See this guy above, with his glove hand raised in the air? That’s Mike Bennett, a 35-year old diehard Nats fan and Central Loudoun Little League coach from Leesburg. Diehard, as in, he went to the team’s opening game at RFK Stadium three days after his first son was born.
With three kids and all, he doesn’t get to games much any more, but he was at Monday’s Nats game with a party of eight, including some out-of-towners from Kansas City.
Monday’s tickets were a last-minute impulse buy, after a previous trip to the park last week had been a huge hit. His son had also brought a sign to that Reds game last week, and an usher gave him a ball, but now they wanted to get on TV, so Mike got front-row seats in left field, and his son brought a “Hit It Here” sign.
They weren’t holding the sign in the top of the seventh, when Arizona’s Henry Blanco homered to left. In fact, Mike was texting his wife, who was out on the concourse with their 20-month old, but he got rid of the phone and put on his glove and made the catch, as you can see. Nice grab. First ball he’d ever caught at a stadium in his life.
“I was just pretty stoked that I actually caught the ball,” Mike told me the next day. “I’m just pretty excited. I turn around and every fan in the section is kind of starting to boo. I’ve got my Nationals gear on, I’m a friendly, but I’m like, yeah, ok, you’re right, ok. Every single fan in unison, they’re chanting ‘throw it back, throw it back.’ That’s part of baseball, right? It’s the enemy.”
Plus, Ross Detwiler was on the mound. Mike works for Fairfax Limo, which had sent a car service to pick up Detwiler at Dulles Airport when he signed with the team.
“I’m like this is my boy, I’ve got to throw it back,” Mike remembers thinking.
So he threw it back. And the crowd approved.
“All cheers,” Mike recalled. “It’s just awesome. In a thousand years you won’t catch me throwing anything on the field that I’m not supposed to, but it’s tradition.”
So everything was happy. Then Mike saw some ushers coming down the steps toward his section. He actually thought the usher was going to present him with a ball to replace the one he had tossed onto the field.
“Get your gear and come with us,” he was told. “We’re not having a show tonight.”
That’s when Mike realized he was being ejected, and that what might be a tradition elsewhere was prohibited benavior at Nats Park. So he and his son took a walk of shame up the stairs, although they were given high-fives and cheers by the crowd, which also booed the ushers.
Mike was walking to the exits, trying to tell his wife what had happened and encouraging her to stay at the game, when someone in a buttoned-down shirt approached, told the ushers to disperse and explained the policy and the reasoning: it isn’t a D.C. tradition, and they don’t want anyone getting hurt.
“For tonight, let’s just leave it at that,” he said, and told Mike and his son they could stay. Then a MASN cameraman approached with an Ian Desmond bobblehead. Then they walked back to their seats, where they received a standing ovation.
“First time I’ve ever had a standing ovation,” he told me. “It was just awesome. High fives left and right, I don’t know how many times I heard you’re my hero. It was just fun.”
Naturally, I talked to the Nats about all this. I was directed to the A-to-Z Guide to Nats Park, which is pretty explicit about this policy:
All guests are asked to stay alert throughout the game for foul balls or bats that might leave the playing area. See INJURY DISCLAIMER. Guests are permitted to keep all foul and home run balls that are hit into the seats, but are asked to be cautious and courteous to others when collecting a ball. Bats entering the stands must be returned if requested by the Nationals or Visiting Team. Guests are prohibited from throwing balls back onto the field. Violators are subject to ejection or possible arrest.
The policy is also included on the guest conduct cards, which are mailed out with tickets, and in the club’s pre-game welcome video.
But I was told that ushers generally just give violators a reminder about this policy, and that they’re told to be polite to guests in all cases, and that the way this is enforced is still evolving. Some fans told me, in fact, that the following night a fan threw a home run ball back, and Jayson Werth gave him pantomimed applause.
As for Mike Bennett, he said he “absolutely” does not have bad feelings about the Nats, and that he’s kind of sheepish about the whole incident, although he still enjoyed his moment in the spotlight.
“One day my son will understand,” he told me. “And at least my Little League will know I can catch a baseball.”
(Thanks to Reader Jenn for getting Mike’s contact info for me; that’s three gold Bog stars.)