"No problem. Stand over here."
I thought, geez, this is too easy, because I was expecting the worst. Just before the game starts, Rog comes up out of the runway and hands me the bat. One of the most incredible moments in my life. Here is the bat from my idol and he thought enough of me to bring it back and give it to me.
I brought the bat home and told all my friends, and they said, "Now that you have the bat, why don't you ask him for one of his home run baseballs?"
So I asked Roger for one of his home run baseballs, and he said, "You're gonna have to catch one 'cause I don't have any."
Maris was traded to St. Louis for Charley Smith on Dec. 8, of '66—a real dark day as far as I was concerned, because Roger Maris was no longer a New York Yankee. In 1966 I went off to college at the University of Akron, in Ohio. My roommate had a picture of Raquel Welch on his wall and I had a picture of Roger Maris. Everyone in the school now knew that I was a big Maris fan. Some of my friends said, "You told us that you knew Roger Maris. Let's just go see." So one day six of us drove 2½ hours to Pittsburgh to see the Cardinals play the Pirates. It was May 9, 1967. We got to Forbes Field two hours before the game, and there was the red number 9. It was the first time in my life I had ever seen Roger Maris outside of Yankee Stadium, and I figured he wouldn't know who I was because the setting was different. I was very, very nervous. Extremely nervous, because I had five guys with me. I went down to the edge of the fence, and my voice was quavering as I said, "Ah, Rog...Roger...."
He turned around and said, "Andy Strasberg, what the hell are you doing here in Pittsburgh?"
That was the first time I knew he knew my name. I looked at him and I looked at my friends and I said, "Well, Rog, I'm with some guys from college. They wanted to meet you and I just wanted to say hello." The five of them paraded by and shook hands and they couldn't believe it. I wished Rog the traditional good luck and he said, "Wait a minute. I want to give you an autograph on a National League ball." And he went into the dugout and got a ball and signed it. I put it in my pocket and I felt like a million dollars.
I'm very superstitious when it comes to baseball. That day I sat in row 9, seat 9 out in rightfield. In the third inning Roger hit his first National League home run, off Woodie Fryman.
I caught the ball.
It's the most amazing thing that will ever happen to me in my life. I caught the ball and tears were rolling down my face. I couldn't believe it. He came running out at the end of the inning—you've got to remember that Rog knew where I was, and it wasn't crowded that particular game—and he said, "I can't believe it." I said, "You can't? I can't!"