ST. LOUIS (AP) _ When John Grass caught Mark McGwire's 63rd home run, he didn't know he would catch a lot of flak, too.

``It's become a nightmare,'' said Grass, who decided to keep the ball. ``I'm worn down.''

Grass has been criticized since catching ball No. 63 and holding out for money. The fans who caught Nos. 56 through 62 all traded theirs for a handful of balls, bats and jerseys autographed by McGwire, plus minor perks.

``Most of the people who are ripping me don't know me. And they're jealous,'' Grass said. ``I'm not the ogre they think I am. I guess I could have tried not to catch it. But why would I want to do that?''

At least one person thinks Grass has the right idea.

Bill Goodwin, of the St. Louis memorabilia company Goodwin & Co. Sports, said No. 63 could be worth up to $500,000, depending on how many homers are hit and returned to McGwire and Sammy Sosa.

``The guy should probably just go home and put it in a safety-deposit box,'' Goodwin said. ``I'm amazed that all these people are giving these home run balls back. It's a little like winning the lottery but you say, `Naw, I don't want it.'''

Grass, 46, had a better chance than most of catching a McGwire homer. He and a friend, Larry Thomas, bought four bleacher tickets to every September home game at Busch Stadium.

Cardinals president Mark Lamping has said that any ball hit into the stands, historic or not, belongs to the retriever.

``I read where the guy who gave back number 60 is already regretting it,'' Grass said. ``So I had a list. It was a long list. I come from a big family.''

Grass has a wife, three children, a grandchild, six brothers and two sisters. All of them figured in his list of autographed items. He added assorted perks, such as a free vacation at spring training.

After Tuesday's game, Grass and Thomas met their hero outside the Cardinals locker room

``I shook hands with him, and he said, `What do you want, a couple autographed balls and bats?''' Grass said. ``I told him, no, that I had a list. And he said, `I don't negotiate. The club handles that.' And he left.''

General manager Walt Jocketty took over, to no avail. Grass and Thomas left with the ball, which was authenticated by a major league baseball official.

Grass is still in the hunt for McGwire's final home run of the season, should it come at Busch Stadium. On Wednesday night, he was back in Section 591, Row 8, Seat 5 in the left-field bleachers.

``People recognized me and told me I was doing the right thing,'' Grass said. ``Two ladies sitting near me said, `Get what you can for it.'''