When the foul ball arced toward him and Jim Busby raised his glove, the longtime Goldeyes fan wasn't expecting he would also catch some time on ESPN.
And yet, that's exactly what happened this weekend, as a video of his spirited Thursday-night grab tickled baseball watchers from coast to coast. Within days, the clip would be featured on Reddit's baseball forum, linked on Huffington Post, and gleefully linked on Fansided, a popular sports blog network and Sports Illustrated partner. Finally, the video -- which was yanked from Shaw TV -- got a tip-of-the-hat on ESPN's SportsNation.
Busby can't really believe it, yet.
"That has been a complete shock," Busby said on Saturday, back in his seat at Shaw Park. "It's quite revealing for the power of social media. I've never really thought about it much... I've been trying to figure it out, there are hundreds of fans who catch foul balls every day. What made this one the one that went all over the place?"
To understand, you sort of have to see it. It happened in the fifth inning of the series opener against the Lincoln Saltdogs, and second baseman Jake Blackwood was at the plate. The Fish were trailing 4-2 with one out leering off the scoreboard. Then Saltdogs starter Zach Varce wound up and hurled. The ball flew off Blackwood's bat, arcing over first base and down towards the edge of the stands.
And Busby, he stretched up and plucked it right outta the air, just inches ahead of the grasping glove of Lincoln first baseman Ian Gac. "I just did the way I was taught in Little League," he said.
Busby didn't notice, at the time, Gac's glove pushed against his arm and head. He was too busy slapping the railing and raising his arms in victory, as Gac turned to plead his case to the umpire. "I was hamming it up," Busby said. "I thought, I'm just going to savour this for a minute, knowing full well that as soon as I sat down my wife was going to say, 'why did you do that?' "
Yeah, these sorts of things happen all the time. But there was something in the battle between player and fan, something about the ebullience with which Busby celebrated his catch that was, simply, charming.
There's a friendly sort of history behind that catch, too. From his season seats in the front row of Shaw Park, just beyond first base, Busby sees more than his fair share of foul balls. Over the eight or so years he's been sitting there, he's almost seen it all. Caught a bunch, kept none. Most, he tosses to kids in the vicinity, the ones looking up at him with big and hopeful eyes.
But he remembers a game two years ago against the rival Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks, when another foul ball came right to him almost the exact same way. That time, Busby cowered from the incoming ball, afraid of getting tagged for interference -- and remembering an infamous 2003 case of a fan making an ill-advised grab. "I'll be quite candid, I was thinking Steve Bartman, Wrigley Field, here we go," he said. "I just cringed into the back of my seat."
A few minutes later, batting coach Tommy Vaeth wandered over to the railing and set him straight: Once the ball leaves the field of play, it's fair game for fans. Even if a player is gunning for the grab.
"He said, 'You can stand your ground, you stand there,' " Busby said with a laugh. "So (now), every time the visiting team is on the field, I stand up. They've never come close, until Thursday."
And when it happened again that day, Busby wasn't about to make the same mistake.
His grab ultimately helped the Fish keep the inning going a little longer. The ball, he gave to two young girls.
Most of all, it's just made for a "very enjoyable" few days, for a fan who still thrills at all the interaction in these cozy indie baseball games. "Ian Gac wouldn't even look at me yesterday," Busby laughed. "I like to think he's just getting in his game... but there were several players from Lincoln who came up to me and said it was a great play."