On July 16th, Ryan Howard hit the 200th homerun of his young career. He became the quickest player to reach the milestone, doing so in just 658 games. It took Alex Rodriguez 826 games to reach the same mark (ARod was 25 when he hit his, though, Howard is 29). As has been the case in recent years where milestone homeruns are hit seemingly every night, not a whole lot was made of the round tripper, but more than a month later the story lingered for more selfish reasons.
It was a packed house in Miami that day, 39% full. About 15,000 fans showed up to watch a division rivalry. The ball was “caught” by 12-year-old Jennifer Valdivia. She was sitting in one of the quarter-full sections of LandShark (A crappy beer, a crappier stadium) Stadium, and when the ball ended up under a seat a couple to the left of her own, Valdivia moved briskly, but did not face much competition in her quest to procure the ball. Then she simply went back to her seat.
A Phillies representative was sent out to get Jennifer and her 16 year old brother. They were brought down to the clubhouse and given cotton candy and a different ball signed by Ryan Howard in exchange for the historic homerun ball. They took the exchange, and all parties seemed to be content.
Now I do not know if Miami area attorney Norm Kent approached them or they approached Kent, but this guy was born for this case. Kent is a Brooklyn-born former talk show host and political advocate whose office is riddled with Brooklyn Dodgers memorabilia (Read up on Norm Kent here). Kent seems like the type of guy who loves to be in the spotlight, and was waiting for an opportunity to attach himself to baseball somehow.
The famous Valdivia vs. The Philadelphia Phillies case will be known for giving fans the ultimate right to a baseball caught in the stands. That’s right, Kent sued the Phillies so Jennifer could get her baseball back.
The practice of returning milestone homerun balls to the player that hit them became very prevalent around the time of Mark McGwire’s run. At that time, people were excited to catch one and get driven down to the clubhouse to meet with the Larger than Life slugger. Things seem to have changed since McGwire’s 70th sold for a cool million.
The market has slowed to a halt since then, and Norm Kent’s appraisal of the ball as being worth $1,000 is probably correct. Someone would pay that much for the ball right now. This is a ball that could be worth a lot of money in maybe 50 years, or the week that Ryan Howard gets enshrined in the Hall of Fame. It all depends on the first basemen’s consistency over the rest of his career.
Maybe Kent is trying to drive the price of the ball up with all of this publicity. I do not know, but I do know that there is something wrong with this whole thing. The fans at the games are looking for payouts.
Earlier this season, Matt Carson, a 28-year old career minor leaguer playing for Oakland, hit his first career Major League homerun. When the team inquired about the ball, the fan said he could have it, for $10,000. Just another sign that people do not know how much Minor League baseball players make. Carson said no, and got his bat authenticated instead.
Part of me does not blame the girl. She is just a kid at a game. She probably is barely paying attention, dragged there by her older brother. She most likely had no idea who Ryan Howard was before she grabbed the ball. So for her to feel swindled is normal because she was told by Norm Kent that she was swindled.
I am disappointed in Norm Kent. This is a baseball fan claiming to be an advocate of baseball fans, but for a real fan, going into the Phillies’ clubhouse after the game, and getting a signed ball would be better than having that homerun ball.
Obviously, the Phillies could have handled this better. Ryan Howard should have reached out more and given the fan more than just a signed baseball. Maybe sent a personal letter and memorabilia. I doubt this would appease Norm Kent, but it may have made the fan’s experience better. Also, giving cotton candy to a kid to get something away from them makes the whole situation sketchy.
This is just a sad representation of what sports have come to. In an interview, an NPR journalist asked Norm Kent if he were Ryan Howard, wouldn’t he want the ball back? His response:
“There was a time, and day, and era, when that argument might have had some merit…, but this is an age when that ball has more than just historic significance. There’s nothing to say that Ryan Howard, would not, years from now, auction off that ball as other professional athletes auction off their rings and jewelry to generate money for themselves.”
I’d say, “Go to hell,” but I think you’re well on your way. Just do me a favor, and don’t take baseball with you.