It was a case of being in the right place at the right time while also being able to snag a baseball with one hand. The date was Oct. 1, 1961, and the place was Yankee Stadium. Nineteen-year-old Sal Durante was in the right-field bleachers with his fiancee, his cousin and his cousin’s girlfriend to watch Roger Maris try to make history. With the seats grouped in sets of three, Durante offered to switch seats in the fourth inning with his fiancee Rosemarie so she wouldn’t sit by herself. It turned into a life-changing move.
Roger Maris smacks HR No. 61
When New York Yankees fan Sal Durante offered to switch his seats in the fourth inning of the Yankees game against the Boston Red Sox, maybe he knew something. In that fourth inning, Yankees slugger Roger Maris, tied at 60 with Babe Ruth for the most home runs in a season, launched a shot deep into right field.
Durante followed the flight of the ball that was smacked off Red Sox pitcher Tracy Stallard. As it was coming toward him, he jumped as high as he could and extended his right arm as high as he could. He caught the ball in the palm of his right hand. Surprisingly, there was no pain. According to an article in nj.com, Durante went to tell his fiancee Rosemarie that had he not switched seats, he’d never caught the ball. Instead, he was quickly escorted away by two security guards.
“I just reached as high as I could reach, and the ball … it just landed right in the palm of my hand,” Durante told nj.com. “I just stood on my toes and it just went right there.”
Sal Durante meets Roger Maris
When Durante caught Roger Maris’ record-setting ball, stadium security surrounded Durante and told him that Maris would want the ball. Durante agreed, saying “Fine, but I want to give it to him personally,” according to The Seattle Times. Security escorted Durante to where Maris and his family were gathered.
“Somebody said, ‘Hey, Rog, the kid wants to give you the ball personally.’ So I walked up to him and said, ‘Here’s the ball, Roger.’” As Durante was walking away, Maris, after autographing the ball, gave it back to Durante and said, “Keep it, kid. Put it up for auction. Somebody will pay you a lot of money for the ball. He’ll keep it for a couple of days and then give it to me.”
Durante sold the ball to a man named Sam Gordon, a California restaurateur, for $5,000. Gordon then turned the ball over to Maris. Four weeks later, Durante and Rosemarie were married and Gordon paid for their honeymoon.
Durante relived the moment at Yankee Stadium 50 years later
Sal Durante and Rosemarie were invited back to Yankee Stadium in 2011 to mark the anniversary of that special 1961 season. The Durantes were also with Frank Prudente, who was a 17-year-old batboy when Maris smacked home run No. 61. The reminisced about the days that changed the life of Sal Durante.
“You went through as much pressure as Roger did that day,” Prudente said to Durante, according to nj.com. Prudente was referring to the level of media scrutiny Durante had to deal with after snagging the ball. Durante also recalled Maris giving him a cigarette lighter with the Yankees logo on one side and Maris’ name on the other.
That moment of Durante leaping up and catching the ball is one that will forever live in Yankee history. So is the moment of Durante meeting Maris and offering to give back the ball. In the upper level of the Yankee Suites, there is a picture of Durante and Maris posing for the camera while both are holding the baseball.