Denard Span and Richie Ashburn’s Foul Ball (not an April Fool’s story)

I was thinking about Denard Span and how he and his mom are doing. The Twins center fielder, who is from Tampa, purchased tickets for his family to sit next to the dugout as Minnesota played the Yankees. In the 1st inning, Span took a late swing and hit a liner that hit his mom, Wanda Wilson, right in the chest.

Span checking on his mom

Span checking on his mom

Wilson let out a scream and the game was halted as Span leapt into the stands to check on her. “As the ball was in the air, I realized that it was going after my mom,” … “When I saw her go down, I just couldn’t do nothing but go after her.”

She was examined by paramedics, then returned to watch from a seat in the shade. Span took a called third strike after resuming his at-bat and apparently today he and his mom are both doing just fine. It does make you think how very dangerous and ironic life can be.

If you are not familiar with the story of the great Phillies outfielder Richie Ashburn and his foul ball story, please allow me  a couple of moments. Richie Ashburn is in the Hall of Fame for his 2,574 hits, 2 batting titles and .308 lifetime batting average; he’s a Hall-of-Famer who also was a great broadcaster. But if you ask oldtimers what Richie is remembered for that will probably talk about his luck playing for the awful Phillies, Cubs and Mets of the 40’s, 50’s and the first year of expansion Mets in 1962 when they lost 120 games.

What they will also recall was Richie’s ability to keep fouling balls off until he found a pitch to his liking. Fouling off 10 in a row was not an uncommon feat for Richie. Foul balls are good for batters, bad for pitchers and good for fans … most of the time (just ask Mama Span).

On August 17, 1957 Ashburn and the Phils were hosting the New York Giants and Richie hit a foul ball into the stands and unfortunately, it struck the face of Alice Roth, wife of the sports editor for the Philadelphia Bulletin Earl Roth, who was there with her two grandsons. The foul ball broke Mrs. Roth’s  nose and there was blood everywhere. Play on the field stopped as even the players watched the commotion in the stands as medical personnel rushed to her aid.

Dazed and shocked Roth was put on a stretcher as play resumed and Richie took his place in the batter’s box. On the very first pitch to Ashburn, he again fouled it off into the stands hitting Alice Roth on her knee as she was carried off  on the stretcher.

As if that wasn’t enough of  a great story, here are two postscripts to the story: the Phils treated the family royally after the event and the kids were invited into the clubhouse and given free tickets and an autographed baseball. After that, the kids visited Roth in the hospital and one reportedly asked, “Grandma, do you think you could go to an Eagles game and get hit in the face with a football?”

And finally, as written in Baseball Hall of Shame 3, Preston, the eight-year old grandson, after his grandma had been hit in the face had the presence of mind to try to retrieve the ball that a man in front had grabbed. Preston recalled,  “I asked him if I could have the ball. He just looked at me and said, ‘Go to hell, kid.'”

Enjoy your day and be careful … not once, but twice.