O'Hoppe once threw a HR ball back at Yankee Stadium -- here's proof

April 18th, 2023

NEW YORK -- Angels catcher remembers the moment well.

It was his senior year at St. John the Baptist High School in West Islip, N.Y., and like he often did once he got his driver’s license, he drove 45 miles on a Friday night to see his beloved Yankees play the Orioles at Yankee Stadium on April 6, 2018.

But just two batters into the game, then-Orioles star Manny Machado connected on a hanging breaking ball from CC Sabathia and ripped a homer to deep left field that landed in the second deck.

O’Hoppe, wearing a Yankees jersey over his hoodie, caught it on the fly with his left hand, high-fived his friend and then launched the ball all the way back into the infield, with second-base umpire Ben May being tasked with retrieving it.

O’Hoppe, who would be drafted by the Phillies just two months later, couldn’t help but smile when asked about that experience before the Angels started a three-game series at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday night.

“I was 17 and two months away from being drafted, and I remember not being able to see the rest of the game because my phone was blowing up,” O’Hoppe said. “So it was good practice for tonight when my phone is blowing up.”

O’Hoppe, who grew up in Sayville, N.Y., on Long Island, said he grew up idolizing Derek Jeter, who remains his favorite player of all time. He went to countless games at Yankee Stadium as a fan, and he especially made it a point to do so during his senior year of high school.

He also had the chance to play at Yankee Stadium in a showcase game as a high schooler and then played in an exhibition game there with the Phillies in 2020. O’Hoppe nearly homered in that game, but it featured no fans because of the pandemic.

So this homecoming is extra special for O’Hoppe, who estimated that he’ll have several hundred family members and friends at the ballpark this week for the series. He said he left tickets for his parents, Michael and Angela, and his uncle Frank, but he had to let everybody else fend for themselves.

“It’s pretty surreal,” O’Hoppe said. “It was a pretty cool moment. We had some early work so I was at the plate by myself and took a couple of seconds [to take it in]. It was pretty cool, but the focus is on the game tonight.”

O’Hoppe, ranked the club’s No. 1 prospect per MLB Pipeline, was acquired by the Angels from the Phillies in exchange for outfielder Brandon Marsh at last year’s Trade Deadline. He has made a quick ascent to the Majors and has emerged as the Angels’ primary catcher as a rookie early this season with Max Stassi out with a family emergency and a left hip strain.

O’Hoppe has drawn rave reviews from Angels pitchers, who love to throw to him, and he has also fared well offensively, hitting .244/.300/.533 with four homers and 11 RBIs through his first 13 games.

O’Hoppe was in the lineup again for the series opener in the Bronx, starting behind the plate and hitting ninth. He had to reiterate that he’s no longer a Yankees fan.

“I grew up a Yankee fan, but they beat me too much as a Phillie so I’m not a fan anymore,” O’Hoppe said with a smile. “And I’m in the visiting clubhouse now.”