06/20/2004 7:53 PM ET
Student catches piece of history
Lucky 19-year-old exchanges ball for memorabilia
By Mark Newman / MLB.com
|Ken Griffey Jr. poses with Mark Crummley, the fan who caught Griffey's 500th home run ball. (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
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ST. LOUIS -- One minute, Mark Crummley was walking toward a Cardinals souvenir shop inside Busch Stadium in search of baseball memorabilia. The next minute, it seemed, he had more memorabilia than he could imagine.
Crummley, a 19-year-old nursing student at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, was on his way with his father to that stand Sunday when he stepped through a tunnel leading to the right-field bleachers and saw a baseball flying his way.
It was Ken Griffey Jr.'s 500th home run ball, specially coded on the Major League Baseball logo to distinguish it from any others, and it nestled into the hands of the young man from Mt. Carmel, Ill. Crummley was immediately whisked down to the Cincinnati Reds' clubhouse, where he gave the ball to Griffey and received the No. 30 jersey right off the slugger's back. That was just part of a treasure trove of memorabilia that Griffey gave him in exchange -- with more stuff to come.
"I was peeking through that aisleway, and it was a clear sky above," Crummley said. "Everyone stood up, and I saw it. It hit above me, then it came right to me, and security got me out of there in a hurry."
The first thing Crummley did was pull off the No. 5 Albert Pujols jersey that he was wearing. "I didn't want to meet [Griffey] in a Pujols jersey," he said.
Crummley works as a nursing assistant at the Oakview Heights Continuous Care & Rehab Center in Mt. Carmel, a nursing home about 150 miles southeast of St. Louis. He said he almost missed this moment.
"My brother bought tickets for the family for Father's Day," he said. "I almost went to work today. I thought about skipping the game, but I didn't."
Griffey was happy he didn't. The historic baseball is going back to the player's home for safekeeping, meaning it will not become a hot auction item. It brought to mind what happened at Busch six years ago, when Cardinals groundskeeper Tim Forneris retrieved Mark McGwire's 62nd home run that broke Roger Maris' single-season record -- and then gained national talk-show fame for giving it back to the slugger who hit it.
"Mark was awesome," Griffey said of Crummley, hanging out with the fan and family outside the Reds' clubhouse after a news conference for both. "We had a couple guys give him some things -- [Sean] Casey signed a bat, and Barry [Larkin] went up to him to talk to him. After that at-bat, I wore a different jersey and gave that one to him. I'll figure out something else to give him."
Crummley said he was somewhat speechless when he met the newest 500 Home Run Club member.
"I said I didn't expect him to be that tall," Crummley said. "I didn't know what I was going to say.
"He just thanked me, really. Sean Casey kept congratulating me. He told me it was the right thing to do. I didn't really know these people."
Immediately after Crummley was whisked down to the clubhouse level, Reds spokesman Rob Butcher said: "He just said he wanted to give the ball back."
Crummley then immediately returned to his seat to watch the rest of the game -- with his new No. 30 Reds jersey to go along with that Pujols gear. Griffey's homer, which came in his third at-bat, gave Cincinnati its final margin of victory in a 6-0 victory in the series finale.
Balls are typically coded in a secret way for games in which important milestones might happen. During a previous Reds homestand during this 500 chase, a ball hit into the press box had the baseball on the MLB logo colored in red. It was not known what distinguished this ball. But its destination was known, thanks to a new friend of Ken Griffey Jr.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.