Teen drives a hard bargain for minor league team that wants historic home run ball back

Mike Oz
Big League Stew

The Hillsboro Hops are the new Single-A short season affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks — and yes, the team is named for the plant that's used in brewing beer. That's just a fun fact, not the point of this story. Besides, beer is a fun entry point for any tale, right?

The Hops used to be the Yakima Bears, before moving this season to Hillsboro (which is near Portland, Ore.) Monday night was the Hops' first game, which brought a good deal of excitement because they're the only pro baseball team in the Portland area, and it was the opening of the brand-new Hillsboro Ballpark. A Major League Baseball authenticator was on hand to put a stamp of approval on any historic happenings. It was that kind of night.

So when Jordan Parr — just drafted by the D-backs out of the University of Illinois — hit the first home run at Hillsboro Ballpark, the Hops moved quick to preserve the moment. A 15-year-old fan caught the homer and when the Hops went to ask for the ball back, things got fun. John Canzano, the great sports columnist at The Oregonian tells the story:

The Hops offered the kid an autographed team baseball in exchange for the home-run ball. He turned them down.

The organization upped the offer to include a baseball bat, a team hat and a replacement baseball. Each of those overtures was refused. By the fifth inning, the 15-year-old's father was consulting on the matter, and the offer from the Hops included a free season-ticket to every remaining home game for the kid. The counteroffer from the kid was everything that had been previously offered, plus a set of season tickets for his entire family.

About this time, K.L. Wombacher, the executive vice president and general manager, halted the negotiations and retreated to a spot behind the grandstand to watch the rest of the game. "Too rich for us," he said.

In a world where some of the more popular reality TV shows feature pawn shops and pickers haggling for deals, this is a foreseeable outcome. The 15-year-old in question knows he's in a position of power and is trying to milk it for all its worth. But at the same time this is short-season minor league ball. It's not like he caught Yasiel Puig's first home run.

That, in fact, is a good example. Because the kid who caught Puig's first home run a couple weeks back had no trouble telling the Dodgers want he wanted in return. According to MLB.com's Cut4 blog, he asked for a signed bat and a jersey. Kids these days!

So what happened to the Hops ball? Glad you asked. Canzano gave us an update and, basically, the kid isn't budging.

Wombacher said on Tuesday, "We are still at a stalemate in negotiations. I guess it was his birthday, he had a great time. We would have loved to work with him."

Because the Hops are a single-A affiliate the organization is used to having to retrieve "firsts" for young players (first hit, first home run, etc.) But Wombacher said he's never had to negotiate to get a home run ball back.

Geez, maybe this kid's real intention is to get noticed by baseball agent Scott Boras and get an internship. Scratch that, he'd probably demand a full-time gig — with benefits and a month's vacation.

Baseball season's in full swing. Don't miss a thing.
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