Detroit — As late as Wednesday night, Ely Hydes, Sterling Carter and John Shina — three buddies from their days together in the Peace Corps — were making plans to hit up Cedar Point on Thursday.
But they took another look at the forecast, and by Thursday morning, they decided standing in spitting rain to ride the GateKeeper wasn’t their idea of a grand old time — not to mention, oops, Cedar Point's Opening Day isn't until this weekend anyway — and instead opted to stay local for a Tigers game, weather permitting.
Turns out, Hydes, a 33-year-old law student living in Detroit, got to ride quite the rollercoaster anyway.
By early Thursday afternoon, Hydes had himself his first-ever souvenir baseball — and it was one for the history books, having lunged at and secured Albert Pujols’ third-inning home-run ball that represented the Los Angeles Angels slugger’s 2,000th career RBI.
Only three other men, at least officially, have reached 2,000 RBIs, and only five men unofficially.
“When I sat down, eight seconds later, a guy walks by with a baseball glove, and I go, ‘Yeah, baseball glove buddy!’ I almost brought mine, but there’s no way in hell we get a flyball out there,” Hydes said while sitting in his seats just left of the left-field foul pole, well back of the bullpens.
“Then, just like that (snaps his fingers), the crack of the bat, I ran after the ball, and it hopped right to me.
“I didn’t even see who hit it.”
Hydes quickly learned it was Pujols, and quickly learned it was a big deal.
Within moments, as the Tigers announced the significance of the home run, Hydes was swarmed by fans — and then quickly, Tigers’ security, which started the bartering process to get the ball returned to Pujols. That’s where the story takes a sharp and somewhat uncomfortable turn.
In the end, to the chagrin of many fans across the country and on social media and several folks in both the Tigers’ and Angels’ clubhouses Thursday, Hydes decided to keep the baseball — either to give to his brother, a lifelong fan of the St. Louis Cardinals (Pujols’ first team) or to pass on to his child, who’s due in the coming weeks. Despite at least three offers from Tigers and Angels officials for the ball, Hydes departed the Tigers’ 13-0 loss with the baseball still in his possession.
“I don’t want money,” he told The News. “I don’t care.”
There’s a standard process when a fan catches a ball of historic significance. The team barters, starting small with the offer and working its way up until a resolution is met. More times than not, the ball is handed over.
According to Hydes’ friends, the first offer was a Pujols autographed baseball; the second an autographed ball and a meet-and-greet with Pujols; the third a Pujols autographed ball, a meet-and-greet and a Pujols jersey; and the fourth all that, plus some Miguel Cabrera memorabilia.
The problem, said Hydes and his friends, was that the team representatives, including the Tigers’ head of security, made a hard sell from the beginning, putting the pressure on Hydes. Among the interactions, they informed him that per MLB policy, because the ball was hit into the seats and because of chain-of-custody concerns, it could not be officially authenticated. (And unlike for some milestones, there were no specially marked balls put in play when Pujols was at the plate.)
The message was, the ball wouldn’t be marketable for sale without the authentication — insinuating that Hydes was looking to cash in.
“I think the Tigers really messed up on this bargaining deal,” said Shina, 24, of Detroit.
Said Carter, 34, of Indiana: “The mistake they made was really putting the pressure on him early, especially with him. He’s stubborn. That was the wrong way.”
The Tigers disputed the account that Hydes was pressured.
But Hydes and his friends saw things quite differently.
“Next time, try the soft sell,” he said. “I don’t care about the money. It’s an heirloom.”
Hydes said the last words from a Tigers’ official before he said his final no: “This ends now when I walk away.”
Pujols still will have plenty of items to remember No. 2,000, including his bat and the Comerica Park bases, which were authenticated by MLB after the game.
But the ball, he can’t have, and he said he was OK with that.
“I told the guys, ‘Just leave it. Just let him have it.’ I think he can have a great piece of history,” Pujols told reporters afterward. “We play this game for the fans, too, and if they want to keep it, I think they have the right. I just hope he can enjoy.”
Asked if he’d ever considering paying for the ball — like actual cash, not just swag — Pujols dismissed that.
“I wouldn’t pay one penny for that,” Pujols said. “He can have it. I don’t play this game so I can pay fans. He can have that piece of history. It’s for the fans that we play for, too.
“He has the right to keep it. The ball went in the stands.”
Fans on social media had stronger reactions than Pujols, many siding with giving the ball back — which, of course, is easy to say when it wasn’t you who caught the ball.
In the Tigers’ clubhouse, the sentiment was similar, though more sympathetic to the fan than the folks getting blisters hammering away on Twitter.
“I would just say, give it back. There’s some milestones he should have and his family should have, and that’s probably one of them,” Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire said. “And I would imagine if he did (give it back), he’d probably get something pretty nice from Albert.
“That would probably be the right thing to do. I know it’s tough.”
Said Tigers lefty Ryan Carpenter, who gave up the third-inning home run: “It’s hard to say. I’d probably give it back. I’m sure it’s a ball and memory I’m sure he wants forever.”
Huge baseball fan
Hydes grew up a huge baseball fan, his dad having run a baseball-card shop.
He remembers when he was 7, his dad took him and his brothers on a cross-country road trip to see every ballpark they could. Young Hydes always had his glove. And he never, ever got a ball.
“I still bring my mitt sometimes. We brought our baseball gloves faithfully, just begging for a flyball,” he said. “And we had so many close calls, and yet we never got one.
“Then I sit down today and ...”
Bam. He got one.
So many things had to go right for this to happen. They had to skip Cedar Point. Then they had to decide to leave the Elwood Bar once it seemed like they might possibly get the baseball game in. The game actually had to be played, which didn’t look all that promising early Thursday afternoon. Then the three pals had to stop their lengthy and fruitless search for a Hebrew National hot dog (which apparently he was told by somebody aren't sold at Comerica Park anymore).
All the stars eventually aligned and Hydes and his buddies finally sat in their left-field seats five to 10 minutes before Pujols made mincemeat out of Carpenter’s 2-0 grooved fastball.
After Hydes got the ball and learned the significance of it, he soaked up his 15 minutes of fame, and probably another 55 minutes for good measure. There were interviews, on TV and for print, from local media and West Coast media. And oh, the fans wanted pictures, lots of pictures, some with Hydes and some without him. He obliged them all, and he was amazingly trusting. He handed the ball over casually to anybody who just wanted a selfie with the piece of history, no fear of being ripped off.
“Nah. People are good at heart, come on. Anne Frank,” said Hydes, who planned to enjoy a low-key day at the ballpark a day after finishing his second-year law finals.
While many fans on social media went after him for keeping the ball, one fan after another in left field — some in Tigers jerseys, some in Angels jerseys — applauded him for sticking to his guns. He’s keeping that ball, and possibly making it a Christmas present for older brother Dylan — the lifelong Cardinals fan who became a Cardinals fan because when you grow up in Portland, hey, you have to pick some team.
Unless, that is, the Tigers want to make him one more offer.
“Can I ransom this ball,” said Hydes, “to get Hebrew Nationals back in the ballpark?”