21 Years Later, Jeff Maier Gets to Relive His Big Moment – New York Times

The right fielder, Tony Tarasco, retreated to the wall and waited for the ball — but Maier’s black Mizuno glove beat him to it. There was no instant replay then, and the umpire, Rich Garcia, signaled home run. The Yankees went on to win the game, the series and the championship.

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Jeff Maier was 12 when he grabbed a ball hit to right field by the Yankees’ Derek Jeter during Game 1 of the 1996 American League Championship Series. Orioles right fielder Tony Tarasco argued for a fan-interference call, saying he was lined up to make a catch if Maier had not touched the ball. But umpire Rich Garcia ruled the play a home run.



Credit
Mark Lennihan/Associated Press

Unwittingly, Maier had helped launch a dynasty, and became an instant folk hero.

“The kid — nice!” exclaimed Joe Morgan, the Hall of Famer, on the NBC telecast. “Man, they need to sign him up!”

Bob Uecker noted that Maier had actually just deflected the ball into the stands. He never did get that Yankees contract, but he did meet Jeter the next year and got a signed ball. Maier went on to play third base and the outfield at Wesleyan, where he set the university’s career hits record in 2006. He interned briefly with the Milwaukee Brewers.

Now Maier runs the sales team for media and entertainment at Fastly, an edge cloud provider based in San Francisco. He lives in New England, of all places, though he would rather not specify where. These days, he said, he is recognized no more than once a year. But there is no need to tip off angry Orioles fans.

Maier, a married father of three sons, watches the Yankees all season on his Fubo.TV app and has taken his boys to see them play at Fenway Park. After playing catch on Saturday, he monitored the rest of the game while juggling bath time for his kids.

Maier fretted about Severino, who left after four innings because Manager Joe Girardi feared a shoulder problem. (“I feel 100 percent great,” Severino insisted.) He wondered about this winter’s free-agent class, and who might fit for the Yankees. He expressed dismay at their hitters for taking too many curveballs from the Astros’ Justin Verlander.

He saw replays of Correa’s homer, naturally, and offered his perspective on whether Judge could have caught it, or whether Riley interfered. The Yankees initiated a crew chief review, which upheld the home run call on the field.

“It’s tough to know if it was catchable,” Maier said in a text message. “Obviously, the wall is not high, and we all saw Josh Reddick make the play earlier. Depends on the jump Judge got off the bat. Don’t believe it was interference, and I’d imagine Judge was unable to get a good read or got a late start, because we’ve seen him pull balls back before.”

That matched Judge’s own assessment in the clubhouse.

“I got back there a little late,” Judge said. “He took a good swing on a ball off the plate off Sevvy. I just wasn’t able to get back and get a good read to the wall and get up there and make a play.”

Asked if he believed the fan had interfered, Judge said: “I don’t think so. I’m not too sure. It happened so fast. I really haven’t seen the replay.”

Riley, from Liberty Hill, Tex., attended the game with his parents, Amanda and Mike. He did not catch the ball, but Mike scooped it up by his feet. The Times’s Billy Witz asked Riley if he was nervous.

“Yes,” he said.

About what?

“That I reached over and they were going to overturn it,” he said.

How would that have made you feel?

“Bad,” he said.

As it turned out, there was nothing to worry about. Girardi said he “saw the hands there” and lamented that there were no cameras stationed straight along the fence line. Given the available angles, Girardi conceded, “I can see why they didn’t overturn it.”

The Astros did not score again until Correa doubled home Jose Altuve with the winning run off Aroldis Chapman in the bottom of the ninth. Perhaps these young Astros, now two wins away from the American League pennant, will go on to the first of several titles, like the 1996 Yankees.

1996 ALCS Gm 1: Maier catches Jeter’s home run Video by MLB

Maier, at least, still believes in his team.

“They’ve proven to be a resilient team all year,” he said. “No reason to think they can’t bounce back in this series. The games have been close, and with a more simplified approach at the plate and cutting down on some of the strikeouts, I think they have all the talent to prevail in seven.”


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