The date was June 16, 1998 and he was playing for his hometown San Francisco Giants against the Colorado Rockies.

Bobby Jones, a lefty who spent parts of six seasons in the majors, was on the mound. Ball, a 29-year-old lifetime minor leaguer, was at the plate.

The count went to 1-2 before Ball connected with a fastball away.

“It was a line drive up the middle, right past his ear,” Ball said, smiling through the phone.

It was his first big-league hit and, although he didn’t know it at the time, his last. That summer day in San Francisco’s 3-Com park was his final appearance in the majors.

Ball spent nine years riding buses as payment for his brief moment in the sun. He played two games for the Giants. He batted four times and made 10 putouts at first base.

Stories like his are relatively common in baseball. Guys work their entire lives for one at-bat, one hit, then walk away thankful they were given the chance.

“It was well worth it,” Ball said.

These days Ball is trying to help other players create the same kinds of memories. He’s managing the Atlantic City Surf, a rival of the Lancaster Barnstormers in the independent Atlantic League.

This will be Ball’s second season as a minor league skipper. Players can identify with him because he used to be one of them. He’s lived a lifetime in the bush leagues and he knows what it takes to persevere.

“I explain to people that I’ve been everywhere in baseball — Japan, Mexico, Venezuela,” Ball said. “I put a lot of years in. I know what the players are going through and I can relate to them.”

Ball came to the Atlantic League as an out-of-work first baseman in 2002. He played one season with the Newark Bears before joining the Surf. A torn knee ligament ended his career and he shifted into coaching, working on a staff that included manager Mitch Williams and hitting coach Greg Luzinski. Ball took over after Williams left.

The Surf finished 71-54 under Ball last season. It won the South Division in the first half and qualified for the playoffs. But when Ball looks back on 2004, those aren’t the numbers he’ll think about first.

He’ll remember the number 10. That’s how many players the Surf sent into affiliated baseball. It’s an Atlantic League record for one summer.

“It’s nice to get players back to the level they were once at or the level they need to be,” Ball said. “I come out here with my knowledge and experience to help somebody reach the ultimate goal.”

The Surf is one of the Atlantic League’s original teams. It defeated the Bridgeport Bluefish to win the inaugural championship in 1998.

The franchise averaged 2,054 fans a game last season despite facing the unique challenges that come with playing in Atlantic City — where gambling and relaxing on the beach are the preferred forms of entertainment.

“A lot of tourists come through here, so we have a variety of fans,” said Ball, who’s also the Surf’s director of baseball operations. “We also have our loyal fans. This is a good baseball atmosphere.”

There are worse places to land if you’re an aspiring ballplayer looking for a job. Or if you’re a former big leaguer trying to stay in the game.

If players on the Surf need a reason to keep hoping, all they have to do is look at their manager.

“I tell these guys they can’t give up,” Ball said.

Ball never did. His reward was the most thrilling single of his life.