Some baseball fans go their entire lives without ever coming near a foul ball or a ball thrown into the stands by an MLB player.
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But if you are ever lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time, you'll never forget the first time you get the ultimate baseball keepsake. You'll remember the exact game and the exact player who made that moment possible. For me, it was Eric Bruntlett in Game 5 of the 2008 World Series.
For 9-year-old Kayla Brady from Havertown it was Bryce Harper on Opening Day in 2019 in his first game ever playing for the Philadelphia Phillies.
Yes, Kayla was extremely lucky to get a ball from Bryce on the first day he wore his Phillie Phanatic cleats at Citizens Bank Park, but there was a whole lot of prep work by her dad, Matt, to make the moment possible.
"I bought the tickets in the first row of section 104 around January 10 on StubHub," Kayla's dad Matt told me on Friday. "I bought them on a day where the Vegas lines on landing Harper moved a lot towards the Phillies. It was the one day I actually believed some of the rumors that Bryce might actually come to the Phillies."
Matt and Kayla had to sweat out the next few weeks just like the rest of Philadelphia, but the gamble paid off big time.
"Finally, when he signed I was super pumped. I followed it super hardcore. All the beat writers. All the fake articles from Jon Heyman and everything," Matt told me.
Kayla's grandmother bought her a No. 3 Harper Phillies jersey last week in preparation for the big day. But did they ever imagine Kayla would actually get a ball from Bryce?
"I didn't think it was zero percent to get a ball," Matt said. "If Bryce is going to throw it to anyone it's a super cute girl wearing his jersey with a glove in the first row."
The first couple innings Harper was having a catch between innings with the bullpen catcher who ended up with the ball, but eventually a fan in the first row caught Harper's ear.
"In the fifth inning, this older guy a couple seats down from us yelled at Bryce, ‘Hey Bryce for my granddaughter!' He wasn't even related to us. But he got Bryce's attention and he threw a ball and it went a couple rows too high. Bryce gave a little hand gesture towards us like, ‘next inning.' Sure enough, next inning he comes out and throws a strike right to me," Matt said. "And I caught it and handed it to Kayla. We hugged and gave Bryce a big thumbs up. You could see on her smile she was thrilled but she kind of acted too cool for school. That's how she is."
"We protected that ball like it was her life," Matt said. "Putting it in her glove, putting it under towels, putting her feet on it. There was no way she was letting that ball get away."
And for good reason. Kayla is quite the ball player herself. She played shortstop for the Hilltop U8 softball tournament team that went 26-0 last season en route to winning districts, states, and regionals. Her dad Matt coached the team and was also quite the ball player himself where we both attended high school together at Malvern Prep - many say Matt was the second-best catcher to ever play there behind Ben Davis.
It's no surprise Harper has supplanted Rhys Hoskins as Kayla's favorite player after such an exciting Opening Day.
What was Kayla's big takeaway from the experience?
"I'm glad my dad didn't drop it," she joked.
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