It's a common sight at a ballgame to see a player giving a fan a baseball. Maybe it's a foul ball, or maybe it's the ball from the final out of an inning. Maybe it's while the player is jogging into the dugout after batting practice, tossing the ball into the stands.
But on Wednesday night in St. Petersburg, it was the other way around: A fan gave a player a baseball. And that gesture meant a lot.
Rays outfielder Randy Arozarena was given a baseball by a young fan named Alex during Wednesday's game against the Cardinals at Tropicana Field. Arozarena said after the game that Alex wanted him to sign the ball -- but it was no ordinary ball, Arozarena quickly came to realize. It was a custom design featuring Arozarena’s photo, jersey number and name, a ball Arozarena said he had never seen before.
Naturally, Arozarena took a liking to it. So he kept the ball but ran out to the left-field corner, where Alex was seated, in the top of the fifth inning to hand-deliver one of his own bats, autographed, along with a different signed baseball.
“I told him how much I liked it,” Arozarena said through interpreter Manny Navarro after the Rays’ 11-3 win over the Cardinals, “and so in exchange, I gave him a signed bat and another signed ball for it.”
Not only that, the bat and ball came with a hand-written note from Arozarena expressing his gratitude. Arozarena said he dashed back to the Rays’ clubhouse to write the note between innings, figuring he was safe to do so when he wasn’t slated to bat anytime soon.
It didn't matter that Alex was wearing a Yadier Molina Cardinals jersey. What mattered was what he did for Arozarena and how Arozarena responded. Baseball is, and has always been, a child's game at heart, and it's moments like this one that remind us of that.