Shane Victorino came to the Phillies as a Rule V draft pick who was so unwanted he was offered back to his original team . . . who refused him. From those auspicious beginnings, he went on to amass a wonderful career here in Philadelphia, being a central part of the franchise’s best run ever. He enamored himself to Phillies fans with his frenetic play on the field and his dynamic personality off.
There are many articles and blog posts already written that provide great recaps of his career. And there are great video highlights available around the internet. But none of them are about the first pitch he saw in the sixth inning on April 15, 2010, and none of them thank Shane for one of the greatest moments in my son’s life.
That day, the Phillies faced the Nationals at home for a 3:05pm start. It was a beautiful day, and J.A. Happ and Scott Olsen delighted the fans with a bit of a pitching duel through the first five and a half innings. In the bottom of the sixth, the Phillies broke through.
With three runs already plated that inning, Shane Victorino came to the plate with two outs and the bases loaded. He had a four-pitch at bat that ended the inning:
Pitch 1: Strike (foul)
Pitch 2: Ball
Pitch 3: Strike (swinging)
Pitch 4: S. Victorino grounded out to second
That first pitch, that foul ball that would ordinarily never be thought about again, is how I will always remember Shane Victorino. For that foul ball, for that moment that gave my son joy beyond belief and a memory that, even though he was four at the time, he will always delight in, I thank you Shane.
The full story after the jump.
Going to a baseball game with most four year olds is a trying experience. You spend most of the game ordering food, trying to keep them from falling out of their seat or knocking the people around them, and shuttling them back and forth to the bathroom. At Citizens Bank Park, you also spend a lot of the game at the playground.
My son, Josh, is no exception. He was with me and my mom at the game that April 15, and by the fourth inning, he was bored. So, I did what most parents would do in that situation and took him to the playground. After two innings of losing him in the hamster maze apparatus while watching the game on the playground TV, I decided it was time to return to our seats. The Phillies were starting to score, so it seemed like as good a time as any.
On our way back to our seats, we stopped to get ice cream. Of course, we got the little red helmet cup with soft serve and sprinkles, and of course we got two spoons. I walked him back to our seats holding the ice cream and spoons in my left hand.
Our seats, thanks to a group my parents are a part of that gets 8 tickets to every game, are excellent - first row of the Hall of Fame section, just to the third-base side of home plate. Josh and I walked down the aisle to our row, where he walked across to the 7th seat, sitting next to my mom, who was in the 8th seat.
I followed Josh, heading to the 6th seat in the row. As I got to my seat, Victorino, starting his at-bat that inning with the bases loaded and two outs, swung at the first pitch he saw. I looked out and saw the ball coming our way. It was a looping pop foul that seemed like it was going to drop into the first level. Nonetheless, while still holding the ice cream and spoons in my left hand, I thought I’d give it a shot, so I reached out, and shockingly, the ball landed softly in my outstretched right hand.
It wasn’t until I saw the replay later that I realized just what I had done. I didn’t just reach out for the ball. Rather, I leaned almost my entire body over the rail and caught the ball far below level. It was quite an amazing catch ("a heck of a catch," as Tom McCarthy described it on TV), and everyone in the stands around me cheered.
But that wasn’t the best part, far from it. The best part of it was how Josh reacted. I quickly gave the ball to him, and he jumped out of his seat, shaking his hands in the air, mouth agape in ecstasy. As the crowd cheered, the excitement on his face just kept building. As a parent, there’s almost nothing better than seeing that level of happiness and joy on your kid’s face.
The catch and Josh’s reaction (not to mention my mom’s excitement too!) were priceless memories by themselves. But what happened after just made it even better. Within minutes I was getting texts and emails from people who had been watching the game and saw the catch on TV. ("Was that you?" "Are you at the Phillies game today?" "Nice catch.") Our blog quickly had it covered. ESPN and MLB TV featured the catch over the next 24 hours. The original youtube version of the catch had over 100,000 views within a few days. The next morning in class, my students greeted me with an ovation, and I’m still known around school for that catch to this day.
The attention was certainly fun, but it was far from eclipsing having this wonderful moment with my son. We were able to capture the re-broadcast of the game on our TiVo later that night, so Josh and I got to watch the catch again (and again and again . . . ). He had almost as much joy on his face re-watching it those first few times as he did when it actually happened. That level of pure joy has obviously gone away when we occasionally watch the clip together now, but the happiness hasn’t. It’s a moment that we’ll have together forever - both the memory and the video.
Over the course of Josh’s life, there will be, hopefully, plenty of other moments that bring him that much joy and excitement. I just don’t know how many of them will involve his dad doing something pretty cool, with him by my side sharing the excitement.
So while everyone else is remembering Victorino’s Phillies days for his championship contributions on the field and his personality and community work off, in our household, we’ll remember him for that first pitch foul ball on April 15, 2010, and the lifetime of memories and joy that will provide us.
For that, Shane Victorino, thank you.