Air Force serviceman returns 500th HR ball to Pujols
WASHINGTON -- Tom Sherrill brought no scouting reports or spray charts with him to Nationals Park for Tuesday night's Nationals-Angels game. All he had was his intuition, but that turned out to be enough to put the longtime Angels fan in position to grab Albert Pujols' milestone 500th home run.
Sherrill, a 29-year-old Air Force staff sergeant originally from Pomona, Calif., began the evening sitting down the left-field line. And even though Pujols' first-inning homer -- career No. 499 -- went in that direction, something told Sherrill to move toward center field before Pujols batted in the fifth.
"When I saw Albert was going to come up, we kind of finagled our way over toward left-center," he said. "Just a hunch, I guess. It worked out."
Sherrill wound up with the ball, which he gave back to Pujols without hesitation, asking nothing in return but receiving a new Angels hat and a signed ball, with more items likely to come.
"I'm happy with whatever they decide to give me, if anything," said Sherrill, who was in town to participate in some Air Force training in the area.
Even with his prescient move to left-center, Sherrill actually wasn't the one in the best position to claim No. 500.
Another fan, Chris Gordon, was at the game with his two sons, 12-year-old Jack and 17-year-old Tyler. The family, which lives in nearby Olney, Md., has partial-season tickets and comes to about seven games per season, usually leaving their seats to hang out at the Red Porch, well beyond the left-center-field wall.
About a half-hour before Pujols took his historic swing, Chris Gordon texted a friend and predicted he would catch home run No. 500, with the intention of returning the prize to Pujols. After Pujols hit No. 499, Gordon decided to head down the stairs for each ensuing Pujols at-bat, to prepare for an opportunity.
Then the moment arrived. Nationals right-hander Taylor Jordan left a 1-2 pitch up and out over the plate, and Pujols launched it deep to left-center. Immediately, Sherrill knew it was over his head, so he took off up the stairs, while Gordon ran down.
"As I got close to where the ball was coming in, I saw Chris and I thought, 'It's over, this guy's getting the ball,'" Sherrill said.
Gordon saw the ball come straight at him and tried to cradle it, but it smacked him in the stomach and bounced away. While Gordon took a tumble and was left with a welt at the point of impact and some cuts and bruises, the ball ended up right there for Sherrill. He snatched it up and raised his arms over his head in celebration.
But as it turned out, the story came with a happy ending for all involved. Gordon and his sons still got to go down to the Angels' clubhouse after the game, where they met Pujols for photos and autographs.
And Pujols got back both Nos. 500 and 499, which was caught by another out-of-town Angels fan, Roy Kirkley of Tustin, Calif.
"They were pretty honest to give it back, and I appreciate that," Pujols said.