By JOE LAPOINTE
Published: April 14, 2006
MIDDLETOWN, Conn., April 12 — The pitch was a fastball on the outside part of the plate, exactly what Jeffrey Maier was looking for on Wednesday afternoon as Wesleyan University took on Bates College in a relaxed baseball setting that bore no resemblance to Yankee Stadium.
Maier took a left-handed swing and drove the ball into the outfield for a run-scoring double. His Wesleyan teammates cheered, and so did several dozen fans, including his parents and sister. As the umpire tossed the souvenir ball to the bench, Maier stood on second base and tried to keep the smile off his bearded face. For the second time in his life, Maier had made baseball history.
Does the name sound familiar? It might. Ten years ago, when the Yankees met the Baltimore Orioles in the first game of the American League Championship Series, Maier was the 12-year-old boy who reached over the right-field wall for Derek Jeter's fly ball in the Bronx.
Maier deflected it into the seats for what was ruled a game-tying, eighth-inning home run, a controversial and memorable moment that helped propel the Yankees to the first of four World Series championships in a five-year span.
Now, Maier is a 5-foot-11, 190-pound, 22-year-old Wesleyan senior who plays at third base and in the outfield. His double was his 169th career hit, a Wesleyan record. He hit another double later in the game and has 170 hits going into Friday's game at Hamilton. He has his eye on professional baseball, although his chances of reaching the major leagues as a player are slim. But he also aspires to be a general manager for a major league team, perhaps a more realistic possibility in a business that is increasingly turning toward youth in the front office.
Whatever he does, his 1996 fling with fame will tag along with him.
"Certainly it's something that happened that I have no regrets about," Maier said. "It happened. I'm not going to run away from it. It's a lot easier to just kind of laugh about it and talk about it. It's sort of given me the opportunity to show my sense of humor and move past what happened then. It's almost been 10 years. It's pretty crazy. It's flown by."
Maier's grade-point average is 3.4; his batting average is .404. He wrote an independent study project in college about the migration of baseball franchises in the 1950's. He is majoring in government with a minor in economics.
He appeared in a student film about himself and an Orioles fan called, "I Hate Jeffrey Maier." He has read the book "Moneyball" about new ways that modern baseball executives are evaluating talent and payroll. He has interviewed for a job on Wall Street. Derek Jeter is still his favorite baseball player, just as Maier, in a certain way, is one of Jeter's favorite fans.
"I will never forget what he did," Jeter said at Yankee Stadium this week. "It's good that he is doing something now on his own and he has his own memories."
For years, Maier avoided interviews about the incident, but he was a national story after it occurred. He was from Old Tappan, N.J., and the ticket to the game had been a present at his bar mitzvah, held a week earlier with a World Series theme.
"I didn't mean to do anything bad," Maier explained at the time. "I'm just a 12-year-old kid trying to catch a ball." But other fans were not so understanding. In a game at Williams College in Massachusetts in his sophomore year, he played center field. Fans threw snow and ice.
They were Red Sox fans and, to them, Maier represented Yankee success. If Maier had not interfered with Jeter's fly ball, it might have been caught by Orioles right-fielder Tony Tarasco, and it certainly would have stayed in play. So the Williams fans pelted him.
"It got a little bit dangerous; it kind of crossed the line," Maier said. "I ran in. They stopped the game to remove the, quote-unquote, unruly fans. They knew who I was. That's sort of why they were doing it."
The student film was light-hearted. It was a fictional story of a Wesleyan student who spends four years trying to track down Maier. "It gave me an opportunity to test my skills in front of the camera," Maier said. "I don't think I have much of a future there."
Perhaps not, but a few cameras filmed him setting the record on Wednesday. While he was interviewed after the game in front of one of them, a teammate, Eric Wdowiak, surprised Maier with a shaving-cream pie in the face. It covered the neatly trimmed beard that Maier said is his first. Maier said he is on a hitting streak and too superstitious to shave it, even for job interviews.
He would rather play pro ball, and his coach, Mark Woodworth, said, "There's no doubt in my mind that he can play professional baseball at some level." Woodworth said two scouts have been "floating around" Maier but refused to be specific about their identity.
However, a National League scout who covers New England said Maier was not highly rated. "I don't think he's on anybody's radar," said the scout, who was granted anonymity because scouting evaluations are confidential in a competitive profession. "I could be wrong."
The scout said it was difficult for Division III players to advance. Richard Adelstein, the economics professor who supervised Maier's 45-page research paper, is a baseball fan who said Maier's size and leg injuries in college work against his playing ambitions.
"I think he has a better chance to be an executive than he does a player," said Adelstein, who gave Maier an A on the paper.
A few months after he tried to catch Jeter's ball, Maier met Jeter at a card-signing but said he was too tongue-tied to talk.
"I wish I could go back in time and think of some words to say to him," Maier said. Perhaps their paths will cross again, down the line.