Coming to terms with The Kid The Fan: Being No. 1 isn't all it's cracked up to be. Maybe an apology from Jeffrey Maier, the 12-year-old who swiped the fly ball from the stands, might help.

September 04, 1997

OLD TAPPAN, N.J. -- The streets wind placidly, the landmarks of suburban familiarity -- McDonald's and Starbucks -- are humming quietly and, with commuters back at work and kids back at school, the residential areas are empty but for UPS drivers and the occasional stay-at-home mom and her toddler.

But then, the home of evil is always deceptively peaceful.

The Fan, geared up for today's start of the Orioles' four-game series at Yankee Stadium, has come up early in search of The Kid.

You know the one -- Jeffrey Maier, then 12 and ditching school to attend the first game of the American League Championship Series last Oct. 9 in the Bronx. Jeffrey entered Yankee Stadium just another fan; he left as -- pick your tabloid sobriquet -- "Angel in the Outfield," "Kid Glove," or "The Tenth Man."

What The Fan called him is unprintable. Let's just call him guilty of fan interference, although the umpires failed to do just that when Jeffrey, from the bleachers, swatted a fly ball away from right fielder Tony Tarasco and turned it into a home run for the Yankees. They went on to win the game and the pennant and, well, you know the rest. Jeffrey went on to a night at the Plaza, lunch at the All-Star Cafe, free tickets to the next game and his beaming face everywhere in the media.

But this is this year, and The Fan was wondering: Just how happy is The Kid now that his team is in second place and, in one of those rare and delicious instances of cosmic justice, recently had its own fly ball out swept into homer territory by yet another over-enthusiastic bleacherite.

As The Fan drove, endlessly it seemed, through this northern reach of New Jersey, she tried to work up some anger. Somehow, being No. 1 rests uneasily on The Fan; she's not accustomed to that role. The underdog? Now there's a position she understands -- you yap and whine and scrap and scrape and, maybe you gain on the guy ahead of you or at least you end up with a better than expected showing if not the whole enchilada.

But it turns out that being No. 1 would be much more enjoyable if No. 2 were at least whimpering a little. Makes gloating all the more enjoyable. But no. Here in Yankeeland, The Fan has been listening to sports talk radio and has actually heard quite a bit of crowing from the Vinnies of Brooklyn and the Mels of Bayside. They're saying that the Yanks, as the expected Wild Card entry to the playoffs (like the O's last year), might have the better deal. Chances are they'd play the unimposing Cleveland Indians; we'd play the mighty Mariners in the preliminary rounds.

Doesn't that just figure: the O's finally are No. 1, and it turns out to be better to be No. 2! How does New York do it?

Anyway, The Fan has had a lot of time to listen to the radio, and was thrilled to discover one of the stations is named after her, WFAN. She missed The Kid before he went to school, Charles DeWolf Middle, where he is now in eighth grade, and had to while away the hours until he got out. Old Tappan appears to be known for being just down the road from Tappan, N.Y., which in turn appears to be known for having imprisoned and hanged a British spy who collaborated with Benedict Arnold. (The Fan didn't wear any O's attire, just to be safe.)

Then Jeffrey Maier came along, and for a couple of days, the media descended on Old Tappan and the Maiers' home. Yesterday, though, The Fan was the media here. A neighbor kept eyeballing her as she drove down Kristen Lane in search of The Kid throughout the day. Finally, a four-wheel-drive pulled up to the house and Jane Maier politely but firmly asked The Fan what she wanted.

The Fan wasn't even sure: Some sort of closure? An apology? A fight in which she got the last word?

Maier, again politely but firmly, said no thanks, last year was enough.

The window rolled up, and they drove toward the garage. Jeffrey, it turns out, has something every celebrity escaping the press should have -- not a bodyguard or a PR guy -- but a mom.

Pub Date: 9/04/97

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