In the movie, ‘The Ball’ was supposed to find its way back into Popov’s hand |

In the movie, ‘The Ball’ was supposed to find its way back into Popov’s hand

I’ve got a great idea for a hit made-for-television movie. It has all the elements that make for great TV drama — an innocent child torn between two sets of loving parents, a tense courtroom custody battle, intense national media scrutiny, tearful good-bye scenes that will pull at your heartstrings, and David Hasselhoff.

But we’re not talking about a child exactly. What is in contention is actually a small spherical object — no, not Gary Coleman — a baseball. Barry Bonds’ record 73rd home run ball, to be exact. The two fans who claim ownership of the ball had their case decided in court on Tuesday, and I began working on the script that evening.

What a ratings gorilla this is going to be! All TV executives form an orderly line to begin the bidding. All rights reserved. Sorry about Hasselhoff.

As you may recall, Bonds broke Mark McGwire’s single-season home run record on the last day of the regular season in October of 2001. Homer No. 73 landed in the promenade in left field at Pac Bell Park, and after an intense scrum became the property of a Mr. Patrick Hayashi of Campbell. But Alex Popov of Berkeley claimed that he caught it first, and that the ball was pulled from his baseball glove by a bunch of greedy thugs, who gave him a couple of kicks just for good measure. Popov sued to get the ball back. A judge then ruled that the ball must be taken in protective custody until the case could be heard.

(begin italics)Here’s the scene where the home run ball, having spent the majority of its young life with Mr. Hayashi, is taken into custody by the sheriff’s department. Hayashi and his family are openly weeping as the ball is driven away in a sheriff’s van, looking plaintively out the back window as they drive away.(end italics)

Here’s a fact that should sweeten the deal: I was there that day at Pac Bell. Here’s what happened as I saw it: The grand memento was launched into the middle of a human morass, and a battle ensued. Popov seemed to catch it in his glove, the ball popped out a bit, and then settled back into his grasp.

Then there was this tidal wave of people who just crashed in on the poor soul. It was as if all the rugby players in all of Europe were scrumming for the same ball — the poor sap never had a chance. It was as if a nearly-nude Anna Kournikova was accepting boyfriend applications. It was as if it was 150 degrees, and the guy in the ice cream truck was down to one fudgsicle.

So Popov gets mobbed, and no one is sure what happens to the ball. Eventually Hayashi crawls out of the pile, Hobbit-like, looks to a TV camera (there were several) and pulls the ball out of his pocket, smiling triumphantly. It was surreal.

(begin italics) Here’s a flashback scene, as Popov tosses and turns in his bed, unable to sleep. Visions of a hurtling baseball crowd his dreams, and hundreds of hands are clawing at him, trying to take the ball. He awakens, screaming, covered in sweat. His pillow is gone (in the dream, he thought it was cotton candy from the concession stand).(end italics)

Then, finally, Act III — the decision. A judge rules that the ball will be sold, and the proceeds split between Popov and Hayashi. Judge Kevin McCarthy said that both have a legitimate claim, but neither should get the ball outright.

“Their legal claims are of equal quality and they are equally entitled to the ball,” McCarthy said in his ruling. “The ball must be sold and divided equally between the parties.”

(begin italics)There’s a pause in he courtroom, as the judge waits for his words to sink in. Suddenly, a voice cries out. It’s Popov’s, and he’s in anguish. “Let Hayashi have the ball, do not sell it!” he cries. “For I love it too much to see it split in two!” The judge smiles, and we all understand his wise, Solomon-like plan. He awards the ball to Popov, saying that only someone who truly loved the ball would be willing to let it go. The crowd files out of the courtroom, and there are refreshments in the lobby.(end italics)

The Associated Press reported that Lou Constanzo, vice president of sales for sports memorabilia auctioneers Real Legends, said the court battle increased the value of the ball. “In the market condition right now, I think it will sell for more than $1 million,” Constanzo said. “It could very well reach $1.5 million or $2 million.”

McCarthy deliberated for a month after hearing closing arguments in late November. For the record, that’s about three and a half weeks longer than it took to decide the O.J. Simpson case. There you have it. I’m calling the movie “Not With My Ball, You Don’t,” and I’m hiring Randy Newman (“The Natural,” “Major League”) to write the music, including the haunting “Rawlings Love Theme.”

Hopefully the movie will be out in time for Christmas, 2003. Watch it with someone you love.

— Rick Chandler’s interactive sports column, Capacity Crowd, can be found at Contact Rick at

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