...that damn kid? In the 1996 playoffs the Baltimore Orioles were robbed of a win in a 5-game series against the New York Yankees when a kid, Jeffrey Maier, reached into the field of play and caught a ball destined for the mitt of Orioles right fielder Tony Tarasco. A play that should have been an out was ruled a home run, the Yankees won the game and the series, and the Orioles haven't been the same since.
Red Sox fans, of which I am one, will recall the dread we felt on that particular night. Once again, the hand of fate had intervened on behalf of the Yankees. Once again, a team already rich with glory had been enriched once again.
Now, years later, Maier has grown into a respectable baseball talent with a good chance of being drafted this summer, and the Orioles might just take a chance on him.
The Orioles, during the Major League Baseball first-year player draft next Tuesday and Wednesday, have the power to select Jeff (as he now calls himself) Maier of Wesleyan University and see what happens.
According to [owner Peter] Angelos, they just might.
"I wouldn't be at all opposed to [drafting Maier]. In fact, I'd say it's a very interesting development," Angelos said. "You can say the Orioles are very seriously considering him. I know this much: I was at that game, and he certainly did seem to be a heck of an outfielder. Sure, we'd take him. In fact, I like the idea more and more, the more I think about it."
Maier compiled a pretty healthy set of stats at Wesleyan: a .375 average and a school record 189 hits. This suggests just enough talent to draw interest from major league clubs. The horror that Baltimore might suffer should his name be called out over the Camden Yards loudspeaker is suggested by Maier's experience with Oriole fandom:
Some people are still very bitter towards him," said Tony Pente, who operates the Orioles fan Web site, http://orioleshangout.com/ . "I hate to say it, but for some people, there's almost a hatred of him -- to this day."
Although the lingering outrage of Orioles fans is more accurately directed at Richie Garcia -- the right field umpire who blew the call that night -- through the years Maier has become a symbol of the Orioles' futility.
Pitcher Scott Erickson, who started the game for the Orioles and was in line to get the win before Armando Benitez served up the fateful pitch in the eighth inning to Jeter, said he hopes Maier makes it to the major leagues, "just so I can drill him -- I'd like to get one shot at him."
Earlier this year, a Wesleyan classmate from outside of Baltimore, a film major, made an eight-minute movie as her senior thesis titled "I Hate Jeffrey Maier." The movie is about an Orioles fan who winds up attending the same college as Maier, and who confronts his own repressed anger over The Play -- and Maier himself makes a cameo at the end.
"At the end [of the film], I do apologize," Maier said. "I just say, 'I'm sorry. I was just a kid trying to get a ball.'"