It wasn't hard to pick out Jacob Malizio in the crowd gathered at PNC Park for today's playoff game. He was the one with a baseball-size welt on the right side of his forehead -- and a grin from ear to ear.
Jacob, 11, of Mt. Lebanon, was in the stands with his sisters, Danielle, 14, and Michelle, 12, and their father, Ray Malizio. The boy was hugging the railing deep in the right-field corner, extending a red Cardinals ballcap toward the St. Louis players in the outfield during pregame batting practice.
His focus was far from the Cardinals player in the batting cage more than 300 feet away, a mistake that kept him from seeing the foul ball shooting in his direction.
"I was trying to get [Adam] Wainwright's autograph," Jacob said.
Cardinals pitcher Joe Kelly, however, saw the ball coming. Kelly, who had started for St. Louis in Sunday's game, was among the half-dozen Cardinals players shagging flies in right field.
He shouted out a warning for Jacob and the other kids in the area to "Look out!"
Michelle was able to raise her left arm in defense, and the ball clipped her just hard enough to leave a red mark.
The real damage was done to Jacob, who had turned his head. The emergency personnel who scrambled over to check on him didn't have any problem finding where he'd been hit. The baseball's stitches were etched in red.
Kelly and some of the other Cardinals also rushed over.
"They asked if I was OK and then they asked if I was a Pirates fan or a Cardinals fan," Jacob said.
It was kind of a silly question. Unlike his sisters, who were wearing the Pirates best, Jacob was wearing a white Cardinals jersey with the name and number of David Freese.
Despite being raised in a household of loyal Pirates fans, Jacob switched allegiances after Freese's game-winning home run in Game 6 of the 2011 World Series.
He said his being a Cardinals fan drives his sisters crazy, but it's worth it because "they're always a good team."
The ball to the head certainly hurt. But it didn't hurt that Jacob was wearing his Cardinals shirt. The players who checked on him passed the hat -- literally -- so that Jacob's red Cardinals cap came back to him with 16 autographs,including Wainwright's.
Would he have gotten autographs if he'd been wearing a Pirates jersey?
"Well, since it hit me in the head, probably," Jacob said. "But I probably wouldn't have gotten this many."
Jacob's father said his family has had season tickets in the past and they're regulars at PNC Park. Getting to the field early and trying to get autographs is a tradition, he said.
Today's game, however, will be on their minds long after the mark on Jacob's head is gone. Jacob's mom is likely to make sure of that, Malizio said.
"I'll be in trouble when I get home," he said. "I should have been watching."
Dan Majors: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1456. First Published October 7, 2013 11:37 AM