Minutes after Barry Bonds hit his 73rd home run, on Oct. 7, Pac Bell Park officials descended on the rightfield stands where the ball had landed and whisked away Patrick Hayashi, 36, the fan who'd recovered the valuable souvenir. Hayashi (below) wouldn't comment on his plans for the ball, which experts estimate could fetch $1 million, except to say, "I am just savoring the moment."
That moment might not be so savory if Alex Popov has his way. After the historic homer, San Francisco's KNTV ran footage showing that the ball had actually been caught by Popov, 37, who was wrestled to the ground by a mob. Moments later Hayashi emerged from the crush and pulled the ball from his pocket. Popov, a health-food restaurateur, has hired a lawyer and plans to seek a restraining order to stop Hayashi from selling the ball.
The Giants say the ball is with its proper owner. "Once Major League Baseball identifies the individual with possession of the ball, that's the end of that," says team spokesman Jorge Costa. But legal scholars aren't so sure. "If Popov caught the ball, it's his ball," says Paul Finkelman, a law professor at Tulsa and the author of Fugitive Baseballs: Abandoned Property, a legal paper about balls that fly into the stands. "If you say what happened is O.K., then you're arguing you can punch, kick and scratch someone to get something that isn't yours."
Hayashi has hired an agent, Michael Barnes, who says, "I'm amazed someone would think my client is not the rightful owner. He was nowhere near Mr. Popov—he was the recipient of the ball coming out of the mad mob. My client was at the right place at the right time."