OMAHA, Neb. — The losers deserve their keepsakes, too. This is the story of a magical home run ball and the uncle who went in quest of it, knowing a family treasure when he saw one.
The tale does not have an entirely happy ending. It would have been better had Cal State Fullerton not let go of 5-1 lead Saturday, had not been beaten by Oregon State 6-5 in the opener of the College World Series.
Start with the guy who hit it. Richards has been a Titan so long, the coach calls him “the old man.” This was his 189th game. The senior shortstop turned down an 18th-round draft pick by Minnesota last year for one basic reason – he wanted a last shot at Omaha. He took the gamble, here he is, and he homers his first at-bat -- something nobody had done in the top of the first inning of a CWS Game 1 in 11 years. Storybook stuff.
“A childhood dream,” he said afterward, standing outside the locker room. “An adult dream for me. I’m 22 years old now.”
Next, the guy who threw it. Jake Thompson came in 14-0 with 1.52 earned-run average and three homers allowed all season, part of the spectacular Oregon State staff that had led a 21-game winning streak. But on a 3-1 count, Richards put the Beavers behind 3-0 four batters into the game.
"It kind of felt like everything was going in the right direction."
They didn't in the end, but never mind that.
And now, the guy who decided to retrieve it.
Brett Richards was walking the concourse for a better look at the ballpark when he saw the replay of the homer on the scoreboard and the ball being caught in the stands by a teenager. He noted the area, and he had an idea.
“You know what,” he thought to himself, “I could probably go give that kid a hundred bucks and he would gladly give me that ball. A lifetime memory for Timmy.”
Richards found the right aisle, asked around, and was directed to a group of teenage boys.
“They were all about 14 or 15, they all had the same all-star hats,” he said. “I sat next to them.”
And then, the conversation pretty much went like this:
Richards: “My nephew hit that, can I buy it off you?”
A nervous kid: “I don’t know.”
Richards: “I’ll give you a hundred bucks for it.”
The kid’s friends, standing in unison: “Give it to him! Give it to him!”
The kid: “Can I call my dad?”
Richards: “Absolutely. You don’t even have to sell it to me if you don’t want.”
The father, arriving from other a different seat location: “What’s going on?”
Richards: “That’s my nephew who hit the home run. I’d like to buy it for a hundred bucks.”
The father: “Give it to him.”
And that was the end of the negotiation.
“I gave him a $100 bill and he gave me the ball and I’ve got it right here,” Brett Richards said, reaching in his right pocket. “We’re going to give it to Timmy in a trophy case or something. He’s a senior, he’s been playing for four years, he’s a grinder, he’s been drafted in the major leagues three times now. It’s just a great memory. It’s a special moment.”
By the way, how high would Uncle Brett have gone?
“When he looked at me and he paused for a second. I said in my head 'All right, I’m going to go to $300 on this.’ I was glad he stopped at $100. It wouldn’t have mattered, though. It’s priceless.”
The look in his nephew’s eyes when he talked about that home run said as much.