Detroit — It’s been an every-year tradition, these burgers, hot dogs and beers on the Fourth of July on Belle Isle.
But this year, the tradition felt a tad different for Ely Hydes, given the food was more or less free, a new baby debuted, and he had in his possession a baseball that so many folks have tried to pry away from him, but he decided to keep despite the numerous money offers.
Hydes, the 33-year-old Wayne State law student, still has in his grasp the baseball that signifies the historic 2,000th RBI of Los Angeles Angels slugger Albert Pujols; at least, his credit union has it, in a safety deposit box.
Hydes, his brothers, father and wife Lauren Maloney are traveling to Cooperstown, New York, on Aug. 12 to hand-deliver the ball to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
No money will be exchanged.
“Money isn’t everything,” Maloney said, holding young Violet, just more than a month old, on an overcast, hot holiday afternoon on Belle Isle, the Detroit skyline framing the scene.
Hydes, you’ll remember, sat in the left-field stands at Comerica Park in early May when Pujols hit a home run, and not just any home run, but rather the home run that made him, officially, the third member of baseball’s 2,000-RBI club.
Truth be told, there are five members of the club, including Babe Ruth, but the RBI statistic officially only goes back so far.
He was immediately offered a whole bunch of autographed swag and a meet-and-greet by the Tigers, but Hydes decided to keep the baseball.
See, Hydes and Maloney shockingly and suddenly lost a child, Cy, at 21 months, last year on June 11, 2018. The loss amplified Hydes’ philosophy that memories mean more than things.
The offers came from far and wide for that baseball, first from Tigers security, which Hydes quickly rejected because he felt he was being strong-armed.
Kirk Gibson, Tigers TV analyst, sent Hydes a nice note, and wanted to see if the ball might be something Hydes would consider auctioning for Parkinson’s Disease research. They even met for a recent night out at the bar, and played some ping-pong, to talk it over.
And there was an Angels fan who offered Hydes $50,000, and he even turned that down, even though he has $60,000 in student loans, and that amount will climb to $90,000.
Instead, Hydes and family members will make that August trip to Cooperstown — the first time Hydes has been there since he was 7 or so — and hand the ball over to the Hall of Fame.
The Hall of Fame plans to display the baseball with a special mention of Cy, who’s buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in Detroit, but without a gravestone. Hydes used to take young Cy to Tigers games at Comerica Park regularly, and he said Cy never wanted to leave early. Even though he wasn’t even yet 2.
The Tigers game at which Hydes caught the historic Pujols ball was one of the first he attended since Cy died.
“He’d be awake the entire time,” Hydes said. “He really loved it.”
Hydes made national news when he decided to keep Pujols’ baseball.
Pujols was cordial, saying he plays the game for the fans, and the fans have the right to keep the baseballs.
Hebrew National hot dogs
Hydes joked at the time in an interview with The Detroit News that if the Tigers still sold Hebrew National hot dogs, he’d gladly trade the baseball for one of those. Hebrew National caught wind of the story and reached out to Hydes, hooking him up with hundreds of free hot dogs, and a Hebrew National softball jersey.
Hydes said he’s been passing out the hot-dog vouchers to friends and family over the last several weeks, but he stopped at Meijer recently to pick up 24 dogs or so to cook at Belle Isle on Independence Day.
Under his Oregon Ducks canopy (he grew up in Oregon), he grilled the dogs, along with corn and burgers.
Chips, fruit and a variety of seasonal beverages completed the menu and both he and Maloney played host, offering food and drink to each new arrival.
There also was cornhole — one Oregon Ducks board and one Michigan Wolverines — and a football, as well as Trivial Pursuit, early 1980s edition, back when only Hank Aaron, officially, had 2,000 RBIs.
Hydes and Maloney were joined by a handful of friends, including Savannah Main, a Montana native who met Hydes at Wayne State’s law school. Main’s Chihuahua, Paco, casually guarded the crew, earning a few treats for his efforts.
Hydes and Maloney, for their part, met in the Peace Corps. They married on Belle Isle.
“We do this every year,” Hydes said, on the banks of the Detroit River, his hair cut tight, different from the mop-top he had when he caught the baseball — a mop-top that made him plenty recognizable around town these last several weeks.
“And this was one of our better years.”