Opinion: Who is the ‘rightful’ owner of Albert Pujols’ milestone ball, Pujols or the fan?
You have never heard of Ely Hydes.
He’s not rich and famous. He doesn’t play sports for a living. Not a movie star. Not a politician.
He’s just an anonymous 33-year-old law student and a Detroit Tigers fan, who happened to buy a ticket along with two of his buddies Thursday to the Tigers-Los Angeles Angels game.
He also happened to get the first ballgame souvenir of his life, thanks to Angels slugger Albert Pujols hitting one of the most treasured home runs of his Hall of Fame career at Comerica Park.
It was career home run No. 639 for Pujols, which just so happened to represent one of the greatest milestones of Pujols’ career. It was his 2,000th RBI, joining only Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth and Alex Rodriguez in the elite club of players who have accomplished the feat.
It might barely create a ripple to the casual sports fan, but Pujols views it as perhaps the greatest accomplishment of his career.
He would love for that baseball to go into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, or even his personal trophy case — somewhere for it to be forever celebrated.
Instead, the ball will sit in Hydes’ house. Or maybe, Hydes suggested, it will go to his brother’s house. His brother is a diehard St. Louis Cardinals fan, where Pujols began his career. Maybe it will be a present for his first baby, with his wife expecting in the next few weeks. Or maybe it will be sold to pay for his child’s college education.
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It’s just that Pujols will never see it again, setting off a debate on whether Hydes should be condemned for keeping a ball that belongs to Pujols, or celebrated for keeping a ball that belongs to him as a fan.
Hydes says he is infuriated with the way it was handled, saying he was berated by stadium security and team officials who wanted him to give the ball to the Angels in exchange for other gifts. Major League Baseball refused to authenticate the baseball, Hydes said, stripping away its value on the open market.
“I'm not in it for the money; I just came here for the beer and a game," Hydes said in an interview with Fox Sports Detroit.
Surely, Hydes could have persuaded Tigers officials into being introduced to Tigers Hall of Famer Al Kaline. Or getting an autographed ball and bat from Tigers star Miguel Cabrera. Maybe even a photo op with Angels star Mike Trout.
Yet he never got the chance, he insists.
The hero in this storm is Pujols, who would love to have the keepsake but refuses to blame a soul, least of all Hydes.
“I think he can have a great piece of history with him,” Pujols said after the game. “When he looks at the ball, he can remind himself of this game. I don’t fight about it. You know, we play this game for the fans, too. So I just hope that he can enjoy it …
“He has the right to keep it; the ball went into the stands.”
Albert Pujols hit his 2,000th career RBI on Thursday in Detroit. (Photo: Rick Osentoski, USA TODAY Sports)
Still, why can’t Hydes be like Scott Steffel, a Cal-State Fullerton student at the time, who caught Pujols’ 600th home run and returned the ball to Pujols? And asked for nothing in return.
“It’s not my ball,’’ Steffel told reporters at the time. “It’s his.’’
Or Christian Lopez, the fan who caught Derek Jeter’s 3,000th hit, which was also a homer, and simply asked to meet Jeter.
Hydes decided this was his ball, and he’s right, with everyone purchasing a ticket legally allowed to keep baseballs as souvenirs.
He just may be morally wrong, keeping a baseball that would mean so much more to Pujols — and perhaps the baseball world if the ball goes to Cooperstown — than preserved in his own house.
“All I know is I would give it back to Albert,” Angels manager Brad Ausmus told reporters. “I know he caught the ball, but I would give it back to Albert.”
Said Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire: “There’s some milestones he should have and his family should have, and that’s probably one of them. And I would imagine if he did (give it back), he’d probably get something pretty nice from Albert. That would probably be the right thing to do. I know it’s tough.”
It’s likely too late now.
The ball was never authenticated, or marked, meaning that if Hydes ever changes his mind, no one really knows whether it’s the real 2,000th RBI ball.
The owner of the keepsake won’t diminish Pujols’ accomplishment. Hydes will have a memory, even a baseball, that he can cherish forever. And fans can debate just what they would do if they ever got their hands on a historic baseball.
Follow Nightengale on Twitter @Bnightengale
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