In memory of late son, Detroit fan hand-delivers historic Albert Pujols baseball to Hall of Fame
Albert Pujols' 2,000th-RBI baseball, which caused such a ruckus earlier this season when a floppy-haired fan from Detroit refused to give it to the Los Angeles Angels' slugger, has finally found its forever home.
Ely Hydes, the Detroit law student who caught the historic ball in the left-field seats at Comerica Park just moments after arriving at his seat following a late morning and early afternoon of day drinking, hand-delivered the ball to the Baseball Hall of Fame last month.
During a trip with several friends and family members to Cooperstown, New York, on Aug. 11-12, Hydes turned over the baseball to Tim Mead, the new president of the Baseball Hall of Fame, and Susan MacKay, the director of collections for the Hall of Fame.
The exchange put to an end a four-month saga of what to do with the baseball, for which Hydes received several cash offers — one as high as $50,000 — not to mention the initial offer that May 9 day at the ballpark, when Tigers security offered up the star and the moon, or autographs, swag and a meet-and-greet.
And Hydes has no regrets about his final decision, for which he received no money.
"Not at all," he said recently over midday drinks at Tony V's Tavern in Midtown, taking a break from classes at Wayne State. "People always ask that, 'Was it hard to give it up?'
"No, honestly. I was aware I was never going to touch it again."
But Hydes plans to see the ball again, many times.
The ball was given the designation as being donated in the name of Cyrus Arlo Maloney, Hydes' son who was 21 months old when he died suddenly on June 11, 2018.
Cyrus, named after Cy Young, was a regular at Comerica Park and loved baseball, even at his age.
Hydes said he will make many future trips to Cooperstown to show his new daughter, Violet Moon Maloney, born May 26, the baseball that honors her late brother.
"I'll want to show her and tell her the story, just the whole thing," said Hydes, adding he took Violet to her first game last month. "The good things that happened ... and the cautionary tale of social media."
Hydes, 33, who attended that May Tigers game with two buddies he met during his time in the Peace Corps, didn't really know the significance of the ball right away. He just knew he had caught a home run ball by Pujols.
Quickly, he was flocked by Tigers security and told that was Pujols' 2,000th RBI, which made Pujols officially just the third member of the 2,000-RBI club (though a couple others would be in the club if baseball had recognized the RBI stat way back when).
He said he would've been willing to give the ball up, as many fans do in such circumstances, but Hydes balked because he said he felt pressured by Tigers staff, and he didn't like it.
Instead, he left the park with the ball, which then meant it couldn't be authenticated — though a green smudge from where it hit the seats makes it all but official.
Social media then had its way with Hydes for several hours, and it got worse that evening when he went on 97.1 The Ticket and got the third degree from host Kyle Bogenschutz.
He quickly started getting hate "mail" through Facebook, as the story went viral and national.
"I mean, just, '(Bleep) you, you're an (bleep), give the ball back, it was never your ball,'" Hydes said, recalling the gist of most of the social-media correspondence. (When the story of his late son came out, public sentiment flipped greatly.)
The day after the game, after having time to sleep on what to do with the ball, Hydes offered it back up to Pujols, who by then had moved on and said Hydes, as a fan, had every right to keep the ball.
So Hydes eventually ordered up a safety deposit box at a local credit union, and stored the ball, all while folks from coast to coast made their pitches — from the random Angels fan who made the biggest cash offer to Tigers great Kirk Gibson, who in a letter applauded Hydes for sticking to his guns. Gibson met with Hydes — the two even played some ping-pong — while Gibson told Hydes that if ever wanted to give the ball up, it would be quite the catch for auction at Gibson's annual Parkinson's research gala. Giving the ball to his brother, Dylan, a huge fan of the St. Louis Cardinals (Pujols' first team), was a consideration, too.
Eventually, the Hall of Fame made the most sense to Hydes, even though that cash certainly could've come in handy for himself and wife Lauren Maloney, as they still have tens of thousands to pay on Hydes' student loans at Wayne State.
He was joined in Cooperstown by his wife, daughter, friends, brothers and nephews. His father, who took him around the country to visit parks as a youngster, couldn't make it because of hernia surgery.
"But we FaceTimed," Hydes said. "He was there in spirit."
The baseball, meanwhile, will be in the hallowed halls of Cooperstown forever.
There's no specific plan for the baseball, as there never is for any artifact. The Hall of Fame is always shuffling exhibits, so the baseball will shuffle along with them. When Pujols gets inducted sometime next decade, the baseball surely would go with that display. If the Hall of Fame creates a display on the RBI, that's another logical usage.
Sometimes it will be stored in the catacombs, out of public view. Other times, it will be for all to see, and when it is, it'll say donated by Cy, as well as the "people of Detroit."
"The city's given a lot to me," said Hydes, an adopted Detroiter who grew up in Oregon.
During his trip to the Hall of Fame — Hydes' first since 1993, when he was only 7 — Hydes and his party were given a private tour of the museum, including into the catacombs. He said, "I saw a lot of baseballs, but they seemed particularly happy about this one."
Then, there was a low-key ceremony in the main lobby area, where Hydes passed it over to Mead, who has ties to Pujols as the former communications director for the Angels, and MacKay. Hydes posed for all sorts of photographs. Fans at the hall that day didn't know what was happening, other than something was happening. So an applause broke out.
On Monday, the Hall of Fame followed up with a letter to Hydes, thanking him again for the ball and confirming it will be on display in memory of Cy and the people of Detroit.
Hydes also was given a lifetime pass to the Hall of Fame, which isn't $50,000 — "Yeah, that would've come in handy," Hydes said, with a laugh — but, in many ways, is priceless. Hydes, who in an interview with The Detroit News the day he caught the ball, also joked that he would've traded it for a Hebrew National dog, and Hebrew National quickly followed up and sent him a company jersey and many Hebrew Nationals.
Hydes said he certainly understands not everyone would've done what he did with the baseball. He knows many would've made the quick sale or trade. He also knows money and stuff come and go.
Meanwhile, memories last forever — and this one, like Pujols' home run, was one for the ages.