Who could blame him? He's just a kid Fall-out: When Jeff Maier, 12, snagged Derek Jeter's ball Wednesday, he had no clue all this hubbub would follow. All he wanted was a souvenir.


NEW YORK -- Which scene do you want?

The Kid talking to Charlie Gibson on "Good Morning America" or the Kid mobbed by the "media" at a Times Square sports restaurant or the Kid at the ballpark, in New York Daily News seats, signing autographs for grown men who chant his name?

It is the day after, and the story of 12-year-old Jeff Maier -- either the hero or the villain of the piece -- has devolved into the usual media freak show.

To recapitulate: Young Jeff is a kid with a glove who goes to a ballgame and snags a ball that changes, apparently, the course of humankind. And, to the people holding the microphones and notepads, he's no different from any other celebrity -- say, Tom Cruise or Joey Buttafuoco.

Publicists are calling the Kid's house. "Good Morning America" tries to hide the Kid's family at the Plaza. And the Daily News chauffeurs the Kid's party around town in company limos.

The noon stop was the All-Star Cafe, with much of this town's tipped-off media in hot pursuit.

The Kid is eating lunch (burgers and fries) with his family and friends and about 50 boom mikes and as many cameramen, climbing over and around nearby patrons who had the bad luck to pick this spot on this day for a meal.

Reporters are screaming questions to the Kid and, occasionally, issuing instructions.

"Wave and say hello to 'Hard Copy,' " says the woman from, well, "Hard Copy."

The Kid waves, although he declines to mention the show's name. You'd like to think he'd never heard of it.

The Kid then asks, politely, "Would everyone please move away from the table so we can go to the game?"

Nobody budges.

"I hate us," says one reporter. And why not? You can hate the media. But don't hate the Kid.

If you met him, you wouldn't. You couldn't. He's a sweet-faced seventh-grader who lives for nothing more than a trip to Yankee Stadium. The rhythms of his life are subject to nothing so much as the ups and downs of his home team. At his pre-Bar Mitzvah party, the theme was Jeff (not yet the Kid) at the World Series.

His story is as old, and as young, as a kid with a dream. He gets last-minute tickets, skips out on the last few hours of school, brings his glove because he wants desperately to catch a home run. Is this a villain or is it a Norman Rockwell painting?

Derek Jeter hits the ball his way and the Kid does what any kid would do. He sticks out his glove, never considering that he might be interfering with the play.

Tony Tarasco, the Orioles outfielder, who waited and waited for the ball that never came down, said if he had been a 12-year-old, he'd have done the same thing.

The Kid didn't rob the Orioles. Richie Garcia, the umpire who blew the call and should have called interference, did.

"I thought it was a home run," the Kid insisted. "I'm just a 12-year old kid going for a ball."

Is he sorry? What do you think? He's a Yankees fan.

He says, with almost heartbreaking naivete, "Don't give me all the credit. The Yankees deserve some of the credit, too."

In fact, the Yankees quickly moved away from the Kid. The papers call him "Angel in the Outfield" and the fans make him a hero, but Rick Cerrone, the team'sPR director, said, "The Yankees have nothing to do with the young man."

Cerrone said that the Kid interfered with a ball and the Yankees couldn't "condone or reward that kind of behavior."

Funny, huh?

It's as funny as the Orioles fans who want to make him a villain but would have called him a hero if the ball had been hit by Robbie Alomar instead of Derek Jeter.

"I just wanted a ball," the Kid says.

He had no idea what would follow. How the ball would slip away and how the guy who got it says he'd return the ball to the Kid -- for a price.

How the reporters would swamp him and how Yankees security would move him to a safe place, meaning he would miss the next three innings.

How, when he got to his house in Old Tappan, N.J., the media would be there waiting for him.

How the Daily News would offer him eight tickets to yesterday's game.

How "Good Morning America" would provide the family a haven at the Plaza, which would be staked out anyway by half the media in this media-saturated town.

How he'd wake up to see his picture on the front page of every newspaper and find his name in the same sentence with Ruth, Gehrig, Maris and Mantle.

How some people would question his "ethics" for trying to catch a ball hit toward the bleachers.

How he'd make the media rounds, wearing his Yankees cap and Yankees shirt, including a stop on Regis and Kathie Lee.

How his school would be mobbed by reporters. ("He's a very level-headed kid," says Charles DeWolf elementary school secretary Connie McTigue. "Let's just hope he stays that way."

How he turned down Letterman so he could go to the game.

How his good friend Brian Altman, a Cal Ripken fan whose family took the Kid to the game, would say, as if it were the most natural thing in the world, "I'm glad to see Jeff get all the attention."

("You'll apologize to the Baltimore Orioles for us?" Brian's mom, Fern Altman, said yesterday. "And especially to Cal?")

The Kid's father, Dick Maier, found out about his son's exploits while driving home from work. He says he's concerned about all the attention and the unnatural state of life in the media glare.

He especially wondered after a reporter asked his son if he were failing English. The Kid, besides being a baseball fan, is apparently an A student.

"I hope it all goes away real fast," Dick Maier would say as security guards whisked the Kid into a limo.

Does he expect that to happen?

He shook his head. "I don't know what to expect anymore."

Pub Date: 10/11/96

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