John Grindrod: All souvenirs are not created equal

With March comes spring training, a past time that traces its roots back to the New York Mutuals. Some baseball historians believe to be the first team to hold spring training somewhere other than its home field. For those that follow the top-tier teams, such as pals of mine Joe Stoll and Bill Howell who’ve pledged their allegiance to the Reds and Pirates — teams that finished last season with identical moribund records of 62-100 — hope springs eternal each spring.

Even for the casual fan, last year’s biggest regular-season story was Aaron Judge’s successful assault on the American League single-season homerun record. That record was set in 1961 when Roger Maris swatted 61, much to the delight of this then-10-year-old Yankee fan. Judge’s 62nd long one was struck on October 4 in Texas against the Rangers at Globe Life Field.

As a right-handed hitter with the kind of pull-side power one would expect for a man who is 6’7” and 282 pounds, there was a pretty decent chance that any fair ball struck over the fence would land in the left-field stands. As luck would have it for 35-year-old Cory Youmans, that’s exactly where the ball did land. To be more precise, it landed in his baseball glove that accompanied him to the game. No doubt, Youmans was interviewed by many reporters. Were I one of them, my first question would have been laced with a bit of cynicism, as in, “Do you take your glove to every game you attend?”

Youmans was immediately escorted to a secure location by stadium officials so that the record-breaking ball could be authenticated. So, how much is such a ball worth in the collectible market? Well, I’ll start by telling you that Youmans, just days after the catch, turned down an offer from a man named JP Cohen of two million dollars. Youmans later reportedly also turned down another offer of three million. Following a discussion with lawyers and his family, including his wife, Bri Amaranthus, a Dallas sports reporter, Youmans decided to list the ball with Goldin Auctions.

The auction opened last November 29 and closed at midnight on December 17. By the time the auction closed, the assigned value of a ball — made of cowhide, weighing a little over five ounces and measuring a little over nine inches in circumference, held together by 108 red cotton double stitches — was determined to be 1.25 million dollars. I’m guessing Youmans wished he’d taken the earlier offers he’d received within days after his catch. But, of course, you know what they say about hindsight.

After following the Judge home run quest and the ensuing drama after Youmans’ catch, I got to thinking about my own experiences at many ballparks throughout the country. I especially remebered the one time a struck ball finally found me. I’ve told the story before, so I’ll only briefly provide the details.

After coming up empty a few times over the years in stadiums in fulfilling my ball-securing quest, my lucky day came in Detroit at Comerica Park several years ago. It was a day game between the hometown Tigers and the Oakland A’s. I was seated in foul territory down the left-field line about even with third base.

That’s when a ball came my way off the bat of Detroit’s Robert Fick. Flick was a marginal player, but also the answer to a trivia answer if the question happens to be just who it was that hit the final homerun at Tiger Stadium, Comerica’s precursor from that glorious era when parks did not carry corporate names. I caught the ball barehanded, wrestling it out of the one-handed grasp of a guy right in front of me.

The ball remains a prized possession. It sits in a shelf above the TV in a special case given to me by my pal and long-time Major League baseball scout Jim Martz. Jim knew the ball had zero historical significance to anyone but me. It wasn’t a homerun but a foul ball and one struck by an easily forgettable player, one with just seven more homeruns in an entire 10-year career than Aaron Judge’s 62 last year. As a true baseball man, the Old Scout knew that foul balls indeed matter to the those who catch them.

Yes, Cory Youmans was the lucky winner of the Aaron Judge homerun ball sweepstakes, and I was the winner of the Robert Fick foul popup sweepstakes. Each ball has the same dimensions and number of double stitches and is the exact same object in pretty much every respect, except only in the stamp of the baseball commissioner’s signature (mine reads “Allan H. Selig” and Youmans’ reads “Robert D. Manfred Jr.”). But they surely differ in their significances.

While we know all balls are not created equal, to real baseball fans, all are to be cherished.

John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at [email protected].