Nearly every baseball fan wants to catch a foul ball. But very few actually get one. John Gillin became one of those privileged few at an Atlanta Braves game this season. John is a true baseball fanatic, having visited every professional baseball stadium in the country, even singing ‘Take Me Out to the Ballpark’ in front of the home team crowd at a Chicago Cubs game the season they won their coveted national championship. So, imagine his thrill at getting the foul ball that was hit by Braves player Ryan Flaherty during the Cubs/Braves game in Atlanta last week. And do you know what he did with that ball? He promptly gifted it to his 14-year old niece, Emily, who was there with him for the game. That says a lot about John, who otherwise would have counted the ball among some of his most prized possessions. The hiccup is that he values his niece even more.
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Just as incredible is the fact that the folks sitting behind them (John, Emily, and Emily’s dad Michael, John’s brother) happened to be recording video of the foul ball being hit and headed their direction! Seeing it on video (click the arrow above to play it) adds another level of amazing to the adventure.
Thrilled with their good fortune in getting the ball at all, the trio worked their way down toward the field after the game to see if they could get it autographed by Flaherty, who has been on a heck of a run this season (in another crazy twist of fate, Flaherty was originally a first-round draft pick of the Chicago Cubs back in 2008, but I digress). They couldn’t get the signature that night, but they still went home excited about the epic evening.
When I heard about their fateful foul ball, I knew I might be able to help get that autograph that would take the ball from special to totally priceless for Emily, or Em, as her Uncle John calls her. You see, Em hasn’t had a very easy time of things lately. She’s 14, which is a tough age to begin with, but she also faces a medical condition that adds exponential challenges to her world. She has a heart of gold, though, and a fighting spirit, and I was pretty certain if Flaherty knew this incredible kid had that foul ball, he’d likely be willing to sign it.
So, I reached out to the Braves PR folks who I’ve worked with as a Braves Ambassador, attending some of their games this season. When they heard about John, Emily, and what became of the ball after it ended up in the stands, they immediately went to work seeing if they could add to the magic.
And, within a day, they did it. The morning after I sent my email, they asked that John bring the ball to the stadium for Flaherty to sign before the next game, which he did. And just a few hours after dropping it off, there it was, autographed with a special note to Em, wishing her the best of luck. Heck, the Braves even secured it in a special case meant for baseballs you know are one-of-a-kind.
John was kind enough to invite me to help present the now autographed ball to Em, and her reaction was truly priceless. You could tell she was touched that someone of such notoriety would take the time to acknowledge her, especially on a personal level.
And at a time when we typically only hear bad news about ballplayers off the field, it’s an honor to be able to shine the spotlight on one of the good guys. Ryan Flaherty didn’t have to do this. He has plenty of other things to spend his day dealing with. But he took time out to show a teen that she matters. And that’s a home run in my book! He hasn’t been with the Braves long, but he’s by far my new favorite player. And you can bet he is now Em’s favorite, too.