Albert Pujols hit his 24th home run of the season and 703rd of his Hall of Fame career in Pittsburgh Monday night, and in doing so, broke a tie with Babe Ruth to move into second all-time in Major League Baseball with 2,216 runs batted in.
Oh, and the ball is coming back to the metro-east.
The historic 361-foot blast was snagged by Mike Hutcheson, 55, a manager in environmental services at Ameren who grew up in Belleville and now lives near Trenton.
“I checked StubHub back a couple months ago when Albert was on a tear to…check on tickets, and maybe take my kids to a ballgame in St. Louis last weekend, and they wanted 750 bucks for the front row,” an incredulous Hutcheson said Monday night, reached by phone after he left PNC Park.
“I checked the schedule and realized they were playing in Pittsburgh for the final matchup of the year, and I was like, ‘I can probably do Pittsburgh, and nobody goes to Pittsburgh.’”
Though he opted not to take any of his three children at home out of school, Hutcheson did persuade a friend to join him on a quick flight that he reported was full of Cardinal fans. The entire plane was enroute to a chance to see history, but Hutcheson departed with a specific goal in mind.
A trip earlier this summer with his family to Cincinnati put them in close proximity to the first career homer of Reds catcher Mark Kolozsvary. That spurred a conversation about a fanciful notion that, unbeknownst to Hutcheson, would soon become a reality.
“Hey, wouldn’t it be cool,” he remembers asking, “if you could end up with [Yadier Molina]’s last home run or Albert’s last home run, or number 700, or 696, or really any of those?”
Now he knows how it feels.
This ball was not the first famous Cardinals home run snagged by a Belleville native. Busch Stadium groundskeeper Tim Forneris, who caught Mark McGwire’s then-record 62nd home run of the 1998 season, was an Althoff graduate. He returned the ball to McGwire for no compensation and was rewarded with a bevy of goods and experiences, including a free minivan and an opportunity to meet President Clinton.
Hutcheson plans to finish out his trip with the last two games in Pittsburgh, sitting in the same seats where a piece of history fell into his grasp. When he returns home with the ball, it’ll head directly to his safe, final destination unknown.
A fan in the stands approached Hutcheson shortly after the initial crowd excitement dispersed and offered him $100,000 in exchange for the ball, which he declined both due to the immediacy of the offer and without a way to know whether the man was serious.
An usher at PNC Park told him that the Cardinals would likely be willing to exchange a signed ball for the one he caught, but no exchange materialized, and the ball remains in his possession. A Cardinals team official said the club hadn’t made any contact with Hutcheson.
With two games remaining in the regular season, though, Pujols will have additional opportunities to add home runs to his ledger. If he does, the interest in 703 might dip. Is Hutcheson concerned about what could happen if numbers 704 or 705 take flight toward the seats at PNC Park?
“When I think about that,” Hutcheson said, “my attitude is just like it was today – I’m gonna catch that one too.”
He certainly picked the right spot.