Noteworthy Souvenir for Boston’s Vazquez
By Michael Silverman
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Christian Vazquez has the ball.
Sitting on a chair in his Fort Lauderdale-area home in a clear plastic cube that Vazquez ordered from Amazon that was pre-etched with “Red Sox World Series Champions 2018” is a baseball that is not any old baseball.
It’s that ball thrown in the ninth inning of Game 5 of the World Series on Oct. 28, the 1-2 slider thrown down and in by Chris Sale, the ball that brought Manny Machado to his knees on his flailing swing and miss, the final-out ball to the Red Sox’ fourth World Series title this century.
When it comes to those four final-out balls, there’s a story behind each of them - with a new story below about ball No. 3, the 2013 ball.
But as for No. 4, Vazquez has got it. To date, nobody’s come calling for the ball - not the Red Sox, not the Baseball Hall of Fame. And if they do call, the conversation will be very brief.
“Nobody” is getting the ball, said Vazquez in a tone as cheerful as it was stern. “It’s mine. It’s home. It will stay there.”
There is a custom but far from a rule that the catcher hands the ball to the closer after a strikeout. Sale has “not really” said anything to Vazquez about that ball. But handing it to Sale was not on his mind.
“Sorry, that’s not my case,” he said with a big laugh.
Instead, as soon as he caught it, he said to himself: “Save it. It’s mine, it’s mine.”
He held it tightly in his mitt and raced towards Sale, the first to reach him.
“I jumped to Sale right away, and he caught me -- I jumped into his arms and he spread his arms wide like this and said ‘Wowwww!’” said Vazquez.
Then came a delirious dogpile. An MLB authenticator ran up to Vazquez, asked for the ball, stuck a sticker on it and gave it back to Vazquez, who put it in his back pocket. As soon as the families of the Red Sox were on the field, Vazquez found his then-fiance, Gabriela.
“I gave it to my wife right away -- I told her to put it in her purse,” said Vazquez.
From her purse, the ball landed in Vazquez’ house, where it sits next to the retired catcher’s mitt he caught it in, with a team picture nearby.
“It means a lot -- everybody dreams to be in a World Series, it means a lot,” said Vazquez about the ball. “A lot of players play 20 years and never get to the World Series. It’s very special for everybody here, I know that. It’s a great moment in my career, the best moment.”
We all remember the saga of the 2004 ball, the Oct. 27 comebacker hit by Edgar Renteria, fielded by closer Keith Foulke and tossed to first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz. The custody battle of that ball ratcheted to unpleasant proportions, with a threatened lawsuit that turned into a settlement and Mientkiewicz loaning the ball to the Red Sox before it wound up in Cooperstown, where it now sits in Aisle BB, item No. B-201-2006 in the Baseball Hall of Fame’s collection.
The final out ball from 2007 -- swinging strikeout by Seth Smith, caught by Jason Varitek, who delivered it to closer Jonathan Papelbon -- has its own twisted history.
According to Papelbon, that ball no longer exists because his dog, Boss, ate most of it.
“He jumped up one day on the counter and snatched it,” Papelbon told the Hattiesburg (Miss.) American in December 2007. “He likes rawhide. He tore that thing to pieces.”
Papelbon said he saved the remnants, but later he told NESN that he finally threw out what was left of the baseball: “It’s in the garbage in Florida somewhere.”
To date, Papelbon’s story hasn’t changed. Vazquez, however, had never heard it. After he did, he gave the most skeptical of smiles.
“Maybe he doesn’t want to give it to anyone -- maybe that news is fake and he said that so he doesn’t have to give it to anybody,” said Vazquez.
Then there’s the 2013 final-out ball, caught on Oct. 30 by catcher David Ross on a strikeout of St. Louis’ Matt Carpenter by closer Koji Uehara. This is the only final-out ball caught at Fenway Park, and for more than three years, Ross kept it in a box that sat on the floor of his closet at home in Florida.
Nobody ever asked him about it.
“Isn’t that funny?” he asked last week when called about it.
Then came 2017, the year after Ross had retired, when he was splitting time between “Dancing With the Stars” and serving as an assistant to Cubs’ president Theo Epstein. The Cubs signed Uehara and Ross heard that Uehara had saved every ball from his 28 saves that season. Except he was missing one, which made Ross realize somebody appreciated that ball a whole lot more than he did.
In the middle of the 2017 season, he handed the ball to Uehara.
“I just thought it was the right thing to do,” said Ross. “I gave it back to him when he came to the Cubs, I hadn’t seen him since (2013),” said Ross. “I thought about it and brought it to him at his locker one day. I wasn’t doing anything with it, it was just sitting in a box in our closet.
“It was just the right thing to do. I didn’t need it. I had all the memories.”