ST. PETERSBURG — High up in Section 308 at Tropicana Field, behind the plate and along the first base line, Barry Siebold is hoping to overcome some long odds.
Siebold is celebrating his 70th birthday. A pitcher decades ago in the Cleveland Indians farm league system, he has since attended hundreds of games. But he has never caught a genuine major-league baseball. Not a foul ball, not a home run, not even a batting practice reject.
More than anything, he tells ushers and friends, he wants to catch a ball. What a great birthday present that would be.
In the fourth inning, a foul ball sails high into 308. Siebold rises to his feet, but it's just out of reach.
• • •
Now it's the bottom of the seventh inning. The Rays lead the Angels 7-1.
Siebold is in his seat, Row F, Seat 6.
He is crying.
People around him are dabbing their eyes, smiling, asking, "Can you believe that?''
''It was just an amazing moment,'' remembered Jim Laramee, a regular in the section.
Fred Evert, a Rays' fan host, has seen plenty of special moments in his two years on the job. None trumps this one.
"What a special deal, just to witness it,'' Evert said. "Someone just wanted to make this man happy."
• • •
Go back in time five minutes.
Everybody in Sections 308 and 310 is talking about the man trying to catch a ball on his 70th birthday.
Michael Lima, sitting in Section 310, is sorting through a bag of souvenirs he brought to the stadium. Stickers, poster, ticket stubs, you name it.
He finds what he's looking for, then gets up and walks over to Evert, the fan host, with an idea.
"You sure?'' Evert asks.
"I'm positive,'' Michael Lima says.
"Come with me, buddy,'' Evert says.
The fans are settling back into their seats after the seventh-inning stretch. They see Evert leading the young boy to Section 308 and, eventually, Row F, Seat 6.
"This young man has something he wants to say to you," Evert says.
Michael Lima stands before Barry Siebold.
Michael Lima is holding a genuine major-league baseball he snagged at a previous Rays batting practice.
Michael Lima is 10 years old.
"Happy birthday,'' he says. "I would like you to have this.''