By Ray Boyd
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — In Philadelphia, most sports fans have been that for as long as they can remember. We start them young here and there may be no better time to be a fan.
The innocence of childhood, coupled with the romanticism of sports heroes makes for a time of extreme wonder when rooting for your favorite teams and players. They are like real-life superheroes.
There is no greater evidence of this than the way we all felt when we made the briefest little bit of contact with these heroes. The feeling of getting an autograph from your favorite athlete or having the chance to speak to them for even just a moment can create a memory that sticks with you for an eternity.
For baseball fans, it is all about catching a ball in the stands.
LISTEN: Rebecca Gillis talks about her experience with Ray Boyd on Sports Beyond Measure
Meet Braxton Gillis. Braxton is a six-year-old Phillies fan. He was born one month before the Phillies’ most recent World Series title and has lived his entire life rooting for the team.
Braxton attended one of the on-deck series games prior to the start of this regular season and caught a foul ball that came off the bat of Ryan Howard.
The player who hit the ball is important to this story. Howard is Braxton’s favorite player. A six-year-old, who was a mere infant when Howard was a superstar, still identifies with him as his favorite player.
Braxton plays baseball and is a left-handed hitting first baseman. Guess who he models his swing after.
Catching that ball, from that player made his day.
Fast forward a few months and Braxton is attending a game with a friend and his mother, Rebecca Gillis. He brought that foul ball with him in hopes of going down to the dugout and getting it signed during batting practice by you know who.
That didn’t happen as they showed up a little late for batting practice, but regardless Braxton sat in his seat and enjoyed the game, clinging tight to that foul ball.
He went to the game with that ball, but would not have it when he left the park.
“He’s six-years-old he can’t sit still and he happened to drop the ball and it rolls down,” Gillis said. She stood up and began to walk down the aisle to retrieve the ball.
“I saw someone with the ball in his hands, picked it up from the ground and put it in the front part of his hoodie.”
Gillis said she asked the person if she could have the ball back and received a rather puzzled response. “He said, ‘what ball’,” Gillis claimed.
Gillis also explained that it was an adult who picked up the ball who was at the game with a child as well. “I think that was the most disappointing part of it all, because I know he wouldn’t feel too good if somebody did that to his son.”
To add to the dismay, that ball was hit by Howard, Braxton’s favorite player. “He just always just had a preference for Ryan Howard,” Gillis explained.
“Most kids at two-years-old would want to bring up YouTube videos of SpongeBob. He wanted YouTube videos of Ryan Howard. I don’t know what specifically about him drew him in, but he’s just always loved Ryan Howard.”
Gillis returned to her seat without the ball. Not only was it not signed, but now Braxton did not have it at all.
“He was very upset,” she said of her son. “You could tell he just kind of had a sad look on his face. He had never been sad a baseball game before.”
Gillis happened to bump into an usher at the game, who she happened to meet at the same game earlier in the year when Braxton caught the foul ball.
She told the employee what happened and explained that Braxton was upset.
The employee decided to take things into her own hands.
“She said, ‘I don’t care what it takes you wait for me at the end of the game’ and I said OK. I didn’t know what that meant,” Gillis said.
After the game, Gillis found out what the employee meant. She took Braxton and his friend down to the dugout and yelled down to a team employee to toss up two baseballs. “She said, ‘these are for two special boys’,” Gillis explained.
She handed the two balls to the young boys and said to make sure they come back.
The joy instantly returned to both boys and their top concern became when could they get back to the ballpark so Braxton could continue his mission of getting a ball signed by his favorite player.
During the exchange, Gillis never had the chance to catch the employee’s name, but she was grateful for what she did to go beyond her job responsibilities to return a smile to her son’s face.
“She didn’t really have to do that,” Gillis said.
I hope this story will be a “to be continued,” situation. I am looking to make contact with this employee because the team is going through a rebuild and gestures like that go a long way towards making sure that the young fans of this team, stay fans of this team forever.
We hope to speak with her soon.
The Sports Beyond Measure Podcast is a weekly sports podcast that delivers a fun perspective on the latest headlines in national sports, Philadelphia professional sports and community-based sports. The series is hosted by 94 WIP’s Vince Quinn, Ray Boyd and Eric “Turtle” Golden. You can download/subscribe for free on iTunes.