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Sports Extra / MARK McGWIRE SETS HOME-RUN RECORD |
THE BALL

McGwire Comes Up Short

Baseball: Member of ground crew recovers and gives it to hitter after homer doesn't reach seats.

September 09, 1998|STEVE SPRINGER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ST. LOUIS — They came with their gloves and their dreams to Busch Stadium on Tuesday, hoping to catch a piece of history.

For months, there had been speculation about who would catch home run ball No. 62 and what they would do with it.

There were rumors of a million-dollar offer for the lucky fan.

So which fan got it?

None of the 49,987 fans who packed their way into the stadium.

Because Mark McGwire's historic blast wasn't really much of a blast at all. It traveled only 341 feet, just far enough to get over the left-field wall, but not far enough to reach the seats.

Instead, it landed adjacent to the bullpen area where groundskeeper Tim Forneris scooped it up.

And what did he do with it? The same thing that those who wound up with the six previous homers hit by McGwire did, handed it back to the St. Louis Cardinal first baseman.

"It was Mark's ball," Forneris said. "He lost it and I gave it back to him."

But what about that $1 million? Or the $5,000 brought by the ball Roger Maris hit for his 61st home run in 1961? And what about the IRS, which reversed itself and said whoever caught the ball wouldn't be taxed if they returned it?

"It's not worth it," said Forneris, who makes approximately $10 an hour at Busch Stadium. "Life is all about experiences. They can't take this away from me. It's better than a million dollars in the bank."

Besides, Forneris is more than a fan in the seats. He has actually been around McGwire in his capacity as a groundskeeper.

"There is a genuineness about him," Forneris, 22, said. "He is who I want to be when I reach his age.

"Of course with his forearms, I've got a long way to go."

He already came a long way Tuesday. As he was being escorted out of the interview area, Forneris was surrounded by fans who wanted his autograph. Maybe he can make a little money that way.

But despite his dream evening, there was one negative moment for Forneris. For the first time in his two years as a groundskeeper, he failed to drag the infield midway through the game because he was busy handing over his valuable ball.

"That streak is over," Forneris said. "Cal Ripken doesn't have to worry."

And neither does McGwire because his priceless ball wound up in the right hands.

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