A Little League Star Hits the Big-Time
Oct. 10, 1996
OLD TAPPAN, N.J. (AP) _ Here's the scouting report on young Jeffrey Maier:
Standout Little Leaguer. Big Yankees fan. Baseball was the theme at his bar mitzvah last Saturday.
And, as the New York Yankees will attest, great glove.
His coach says he's an intense competitor who gets ``caught up in the excitement and thrill of whatever he's participating in.''
The 12-year-old was participating all right in the American League championship series Wednesday night. His outstretched glove over the right field fence turned a Yankee fly ball in the eighth inning into a disputed home run.
And, suddenly, life was not the same for Jeffrey. On Thursday he was whisked by limo to ``Good Morning America'' and hit several other talk shows before attending Game 2 at Yankee Stadium.
Back in his hometown of Old Tappan in the northeast corner of New Jersey, opinion was split on whether he's a hero.
``I guess in the true sense no fan should ultimately determine the outcome of a baseball game,'' said his Little League coach, Gregory MacLean. ``But being a little kid in the position he was put in, the excitement he was involved in _ I couldn't help do it myself if I was in the same position.''
At the Old Tappan Deli, which delivers lunch daily to Maier's middle school, his favorite order was dubbed the Jeff Maier Special in his honor: Turkey sandwich, cherry Coke, small pretzels, $4.75.
``I thought it was great. About time something like that happened to New York fans,'' said Andy Bohl, 25, a construction company field engineer from High Bridge.
``I'm a Yankee fan, I'd have to go along with it,'' said Irene Massarsky, a real estate broker from Teaneck.
But one Old Tappan resident _ not a Yankee fan _ called the attention ridiculous.
``To think that this kid is a hero and to idolize him is absurd,'' said Greg Nalbandian, 25, a real estate appraiser. ``He interfered with a play and it's a playoff game.''
``The kid should be embarrassed, not proud, to go on TV,'' said Dave Bernroth, 28, a house painter from Ringwood.
With a $500 bet riding on the Orioles, Jeff Walrath, 34, of Waldwick was unhappy.
``The Yankees should have lost,'' he said.
But he doesn't blame Maier.
``The kid did nothing wrong, and it should end (umpire Rich Garcia's career). ... It was a disgrace to baseball.''
Coach MacLean said he wouldn't want to encourage fan interference, but ``I don't think there was any malice there. I think he was just excited, saw an opportunity and just reacted.''
At the Maier home, his grandmother, Lorraine Briemer of Alexandria, Va., was fending off reporters while the boy and his parents made the rounds of network TV studios 20 miles away in Manhattan. She said Jeffrey's dream is to be a pro baseball player.
``He's such a nice kid,'' he said. ``I am sure he is very excited about what is happening. But he has got his feet on the ground.''
She said she was watching the game on TV with her daughter, Jeff's mother, Jane.
``The ball goes towards the fence and you see a hand and my daughter says, `That's a black shirt. Jeffrey was wearing a black shirt.' Then the camera pans up and she screams, `It's Jeffrey!'''
The grandmother was in town for Jeffrey's bar mitzvah. At the reception, each table was assigned a team name _ Jeff's was the Yankee table _ and a banner proclaimed, ``Welcome to Jeff's World Series.''
In Little League last season, Maier was a starting pitcher. When not pitching he usually played center field. He batted cleanup and hit more than .600.
``I used him as often as I could,'' MacLean said. ``I wish I could get him at bat twice.''
As a coach, MacLean couldn't help notice that although the boy had the ball in his glove, he didn't hang onto it. His advice?
``Focus,'' he said. ``And keep your eye on the ball.''