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Last night during the Boston Red Sox vs Tampa Bay (Devil) Rays game, rookie Michael Chavis recorded his first Major League base hit. It was a scorching line drive over the Ray’s centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier and Chavis rushed to second base for a double. The Red Sox staff, as is custom, collected the baseball Chavis hit, will most likely have the players and coaches sign it, and Chavis will have a baseball moment in time captured for life. A signed game ball, which may end up at his home, his parent’s home, in the Hall of Fame, which Chavis (and others) can look upon it and remember that moment in time, what it felt like to perfectly connect the barrel to the 98 mph pitch, and how he felt stepping on second base – a kid from Marietta, Georgia who officially has a base hit in the Major Leagues. Pretty cool stuff. Congrats to Michael Chavis and his family.
Every youth baseball season, coaches are given a box or two of game baseballs to be used in regular season games. Most youth baseball games start and end with just two baseballs, which are given to the home plate umpire prior to the start of the game. On rainy, wet days, perhaps a third or fourth baseball is given and used during the games. And on those “Here We Go” days where many, many foul balls are hit into the adjoining trees, ponds, and parking lots next to our beloved baseball fields, an entire box of 12 baseballs is used. After the games, the umpires hand the game baseballs to the coaches who supplied them for the game. But where do those game baseballs go from there? After all, they are dinged, dirty, roughed up from landing on pavement, dented perhaps from all the base hits. Do most coaches just toss them in their practice baseball bucket? Or simply toss them in the garbage never to be used again?
I have another option for the used game baseball. Similar to the ball hit by Chavis, which will be the gift that keeps on giving for that player, give a game baseball to a different player after each game – win or loss. Give a game baseball to a parent in the stands, a volunteer who you would like to honor and recognize for their dedication to your league. Give a game baseball to a local sponsor who came through with sponsoring a league event or fundraiser at their restaurant. Give the game baseball to an assistant coach who filled in perfectly so you could go out to dinner on your anniversary, which happened to coincide with a playoff baseball game. Give the gift of friendship, team, camaraderie. Get the entire team to sign the baseball after the game. Present the game ball in a crowd of the players, the parents, the sponsor, anyone who can hear your voice. Take a photo and post it on your social media page. “Tonight’s game ball is given to Josh Turner, who got his first strikeout on the mound tonight. Congrats Josh.” Applause, Applause.
They have baseball display cases to house these signed baseballs. Some of them you can even get engraved with the day and league name and year of the signed baseball. The cases can fit on a desk or mantle or shelf for all to see. These baseballs are the introduction to your incredible baseball story, your first hit, your first strikeout, the pop fly you caught when you were 11 that sealed the league championship. And look at all of those names. What happened to Tom or Alice or Stevie or Mason? You can take a pause and remember those special moments in your childhood that baseball was there for you and you were the hero that day. You got the game ball.
A used game day baseball will mostly be used as a batting practice ball or will simply get tossed in the garbage on the way out of the ball park. Take the opportunity to give that baseball a special power – to be the gift that keeps on giving for life. Have the team, the coaching staff sign the baseball. If it is a tournament game, maybe have the opposing teams sign the baseball as well. Pick out a player who showed hustle and character and sportsmanship, not just a player who hit his 10th home run of the season. Make it a special announcement in front of players and parents. Get your league engaged in the joy of the announcing that tonight’s/today’s game baseball goes to “Madie Stevens, who stole her first base and played awesome third base today.” The joy of that signed baseball and the feeling that player will have to be honored in front of family and teammates will last a lifetime.
Happy Easter to everyone in the Rhode Island baseball community.