SI Vault
 
THE BALL (An American Story)
Gary Smith
July 29, 2002
Inside a locked metal box. Inside a thick gray vault. Inside a yellow stucco building. In a town named Milpitas, Calif. ¶ There lies a baseball. ¶ No one may play with this ball. No one may touch it or see it. Mr. Hayashi and Mr. Popov are just too angry—each insists the ball is his—and there's simply too much riding on it. Mr. Hayashi's reputation is at stake, and his obligation to the spirit that steered the baseball into his hands. So are much of Mr. Popov's savings, a year of his life, and his self-esteem as an outfielder. So are $1.5 million. That's how much the baseball is said to be worth.
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July 29, 2002

The Ball (an American Story)

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Dart to Wal-Mart to purchase 60 blank tapes. Record the Keppel tape on each one while you're showering or sleeping, and mail them to media outlets across America.

Start a website, of course: www.bonds73rd.com, with pie charts and quotes from witnesses and a pop-up box with a photo of the unidentified, allegedly bitten teenager over a caption reading, "Do you know this person?"

Create a Christmas card, a three-photo strip showing him and his brother at the ballpark, Bonds's 73rd home run swing and Alex making the snag, along with the greeting, "Happy Holidays! May your New Year be filled with unexpected opportunity!" Invite strangers he has met to the "touching party" he will throw if he wins the case and the ball. Why not have some fun?

Even if the judge looks me in the eye and tells me I'm wrong, there's a chance to grow from this. Because at the end of the day, life is about experiences—not possessions.

Fire off a 1 a.m. e-mail on the day's developments to his brother. Repeat his affirmations. Scan the net for new developments. Keep chipping away at his 50-page reply to the 42 Requests for Admissions and 105 Specially Prepared Interrogatories that Hayashi's lawyers have unloaded on him.

They want to see how much I can endure. Their strategy is to break me. They won't. Show me the size of the problem that bugs the man, and I'll show you the size of the man.

Look over, as his eyelids sag, at that photograph on his book shelf: the blond boy in the Little League uniform and blue cap. The kid whom people expected to bash balls off fences because he was taller and thicker than his peers, the one with asthma whose dad had that funny accent and no idea how to teach his son the game. The 12-year-old who found himself on second base with two outs in the last inning of a playoff game, his team trailing by one.

"Two outs, Alex!" cried the third base coach. "Run on anything! You're moving with the crack of the bat!" Crack! Alex obediently dashed toward third. The ball rolled to the one place those instructions didn't apply—third base!—and the third baseman gratefully slapped the season-ending tag on Alex. Incompetent! That's what everyone was thinking—he could see it in their eyes.

People can pile on and take the ball, but they can't take away that I caught it. I executed. They can't take that away from me.

He walked off the field in shame, his family about to depart for a summer on his grandfather's farm in Bethel, N.Y. He would never play organized sports again.

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