Tom Sherrill, a California native, was in Washington this week of Air Force training. Along with a fellow serviceman, the 29-year-old staff sergeant decided to catch the second game of the Nationals-Angels series on Tuesday night. The longtime Angels fan walked up to a ticket stand and bought one for a seat in the left field bleachers. But after Angels slugger Albert Pujols smashed career home run No. 499 off Nationals starter Taylor Jordan in the first inning, Sherrill decided to switch seats for No. 500 on a hunch.
“I saw some seats over there and thought there’s a good chance he could hit it in this area,” Sherrill said after the Nationals 7-2 loss.
And in the Red Porch seats in left-center field, Sherrill became a small part of a milestone in baseball history. In the fifth inning, Pujols launched a rocket of a two-run home run off Jordan and became the 26th player in MLB history to hit 500 career home runs. Sherrill, a former baseball player growing up, said he could tell where the ball was headed so he raced up the Red Porch steps.
“It went so far up that I just turned around and hauled [my butt] up the stairs and it worked out,” said Sherrill, who is from Pomona, Calif., about 30 minutes from Anaheim. “There was another guy there named Chris, he was running down the stairs. We kinda squared each other up. It bounced off of him and into my hands.” (Watch video of that unfortunate drop here.)
As Pujols raced around the bases, Sherrill held the ball high up in the air with his right hand. A security guard immediately found him and pulled him aside. He said representatives from the Nationals and Angels and a memorabilia authenticator also came out to talk with him. They asked him what he wanted to do with the ball?
“I said I wanted to give the ball to Albert,” Sherrill recalled. “It’s his ball.”
Sherrill did, and in exchange the Angels gave him a team baseball cap, a chance to meet Pujols in the clubhouse and an autographed ball. Sherrill said an Angels representative took down his contact information presumably, he said, to get more gear from the team for giving up Pujols’s milestone ball.
“If they do, cool,” he said. “If they don’t, I don’t care. You’ve heard the guy speak. He’s such a good guy. I’m just happy he got the ball back.”
Pujols was appreciative of Sherrill’s gesture. He also got the ball back from his 499th home run, caught by Roy Kirkley, 62, from Tustin, Calif., who stopped by Washington to see the Angels along with visiting his daughter in North Carolina. The odds that both fans who caught Pujols’s memorable home runs are from California and visiting Washington are mindbogglingly slim. (Pujols even met the man who whiffed at catching his 500th home and his kids.)
“They were pretty honest to give it back and I appreciate it,” Pujols said.
While Pujols spoke with reporters in the Nationals news conference room, Sherrill stood in the back at watched along with Kirkley. He was still amazed at his luck. He got to witness an unforgettable moment in the history of the team he has rooted for for 20 years.
“It is amazing,” Sherrill said.