Catch lands man Guinness record

CHAMPAIGN — Chris Shields gave new meaning to the phrase "fly ball" when the Champaign man entered the Guinness World Records Book by catching a softball dropped from an aircraft at 250 feet.

"It was crazy," said Shields, 53.

It all started, appropriately enough, at a softball field after Shields caught a really high fly ball during a game. Afterward, his 10-year-old daughter, Olivia, asked him what was the highest he'd ever caught. Dad didn't know.

So when they got home, Olivia logged on to the Guinness site to see what was the highest. There wasn't a category. Shields decided to contact Guinness officials, who decided to open a new category and set the bar at 200 feet.

All Shields had to do now was find out how to drop a softball from at least 200 feet and document the entire catch — from top to bottom, with pictures and video.

There were grain elevators and high-rises around Champaign-Urbana that were taller than 200 feet, but insurance issues took those out of the equation.

And then Shields found Larry Yoder, a farmer from Sullivan who flies his own ultralight aircraft, which has an altitude meter.

Yoder loved the idea and had plenty of wide-open farm fields to attempt the feat.

Last July 6, with about 30 friends and family watching in the middle of a corn field, it was time for Shields to step to the plate.

He was feeling the pressure with an aircraft flying overhead, two video cameras to record the drop, one videographer on the ground to record the catch, two umpires to check the softballs and his glove, and a land surveyor to verify that he wasn't standing on a hill when he caught the ball.

What if he couldn't catch it?

"I would be brutally embarrassed," Shields said.

The first ball was difficult to track, drifting in the wind, blending with an overcast sky and landing about 20 feet from him.

But he went for the second drop, which was from 250 feet.

"I just took about four steps and put my mitt out," he said. "Once I caught it, everyone just exploded."

Months later, Shields finally got an e-mail from Guinness, confirming he was a new world record holder.

It was all just for fun, he said. "And street credential."

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