Fourteen years after Andrew Beinbrink hit a home run in Game 11 of the 1998 College World Series, he will be reunited with the ball.
On Father's Day 2012, Ray Rasmussen and his son, Jeremy, told me a story at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb. about how they attended that particular CWS game at Rosenblatt Stadium between the Arizona State Sun Devils and Long Beach State 49ers. Jeremy was 12 years old when ASU infielder Beinbrink blasted the home to left field.
Ray caught the ball, gave it to his son and they waited for Beinbrink after the game to autograph it (you can read the complete story here). The Rasmussens have enjoyed the autographed ball over the years and in recent seasons have been thinking Beinbrink might want it back.
After hearing their story, I tracked down Beinbrink, who played for ASU from 1996-'99, through SportsForce -- his company that helps to connect high school athletes and their parents with college coaches and recruiters.
Beinbrink told me in a phone interview on Wednesday, June 20 that the story about his home run ball came out of left field -- no pun intended.
"It caught me off guard," Beinbrink told me. "It was pretty cool. So, I decided to follow up and have fun with it."
He called Jeremy and they had a 15-minute conversation.
"Talking to Andrew after all these years and giving him something that means a lot to him means an awful lot to me," Jeremy told me. "Getting a phone call from him the morning after the article ran was certainly quite a surprise, but getting the chance to talk baseball, the father-son connection that often goes along with it and what Omaha means to CWS players was really a special experience.
"I knew when he said that his father passed the year before we met him, that the ball and the story behind it might have an even greater significance."
Beinbrink's father passed away in 1997 from pancreatic cancer, so he never had a chance to see Beinbrink play in the CWS. It's one of the reasons this story resonated with Beinbrink. Here was a father and son who watched him play at the CWS all those years ago and they wanted to return the ball to him -- an act of kindness that sparked a memory about Beinbrink's own father.
"My dad wrote my brother and me a letter before he passed," Beinbrink said. "He said that the most important thing in his life was being the best possible father he could be.
"He emphasized the importance of placing our family first and standing up for great values. He recommended we set goals, follow our passion and to remember that to achieve greatness, it requires that we have the courage to take risks.
"Finally, he told us that we have the choice to shape our legacy and that is what we will be remembered for when all is said and done."
The Tampa Bay Rays drafted Beinbrink out of college and he put these words of wisdom into practice, working his way up to Triple-A Durham in that organization by 2002. He spent the final two years of his career playing in the minor leagues for the Texas Rangers' organization. In 672 minor league games, he hit .287 with 41 HR and 313 RBIs.
At the age of 27, after not getting his shot at the big leagues, and after missing the team oriented style of play in college, he retired -- moving on to eventually become the founder and CEO of SportsForce.
When I asked him if he remembered hitting the home run that Ray caught, he was quick to answer.
"Of course," he said, laughing. "I really hit that one well. It was cold that night and the wind was blowing in from left field, which was really rare for Omaha and it was the type of night in which the ball would carry the least out of the whole series.
"I just put a charge into the ball and I knew it was out as soon as I hit it. It was just a special time for me and the entire team. We were playing lights out baseball."
The Sun Devils were 41-23 in '98 and Beinbrink had a great year, hitting .328 and leading the team with 12 HR and 85 RBIs in 64 games. The Sun Devils lost the championship game that season (they only played one game for the title back then) in a 21-14 slugfest with the Southern California Trojans.
His career numbers at ASU still pepper the school's record book. He is the all-time leader in runs scored (245), runs batted in (283) and total bases (547). He is second all-time in hits (318), second in doubles (75) and seventh in home runs (40).
"His years as a baseball player may be behind him," Jeremy said, "but hopefully this whole thing reminds him that for at least two weeks in June of 1998, he was a star that made a big impression on a little kid from Nebraska."
Ray sees the return of the ball to Beinbrink as a great way for his family to begin building new memories at TD Ameritrade Park after so many great years at Rosenblatt Stadium.
"For those who didn't think TD Ameritrade Park would have the same memories in it that Rosenblatt had, that is true in some ways, but there are a whole new crop of memories being made every time, regardless of where it's played," Ray said. "This will certainly be one of the things I'll always remember when I think of the new park."
So, what about the ball that is currently en route to Beinbrink? What will Beinbrink do with it?
"It'll be something I want to share when I have a son," Beinbrink said. "I want to use it to tell him about the relationship that my dad and I had through baseball. I don't have a son yet, but when I do, he's not going to get to meet my dad, so it's going to have to be through stories.
"I'll be able to explain how this ball came from a father and son in Omaha and it's one that his dad hit for a home run in the College World Series."
Lee Warren is a freelance writer who lives in Omaha, Nebraska and is covering the 2012 College World Series for YCN.