ST. LOUIS – Catching a home run ball is a bucket list item for many baseball fans. It doesn’t happen often; and usually, there is a bit of timing and good luck involved.
One lifelong St. Louis Cardinals fan almost went home with two home run balls after Monday night’s win over the Toronto Blue Jays. Instead, he just missed two hard-hit souvenirs.
Austin Bears, a 25-year-old St. Charles native, picked up two first-row, left-field bleachers seats for him and his girlfriend just hours before Monday’s game. That wasn’t the only decision he would need to make on a whim that night.
“We joked as we were getting out of the car, and I was like, ‘Do I bring my glove from the trunk?'” he said. “Because I always have my glove in my trunk. I was like, ‘No, I’m a grown man, I can handle it.'”
It wasn’t until a few hours after he entered the Busch Stadium the Bears wished he had his catcher’s mitt with him. With many bigger boppers in the battle of the birds, perennial All-Stars George Springer and Paul Goldschmidt would be the ones who put Bears’ talents to the test.
In the sixth inning, Blue Jays outfielder George Springer smoked a 113-mph line drive that cleared the field in just 3.6 seconds. Bears says that ball ended right off his right pinky and ring fingers and into the stands.
“I kind of lost it in the lights,” Bears said. “I see it, it’s coming straight for me and it takes a quick tail to the right. So I stick out my hand to try and catch it, and there’s that black railing right in front. It hit my pinky finger and my ring finger into the rail. When my hand hit the rail, the ball just ricocheted way back. I saw the gentleman who had gotten it.”
Bears, while disappointed he didn’t end up with the first ball, met the man who ended up with it and took a picture. He even gave the fan a case he brought in anticipation of getting a home run ball.
While Bears had just missed that ball, he had his eye on redemption. The next time around, it came with higher stakes. Paul Goldschmidt coming up to the plate with the bases loaded in extra innings. With a 1-2 count, Goldschmidt smacked a pitch toward the left-field bleachers.
“Time kind of froze for a second at first when he hit that,” Bears said. “You hear that crack of the bat, and you’re like, ‘That was hit hard.’ Right away, I was like ‘Holy crap, this is coming our way again, it’s gonna be close.'”
Like Springer, Goldschmidt sent a laser to the seats just below Big Mac Land territory. Bears would have his chance at a home run ball once again.
“It was kind of low, and I reached over the rail [in home run teritory],” said Bears. “It nails me straight in the middle of the palm. It hit me so hard, that I couldn’t squeeze fast enough. That was insane.”
With the faithful of 30,000 erupting on Goldschmidt’s walk-off grand slam, Bears came to a realization he missed out on two opportunities he may never see again at a ballgame. Several family members and friends reached out to him in the moments that followed, and his bittersweet emotion during the walkoff home run celebration gained attention via social media.
“I couldn’t believe I had a chance at redemption for the Springer HR, and this ball hits me right in the hands, and I drop it,” said Bears. “It was just too funny.”
According to Baseball Almanac, Goldschmidt’s home run was one of only around 200 instances of a player ending the game with a grand slam since 1876. Bears couldn’t quite come up with the home run, but instead has a bruised hand to show for the effort.
“It’s pretty sore,” Bears said on Wednesday. “It was really red and swollen, I just kind of iced it a little bit afterwards when I got home. I was kind of surprised by how hard those were hit and how fast those came at me, that I don’t have broken fingers or anything like that.”
Had Bears come up with both home runs, he would have overcome some very challenging odds. According to ESPN, a Stanford professor in 2005 estimated the odds of catching two balls in the same game could be as high as 1 in 5,000.
Surprisingly enough, a similar situation developed last week at an Astros-Red Sox Game at Fenway Park. According to MLB.com, a fan ended up with two home run balls not only in the same game but in the same inning over the Green Monster, the tallest leftfield wall in all of baseball.
“I told my girlfriend about that while we were walking to our seats when we first got to the stadium,” said Bears. “I was telling her about that story, I was like, ‘how crazy is that?’ The odds the guy catches them too. Kudos to that guy because he came down with both of them.“
Although he didn’t end up with Springer’s and Goldschmidt’s home run balls, Bears would make sure to make the most of the night. He met Cardinals rookies Nolan Gorman, Matthew Liberatore, and Ivan Herrera after the game and got them all to sign a baseball.
“Nolan [Gorman] found out I was the guy who dropped the Goldy homer, and he was like “Oh, that was you.” He’s like “Oh man,’ and I was like, ‘Yep that was me.’”
Despite not coming home with two extra souvenirs, Bears said it was arguably one of the best Cardinals games he has ever attended. He also found some extra inspiration to go to Monday’s night game. It was Fans Fight Cancer Night at the ballpark. Bears wanted to honor his grandfather and his grandfather’s best friend, both of who died of cancer over the last few years.
“I really love those two guys and they were a big part of my life,” said Bears. “I think those two guys would have just gotten a kick out of that whole thing. Maybe they had something to do with it, and wanted to see if I could catch it without bringing my glove.”
Bears says he will make sure to bring his glove for future games in the bleachers. Even though he came up empty-handed on two chances, he said it was a night unlike any other he has ever had at Busch Stadium.
“If I got a chance to meet Goldy one day, I’m going to tell him that story. Same with Springer,” said Bears. “It’s a story I’m going to have to tell everyone about all of the time. Not having the [Goldschmidt] ball stinks, but having that story is worth so much more.”