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Crewman returns No. 62; bat, uniform also headed to Cooperstown
Posted: Wednesday September 09, 1998 02:39 AM
ST. LOUIS (AP) -- When homer No. 62 finally came, the whole affair proved far easier than anybody thought.
The talk had flowed everywhere for weeks. Who'd catch it? Should they keep it? Would the IRS come calling?
And the most pressing question: Give it back gratis or take Mark McGwire and the Cardinals for as much cash and cool stuff as possible?
Unlike so many of McGwire's home runs, this one didn't make it into the left-field stands. Instead, the line drive shot over the left field fence, where Tim Forneris ran it down and picked it up -- Tim Forneris, part of the Busch Stadium grounds crew.
He promptly returned the specially and secretly marked, individually numbered ball to The Man Of The Hour.
"It's not mine to begin with," the 22-year-old Forneris said, though technically it was once he got his hands on it. "McGwire just lost it, and I brought it home. I'm just a regular Joe."
When the ball flew off McGwire's bat, Forneris and his brother, Tino, were working behind the outfield fence under, appropriately enough, a sign for "Target" department stores. Both joined other members of the grounds crew in a mad dash to where they thought it would land, under a "Konica Copiers & Printers" sign.
"I figure, if it's not gone, it's going to hit the wall. If it is gone, it's mine," Forneris said.
He beat them all.
"He was always the better player," Tino Forneris said.
In the left-field stands, fans suddenly certain they wouldn't get to the ball rushed out to the smoking areas and restrooms, lining the concourse.
Forneris stuffed the ball into his shirt and ran onto the field with dozens of other employees as McGwire rounded the bases. He gave the prize to Cardinals equipment manager Buddy Bates. In a moment, the jubilant McGwire had his piece of history back.
"It makes everybody happy," Cardinals spokesman Brian Bartow said. "Our employees love the game just like the fans do. I am not surprised that an employee felt so strongly about it that he rushed to give it to Mark."
McGwire has said the ball belongs in Cooperstown -- at the Baseball Hall of Fame, home of 5,000 other significant baseballs.
"It's refreshing," said Don Marr, the hall's president, carrying a case containing the bat Roger Maris used to hit No. 61. "People short-change America. These baseball fans are showing their true colors."
McGwire's last six home-run balls have been returned to him.
Fans who saw No. 62 but didn't get the ball had to think about it for a while, but most arrived at the same verdict.
"I would definitely give it back," said Rich Keim of St. Louis.
"I think it's great Mark got the ball. I would have done the same thing," said Bridget Dawson, also of St. Louis.
"We didn't come here to try to catch the ball. I wasn't going to get killed going for that baseball," said Rick Miller of Alton, Illinois. "I just wanted to see him hit the home run."
The mass of cowhide-covered yarn and rubber that makes up a Rawlings official National League baseball, which retails for $9, could have been worth more than $1 million to anyone who caught it.
There was a brief flurry over the weekend when there were reports that whoever caught the ball might be taxed heavily even if they gave it away. But the IRS said Tuesday that wouldn't be the case.
McGwire, who earns $9.5 million a year, had implored whoever retrieved the ball to return it.
"I just totally disagree with all this money talk about a ball," he said over the weekend. "It is outrageous. Why would somebody hold the ball hostage when really, basically, they had nothing to do with it?"
The "magical one," he says, "belongs in Cooperstown."
Deni Allen, who caught No. 60 after skirting security and getting into the section where it landed, got his wish Tuesday and took batting practice. Mike Davidson, who nabbed No. 61 Sunday, gave it back with no strings.
Sal Durante, a 19-year-old working in an auto-parts store in Brooklyn, caught Roger Maris' 61st. It won him $5,000 plus two trips to the West Coast to see the man who purchased it.
Durante was taken under the stands to meet Maris in the runway to the Yankees' dugout. "Somebody said, `Roger, the kid wants to give you the ball,'" Durante recalled recently. "Maris said, 'Keep it. Make whatever you can on it.'"
For the Fornerises, Busch Stadium is a family endeavor; his mother, Rita, is a concierge on the ballpark's clubhouse level. Forneris, besieged by reporters shortly after his feat, ran into Marr and asked him for a family pass to the Hall of Fame. Marr promised the young man one -- for life.
"I'll see you in Cooperstown," Marr said to Forneris.
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