Steven Gieseler likes to tell his son he hit the baseball fan lottery on Sept. 20.
That night, Gieseler, 43, of East Islip, and his son, Steven Jr., 12, were sitting in section 104, near the right outfield of Yankee Stadium, watching their favorite team take on the San Francisco Giants.
During the bottom of the seventh inning, with the score tied 1-1, two outs and the bases loaded, Alex Rodriguez came up to bat, and Steven Jr. recalled his father saying to him, “Get ready. He hits a lot of home runs the other way.”
Then, with a 2-1 count, Rodriguez connected with a pitch. Steven Jr. said he heard the crack of the bat, and then saw the ball heading their way.
The ball hit off the hand of a fan four rows in front of them, causing it to deflect upwards. Gieseler reached for it next, but the ball hit off his hand too, then his cheek and he thought he lost it.
As fans scrambled for the loose ball, Steven Jr. spotted it under the seat in front of him.
“I just fell to the ground, grabbed the ball, scooped it up and brought it to my chest,” Steven Jr. said.
Afraid someone might try to snatch the ball away, he shoved it into his pocket, but his dad encouraged him to hold it up so the crowd could see.
After the cheers subsided, Steven Jr. said he heard someone in the nearby bleachers shout out: “Do you know what that ball just did? That ball just broke Lou Gehrig’s grand slam record!”
The bleacher creature was right.
Rodriguez’s 24th grand slam surpassed Gehrig’s Major League Baseball record, making the ball Steven Jr. was holding a valuable piece of sports memorabilia and a sentimental token for the third baseman.
A few minutes later, the elder Gieseler said the head of Yankees security paid them a visit, telling them that “Mr. Rodriguez would like that ball back.”
Steven Jr. admits his initial reaction was to keep the ball. (Gehrig just happens to be his all-time favorite Yankee. He’s read all 432 pages of Jonathan Eig’s book, “Luckiest Man: The Life and Death of Lou Gehrig,” and wears No. 4 when playing on his travel baseball team, The Eyeballs.)
“I found it kind of amazing that even with his condition, he still kept upbeat and tried to keep on playing,” Steven Jr. said of Gehrig.
Many of the fans in their section were also encouraging him to keep the ball, but he quickly had a change of heart.
“It’s the player’s accomplishment,” he said. “He deserves to get it back. He worked hard for it.”
In exchange for the ball, Steven Jr. and his father were escorted to the lower level of the stadium after the game. There, Steven Jr. said he caught a glimpse of Manager Joe Girardi before he and his father were brought into a private room, where they met Rodriguez.
“He said, “Hey buddy, nice catch,” but I just stood there in awe,” he said.
Steven Jr. said Rodriguez asked him where he was from, if this was his first Yankees game and whether he played baseball. (The seventh grader told him about East Islip, and that he plays Little League and travel baseball and plans to try out for his middle school’s team in the spring.)
Rodriguez then handed him an autographed bat, signed a ball and posed for a couple of photos, he said.
Friends and family have had mixed reactions to Steven Jr.’s decision to return the ball with some saying he should have kept it or at least tried to get more out of Rodriguez, and others telling him he did the right thing.
“I did the right thing,” Steven Jr. said.
Tina Gieseler, 36, said she’s proud of her son.
“We’ve always taught our kids that people work their whole lives for something like this,” she said. “My son has a big heart and he recognized that.”
Even though they no longer have the ball, Gieseler said he and his son will always have the memory of that night at the ballpark.
“It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Steven Jr. added. “Maybe even once in two lifetimes.”