Mon, Jul 09, 2007 - Page 18 News List

Catching McGwire home run No. 70 changes man's life


Catching Mark McGwire's 70th home run ball made Phil Ozersky a rich man.

His advice to the lucky fan who snares Barry Bonds' 756th: Take the money.

"Do what's right for you," Ozersky said while taking in Bonds' chase for Hank Aaron's Major League Baseball home run record at Busch Stadium this week. "But I definitely am happy with what I did," he said. "I benefited financially, but a lot of other people benefited, too."

A lot has changed for Ozersky since he cashed in on a lucky bounce that left the prize ball in his grasp on the final day of the 1998 season.

Comic book author Todd McFarlane paid US$3 million for the ball that extended McGwire's season record and Ozersky, then a 26-year-old genetic researcher at Washington University in St. Louis, took home US$2.7 million after paying a US$300,000 auction commission.

Ozersky is married now and has two young daughters. He has traveled the world and moved into a larger house in the St. Louis suburbs, but the windfall hasn't gone to his head. He's still working the same job at the university's genome sequencing center and he chose his new residence mainly because his sister lives across the street and has a 13-year-old daughter who can babysit.

And rather than pocket all of the money, he's spread the wealth, donating US$250,000 to charities including the Cardinals' own Cardinal Care.

"I think I've done a pretty good job of keeping grounded and not changing life too much of how I expected it to play out," Ozersky said.

The Cardinals had wanted it all, sequestering Ozersky in a meeting room and trying to persuade him to just hand it over to McGwire.

There was an impasse when Ozersky asked to meet McGwire and the Cardinals' representative said he'd have to relinquish the ball first.

"I was really adamant about just wanting to meet the guy and they were like, `the Cardinals and McGwire don't negotiate,"' Ozersky said. "It was pretty testy, and they basically made the decision for me."

"If I had met McGwire, I might have gone `duhhh' and given him the ball," he said. "I might have gotten caught up in the moment."

Other fans who got lucky during McGwire's season, which shattered Roger Maris' 37-year-old home run record, did get caught up. Tim Forneris, a member of the Cardinals' grounds crew, handed over No. 62 and got a trip to Disney World and a minivan.

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