Well sports fans, they did it! The Brewers are heading to the playoffs…meaning they’re a step closer to the World Series. The last time the Brew Crew made it to the World Series was in 1982 when they ultimately lost to the St. Louis Cardinals. Reporter Meg Jones was there that season, working the stands. She shares this memory.
The Time I (Almost) Caught A Brewers Home Run
I can still picture the baseball soaring right toward me. Rising into the dark sky and then descending into the bright white light of the illuminated stadium. A white orb of tightly stitched cowhide, yarn and rubber that just a few seconds earlier had collided with a wooden bat swung by a Milwaukee Brewer. And less than two seconds earlier than that, it had been in the hand of a pitcher standing 60 feet 6 inches away.
It was 1982 and my Milwaukee Brewers were on fire. I didn’t know it at the time but they would go to the World Series and lose to the hated St. Louis Cardinals in seven games. But at this particular moment, on a clear summer night I was focused on making money at County Stadium.
This is a tale about catching one of Gorman Thomas’ 39 homes runs. Well, almost catching a Thomas home run ball.
That season, Gorman Thomas’ 39 home runs was tops in the American League.
(Above: One of Gorman Thomas’s three hits in the 1982 World Series.)
I was at the ballpark every game because I worked as a vendor, roaming the stands and hawking whatever I had been assigned to sell that day. Hot dogs. Pepsi. Peanuts. Popcorn. Ice cream. Whatever a hungry or thirsty baseball fan could want. Except for beer. To sell beer at County Stadium you had to be at least 21 years old and I was not.
I earned 17% commission on what I sold. The more I sold, the more I earned. So I was usually hustling through the stands, yelling the name of whatever I was selling and looking at the crowd to see if someone raised a hand. It’s actually a great way to see a baseball game because during the lull in action – and there’s plenty of down time in baseball games – I carried a tray of soda or a box of hot dogs, watched the crowd and made money. And when I heard the crack of a bat and the noise of people standing up quickly, which sounds like trampling elephants, I put down my wares and watched someone make their home run trot. Then when it got quiet again, I resumed commerce.
On this particular night I was selling peanuts which I carried in a cardboard box. Gorman was at bat as I started the long walk underneath the stands out to the bleachers. At County Stadium fans with bleacher tickets could not access the main grandstands but vendors could walk out to the bleachers through a passageway underneath the stands along third base.
It took about five minutes to walk to the bleachers and as I walked I could hear Gorman fouling off pitch after pitch. That was the thing about Gorman – it seemed like he only did two things at the plate, hit home runs or strike out. Just as I walked out of the passageway underneath the stands and passed the large gate where the grounds crew drove their equipment I heard the familiar crack of a bat.
I looked to my right and in the gap between the bleachers and the grandstands I could see a baseball coming right toward me, barreling over the gate. I could see the baseball as clear as if it happened yesterday. I thought – Oh my gosh, I’m about to get a ball. It’s practically got my name written right across it.
The ball hit the pavement about 10 feet from me. No one was around. I took a few steps toward where it was bouncing high in the air, switching my box of peanuts from my right to left hands so I could grab the baseball. Then I felt a rush of two bodies racing past me. Two guys had run from the bleachers and they were sprinting after the ball. I felt a momentary pang of regret as I watched them go for the prize. Then I walked up to the bleachers and sold my peanuts.
It took about 20 minutes to sell out and as I walked back to the grandstand I passed by a small first aid station where two people were standing. It was immediately clear that they had been fighting – bloody hands, fat lips, scrapes on their faces. One guy was limping. As I walked past them I realized I had seen them before. They were the two knuckleheads who rushed past me after Gorman’s home run ball.
I wish I could say I have a Gorman Thomas home run ball in a small round plastic case on my desk. I don’t. All I have is this fun memory of a moment when I almost caught a homer.