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Back at school, I was afraid that someone was going to steal the ball, or hide it, so the next morning I didn't go to class. I went to the Akron Dime National Bank, explained the situation to the president and asked if he would put the ball in a safe-deposit box until I left Akron. He did, no charge. After I went home for the summer, the Cardinals came into Shea Stadium, and Maris signed the ball.
You would think that the story of my relationship with Roger Maris would be over now. I had caught the baseball. But it just goes on from there. In 1968 I flew out to St. Louis to see his last game. For me it was a real tough time because I knew my childhood was coming to an end. I got very emotional at the end of the game. He ran out to rightfield, and then they sent in a substitute and Roger came running in. I was sitting somewhat behind the dugout, watching the proceedings, and he didn't acknowledge me. By then I felt that we had a pretty good rapport, and I felt a little bit bad. But he must have seen me because he then popped his head out and winked and went back in. This really touched my heart. I was interviewed by The Sporting News, who found out that I had made that trip from New York expressly to see Roger retire. The reporter asked Maris about me specifically, and Roger said, "Andy Strasberg was my most loyal fan."
I continued with my life and Roger continued with his. We started exchanging Christmas cards and the relationship grew. I graduated from college in 1971 and traveled around the country for two or three years, looking for a job in baseball. When I was hired by the San Diego Padres, I contacted Roger, telling him that I had gotten the job. He wrote me a nice note of congratulations.
I got married in 1976, at home plate at Jack Murphy Stadium here in San Diego. I had promised myself I was going to get married—if I ever did it—at home plate. Rog and his wife, Pat, sent us a wedding gift, and we talked on the phone once or twice a year. In 1980 Roger and Pat were in Los Angeles for the All-Star Game. That night we went out for dinner—my wife, Patti, my dad, Roger and Pat. I sat next to Roger throughout the dinner; I hadn't seen him for several years.
Roger started talking about his first National League home run and how I caught it. I had told the story many times and usually the response was, "It's not true. You're lying." It was great to hear his version. When he was through, Jim Weigel, a fellow from our office who had joined us for dinner, said to me, "I've got to tell you, Andy. Up until now, I never believed that story."
Roger passed away in December 1985. He had lived in Gainesville, Fla., but had grown up in Fargo, N.Dak., and I made arrangements to go to Fargo for the funeral. It was brutally cold. I went there not knowing anyone but Roger's wife. After the ceremony I sat and waited because I didn't want to go up to Pat when everyone else was there. I went to her and expressed how sorry I felt. She hugged me, and then she said, "I want you to meet the rest of my family." I had never met the kids. Six children. She turned to them and said, "I want to introduce someone really special. Kids, this is Andy Strasberg." And Roger Maris Jr. said, "You're Dad's No. 1 fan."
I couldn't keep my composure. The family reached out to me and I reached out to them, and I thought it was just a nice ending to a great story. But it wasn't the end. It was just the beginning. I have gone back to Fargo every year for a charity golf tournament and auction held in Roger's name to benefit the Hospice of the Red River Valley. One year I asked for the opportunity to address the banquet. There were about 700 people there. I said, "You've heard from Roger's family, Roger's friends, his teammates, but there is another side, and that is Roger's fans, and this video tells it all."
The lights went down and on came a 3½-minute video I had put together with a friend—pictures of Maris, of Maris and me together, with Lou Rawls singing in the background, "Did you know that you are my hero?/You are the wind beneath the wings of my feet." It gave me an opportunity to tell everyone about Roger Maris, the man.