Tim Forneris: the man behind McGwire’s 62nd home run

The home run race of 1998 brought life back into baseball. Since then, baseball has seen its share of highs and lows in regard to those home runs, but one part of the race remains consistent, Tim Forneris.

Forneris, 36, now resides in St. Louis. In 1998 he was a member of the grounds crew at Busch Stadium, and loved the fact that being around the St. Louis Cardinals and their stadium on a daily basis was part of his job description.

Tim Forneris recalls the night he caught the home run ball that broke Roger Maris’ record and the aftermath. Photo: Brett McMillan

As fate would have it, Forneris would have his life changed forever on the night of September 8, 1998. That was the night Cardinal first baseman Mark McGwire broke Roger Maris’ record, by hitting home run number 62. Forneris was the lucky fan who caught that ball.

At the stadium, “It was a zoo,” said Forneris. McGwire, known for his monstrous home runs into the furthest reaches of a ballpark, hit a line drive home run at Busch that just cleared the left field wall.

“I sat on this bench behind the left field wall,” Forneris said. “With the small chance it was hit in that little hole, I wanted to be the guy to catch it. I jumped down and see the ball go through, telling myself I’m going to get it.”

After the insanity of the confetti-laden celebration unfolded, Forneris had the ball and would have to soon decide what to do with it, as the world watched. There would be no auction for the record-breaking home run ball. “I had talked about it with my family and said if I got it, I’d give it back,” said Forneris.

When asked if he would have given the ball to the Cubs’ Sammy Sosa had he hit 62 that night, Forneris said, “Yes I would have, for baseball I would have.”

Fans have differing opinions on whether Forneris made the correct decision, especially after the 70th home run ball sold for nearly three million dollars. Alex Rice, senior at Lindenwood University, said, “In that scenario, with that record holding up for 30-plus years, I’d give it back. It’s the player’s ball, not mine. He hit it, not me.”

However, there are those who see the chance for monetary gain. LU senior Scott Milward answered the question differently. “I’d want something for it if I caught it. I would have sold it, probably.”

Forneris, who described himself as “not a big memorabilia guy,” gave the ball to McGwire with no regrets.

Later, it surfaced that McGwire used steroids throughout his career and during the 1998 home-run race.  As a result, that night was tarnished for many fans of the Cardinals and baseball. So is the memory of that night marred for the man who caught 62?

Forneris said, “As a baseball fan you’re obviously disappointed, but as a person it’s hard to erase all the great things about it.” That night was a lasting image in baseball history, and according to the man who had a front-row seat, “it’s still fun.”

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