By Senior Airman Zachary Vucic, Air Force News Service / Published April 25, 2014
Staff Sgt. Thomas Sherrill (right) stands with Albert Pujols of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim after catching Pujols' 500th career major league home run April 22nd, 2014, in Washinton, D.C. Sherrill, a long-time Angels fan, moved into the left-center field bleachers of Nationals Park shortly before Pujols' milestone at bat. (Courtesy photo)
Staff Sgt. Thomas Sherrill (right) stands with Albert Pujols of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim after catching Pujols' 500th career major league home run April 22nd, 2014, in Washinton, D.C. Sherrill, a long-time Angels fan, moved into the left-center field bleachers of Nationals Park shortly before Pujols' milestone at bat. (Courtesy photo/Angels Baseball)
Albert Pujols (right) signs a baseball for Staff Sgt. Thomas Sherrill after Sherrill caught and returned Pujols’ 500th career home-run ball April 22, 2014, in Washington D.C. Sherrill, a long-time Angels fan, moved into the left-center field bleachers of Nationals Park shortly before Pujols' milestone at bat. (Courtesy photo/Angels Baseball)
WASHINGTON (AFNS) --
Even before Staff Sgt. Thomas Sherrill took his seat April 22 at Nationals Park here, he said he fantasized about what he would do if he somehow caught the milestone home-run ball off the bat of major-league slugger Albert Pujols.
The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim first baseman began the game against the Washington Nationals two home runs shy of 500. He struck for home run 499 in the top of the first inning. Anticipating Pujols’ next at bat and seated in foul territory, Sherrill said he and a friend spotted an opportunity to sit in the outfield, creating an outside chance of being in the area of the potential home run.
With Pujols down in the count 1-2, Sherrill said he started to feel nervous that it just wasn’t in the cards tonight. The next pitch was a sinker that Pujols took deep to left-center field.
“I could tell where it was going,” Sherrill said. “It was well above me, so I just jumped out of my chair and started running up the stairs.”
Sherrill said he looked up to see another man running down the steps – the race was on.
“I knew it was going to him … I gave up on the ball at that point,” he said. “But it bounced off him and I was able to grab it off the hop.”
He said he looked down at the ball in his hands, and all at once he realized, he had just caught Pujols’ 500th home run. At this point, the decision was literally in his hands: Give the ball back to Pujols, or keep the high-value souvenir for himself.
“Even before that day … I had already decided if I somehow caught it, I would give it back,” Sherrill said. “It just seemed like the right thing to do. When I actually had the ball in my hand, nothing changed, I still felt the same way.
“It’s his milestone, it’s his ball. Who am I to try to sell it back to him?” he asked.
As the man who missed his chance at catching the home run, Chris Gordon, shook Sherrill’s hand and congratulated him, Sherrill said he felt compelled to offer a consolation prize, and arranged for Gordon and his children to accompany him to meet Pujols.
“I felt really bad for him,” he said. “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity and it just slipped through his fingers.”
As security escorted him through the stadium and beyond the restricted areas, fans made it known what they thought he should do with the baseball.
“People were screaming at me as I was walking away; telling me to sell it (and) how much (Pujols) makes a year … people made sure I knew that it was valuable,” he said.
Through it all though, he said the decision he made while entertaining his fantasy of catching the ball was never in jeopardy. Minutes after catching the ball and already under scrutiny, his integrity was unwavering.
The entire experience was unforgettable and he said he feels a sense of satisfaction in giving the ball back to its rightful owner. Pujols himself has said Sherrill was “Very honest to give it back” and he appreciates it.