For the fan who caught Albert Pujols’ 703rd HR, great joy and minor controversy

For the fan who caught Albert Pujols’ 703rd HR, great joy and minor controversy

One of the coolest pieces of Cardinals memorabilia isn’t in Cooperstown or the team museum; it is safe in a safe in a house in rural Clinton County.

“It’s something I really like to have,” said Mike Hutcheson, 55, who grew up in Belleville and now lives near Trenton. “And of all things, I’m more proud that I caught that sucker with my bare hands.”

A lifelong Cardinals fan, Hutcheson traveled to Pittsburgh in October to watch Albert Pujols’ final regular season games. And sure enough, what did he take? Albert’s last home run, number 703. Ball also had 2,215 and 2,216 career RBIs, a total that surpassed Babe Ruth’s as the second-most RBIs of all time (only behind Hank Aaron and his 2,297 RBI).

Mike Hutcheson of rural Clinton County has Albert Pujols’ baseball hit for the 703rd and final home run of his Cardinals career.

Photo courtesy of Mike Hutcheson

Pujols’ 700th ball sold for $360,000.

We may never know the value of the number 703.

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For one thing, Hutcheson said he never planned to sell it, except for “life-changing money.” He confirmed that $360,000 sold through an auction house (with fees and taxes) would not be “life-changing money”.

But secondly, Hutcheson did not authenticate the ball.

During the chaos of that October 3rd night, he was constantly surrounded by happy, frenzied fans, as well as some media for interviews. On the phone recently, Hutcheson said he asked an usher three different times for the location of the stadium authenticator. Each time, he didn’t get a clear answer.

So when the game was over, he left the stadium having witnessed history, made history, and quite possibly devalued history.

Which, understandably, bugs him. He knows he’s got it: there are so many of them video of him taking it — and he knows he has the ball secured since he caught it. However, the lack of in-stadium authentication causes some consternation.

“Everybody’s talking about the fact that I didn’t authenticate,” he said, even describing the whispers he heard while standing in line at the Pittsburgh airport. “And I really think I find it funny. Because, one, I know what I’ve been through. And I wonder if any of them would know where to go (to authenticate it)? … If nothing else, I know the ball hasn’t out of my possession. Anybody else can question whether that’s the ball or not. But that’s what’s important to me.”

Hutcheson returned to PNC Park the next afternoon with the ball in a case, which he bought at a souvenir shop (the shopkeeper bluntly told him that the ball lost its value the moment it left the ballpark ). Hutcheson went to the players’ entrance and saw a Pirates videographer from the night before.

Hutcheson told him he wanted to speak to the authenticator. That guy went and got a guy. That guy then went to get another guy, who was the “operations manager,” according to Hutcheson. The manager told him he was out of luck.

Yes, Hutcheson was the one who eventually left the stadium with the ball unauthenticated. But he thought the Pirates (someone, anyone with the organization) could have been more accommodating and proactive that night of the catch (or even the next day).

Finally, Hutcheson spoke to the authenticator by the dugout.

“He said, ‘I heard you were looking for me,'” Hutcheson recalled. “He said, ‘There’s nothing I can do for you now. And even if you came to me yesterday, all I could do was put a sticker on it and identify it as a game-used ball. … Once it leaves the field of play, and I can no longer see it, I can no longer identify the situation (specific to the batted ball). It could be any of the balls that were lost out of bounds yesterday’”.

Major League Baseball did more authentication for Pujols’ potential 700th ball, but not after the 700th. Michael Posner, MLB’s senior director of authentication and memorabilia, he told the Post-Dispatch’s Derrick Goold about the process: After Pujols hit No. 699, every ball thrown at Pujols had an “open mark,” as well as an invisible mark, which could only be detected using proprietary technology.

But ball number 703 was, if you will, an ordinary ball.

Still, even without a hologram sticker, it’s no ordinary ball.

And let’s not forget: a ball Cardinals fan Hutcheson said he wanted to keep all along.

“But, I’d really like to meet Albert and have him sign it, and it would be worth it to me to do that…” Hutcheson said, wondering aloud if he would make a good donation to the Foundation Pujols family the opportunity to meet Pujols. “I think, for some reason, that’s validation. And I think it makes it even cooler. … Even if nobody thought it was the ball, with this hanging on the wall I can say, ‘This is his last home run, and he signed it.” And at the bottom is the number 703. People could argue about whether that’s or not, but that’s what it is.”

Asked what he meant by “validation,” Hutcheson said, “It’s a validation of everything. Albert’s not going to validate the ball. But maybe the validation of that is something historic. … I’ve been asked what am I going to do with it, and right now I’m just going to make a sample and show it. If Cooperstown called and said they wanted it as part of an Albert display, I’d be hard-pressed not to lend it to them.”

For now, the historic ball sits in the Illinois safe of a devout Cardinals fan whose memories of Oct. 3, if anything, are authentic.

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