Yanks trying out kid whose 'catch' helped 'em win playoff in '96
The Yankees' angel in the outfield has a shot at earning his wings.
In a twist of fate even Hollywood couldn't dream up, the former Little Leaguer who stole a home run for the Bronx Bombers in a 1996 playoff game could be drafted by his heroes.
The Yankees invited Jeffrey Maier to a workout a decade after he reached over the right-field wall and stopped a Baltimore Orioles outfielder from catching a Derek Jeter blast.
"It's been a very exciting week," said Maier, who graduated from Wesleyan University Sunday and was batting, fielding and running bases at the House that Ruth Built on Thursday.
"It was awesome to be there," he said of the invitation-only workout with about 30 other college standouts, observed by Yankee scouts and trainers.
Maier, 22, tried to make it sound like he was just another prospect, although he admitted that when his name was announced, there was a murmur of recognition from the players.
They remembered the infamous moment when Oriole outfielder Tony Tarasco leaped to catch Jeter's long drive in Game 1 of the 1996 American League Championship Series only to have it flicked away by Maier in the bleachers.
The O's squawked about fan interference, but the ump ruled it a home run. The Bronx Bombers went on to win the pennant and the World Series, and Maier became part of Yankee lore.
He played for his high school team in Old Tappan, N.J., and then for Wesleyan, where he broke the hitting record.
Then came the call from the Yankee scout and the trip to the Bronx, where he thought not about his role in Yankee history but about the legends who had been on the field before him.
"You think about the likes of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig and Yogi Berra and Reggie Jackson," he said.
Major League Baseball's amateur draft starts Tuesday, and Maier said it would be a dream come true if he were tapped by the franchise.
Yankee officials wouldn't discuss his chances, although one evaluator not affiliated with the team said he's more likely to be an "organizational player" consigned to the minor leagues than a future major leaguer.
But Maier's got at least one big-name fan rooting for him.
"I hope he does get drafted," Jeter said last night.
"It's the least they could do. Pay him back finally. It would seem kind of ironic, wouldn't it?"
It would be even more ironic if the Orioles drafted Maier, as owner Peter Angelos hinted in a Washington Post interview.
"I'd say it's a very interesting development," Angelos said, adding that Maier seemed like a "heck of an outfielder" in 1996.
Some ex-Orioles still bear a grudge against Maier.
Pitcher Scott Erickson, who would have won Game 1 if not for Maier and who is now with the Yanks, said he'd play a little chin music if he faced the kid.
"I'd maybe knock the hat off his head," he said. "That'd be a little payback, I guess. I might get thrown out of the game, but oh well."
Armando Benitez, who allowed the fateful home run, has a bit more perspective.
"I have nothing bad to say about him. He was just a kid when that happened," the reliever said. "It was a great catch for a little kid, and it is a great thing he's still playing baseball."
Benitez's memory is a little rusty, though, because Maier actually dropped the ball after he knocked it away from Tarasco. "I've learned how to catch a little better since then," Maier joked.