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Fan touched by Piscotty's story, sends HR ball

Heartwarming tale of how it found way back to A's outfielder
MLB.com @JaneMLB

DETROIT -- The trajectory of the ball could only be traced so far. It was bound for the beyond; this, an emotional Stephen Piscotty knew to be emblematic.

It would clear Boston's iconic Green Monster, disappearing into the night, or so it seemed.

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DETROIT -- The trajectory of the ball could only be traced so far. It was bound for the beyond; this, an emotional Stephen Piscotty knew to be emblematic.

It would clear Boston's iconic Green Monster, disappearing into the night, or so it seemed.

View Full Game Coverage

"I still have it pretty vividly in my mind," Piscotty said. "I knew I hit it pretty good, and I just kind of watched the ball sail out of the park.

"I didn't think I would see it again."

The A's outfielder journeyed around the bases, his emotions jostled, while a man named Paul Fortino obliviously wandered the backstreets of Fenway Park. Piscotty tapped his heart as he crossed home plate, mimicking the motions of mom. "I love you and thank you," she had gestured to him in her final days when she could no longer speak.

Gretchen Piscotty had lost her year-long battle with ALS a week prior; Piscotty departed the team to grieve her passing, and he had just capped his first at-bat since returning from her celebration of life in the Bay Area with a home run among hallowed grounds.

Fortino, meanwhile, was unaware of the momentous nature of the moment. He was simply a bystander, on business from Detroit, when he spotted the ball in flight. This was a chance sighting, and Fortino had nearly missed out on it; several coworkers had been turned off by a 90-minute rain delay, uninterested in waiting out the weather.

Fortino, though a frequent traveler, had never been to Fenway. They already had tickets, he told them. They should go. So they did.

"We get dropped off, have no clue where anything is, but there's this alley," Fortino said. "I'm walking and I see a ball coming over the Green Monster, and it lands in this parking garage.

"I just sprint away from my group."

Turn left. Now right. No, the other way.

Fans populating the Green Monster were directing Fortino to the ball. Even after it was secured, they kept yelling at him: "Throw it back!" they beckoned.

"And I'm like, 'No way, I've got five kids, this is my first home run ball, I'm taking it home,'" Fortino said. "I had no clue about this Piscotty kid. This was just a home run ball. I was like a kid, I was so happy to have a Major League ball."

Fortino had been in the right place at the right time. It was a heck of a story, he thought. What Fortino didn't know then, though, was that it was only in its early stages. The ball would be sitting inside Piscotty's locker in Oakland weeks later.

See, Fortino was at his best friend's wedding in Traverse City, Mich., the weekend after returning from Boston. He showed up wearing a Red Sox cap -- "I'm a Boston fan now, you know?" he said -- and was almost unrecognizable to friends.

"I thought you were a Detroit Tigers guy," one said.

Storytime commenced. Fortino's friend, familiar with Piscotty's story, filled him in.

"I got chills," Fortino said. "I had no idea what this kid had gone through, the strength he had shown. I was like, 'I've got that ball!'

"It was at home. I have five kids and I'm thinking, 'They better not have used it!' I'm calling them, like, 'Where's the ball? We've got to get him the ball back.'"

The same friend who knew Piscotty's story was also familiar with Red Sox CEO and president Sam Kennedy -- friends, in fact. A relay of e-mails, ultimately involving A's president Dave Kaval, ensued, and the ball was soon airmailed to 7000 Coliseum Way in Oakland.

Piscotty and Fortino met on the field at Comerica Park on Tuesday, scripting the ending to a stirring story.

"When I got the ball, it was just a package put in my locker with a note saying that he had caught it," Piscotty said. "But I hadn't gotten the full story. I was just surprised by all the twists and turns that got the ball back to Oakland. It was really cool, and it's a very memorable baseball to me, so I'm very grateful. The homer may top all of the ones I've hit."

Piscotty gained a lifelong fan along the way. Well, more like seven, including Fortino's kids and wife Jenny, who has also immersed herself in all things Piscotty in recent weeks.

They're not alone -- one well-traveled baseball inadvertently bringing attention to a cause close to the Piscottys. The A's will do their part when hosting ALS Awareness Day at the Coliseum on Sept. 3.

"The touching thing for me," Piscotty said, "was how the story had touched and been known by so many people, and that's how [the ball] was able to get back to me. That's important, because I'm glad that story is getting out so that more awareness and attention can be brought to ALS. That's something that's been on my mind a lot lately -- just continue to push and strive for ways to bring more attention to it.

"It felt really good that the story had reached so many people, and that's kind of how the ball got back to me. That was a cool thing."

Jane Lee has covered the A's for MLB.com since 2010. Follow her on Twitter @JaneMLB.

Oakland Athletics, Stephen Piscotty