Friday, July 8, 2016

An Interview with Jeff Maier 7/7/16

Hey baseball fans!

Who's ready for another Baseball with Matt interview?! I know I am. This time, it's with Jeff Maier! Derek Jeter and/or Yankee fans definitely know that name, but for those of you who don't know him, allow me to explain.

It was Game One of the 1996 ALCS at Yankee Stadium, where the Yanks were hosting the Baltimore Orioles. Both teams had not been to a World Series since the 1980s and were yearning for a trip back to the Fall Classic. Derek Jeter, the Yankees' rookie starting shortstop at the time, came up to bat in the bottom of the eighth inning with one out with New York down 4-3 facing Orioles reliever Armando Benitez. On the first pitch of the at-bat, Jeter sent a high fly ball to deep right field. Orioles right fielder Tony Tarasco ran back to the warning track to make the catch and settled under the fly ball in time to do so. However, from the stands, a 12-year-old boy by the name of Jeff Maier reached over the wall and brought the ball into the stands.

Technically, this play should've been called an out on account of fan interference, no question about it. Just click here to see for yourself. Despite the obviousness, right field umpire Rich Garcia called it a home run, probably because he was looking at Tarasco and didn't see Maier reach his glove over the wall. Tarasco, Benitez, and Orioles manager Davey Johnson all protested the call, but it was ultimately upheld. The Yankees would go on to win the game, series, and World Series that year, their first championship since 1978. The Yankees made some other clutch plays throughout their playoff run, but most people cite Maier's incident as the catalyst for the Yankees' late-1990s dynasty.

So now that you know a little bit about Jeff Maier, here's the interview:

Matt: When did you start getting into baseball? Did you play as a kid?
Jeff: As early as 4 years old. Yes I played from TBall through college.

Matt: Who was your favorite Yankee on the '96 squad?
Jeff: Jeter.

Matt: How much of a chance did you think the Yankees had in the '96 playoffs?
Jeff: They were a very good team. Most folks likely had Atlanta favored. The Yankees added key pieces as the year unfolded. They were gritty and a special group.

Matt: Describe what was going through your mind during Jeter's at-bat and when his fly ball flew in your direction.
Jeff: I knew with a hard throwing righty like Benitez and a batter like Jeter who had a knack for hitting the ball to the opposite field that there was a chance for action in right field. Once the ball was in the air; I can't remember much. I'd like to think most folks (children or adults) would have similar instincts take over in pursuit of a potential foul ball or HR souvenir.

Matt: What was the atmosphere like in your section after your catch and the homer?
Jeff: Pretty raucous. Lots of folks cheering and high-fiving.

Matt: How did the national attention affect you after the incident?
Jeff: I have terrific parents that kept me and the situation grounded. Long term; I'd like to think that it didn't impact or alter the man I am or have become. Short term; I think it forced me to mature and experience something most 12 year olds will not.

Matt: Do you keep in touch with Jeter today?
Jeff: No, but I hope he is enjoying retirement and new challenges with the Players Tribune and other post-career hobbies.

Matt: How influential do you think the incident was in jump starting the Yankees' dynasty of the late '90s and early '00s?
Jeff: They were a great team and subsequently an amazing core group of players that did incredible things on the field. I'm sure winning that game was helpful; but they were special and destined to do great things nonetheless.

Thanks for reading this interview and I hope you enjoyed it. And a very special thank you to Jeff for such a great interview!! Check back soon for more of "all the buzz on what wuzz."

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