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From SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, September 5, 1994
John Hancock Fantasy Day at Fenway, a benefit for the Jimmy Fund, attracted more than 100 amateur sluggers on Aug. 27, 1994. SI's Gabel was among them.
UPON EMERGING FROM THE RED SOX DUGOUT, I fixated upon baseball's most famous barrier, the 37-foot-tall Green Monster. I had heard about its petrifying effect on batters. And when my body seemed to turn to stone, I knew I had looked Medusa square in the eye.
As I waited on deck, various bits of Little League hitting advice swirled through my brain. Keep your head still. Don't take your eye off the ball. Follow through. Former Red Sox second baseman Mike Andrews, now the executive director of the Jimmy Fund, offered predictably coachlike counsel: "Don't swing for the fence." Thanks, Mike, but I was here to attack that big green wall. It was mano a Monster, and I was 315 feet away.
When the public address announcer summoned me to home plate, I thought I heard taunts coming from leftfield: "Just try and hit me, Little League reject." If fences could talk, the Green Monster would be Reggie Miller. Thoroughly intimidated, I popped up the first pitch, delivered by a machine at a comfortable 60 mph. My goal was scaled down from "hit the ball out of the park" to "hit the ball out of the infield." Second pitch: Whiff! New goal: Hit the ball out of the batter's box and stop embarrassing yourself.
A pathetic collection of grounders and foul balls followed. Gradually, though, I started to become comfortable with the machine's delivery. I smashed the 11th pitch sharply to third and then lined the next one to leftfield for a would-be single. "Three pitches left," warned the catcher. Two more solid hits toward third, but still no fly balls. If I could just get under this last one....
"Ping!" Ah, the sweet sound of aluminum hitting cowhide.
The ball cleared not only the Monster but also the 23-foot screen above it, the only one to do so all day. Not that I was looking, but I stumbled upon the ball at the foot of a Dumpster in an alley across Lansdowne Street. To this day Cooperstown has not requested it.
My home run was one of six hit that day, each of which earned $2,000 from John Hancock for the charity. With entry fees and the 15 balls hit off the wall (earning $1,000 apiece), the Jimmy Fund picked up $157,000. I walked away with two conclusions: Accidents happen, and yes, in 1994 the baseballs were juiced.