How Marc Wilkins became my favorite Player

How Marc Wilkins became my favorite Player

Whether you have gotten a foul ball or not, you know the excitement that comes along with it.  Many fight and claw for a baseball that they could just buy in a sports store for really cheap.  Well, there is no story when you just buy it, which is why we fight for the souvenir.

My dad, who is close to 60 years old, has been to tons of baseball games in his life and has never gotten a foul ball souvenir.  My favorite baseball game story my dad tells is that he went to an opening day game with my Grandpa Cal, who lost both his feet to disease and was in a wheelchair.  They have those special seats at Wrigley for people in wheelchairs and my dad noticed that Eddie Olczyk was sitting near them.

Being the big Hawks fan he is, my dad whispers, “Hey, Cal, that’s Eddie Olcczyk.” My Grandpa responds in a yell “Who is Eddie Olczyk!?” After he yelled that people around him saw Eddie O and began to head towards him in search of autographs and pictures; Edzo looked at my dad and says, “Thanks A^%hole”.  One of my dads many claims to fame (the man once played catch with Walter Payton) is that THE Eddie Olczyk at a Cubs game called him an A-hole.

Personally, I have gotten two foul balls: one at old Milwaukee County stadium and the other at Wrigley Field.  I even got a ball out of the Cubs bullpen while in Cincinnati. I asked my cousin Tommy (@TommyECook) if he wanted to go to the bullpen and see if we could get a ball and he said no.

I walked over there by myself and without even being there for a second, a bullpen catcher tossed a ball to me and I had bragging rights for the trip.  The funny story about the ball I got at Milwaukee County stadium is that I was with my friend Jordan Sivertson (@jsilver4) and his family.  Jordan actually hit a HR off of Cubs pitching prospect Pierce Johnson while playing at SIU.

Back to the story: so we're sitting behind home plate on the second level and Jordan decided to tie his legs together with his jacket for some reason. A ball was fouled in our direction and I left my seat right when the ball was hit; Jordan, still having his legs tied, couldn’t move and I got up to run towards a pile of people.  A knee to the face later, I came out with the ball, which I still have and has a huge concrete scuff on it.  But it's the ball I got at Wrigley field was the point of this piece.

The first and only game to date at which I have ever sat first row was for a Cubs vs. Pirates game on September 24, 1999.  We sat right next to the visitors bullpen, which, as an eight year old with dreams of playing in the pros, was the coolest experience of my life.  I don’t even remember if the Cubs won (I looked it up they won 9-0) that game or not but I do remember a certain player that quickly became my favorite.

A ball was smashed down the first base line and caromed off the bricks into the Pirates bullpen where a reliever scooped it up.  Immediately he flipped it right towards me; I don’t remember the process of catching it but I will never forget that sound when it fell into my glove.

The crowd was so loud that it seemed quiet and my dad was that happiest man in the world, yelling at the top of his lungs. But all I heard was the same thing Kevin Costner did in For the Love of the Game when he turned his mechanism on and everything went silent.  As the game proceeded, my dad, being the salesman that he is, starting talking to the guy who gave me the ball and found out his name was Marc Wilkins.  We ended up getting his picture and his autograph not after but during the game.

From then on Marc Wilkins was my favorite player in the entire league; not Sammy Sosa, not Mark Grace, but Marc Wilkins.  Instead of playing with the Cubs on N64 Ken Griffey Jr. Baseball, I used the Pirates, with my top reliever being Marc Wilkins.  I wish the man had a twitter or something so that I could thank him, because he could have flipped it into the stands without looking but he found a kid and gave it to me.

This is a story I will tell forever and ever because of the impact it had on me.  Even at just 22 years old, a baseball is not a big deal and giving it to a kid knowing the joy he will get out of that is all I need.  For that I thank Marc Wilkins, who for a day made me the happiest kid in the world.  So remember people: if you catch a ball at a game (unless it is a home run from the opposing team where you have a chance to be Henry Rowengartner) take some advice from former Cubs broadcaster Bob Brenly and "give it to a kid."

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@kennyiukala

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