ST. PETERSBURG — "Hey Foley, get me the ball!"
Rays third base coach Tom Foley hears fans yell that all the time. It's an occupational hazard in his spot in a box about 15 yards from the stands. Some ask for baseballs that were fouled off in his direction. Others just say foul things.
Usually, Foley tries to tune them all out.
But with Charlie Troeger, it was different.
Troeger, 69, a longtime Rays season ticket holder, sits way up in the 300 level, about 100 feet above the field. For years, it has been a running joke for him to yell, "Hey Foley! Get me the ball!" Each time, Foley would turn, smile and wave back.
"It's almost like you become friends. Every day, you're out there waving at him," Foley said. But the coach never tossed a ball up into Section 310.
This is the tale of how — after five years — Troeger finally got his ball.
It begins five years ago in Lakeland, before a Rays spring training game against the Tigers at Joker Marchant Stadium.
Troeger and his wife, Kathy, were standing alongside the rail on the third base line, watching Detroit finish batting practice. They noticed a ball left out on the grass, about 5 or 6 feet away. Troeger wanted to get it for one of the kids in the crowd.
Foley was one of the first to emerge from the dugout, leading some Rays onto the field. Troeger yelled, "Hey Foley, do me a favor and get me that ball."
He said Foley smiled and said, "Get one of those scrubs behind me to get it."
Troeger joked back, wincing as he delivered the wisecrack, "Why would they get it? They make more money than you?"
Foley looked back and laughed.
The next spring training game Troeger went to, he yelled at Foley, "Get me the ball," and got a wave in return. The following time Foley walked over to Troeger and asked, "You ever get that ball?"
You can hear the New York accent in Troeger's voice. Growing up on eastern Long Island, he worked for 30 years at a telephone company before retiring at 49 and moving to Florida. Troeger quickly became a Rays fan, and it shows all over his red 2011 Nissan Maxima: The license plate reads RAY6 and is surrounded by six Rays stickers.
Troeger drives the Maxima 70 miles from Auburndale, making it to nearly every Rays home game. He brings six friends with him each time, sitting in the front row of the upper deck, waving their dozens of signs.
Once every series, in a quiet moment at the Trop, Troeger would yell down at the dugout to Foley, who stands on the top step when the Rays are in the field.
"Hey Foley, Get me the ball!"
Foley would always turn to acknowledge Troeger, as if it were just another routine part of the game.
"You always hear him," Foley said. "He sits right above the crownscar.com sign. I'll either raise my hand or turn around and acknowledge him. It gets pretty funny."
Foley once faked like he was going to throw a ball up to Troeger, but it's too long a throw. Troeger estimates he's yelled to Foley "Get me the ball" 150 times over the years, to no avail.
That changed June 24 in Houston. Troeger, who was in town to see his brother, attended the Rays-Astros game. He went by the Rays dugout and saw infielder Elliot Johnson.
"Hey, 'Where's Foley?' "
Soon Foley appeared. "Hey Foley! Get me the ball!"
Foley flashed a big smile, reached into his pocket and handed Troeger a ball.
"There, you got it!"
Foley came back later and signed it, with the phrase, "I got the ball!"
"It was a good thing," Foley said, "to finally put a face with the voice. And it's a good, kind voice."
The two met briefly after batting practice the next day, exchanging laughs and shaking hands. Troeger said he'll have to yell something new: "Hey Foley! Thanks for the ball!"
Foley smiled. "Or 'Where's my bat?' "
Joe Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.