Blue Jays fans hope to catch historic Aaron Judge home run
More than an hour before the first pitch was tossed between the visiting Blue Jays and Yankees on Monday night, Ryan Mills and his two grandchildren were already in their outside seats at Rogers Center.
Giant baseball gloves in hand, the trio was ready and waiting for the game’s biggest attraction: a chance to catch a potential – and maybe even a – home baseball record off Aaron Judge’s bat. .
The Yankees outfielder’s pursuit to tie and possibly break Roger Maris’ American League record of 61 home runs in a single season, set in 1961, began in Toronto on Monday with New York in town for a three-game series.
« Absolutely a huge moment, » said Mills, who added that he’s been a fan of the judges since his rookie season.
Baseball fans sitting in the outfield with a chance to witness history this week will be wondering: what would I do with a record home run ball?
If Mills were to catch one, he said he would want to keep it for a while as a souvenir, but eventually give it to Judge himself.
« To a Yankees fan, that’s probably worth a million dollars, » Mills said, noting that it would mean a lot more to him if the ball was for a record held by a Jays batter.
A few rows down the outfield, Robert Rix was coaching his 10-year-old grandson how to hold his baseball glove high in hopes of catching the home run.
« I’m going to catch it for sure, bare-handed, » said Rix, who prides himself on catching a home run a few seasons ago.
If the ball lands in his hands, Rix said he would « of course » give it to the judge in hopes that the star player would invite him and his family to a future baseball game or to his club- house.
« This ball is important for him, for his accomplishment, » Rix said.
For many fans, home run balls have emotional value, whether they were hit to mark important milestones or not.
Earlier this season, a Jays fan found himself the center of attention in the baseball world after catching a batted ball from Judge and immediately delivering it to a young Yankees fan sitting behind him. The kid, Derek Rodriguez, was reduced to tears in a powerful moment captured on video. Rodriguez wore a judge’s shirt back then, and getting hit by his idol was special.
It meant a lot to Judge too.
« It still gives me goosebumps to this day, seeing little kids wearing my number, wearing my jersey…it’s something I dreamed of, » Judge said afterwards. « I was in his position, you know, this little kid rooting himself in my favorite players and teams. It was a pretty cool moment that I’m sure I won’t forget.
Baseball teams have a tradition of seeking out fans who catch scoring baseballs and offering various things in return.
In 1961, when Maris hit his 61st homer, the ball was caught by Sal Durante, who received $5,000 (US) to return to Maris, who in turn donated it to the Baseball Hall of Fame, according to the Washington Post. . In reaching the milestone, Maris passed baseball legend Babe Ruth, who hit his first pro home run at age 19 in Toronto.
With money and fame at stake, sometimes controversy erupts in the stands. Barry Bonds’ 73rd home run brought two men to court over who should claim ownership of the ball, which was knocked down upon catch. A judge ordered them to sell the ball and split the profits.
Judge is in the midst of a standout individual season, and the league has gone the extra mile to help mark his special achievement. According to a New York Times report, MLB has introduced an authentication program whereby each ball thrown to the judge bears special markings to ensure the ball’s authenticity. This process began after Judge recorded 59 homers.
After the judge hit No. 60 at Yankee Stadium, the ball was inspected to make sure it was the real deal and the fan who caught it was presented to the judge. He received four autographed baseballs – one for himself and each of his friends in attendance – as well as an autographed bat, in exchange for this special ball.
No one can predict with certainty how much money the judge’s record balls will be worth. But Brian Ehrenworth, president of Frameworth Sports Marketing, a sports memorabilia store in Toronto, said they could be valued at hundreds of thousands of dollars, based on what he’s seen sold in the past.
« It’s a factor in how important the achievement the ball is and how rare the achievement is, » he said, noting that the balls of big milestones such as Ruth, Mark McGwire and Hank Aaron have attracted up to nine digits.
« Whoever catches this ball will need to be safely escorted out of the building for safety reasons. »
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