-- It was Sept. 8, 1998 -- 18 years ago Thursday -- that a 22-year-old computer programmer, who worked for $40 a day on the St. Louis Cardinals' grounds crew, snagged Mark McGwire's then-record-breaking home run ball, and gave it back to McGwire for free.
Tim Forneris, who is now a public defender in St. Louis, says he wouldn't change a thing about the decision he made.
"Being part of this moment led to so many other things in my life," Forneris said. "The thinking is that money always helps make things easier, but that's not always the case. With lottery winners, it often turns into disaster."
While memorabilia experts estimated before the game that the ball could be worth $1 million or more, when Forneris snagged McGwire's shortest home run of the 70 he'd end up hitting in 1998, he immediately decided that the ball wasn't his to keep or sell. He returned it back to the Cardinals slugger in a ceremony that took place on the Busch Stadium field.
Forneris just happened to be in the right place to get the low liner over the left field fence, which broke what was then Roger Maris' single-season record of 61 home runs. His role on the grounds crew was to open the gate for visiting pitchers to the bullpen. When the ball came over the wall, Forneris said he sprinted from his usual position to a batting cage by the bullpen where the ball had come to rest. Later, he was on the field when McGwire was presented with the ball and some gifts from the team.
Forneris didn't ever get financial compensation from the ball, but he did get to meet President Bill Clinton, got a watch from the Cardinals and a Cardinal red minivan from a local Chrysler plant which was touched by his generosity in the face of potential riches. He still has the vehicle, which he said has about 80,000 miles on it.
Had Forneris sold the ball, there would have been a good possibility he could have gotten that $1 million. McGwire's last home run ball of the 1998 season, No. 70, sold for $3.05 million. But Forneris only catches himself thinking about the memories instead of the money; memories that are never too far away. Fittingly, Forneris' current office phone number ends in "62."