The food, it is hoped, will not be the pits.
Sal Durante still relishes his link to Roger Maris's 61st
When 19-year-old Sal Durante stood atop his seat in the right-field grandstand at Yankee Stadium on Oct. 1, 1961, and reached skyward for the ball that Roger Maris had just lofted his way, he knew he was going after a piece of baseball history. When he pulled the ball down cleanly with his right hand, however, he had no idea that he would still be a celebrity when he was a grandfather.
"I was hoping the record would last for five years or so," Durante says. "You know, to make the moment last awhile. Well, now it's been 30 years, and I still get to tell my story." In fact, Durante, a 50-year-old school-bus driver from Brooklyn with one grandchild, is asked nearly every day to recount just how he caught Maris's 61st home run.
When Durante and fiancée Rosemarie Calabrese arrived at a Yankee Stadium ticket window for the last game of the 1961 season, he asked for something in rightfield. "I was surprised when there were still seats left out there," says Durante. In the fourth, rookie righthander Tracy Stallard of the Red Sox grooved a fastball that Maris blasted to right. "I could tell it was over our heads, so I got up on the seat. I reached as high as I could, and the ball hit my hand and stuck."
Durante was ushered down to the clubhouse to meet Maris. Says Durante, "When I tried to give him the ball, he said, 'No, you keep it. Try to make some money off it.' " Sam Gordon, a Sacramento restaurateur, gave Durante $5,000 for the ball, which Gordon then gave to Maris.
The ball now sits in the Baseball Hall of Fame. But Durante still clings to his memories. "Rosemarie and I will have our 30th anniversary this month," he says. "Roger sent us a wedding gift. He was a wonderful man. I didn't care about the money. All I wanted to do was meet him, and I got so much more."