
Visitation will begin Friday at 4 p.m. at High Funeral Home. There will also be visitation Saturday from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m. Service will be at 1 p.m.
Granny Elsie celebrated her 91st birthday in 2019 and we had a family party at my brother's restaurant, Mud Bums.
Granny Elsie and I at her 87th birthday. She brought me the bottle of water when I arrived - and sent me packing with bananas, oatmeal pies, other snacks and more drinks. That's just what she did.