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bxny
04-27-00, 08:08 PM
Where have you gone, Jeff Maier?

By GREG MATTURA
Staff Writer


At the crack of the bat, Jeff Maier senses the ball is heading toward shallow center field, and dashes in to try to make the play. The sophomore from Northern Valley Regional High School at Old Tappan arrives at the right spot just in time, extends his glove, and makes the catch.


Maier has been chasing baseballs since he was big enough to hold a glove, and the 16-year-old's love for the game has led him toward thousands of fly balls.

None was more dramatic than the one he reached for during a Yankees-Baltimore Orioles playoff game at Yankee Stadium in 1996, when he deflected a Derek Jeter drive toward the right field wall that prevented it from being caught. It was ruled a game-tying home run.

Major League Baseball's most renowned case of fan interference set off a firestorm of debate on and off the field and transformed Jeffrey Maier into a celebrity, invited to appear on such television shows as "Good Morning America," "Live with Regis & Kathie Lee," and "Late Show with David Letterman."

"I was just a 12-year-old kid going for a baseball," Maier explained. "If they were a 12-year-old kid at a New York Yankees playoff game, they would try to catch the ball, too."

Now, 3 1/2 years later, Maier's name has been appearing in The Record's local sports pages, in the high school highlights. He is Old Tappan's leading hitter and most consistent player, and earlier this month was a runner-up for The Record's high school Athlete of the Week honor.

"It's actually nice to have my name in the paper for something I did on the field," Maier said.

His parents, Richard and Jane, sought to keep him out of the spotlight following his brush with celebrity, and their oldest of three children remains a quiet, modest, down-to-earth person.

"It doesn't have much bearing on my life," said Maier, who has attended a handful of Yankees games since that fateful day. "I don't think I changed much because of it."

Yet it made him more determined to succeed as a player. And he has succeeded. Batting leadoff, he is hitting a team-best .484(15-for-31) entering today's action for a club that has struggled on the mound and in the field, and has lost seven of nine. The left-handed hitter is leading his team in RBI (nine), has scored seven runs, and has struck out only once.

Maier's coach, Tim Byron, a former Yankees minor league pitcher, believes he could earn all-league honors this season, garner All-County recognition before he graduates, and play in college.

"If he keeps up what he's doing right now, he has a chance to earn all-league as a sophomore," said Byron, 39, who was in the Yankees farm system in the Eighties and reached Class AAA. "And I see him furthering his career at the next level.

"I think he is going to be a real good one. He loves the game. He loves to play. He comes in, he practices hard, he plays hard, and he doesn't say much."

Occasionally, though, Maier hears it from opposing players and fans who recognize his name. "I hear about it at games when I'm hitting. 'Hey, Oriole Boy,' or 'Hey, Yankee Boy.' I kind of look at them and smile," Maier said. "I kind of like it."

He can take the kidding in stride today, because it is a lot easier to take than all the attention he received in the days following that Yankees playoff game. The media was camped outside his school, advertising companies were calling to pitch endorsement offers, and the mailbox was full of letters.

"There were points when I couldn't leave my home," Maier said. "And the mail -- people don't realize they were talking to a 12-year-old. Mail from gamblers who made money. Mail from gamblers who lost money. Mail from Orioles fans. It was certainly an interesting experience."

Now, Maier is just happy to be on the field, and playing varsity. He was supposed to be sidelined this month, recovering from a leg injury. But he craves baseball so much that he was determined to be on the field for opening day April 1.

A soccer injury during a varsity match in October was expected to keep him out until at least May 1. He tore the posterior cruciate ligament in his right knee and broke the femur and tibia bones in his right leg.

He stunned Byron and his coaching staff by returning in 4 1/2 months. The 5-foot-9 1/2, 170-pound Maier wears a brace on his right knee.

"I'm a little timid to go back [to soccer]. After that injury, I realized I'm not immortal. I'd prefer not to have to deal with this injury again in the off-season," Maier said. "Baseball is my first love. It's always been my favorite game, and the one I've spent the most time on."

Maier's time in the classroom also has been well spent. He is an excellent student who takes three honors courses and has a 4.0 grade-point average. He would like to attend an Ivy League school, such as Pennsylvania, Brown, or Cornell. He also is interested in Duke and the University of Virginia.

"After my injury, I've been thinking about the orthopedic field," Maier said. "It seems like an interesting field I might want to pursue."

His favorite field, though, is the field of baseball. The diamond is where he can forget about homework assignments, exams, and other responsibilities and simply enjoy his favorite pastime.

"No matter how bad of a day I'm having," Maier said, "I can come out to the field and feel like I'm in paradise."

Copyright 2000 Bergen Record Corp.

kgblues
04-27-00, 10:33 PM
Bxny, I saw that piece in the NJ Record. I love & follow HS ball. Good to see this kid doing so well.
Is Tony Tarasco the coach ?

JetersGurl
04-27-00, 11:11 PM
Ya know, I was just thinking about that kid:) When the Twins right fielder reached into the seats on the 1st base line and caught the ball which ended Jeters ab with the basesloaded it sparked my memory.

yanksgirl24
04-27-00, 11:25 PM
good to hear he's doing well. and he sounds like quite a baseball player. a future prospect? :) i remember seeing him on "regis and kathie lee" a day or two after it happened. definately one of those memeorable moments in recent history.

bxny
04-28-00, 05:25 AM
I'd wondered what happened to him since his 15 minutes of fame. The kid really seems to have his head on straight, his parents have raised him well. O's fans still blame him, along with Angelos, for a lot of their recent misery. If you ever want to see an O's fan start to whine just mention that play :).

26 in '00

clipper
04-28-00, 06:48 AM
Dan Pasqua also attended Old Tappan. We played against them once or twice.