“Death shall come on swift wings to him who disturbs the peace of the King” reads on the tomb of King Tut. Well, the good king clearly never went to baseball games. “Death shall come from above via a foul ball” is what the tomb should read.
I made a rare trip south of Tampa Bay for a little Wednesday morning baseball action at Bradenton's gorgeous McKechnie Field, where the Bradenton Marauders played the Clearwater Threshers. A 10:30 first pitch marked yet another summer camp day at the park, but I was safely tucked away in the press booth overlooking the action.
As it turned out, I wasn’t so safe.
The open-air press box allowed me an unobstructed view of home plate, and I thought the only inconvenience would be the heat, but I was wrong. So wrong. What started as a delightful day at the ball park sparked into a threatening bombardment of baseballs, because that open-air press box offered me no protection from foul balls.
The first near miss came in the third inning: A foul ball sailed through the open window and sizzled past my face. I hit the deck to save face (literally), and emerged with the souvenir of the day: The bullet that almost took me down. (Note to players: If you’re going to shoot at the king, you better kill him.)
Not even one inning later, another round of blitzkrieg entered the press box. This one nearly took me and another man out with it.
Baseball had it out for me that day. She was angry and didn’t quit.
The scorekeepers started telling tales: The scorekeeper who fell off his chair to avoid a baseball, the scorekeeper who complained he couldn't keep the ball that hit him last season, balls that broke fans and smashed ceiling tiles. If you're thinking these were tall tales, I can attest to this damage after seeing a ceiling tile come crashing down when yet another foul ball pinballed around the room.
As fate would have it, I was not the only victim.
Across the room a young gentleman stretched in his office chair and landed on the floor after the chair went out from under him. He left the pressbox in a wheelchair and baseball claims another soul.
Warnings pepper the stadium, urging onlookers to remain vigilant for rogue balls and broken bats, but apparently baseball fans like to live on the edge.
If the press box sounds dangerous, well, the fans were even more vulnerable: An unfortunate gentleman chased a foul ball and fell not once, but twice in his efforts to take home a souvenir. His persistence inspired me, but two paramedics helped him out of the game and one of those pervasive summer campers swiped the ball out of the injured man’s reach. As for me, I made it through nine innings, and faced two more near-death experiences, but I brought home my souvenir foul ball and held it high in the air, and like the scalp of my enemy, I will proudly display it in my castle (editor's note: Mr. O'Hara has a "suburban ranch"-style castle in St. Pete).
I wouldn’t change a single thing about McKechnie Field; the danger adds to its allure. Baseball here is a romanticized war, and it’s beautiful, and I shall return.
The Marauders dropped the game 5-2 in a home-run laden matchup against the Threshers. And foul balls? That win goes to the Threshers, who hit three into the press box while the Marauders only hit one.