Alex Rodriguez is just one home run shy of making baseball history.
When he eventually hits the home run, a lucky fan in Cleveland, Tampa Bay, or New York will get to share in a piece of baseball history.
With this milestone on the horizon, I thought I'd share my story of catching a historic home run:
I am not usually one to dwell on a moment or event that occurred, but there has not been a day since that I haven’t flashed back to that April night.
It all started off with me and four buddies of mine tailgating and hitting golf balls into the marina. I had recently been told that I would be getting laid off, and I decided to spend my last $42 on an escape from reality: a ticket to the Mets game.
I was unable to sit near my friends during the game since there were no open seats, so I wandered around the stadium watching the game. It was the bottom of the seventh inning, and the Mets were down a run to the Brewers. I stood by the railing near section 132 in left field when Gary Sheffield stepped to the plate.
It was a long battle between him and pitcher Mitch Stetter, but then it happened on a 3-2 pitch—a deep drive. It was such a blast that at first I lost the ball due to the stands above, but then as it descended I was shocked as it came towards me. It first hit off a guy's hand in the last row of seats and then floated gently into my hands.
I had caught Gary Sheffield’s 500th home run.
I guess because I had seen all the carnage that occurred when other players had hit milestone home runs, I ran and found my friends.
We walked around the stadium and found security to tell them that I had the ball in my pocket. From there my friends and I were escorted to the security office, where Major League Baseball officials authenticated the ball. After that we were brought down to the clubhouse, and this is where I gave Gary Sheffield his historic home run ball back. In return he gave us each an autographed jersey and baseball, and I had a picture taken with him.
I did interviews with all the local New York media, ESPN radio, and the Associated Press. I also got to meet Mets owner Fred Wilpon, New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan, Carlos Delgado, manager Jerry Manuel, and David Wright.
All in all, this was quite possibly the greatest experience a Mets fan could be given, and I tried to let the whole experience soak into my memory as I was driven to my car in a golf cart through the streets of Flushing, Queens.
As if I had not been given enough by the Mets organization, they invited me back April 28 to throw out the first pitch. When I arrived at the stadium that day, I was allowed to watch batting practice from the field, and even I got to meet New York Jets coach Rex Ryan.
Most people don’t believe me, but as I walked towards the mound, I wasn’t nervous one bit. This was the opportunity I had dreamed about as a child—a chance to play for the Mets. I toed the rubber with my black and orange glove on, started from the windup, and threw a perfect strike. Then as I took a photo with catcher Omir Santos, I knew my 15 minutes were all over.
A few days after everything settled down, my dad brought home a few articles for me to read. In the packet were three articles about other people who had caught a 500th home run ball and their stories.
The guy who caught Manny Ramirez’s home run had promised before the game to give the ball to his girlfriend’s son if he grabbed the historic ball. So when he did, he had to call her son to see if it was all right to give the ball back to Manny.
Jim Thome’s 500th was caught by a guy who had bought a bleacher ticket because he was in town for a business conference. He decided to give the ball back, which Thome drove, along with his father, to give to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
When Rafael Palmeiro hit his 500th, it must have been fate that a lifelong Rangers fan and Catholic priest won the scramble for the ball and gave it back to the slugger.
This experience is something that I will cherish and never forget. The game of baseball, unlike many other sports, has allowed me to be a small part of its rich history.
Baseball manufactures unique stories of how complete strangers' lives can cross paths and create special moments of historic significance and selflessness. The game allows select individuals to experience and realize childhood dreams.
This is why baseball is “America’s Pastime.”
This is why baseball is the greatest game on earth.