The odds of catching a foul ball at a baseball game are slim to none – 1 in 835 to be exact, according to Foul Ballz. Don’t tell that to Alice Roth, who in 1957, was struck by not one but two foul balls during the same at-bat at a Philadelphia Phillies game. To this day, that story remains a key part of the Roth’s family history and it starts well before that occurrence.
Alice grew up in England but at the age of 17, she moved to the United States to care for her sister. She lated married Earl Roth, sports editor of the Philadelphia Bulletin. Alice was also an avid Phillies fan so as a result, she, Earl, and her grandsons, Preston and Tom, went to a lot of games together. The Phillies fandom still runs in the Roth family to this day.
In Preston’s words, “It’s the Roth family’s team — good, bad, or indifferent”.
On one August afternoon, the Roths sat along the third-base side at Connie Mack Stadium in North Philadelphia. The fan experience at stadiums at that time was much more intimate meaning that all four of them were close to the action. With the capacities in major league stadiums today, many fans are often not anywhere near the field.
It’s no secret that the third base stands are a hot spot for foul balls off the bats of left-handed hitters. Legendary Phillies center fielder Richie Ashburn came to the plate. Ashburn was well known for fighting off pitches into the stands and making opposing pitchers work. This day, a foul ball flew off of his bat and struck Alice directly in the nose.
As the ball rolled away into another fan’s reach, Phillies staff rushed to put her on a stretcher and cover her nose. Since Preston and his brother were only ten and seven years old, somebody led them out of the stadium as they tried to get Alice to the hospital as quickly as possible.
Ashburn was still up to bat as she was being carried away and then, the nearly impossible happened: he hit a foul ball that struck her again, this time on the leg.
Thankfully, before a third foul ball could reach Alice, she was taken out of the stadium to Temple Hospital. Her grandsons were not allowed near her while she was being treated and they waited with someone for their parents to arrive and pick them up. When she was stable, they transferred her to Montgomery Hospital in Norristown, PA.
Later that month, the Phillies made their best effort to give the Roth’s a better ballpark experience. Prior to a game, Preston and his brother had the opportunity to watch batting practice from the dugout where the entire 1957 Phillies team autographed a baseball for them. During the game, they had the privilege of watching from the press box.
In Alice’s words, her grandsons always got the benefit and she got the broken nose, but the story does not end there.Embed from Getty Images
Most fans know Ashburn was a special talent on the baseball field but don’t know that he was one of the kindest people off of the field. In general, he loved being around others. He was a tremendous storyteller. He loved to compete in various fashions. He was intentionally relational and cared deeply about everyone around him. His son, Rich Ashburn, Jr., described him as not only a fierce competitor but also a “tremendous father and person.”
In his upbringing, he was raised to respect others and what they do. Ashburn Jr. brings up the old saying “treat others how you want to be treated” in reference to his dad’s childhood.”
He made you feel like you were the important one in the room”, Ashburn Jr. said. “He never wanted anyone to feel like he was bigger than them as a person.”
“He put the fans first. Especially the Philadelphia fans because they were knowledgable and fiercely loyal even with bad teams.” Growing up in the midwest in a place like Nebraska shaped who he was — a down-to-earth human being. A man who “never laid a hand on anyone”. While Philadelphia isn’t known for having the nicest of fans, Ashburn brought his midwest roots with him and impacted a vast number of people including Alice Roth.
When she was transferred to Montgomery Hospital, she was visited by none other than the Phillies center fielder himself. Ashburn came to visit her at the hospital several times until she went home and even autographed a baseball specifically to her. In the years following the incident, Ashburn never missed sending her a Christmas card or birthday card until she passed away thirty years later.
Preston, Alice’s grandson, visited Richie once after the incident. His brother-in-law was skeptical of the story. They both went to one of Richie’s autograph signings. Those events are primarily money makers for the promoters so the athletes are not expected to make conversation for very long. When Preston showed up and told him who he was, Ashburn stood up, shook his hand and took time to chat.
Ashburn’s genuine kindness and friendship off the field are admirable qualities that the Phillies organization does its best to uphold as “a class organization” as Preston describes it. Ashburn is remembered not only for his athletic ability but also for his humble personality and ability to connect with anyone. His stories — especially this one — still live on in Phillies history to this day.
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