American times: Record-breaker knocks $1m into fan's lap

ST LOUIS

WHEN PHILIP OZERSKY set off to watch a baseball game at Busch Stadium in St Louis one day last September he had an inkling it would be special. After all, it was to be the final game of the year for the St Louis Cardinals and the last chance for the team's superstar slugger, Mark McGwire, to add maybe one more home run to the record-smashing 69 he had already put away in the season.

But just how special, he cannot have known. The story since September of Mr Ozersky, a 26-year-old research scientist, will be familiar to lottery winners. What he got in Busch Stadium was a windfall, literally. He has yet to collect his winnings - that should happen next Tuesday in New York.

McGwire had, of course, already broken the 61 single-season home run record set by Roger Maris in 1961.

As he raised his bat that day, he had the stadium in his thrall. Would the ball fly over the fence just one more time? And if it did, who, among the tens of thousands watching, would catch it?

When a home run is scored, identifying where exactly it lands in the terraces - always assuming it doesn't travel clean into the car park - is never difficult. You will instantly spot that small zone of human convulsion, where fans near enough to where the ball falls will simultaneously lunge to retrieve it. Under baseball's rules, it is finders keepers.

Now there are baseballs and baseballs. Never mind that they all look exactly the same and can be bought for a few dollars in any sporting goods shop.

To fans, balls that have been whacked for a home run are special trophies. Those who snag one usually have a choice - to keep it or to return it to the player who hit it in return for autographed club souvenirs. But at this moment, there was the chance to capture the veritable Holy Grail of the sport - the ball that would set the new home run all-time record.

It was an instant Mr Ozersky has since played over in his mind many times. On that first pitch, McGwire struck the ball with a thwack. It soared, it peaked against the St Louis sky and arched down directly into the box occupied by Mr Ozersky and his colleagues. Within a split second, he was on the ground beneath the benches temporarily installed for the game, desperately reaching for the prize. And suddenly, he had it, right there in his hands. The life of Philip Ozersky was altered for ever.

As if out of nowhere, a team of security men was in the box and escorting the delirious Mr Ozersky to a private room beneath the box. They first authenticated the ball and then offered him the usual choice of returning it to McGwire. Mr Ozersky, however, hesitated. Instead, he took the ball home and that night slept with it hidden in a drawer in his bedroom. He took it to work the next day to show it to his friends then decided to lock it in a security deposit box at his bank.

A cousin in Florida who is a lawyer stepped in to help. Giving the ball away was quickly ruled out because of crippling gift taxes. Selling the ball in tiny bits, thread by thread, was also eliminated. Finally, contact was made with an agent in St Louis who persuaded Mr Ozersky that the best route was to put the ball up for auction. He also arranged to have the ball delivered to a firm in California that tagged it with a smear of synthesised DNA. The DNA tag will ensure that the identity of the ball is never called into question.

And so next Tuesday, in Madison Square Garden in New York, the ball that McGwire put away on his 70th and final home run of the extraordinary 1998 season will go under the gavel. Selling it will be Guernsey's, the New York auction house.

A pre-auction of the ball started yesterday on the Internet. The top three bidders from the cyber auction will join the live sale.

It is only a ball, but most experts expect it to sell for $1m or more. Mr Ozersky will certainly be hoping so. In the past few weeks he has fended off countless private offers for the ball - one, involving three partners, for $1m.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
video
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Southern charm: Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in ‘Joe’
filmReview: Actor delivers astonishing performance in low budget drama
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Up my street: The residents of the elegant Moray Place in Edinburgh's Georgian New Town
tvBBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past
Extras
indybest
News
Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry has been the teaching profession's favourite teacher
education
Sport
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
sport
Life and Style
Cheesecake frozen yoghurt by Constance and Mathilde Lorenzi
food + drinkThink outside the cool box for this summer’s frozen treats
News
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Sport
Sir Bradley Wiggins removes his silver medal after the podium ceremony for the men’s 4,000m team pursuit in Glasgow yesterday
Commonwealth games Disappointment for Sir Bradley in team pursuit final as England are forced to settle for silver
Sport
Alistair Brownlee (right) celebrates with his gold medal after winning the men’s triathlon alongside brother Jonny (left), who got silver
England's Jodie Stimpson won the women’s triathlon in the morning
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Report Analyst (SSRS, CA, SQL 2012)

£30000 - £38500 Per Annum + 25 days holiday, pension, subsidised restaurant: C...

Application Support Analyst (SQL, Incident Management, SLAs)

£34000 - £37000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

Embedded Software / Firmware Engineer

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Pension, Holiday, Flexi-time: Progressive Recruitm...

Developer - WinForms, C#

£280 - £320 per day: Progressive Recruitment: C#, WinForms, Desktop Developmen...

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform