Picture this. You go to a Major League Baseball game and sit in the outfield. The same Atlanta Braves player hits not just one, but two home runs directly at you on the same night – almost like he was aiming for your seat.
What happened next? It’s a story worth telling on the eve of the Braves’ debut in the 2013 playoffs – they open at home against the L.A. Dodgers on Thursday night.
When Jason Heyward’s first home run sizzled toward Bucky Goodale, the Mooresville police officer couldn’t believe his good luck.
Goodale had bought tickets online for his annual trip to Atlanta to see a couple of Braves games. A former all-county center fielder at South Rowan High and walk-on college player at Pfeiffer, Goodale had always been known for his good fielding. He came from a family so deeply immersed in baseball that his father had named him for former New York Yankees shortstop Bucky Dent (before the entire family changed allegiance to the Braves).
Goodale, 33, had actually met Heyward in 2012 at another Braves home game, when he had bought a ticket package that included watching batting practice from up close.
Now Heyward, Atlanta’s leadoff batter that night, had blasted a line shot right at Goodale in the bottom of the first. The police officer was sitting in the first row of the outfield, in right-center, along with his father and brother for the Aug. 17 game at Turner Field.
Goodale, wearing a vintage powder-blue Dale Murphy jersey, sometimes brings his baseball glove to games. He and his wife, Blaire, a high school teacher at East Rowan, often go to Kannapolis Intimidators minor-league games. Goodale had caught a number of foul balls there with a glove.
This time, though, Goodale was barehanded. He reached for the ball and …
“I made a valiant effort,” Goodale said, recalling the night a few weeks later while we ate breakfast together. “The ball actually touched the tips of my finger. I jumped to make the catch – and ended up landing on the concrete wall in front of me. I broke my fall – but with my ribcage.”
A younger man, who was wearing a glove, ended up catching the ball. All Goodale got for his trouble was what a doctor would later diagnose as two broken ribs.
Still, it didn’t hurt so badly Goodale was going to leave the game. He desperately hoped for another chance. And here Heyward came again, in the bottom of the ninth, with a runner on base and the Braves trailing 7-5 against the Washington Nationals.
“Heyward hits another line drive and it’s right at me,” Goodale said. “I’m like, ‘This cannot be happening. Not again.’ It seemed like it was in slow motion. The ball literally hits me in the hands and the guy to my right puts his glove in my hands as well – that’s my excuse. I muff the ball and it falls to my left, captured by another fan. Two Jason Heyward home runs hit my hands and I came away with nothing.”
The game continued, tied at 7. In the 14th inning, with Heyward up yet again, the fan who caught the first ball loaned Goodale his glove.
“He felt bad for me,” Goodale said. “Still does. We’re Facebook friends now.”
Heyward couldn’t do it again, however. The Nationals won 8-7 in 15 innings.
The TV guys at Fox Sports South had a good time making fun of Goodale and his two drops while replaying them. A “helpful” friend of Goodale’s later posted that video on YouTube along with the title “Bucky Goodale Can’t Catch.”
“My friends have had a great time making fun of me,” Goodale said.
Goodale, a traffic officer, is such a friendly guy that you would even like him if he pulled you over. He has taken all of this in a good spirit. He also likes to laugh about what happened to his younger brother, Chase, the same night.
Chase had bought several tickets for the Braves’ “50/50” raffle, in which a number is drawn and a fan keeps 50 percent of the money collected with the other 50 percent going to charity.
“The pot was in the $10,000 range, so the take-home would be around $5,000 for somebody,” Goodale said. “His ticket number was 11955. The winning number was 11954. So the Goodale family came close to going home with two Jason Heyward home run balls and $5,000 in our pockets.”
Instead, Goodale returned to Mooresville with his ribs and his pride both hurting – but in possession of one really good story.
And next time, he’s taking a glove.
Fowler: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @scott_fowler