October 11, 1996 in Nation/World

Yankee Fans Pin Stripes On Their New Star Lunch Specials, Second-Game Tickets Honor Little Leaguer

Larry Mcshane Associated Press

He turned down Geraldo, said hi to “Hard Copy,” and zipped from The Plaza hotel to “Good Morning America.”

Everybody wants a piece of Jeff Maier, the 12-year-old Yankee fan whose quick glove boosted his beloved Bronx Bombers to a playoff victory.

His eighth-inning lean-and-grab of a Derek Jeter homer that seemed a certain out made Thursday’s front pages of the Daily News, the New York Post and The New York Times. A deli in his hometown, Old Tappan, N.J., was running a Jeff Maier lunch special. The pint-sized star received an ovation inside The All-Star Cafe.

Oh, and people in Baltimore were threatening to strangle him.

Heady stuff for the Little League center fielder, who was playing hooky from school when he met the press Thursday afternoon.

The unassuming kid, lunching at a reserved table in The All-Star Cafe, was quick to play down his nationally televised (and endlessly replayed) grab of a fly ball that had seemed destined to die in the glove of Baltimore Oriole Tony Tarasco.

“I’m not as famous as the Yankees,” Maier, wearing his favorite team’s hat and shirt, told a horde of reporters. “The players go out there every day. The Yankees deserve the credit.”

Jeff also had an answer for the critics - mostly Orioles fans, including Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke - who accused him of changing the outcome of the first game of the American League Championship Series. The Yankees, buoyed by the gift homer, won 5-4 in 11 innings.

“They don’t understand,” he said patiently. “If they were me, a 12-year-old kid at a New York Yankees playoff game, they would try and catch the ball, too.”

The kid answered everything until abruptly ending his news conference: “I’m not answering any more questions, so you might as well leave.”

As Jeff ate lunch with his mom, dad and the friends who brought him to Wednesday night’s game, eight giant screens flashed the Daily News’ front page headline: “KID GLOVE!” ESPN replayed the moment that made Jeff famous on several other televisions.

After lunch - paid for by the Daily News, which also served up a town car and eight Game 2 tickets - the 12-year-old turned down $1,000 for an afternoon appearance on “Geraldo.”

He had previous plans: Game 2 at 3 p.m. “Go catch another one today!” shouted a cafe patron, unaware that Jeff’s seat was safely in foul territory, in the first row behind the Yankees’ dugout.

The Maier crew arrived about 90 minutes before game time, and Jeff posed for pictures with other fans - and signed some autographs.

Lest there be a repeat of Wednesday, at least a half dozen security guards in blue were posted in the right field seats where the boy caught the ball.

On Wednesday night, Jeff’s front-row seat in right field came courtesy of a family friend, Bob Altman, who also brought his sons Brian and Matthew to Wednesday’s game.

Brian, 13, of Harrington Park, N.J., was sitting beside Jeff at the moment of truth.

“I didn’t have my glove,” Brian recalled. “And I was sort of petrified.”

While New Yorkers were ready to add a plaque of young Jeff to Yankee Stadium’s Monument Park, talk radio stations in Baltimore were flooded with callers blasting the kid and right field umpire Rich Garcia, who could have called Jeter out.

Orioles manager Davey Johnson, who was thrown out of the game for arguing the call, shared their pain.

“After I was ejected, I saw they were interviewing the kid as a hero,” Johnson said. “That didn’t feel too good, either.”

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