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MARK McGWIRE / CHASING HISTORY / SAMMY SOSA

Fan Request Comes With a Big Catch

September 06, 1998|STEVE SPRINGER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ST. LOUIS — Deni Allen had this all figured out.

"In every highlight film, the first guy who catches a home run ball never winds up with it," said the 22-year-old Allen, who works in the NFL Rams' marketing department. "It's always the person who gets it on the rebound."

So when Allen, who comes from Ozark, Mo., got a ticket to Saturday's St. Louis Cardinal-Cincinnati Red game at Busch Stadium from his grandparents, he came up with a game plan in case the Cardinals' Mark McGwire hit his 60th home run of the season.

As McGwire came to bat in the first inning against Cincinnati left-hander Dennis Reyes, Allen moved over two sections from his assigned seat to a spot in back of the left-field seats.

"I was afraid that, if I stopped, the security guards were going to get me," Allen said, "so I acted like a guy going to get a soft drink."

One guard did indeed tell Allen he could go no farther.

"I kept hustling," Allen said, "got around a few stairs and hung back by a railing, hiding near a portal."

And sure enough, the third pitch to McGwire came sailing through the bright Missouri sky in Allen's direction.

"I took a few punches and a few kicks," he said, "got the ball on the first bounce and tucked it into my stomach."

Allen said he would neither keep the ball nor sell it to the highest bidder.

"I will give it back to McGwire for a simple thing," Allen said. "I want to take batting practice with the Cardinals if they will allow me. And maybe some season tickets. I want to give it to him. It's his ball. That's only right."

The Cardinals agreed to let Allen take batting practice before an upcoming game, and also gave him two season tickets for 1999. They also threw in some bats, balls and hats.

There was an eerie footnote to Saturday's home run. There are more than a dozen baseballs specially marked for use against McGwire so that officials can determine if a ball held up by a fan was indeed hit out by the Cardinal first baseman. Each of the balls is kept in a numbered slot until needed.

When McGwire hit his 60th home run Saturday to tie Babe Ruth's season mark, officials discovered that the ball came out of slot No. 3--Ruth's number.

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