Tarasco, Maier finally meet again

Former Oriole is speaker at N.J. school of kid who turned tide of '96 ALCS

Baseball

July 14, 2002|By Gregory Schutta | Gregory Schutta,BERGEN COUNTY (N.J.) RECORD

DEMAREST, N.J. - In 1997, ESPN tried to get Tony Tarasco and Jeff Maier on the same stage but couldn't. Both refused to comment for a Sports Illustrated item.

Even Hollywood couldn't broker a meeting. The producers of the just-released movie, Mr. Deeds, offered cameo roles and both declined.

Then, through serendipity, they came face-to-face in Demarest, N.J., on Friday.

Tarasco and Maier met nearly six years after they were permanently linked in playoff history at the right-field wall at Yankee Stadium, the major-leaguer and the kid from New Jersey who became an overnight celebrity for a catch he never made.

"I was a little nervous before he got here," said Maier.

"I'm sure he was," said Tarasco, who at the time was with the Orioles and is now a New York Mets outfielder. "He probably thought I was going to chase him around the field or something. He still looks the same."

Maier, an 18-year-old outfielder at Northern Valley High at Old Tappan, is in his first year as an instructor at coach Greg Butler's baseball camp in Demarest, where Tarasco appeared as a guest speaker Friday. The last time the two saw each other, Tarasco was looking up as Maier, then 12, reached over the fence and deflected a Derek Jeter fly ball into the stands for a game-tying home run in Game 1 of the 1996 American League Championship Series. The Yankees won in extra innings and started a run of four World Series championships in the past six years.

Butler was the unknowing matchmaker.

"I called the Mets, and they said Scott Strickland, Timo Perez, Vance Wilson, and Tony Tarasco were available," Butler said. "I heard Tarasco one night as the player of the game and he sounded pretty articulate, so I went with him. I didn't even know he was the right fielder in 1996 until Jeff told me."

Said Maier: "As soon as he told us who it was, all the guys who were in high school with me got a big smile on their face. They knew who he was. I thought of all the guys who could show up, it had to be him."

Surprised at first, Tarasco realized he was actually looking forward to it.

"I thought it was about time," said Tarasco, who didn't know he was going to meet Maier until Butler told him in the car on the way to the school. "I admire him for the adversity he's gone through. I'm sure it wasn't all praise and honor and hero worship."

The two met Friday and shook hands in the high school gym at Northern Valley at Demarest and then sat in the bleachers to talk for a couple of minutes.

Tarasco later spoke to the campers, but he couldn't resist getting in one or two lines at Maier's expense.

As Tarasco was describing how he breaks in a new glove, Butler said, "That's how you're able to hold onto the ball as you crash into the wall."

Without hesitation, Tarasco said, "Unless some little kid comes out of the stands and takes it away from you."

The two later sat together at a table as Tarasco autographed balls, gloves, hats, and even copies of a tabloid front page from 1996 that showed the play.

Tarasco has gone on to play for several teams since 1996, including the Yankees. And Maier went on to bat over .400 in each of his past two seasons for Northern Valley at Old Tappan. He will play baseball at Wesleyan this fall.

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