It's already classic hit, before 1st pitch Griffey shows his wares to delight of departing fan

JOHN EISENBERG

July 13, 1993|By JOHN EISENBERG

"Let's go," Mark Pallack said to his buddy, Jim Gates, when Ken Griffey Jr. was down to his last out in the Home Run Derby yesterday at Camden Yards.

"Good idea," Jim said. "Maybe beat the traffic a little, huh?"

They had spent a luckless afternoon in the right-field flag court, the official combat zone of All-Star Workout Day, wrestling for home run balls with hundreds of other fans and memorabilia guerrillas. Oh, well. Time to head back to Carroll County, where Mark will be a Westminster High School senior in the fall.

They were walking along the back of the Eutaw Street concourse, by the warehouse, when they heard the shouts and saw the mob coming toward them.

"Here it comes!" people said. "Catch it! Catch it!"

Ten minutes later, Mark, 17, was posing for pictures with Griffey in the quiet cool of the American League clubhouse, his mouth open wide enough for a pumpkin, surrounded by reporters and television crews and various Pucketts and Ripkens.

What a country. But let's not get too far ahead of the story, huh?

No one had hit the warehouse on the fly in the first 124 games at the new ballpark, but with All-Star batting practice and the Home Run Derby yesterday, would there ever be a better day to forge a piece of local baseball folklore? Bonds, Bonilla, Griffey -- most of the game's top left-handed sluggers were in town for a whack at it.

Not to be outshone, no, never, Reggie Jackson hit the first bomb of the day. The crowd broke into a classic "Reggie, Reggie" chant after the celebrity home-run hitting contest, and Reggie, who had played in the old-timers' game, grabbed a bat.

After a dozen misses, he hit a sharp liner well over the tall wall. At the wrought-iron gate separating the flag court from Eutaw Street, a kid from South Baltimore named Kenny Tolodziecki was walking along with his buddies and threw up his glove, blind, when people started shouting. The ball stuck in the webbing.

"You caught it! You caught it!" his buddies started shouting.

Kenny looked in his glove, amazed. Sure enough, the sucker was in there.

"Give you a hundred bucks, kid, right now," a man said.

Kenny paused, staring at the ball. "Two hundred," he countered sharply, an instant entrepreneur.

A crowd that had gathered around started shouting at Kenny, "Yo, don't sell that thing." He walked away.

"Can you believe it? Reggie!" said one of his buddies.

"I want Frank Thomas," Kenny said.

When AL batting practice began a few minutes later, the sky really started raining balls. John Olerud put one in the flag court. Griffey put one off the wrought-iron fence, then another over an ice cream stand, 20 feet from the warehouse. Each sparked a mass grapple that would have made the Orioles and Mariners proud.

"Someone hits the wall today," said Jeff Tota, a Yankees fan from Long Island, "but I hope no one gets killed."

The NL batting practice passed without a threat and it was time for the Home Run Derby. David Justice hit a monster. It flew over the flag court and bashed into the back of a soda machine at a concession stand five feet from the warehouse, leaving the imprint of a seam on the machine. Five feet. Extremely close call. The little sign on the machine fell off.

"I'm outta here," said Tonya Moseley, who had served drinks from the machine all day. "I want to live."

Griffey hit one onto the Eutaw concourse, then clanged another against an ice cream cart. Bobby Bonilla put three out, including a one-hopper against a window that left a bullet-hole-sized crack and shattered a small section of glass. No pieces fell out.

That ball bounced into a pile of trash and sparked a riot by another concession stand. At the bottom of the pile was Stephen Teglas, a fan from San Francisco. He emerged with a sore mouth and a ball.

"You know what?" he said. "I bit someone in there. Can you believe that? I had the ball and I was holding onto it and people were, like, grabbing me by the arms and face and trying to pick me up, and someone's hand was in my mouth, and, like, I didn't want to do it, but I bit him."

But, alas, the big blasts went elsewhere, off right-handed bats. Juan Gonzalez put one off the center-field ivy, then another off the facing of the third deck that would have gone forever. It looked like the warehouse would survive the day. If only AL manager Cito Gaston hadn't jobbed Mickey Tettleton off the team, right? Griffey, the last lefty, was down to his last out.

Mark Pallack was on his way to the car. Then a ball was flying toward him, people were shouting and -- bam! -- the ball bounced off one of the rock pieces at the base of the warehouse. Mark dived into the instant pile of memorabiliacs and emerged with the ball. ("He's little, but he's bad," his buddy, Jim, said later.)

It was 5:26 p.m., on July 12, 1993. The warehouse had a dent.

"I got it!" Mark screamed, and ran for the safety of open ground.

Reporters found him. Photographers started taking his picture. He held up the ball, unsmiling. A group of fans gathered round, pounding him on the back.

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