Did the Phillies bully a little girl into giving up a treasured memento in exchange for a couple of game tickets and some magic beans? Or is this the case of a scumbag lawyer filing a needless lawsuit to make a baseball star look bad? Hey, why can’t it be both? Yes, now I’m happy.
The date is July 15, 2009 (actual date may vary) at Land Shark Stadium, home of the Florida Marlins and many gigantic bugs. Ryan Howard slugs a home run for the Phillies. In the right field bleachers, thinking about hair care products and possibly one or more Jonas brother, is Jennifer Valdivia, 12, who is at the game with her grandfather and 15-year-old brother. The ball comes to her and she catches it. It happens to be Howard’s 200th career homer, and Phillies management quickly move in for the kill. Their mission? Get that ball from the kid.
Phillies personnel tracked down Jennifer in the stands and asked if she’d like to meet Howard after the game. Cool! But once inside the clubhouse, they convinced — some say strong-armed — the girl into giving up the ball for some tickets and another regular ball signed by Howard.
On returning from the game, Jennifer told her mother, who was not amused. She retained a lawyer to get the ball back. After a few weeks of stonewalling by the Phillies, her lawyer filed a lawsuit. The next day, the ball was returned.
“They’re saying I stole the ball from Mr. Howard,” Delfa Vanegas, Jennifer’s mother, said. “I didn’t steal anything from Mr. Howard. Whoever caught the ball, the ball belongs to that person.
“Why did they take the ball away? Because they knew it was a very valuable ball. They took advantage of my daughter.”
This was not about money, Vanegas insisted, although she admits that she contacted a Miami TV consumer affairs reporter after co-workers told her that the ball’s historical significance gave it added value. The reporter, in turn, put her in touch with Kent.
Howard was the fastest to 200 home runs in MLB history, and the slowest to return a ball. But one can’t help but wonder if the Phillies pulled some kind of switcheroo, and the ball they returned isn’t really No. 200?
All in all an unsavory story in which one is forced to side with either MLB front office schmucks or a shady lawyer. If this were an episode of M*A*S*H, Hawkeye and Trapper would have donated the ball Sister Agnes at the orphanage in the nearby village.