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BenFred: Fans who take Tim Forneris' approach, return historic homer deserve ovation

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Mark McGwire, Cardinals Hall of Fame, 2017

St. Louis Cardinals slugger Mark McGwire reacts to receiving the ball he hit for his record-breaking 62nd home run of the season from grounds crew worker Tim Forneris, right, as Roger Maris Jr., center, and Kevin Maris look on, at a post game ceremony in St. Louis, Tuesday, Sept. 8, 1998.

Sports columnists Ben Frederickson and Jeff Gordon attempt to diagnose a Cardinals lineup that has shriveled. Albert Pujols can't do it all alone.

The most popular conversation in St. Louis sports is predicting when Albert Pujols will hit career home run No. 700.

As for the most popular hypothetical debate, it’s related, and it heats up a little more every time Pujols, who entered Friday night’s game against the Dodgers in Los Angeles with 698 down, sends a ball into the sky.

What would you do if Pujols hit No. 700 to you?

Whether it happens in Los Angeles, Milwaukee, St. Louis or Pittsburgh, someone is likely to wind up with history in their hands and a whole lot to think about.

Keep it as a historic souvenir? Give it back to Pujols — or negotiate with him the price of a return — so he can cherish it forever? Maximize profit by selling it to the highest bidder in a public auction?

Decisions, decisions.

I don’t envy the lucky person who comes down with the prize.

It seems like the right thing to do is reconnect the ball with the player who put it into orbit.

Treat others as you want to be treated.

An appreciative player and team can do quite a bit for a fan who is willing to cooperate.

Then again, it’s easy to think that way before a ball that could potentially pay off a mortgage lands in your nacho cheese.

I’ll admit ignorance of the sports memorabilia market.

Coveting autographs and game-used gear never really moved the needle here.

But it certainly does for many.

Sports memorabilia “experts” already are busy predicting the potential value of the No. 700 ball. They are, predictably, all over the place. Some have suggested six figures. Others have suggested seven. The truth is, it’s worth whatever someone is willing to pay for it on the open market. That’s if it gets there.

“I wouldn’t feel right to keep that from him,” Michael Kessler told NJ Advance Media earlier this week.

Have you heard about Kessler?

The 20-year-old baseball player for the City College of New York came up with the ball Aaron Judge detonated for his 60th home run of the season, tying Babe Ruth’s single-season best and moving one behind Roger Maris for most as a member of the Yankees.

Kessler and a few of his buddies got to meet Judge after the game for photos and conversation before leaving with autographed balls and bats.

No lawyers. No auction. No drama.

A shared appreciation between a fan and Judge led to a positive experience for all involved.

What a concept.

Kessler made just one real request of Judge, who is barreling toward an incredibly lucrative free agency period after betting on himself this offseason.

“Come back next year,” he told Big Apple media members about his message to Judge. “You are the heart and soul of this ball club.”

I hope the Yankees at least guaranteed this young man some playoff tickets.

Sweet moments could give way to stickier ones as Pujols and Judge move forward.

Babe Ruth in 1934 managed to buy back the ball he hit for his 700th home run. It cost him $20 and an autograph handed over to Leonard Beals, the young man who caught the ball and cut the deal. That’s just under $500 today if you adjust for inflation. Ruth won the trade, it seems now, but don’t forget to consider the context.

The Great Depression was ongoing. The sports memorabilia obsession had not yet bloomed. Times have changed.

When part-time Milwaukee County Stadium groundskeeper Richard Arndt corralled the ball that became Hank Aaron’s 755th and final homer in July 1976, he planned to hand it back to the Brewers slugger. When he was told he would not get that chance, he turned down an autograph and a bat and kept the ball. He lost his job with the team because of it, but later sold the ball for $650,000 in 2007, donating 25 percent to Aaron’s charity.

The ball from Barry Bonds’ 700th home run fetched more than $800,000 in an online auction after a legal fight between multiple fans who claimed ownership.

Comic book artist Todd McFarlane, who paid $2.7 million for Mark McGwire’s 70th home run ball in 1998 — and later bought Bonds’ No. 73 from 2001 for $500,000 — revealed in an interview with The Athletic that he could be interested in bidding on home run balls belonging to Judge.

Buckle up.

If you are one of the fortunate ones forced to make a tough call, good luck.

Don’t forget to factor into your thinking how you want to be remembered.

One of the best home-run memories from the McGwire chase in 1998 that remains untarnished is the story of 22-year-old groundskeeper Tim Forneris handing McGwire back home run No. 62 right after McGwire passed Maris.

Forneris wound up visiting with David Letterman, traveling to Disney World and driving a new Chrysler van because of his decision.

All gifts he received because of his generosity.

He even scored a headline in the Los Angeles Times: “Tim Forneris, You’re A Better Man Than I Am.”

Some believed he could have sold the ball for $1 million.

He never regretted handing it over.

“Being part of this moment led to so many other things in my life,” Forneris told ABC News in 2016. “The thinking is that money always helps make things easier, but that’s not always the case. With lottery winners, it often turns into disaster.”

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