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Student exorcises O's demon in film

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Ten years later, Orioles fans remember the play, the kid and the umpire's call.

Has it been that long since the team's playoff hopes turned on a 12-year-old's theft of a long fly ball? Since Jeffrey Maier reached over the wall at Yankee Stadium to pick the pocket of an Orioles outfielder? Since the ump twirled his finger, giving Derek Jeter a homer, the Yanks new life and the Orioles cause to loathe a giddy sixth-grader?

The bitterness lingers. In baseball chat rooms, Orioles fans still berate Maier for his interference in Game 1 of the 1996 American League Championship Series and bemoan the play they say cost their team the pennant.

Not a day passes that Lizz Morhaim doesn't replay that episode over and over - literally - for a film the Wesleyan University student has created for her senior thesis.

The title? I Hate Jeffrey Maier.

In the nine-minute movie, Morhaim exorcises those Maier demons, creating a fictional character whose disappointment over that incident a decade ago morphs into obsession with revenge.

Queue up, Baltimore. Catharsis is at hand.

"If Oriole fans see this [film], I think there will be closure," said Morhaim, 21, of Owings Mills. "If not, well, they've got problems."

Making the movie proved an emotional release for Morhaim, who had been ticked off at Maier ever since he stretched over the railing in the eighth inning and deflected Jeter's fly ball inches above the glove of a waiting Tony Tarasco, the Orioles right fielder. Umpire Rich Garcia signaled a home run, allowing New York to tie the game at 4. Buoyed by happenstance, the Yankees won, 5-4, in 11 innings, then went on to win the ALCS and the World Series.

Watching the game on TV in the den of her family's home, another 12-year-old sat, stunned.

"I was shocked, then really angry," said Morhaim, then a student at Pikesville Middle School. "When I learned that [Maier] was the same age as me, I joked, 'Maybe one day I'll run into him.'"

At Wesleyan in Middletown, Conn., she did just that. Four years ago, Morhaim stepped on campus as a freshman. Coincidentally, so did Maier. They will graduate together next month.

When she learned they'd be classmates, Morhaim toyed with the obvious.

"I'd always joked about ways of getting him back," she said. "My friends said, 'Just go up and punch him.' But I couldn't."

Instead, she chose to cast Maier in her movie. As himself.

A film major, Morhaim decided last summer to make the Maier incident the crux of her senior project. She penned the script, a comedy, last summer. In the fall, she asked Maier to appear in the movie, and he agreed.

His life is still intertwined with baseball. Co-captain of his college team, Maier this month became the all-time leader in base hits at Wesleyan, a Division III school. The third baseman was hitting .400 through yesterday.

That he chose to do the film surprised Morhaim, who had never met Maier before handing him the script.

"Deep down, he knew [the movie] was sort of ridiculous," she said. "It's about a boy - an Orioles fan - who watches 'the Maier game' and gets so upset he quits his Little League team. Ten years later, he goes off to college, finds Maier there and decides to get back at him."

For four years, the film's protagonist retaliates in trifling ways. Seeing Maier in the campus library, he hurls his pen, which glances harmlessly off the player's back. On bathroom walls, he scrawls, "I Hate Jeffrey Maier." At baseball practice, he manages to steal Maier's glove and throw it off a nearby bridge.

None of this brings resolution.

"I had to get [Maier] back," the lead character says. "Not for myself, but for Baltimore."

Finally, he knocks on Maier's door and confronts him.

The climax? You'll have to see the movie.

"I had joked about ending it with the sound of a shotgun blast," said Dan Morhaim, the filmmaker's father, who is a physician and a state delegate. "Fortunately, Lizz decided on a more mature ending."

The film has piqued the interest of Tom Kiefaber, owner of the Senator Theatre, who said there's a "high probability" that he will show it there this summer.

"It's a local production based on an incident in which a collective groan was heard all over the city," said Kiefaber. "The timing is perfect - the 10th anniversary of infamy. The movie is a natural to run here."

Morhaim's mother, Shelley, is an independent filmmaker. Morhaim's grandfather, Joe Morhaim, wrote for two popular television series - The Millionaire and The Saint. Her uncle, Lou Morheim, helped produce a number of shows in the 1960s, including The Outer Limits, Ironside and The Big Valley. He was associate producer of The Magnificent Seven, a movie classic.

Lizz Morhaim, a graduate of Carver Center for Arts & Technology in Towson, hopes to follow suit.

She filmed I Hate Jeffrey Maier in six days at Wesleyan. Persuading Maier to play himself was a coup, she said.

"He was totally nice and said, 'Sure, I'll do it.' I was kind of surprised that he never commented on the script. I guess he felt that if he made the movie, maybe people would stop bothering him about [the Orioles game] because they'd see he has a sense of humor about the whole thing."

Maier, who received an avalanche of hate mail from Orioles fans during the 1996 playoffs, did not answer repeated requests from a Sun reporter seeking an interview for this article.

However, speaking of the film, he told the Associated Press: "It was something I hadn't had the opportunity to ever do before. That's the way I looked at it, that it would be a good way to ... have a little fun with something."

"Having Jeff play himself in the film did add a weird dynamic," said Lee Pender, a Wesleyan student who plays the protagonist. A native of Manhattan, Pender grew up a Yankees fan and found himself getting chummy with Maier during production.

"Once, Lizz yelled, 'Cut!' and Jeff gave me a noogie and said, 'I hate you, too,'" said Pender, a physics major. "We bonded over a lot of stuff, like, we're both into The Simpsons and Ace Ventura."

To feign his dislike of Maier, Pender made believe that the ballplayer was someone else.

"I pretended that Jeff had slept with my girlfriend," he said. "Once, I imagined George Bush's head on [Maier's] body.

"It was hard to seem so obsessed with him, 10 years after all of this went down."

Not for Morhaim, it wasn't.

At Wesleyan, she said, "people don't understand why I get all passionate about this film. To me, it's so obvious how agonizing that moment was.

"My cinematographer, who is from Los Angeles, totally doesn't understand my feelings. When I showed her footage of the 1996 game, I was yelling, 'Look at this! Look at this!'

"She still doesn't get it," said Morhaim. "Only people from Baltimore do, I guess."

mike.klingaman@baltsun.com

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