10th player ices the cake for the Bombers

Little leaguer Jeffrey Maier of Old Tappan, N.J., Little leaguer Jeffrey Maier of Old Tappan, N.J., poses in a New York Yankees cap and jersey and displays a baseball on the set of ABC's "Good Morning America." Maier, 12, turned a probable fly out into Derek Jeter's game-tying home run in Game 1 of the 1996 ALCS between the Yankees and the Baltimore Orioles, Wednesday. (Oct. 10, 1996) Photo Credit: AP

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Fresh from a bar mitzvah party last weekend, 12-year-old Jeffrey Maier proved that he was, indeed, a man. The kid reached out of the often maligned Yankee right-field stands for a homer from the bat of another kid, shortstop Derek Jeter.

Sometimes, you get a bit of help from the gods and maybe some outraged umpires, and so Jeffrey was instantly nominated as the game's most valuable player by fans who cheered him and offered him advice as the media descended on him.

Still wearing his glove, but minus the ball that was grabbed by another fan, the curly headed kid from Old Tappan, N.J., said that "all I thought about was wow! I caught a home run ball in the playoffs."

He answered questions fired at him by the media with the aplomb of a pro. "I feel bad for the Baltimore fans," he said, "but I know the Yankee fans feel good about it."

The fans cheered loudly and chanted "MVP, MVP and shouted impromptu agent advice to him as he was swallowed up in a forest of TV lights, cameras and radio and print reporters. "Give that kid some room to breathe," a security guard ordered.

"No, I'm okay," the kid shouted from somewhere deep in the middle of a media scrum. Fans yelled out advice. "Wait for Hard Copy," one yelled. "My son, my son," an older man shouted. "You his father?" I asked. 'I am now," he said.

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So did the kid snatch victory from the jaws of defeat? The umps say no, that it was a homer. The outraged Orioles say he took it right out of the glove of right fielder Tony Tarasco. But once the umps gave it their benediction, it was as they say in the streets, a done deal.

His friend Brian Altman from Harrington Park confided that the kid had skipped a half day of school to attend his first playoff game. "He loves the Yankees," said Brian, whose father Robert had taken him and Jeffrey to the game.

And so this morning, Jeffrey Maier is this town's newest media star. Even if he only gets the 15 minutes everyone says you're entitled to, he's young enough to get over it. He handled himself like a natural even in the face of a media crush that would have left a less composed young man unable to talk.

"He's a nice kid," Fern Palmer said trying to extricate her son's pal from the swarm. If anything, she looked frazzled while the Kid calmly fielded questions from people who are able to trip up presidential contenders.

It's funny. Most of the fans who filled the stadium on a glorious afternoon came to boo Roberto Alomar, the Sultan of Spit, and they did, totally ignoring the mayor's advice to give him the silent treatment.

But they went home talking about an unlikely hero whose glove flashed out of the stands in the eighth inning enabling Jeter's line drive to go into the books as a game-tying homerun.

"Oh man, you kidding me," said Carlos Garcia from 149th Street, Bronx. He hugged the autograph from the Kid as though it were worth a million diollars. "I saw him catch the ball through my binoculars and I ran over here to get him to sign my hat."

Forget Bernie Williams who won still another game with a last-ditch home run. We're used to his heroics. I mean, Holy Cow, Jeffrey!
 

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