The most despised child in the history of Baltimore sports is all grown up.
Yes, Baltimore — 16 years later, Jeffrey Maier soon could be in your corner.
"I'm a baseball fan first, and I still love the Yankees. But if the Orioles get past the Yankees, I'd love to see a Capital-area World Series with the Nats and the Orioles playing each other," said Maier, 28, who now goes by Jeff. "The Orioles are a fun team and play the game the right way. If they take out the Yankees in this series, I'll certainly be pulling for them to bring a title back to Baltimore."
Maier was thrust into the national spotlight 16 years ago Tuesday when, as a 12-year-old fan at Yankee Stadium, he leaned over the right-field wall in an attempt to catch a fly ball and re-directed it into the stands for an eighth inning home run by Derek Jeter. That tied Game 1 of the American League Championship Series; the Yankees eventually went on to win in 11 innings and capture the series in five games, igniting their late 1990s dynasty.
Replays showed that Orioles' right fielder Tony Tarasco was camped under the ball and that fan interference should have been called, but respected right field umpire Rich Garcia missed it.
Maier became an immediate celebrity in New York, a pariah in Baltimore and an everlasting character in baseball lore.
Now he's married with two young sons and lives in New Hampshire, in the middle of Boston Red Sox country. He has moved on from his fame — or infamy — but he'll never fully be able to shed his moment in time. And he's fine with that.
"When I was younger, it really did bring animosity out and, in some cases, a lot more hit-by-pitches in my games than I had previously," said Maier, who was an infielder/outfielder at Division 3 Wesleyan University in Connecticut. "I was more hesitant to embrace it. But as time has gone on — and I'm certainly not going to write a book about my experiences — I think it helped me mature and hopefully grounded me and shaped me into the person I am today.
"It's a huge part of baseball history, either positive or negative depending on your allegiance, but it's part of history nonetheless. It's a fun story to recall when people are apt to hear about it. So I've come to embrace it, but not flaunt it."
Maier won't be anywhere near Yankee Stadium this week. He'll be watching on TV as the two teams face off in a playoff series in the Bronx on Wednesday for the first time since 1996.
After not being able to land a job in the business side of baseball after graduating, Maier didn't stray too far from the sporting world. He is director of sales for LeagueApps, a digital platform company that helps recreational sports organizations streamline the registration process and promote leagues through social media.
A couple of his clients are based in Maryland, and yes, they know who he is, although he isn't one to bring up the 1996 ALCS.
"They are incredibly nice to me, and they have every right to hang up the phone and tell me to [go away]," he joked.
Like most baseball fans, Maier said he has been paying attention recently to the Orioles. And as much as the thought may pain Baltimore fans, he thinks this team is very similar to those 1996 Yankees, to whom he lent a helping glove. He points to the shutdown bullpens of each squad, the players' managers who were well respected but seeking their first titles and the hyped rookie infielders who played a big part in the clubs' successes.
"I think there are a lot of eerie similarities," he said. "When you look at Manny Machado as a rookie and the amount of expectations surrounding him, it is very similar to Jeter in 1996."
Maier said it's pretty easy to like these Orioles and hope they do well — no matter your allegiance.
"I'm still a big Yankees fan. Once you're a Yankees fan, or once you're a fan of any team, you tend to stick with that," he said. "But I'm also a baseball purist. I love baseball and it's so fun this year to see all the exciting stories, especially in the [Washington,] D.C. and Baltimore areas."
Maier also has a personal connection to these Orioles. In the summer of 2005, he played for the Pittsfield Dukes of the New England Collegiate Baseball League. The owner of that team was Dan Duquette, now the first-year, executive vice president of the Orioles.
"I had the opportunity to play for him and to get to know him and I'm certainly thrilled for the opportunity that he's received from that organization," Maier said of Duquette. "He is an incredible ambassador of the game."
Duquette remembers Maier as a "pretty good ballplayer" and a "real nice kid," who injured his knee during that season.
When asked what he thought of the way this has all played out, that Duquette now runs the team that is playing the Yankees for the first time in the playoffs since his former Pittsfield Dukes center fielder dashed Orioles' fans' dreams with his glove, Duquette chuckled.
"Hopefully, we'll have a better result this time," Duquette said.
In one sense, Maier is hoping for the same thing.
"I guess there is a part of me, deep down, that thinks, 'Wouldn't it be great if the Orioles won and maybe put some of this to bed?' "
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