Steve Montforto has been going to Phillies games since he was 3 years old. But despite having season tickets, in all his years of going to ball games, he had never caught a foul ball.
And then on Tuesday night, the foul-ball fairy finally visited the lifelong fan. He had accepted tickets from a friend that were better than his own — on the rail in the upper deck directly behind home plate.
Montforto’s long-awaited chance finally came when Phillies outfielder Jayson Werth hit a foul straight back. Montforto leaned over the glass barrier in front of him and, with hands that would be the envy of any major leaguer, deftly caught the ball.
His face glowing with the joy of realizing a lifelong dream, he exchanged fist bumps with two fans behind him. Then, bursting with fatherly pride, he handed the ball to his 3-year-old daughter, Emily. Emily took the prize in her tiny right hand and raised it high.
Then she threw it back.
Montforto never stopped smiling, even when he threw both hands up in shock at what his daughter had done with the prize he had waited a lifetime for. “Looking back, I should have realized that [if] she gets a ball from dad, she’s going to throw it,” Montforto explained to TODAY’s Matt Lauer and Meredith Vieira Thursday in New York. “But at the time, I was just so excited to give it to her.
“My first thought was, ‘I’ve been waiting for so long to catch a foul ball, and there’s my first one. Over the edge it goes.’ I didn’t think I was ever going to get it back.”
But that feeling of dismay was quickly overwhelmed by his concern that Emily might think she’d done a bad thing. So he wrapped her in a bear hug, his face still lit by a big smile.
“I just wanted to let her know that it was OK,” Montforto said.
The fact that Montforto, who lives in Laurel Springs, N.J., was talking about the moment on TODAY is an indication of how deeply the moment touched the hearts of baseball fans everywhere. Overnight, the video of the moment became one of the most popular on MLB.com, and local newspapers cranked out stories about the cute little girl in the pink Phillies hat and matching shirt who threw her dad’s foul ball back.
Emily, still wearing her favorite pink hat, joined her dad on TODAY, along with her mom, Kathleen, and sister, Cecelia, 15 months, who were also at the game.
Emily seemed far more impressed by the cameramen and the activity in the studio than by her overnight fame. When Lauer asked her if she had fun at the game, she nodded emphatically and said, “Yeah.”
Vieira asked what her favorite part of the game was. Emily did not mention her dad finally catching a foul ball, but, like any true fan, named her favorite Phillies player: outfielder Raul Ibanez.
The seats the Montfortos occupied were right above the suite occupied by Phillies executives. When they saw what had happened on their replay screens, at least three executives independently went to get a baseball to take to Montforto. He got a replacement ball, but still doesn’t know what happened to the original, which may have landed in the hands of someone in the deck below — a gift from baseball heaven.
But on Thursday, it was the Montfortos getting the gifts, courtesy of the Phillies. The team sent official jerseys to New York for each member of the family. The jerseys had the family name “Montforto” on the back and the number “09” to mark the year they got them.
The Montfortos were delighted with the gifts, and Emily smiled happily when she saw hers.
There was one more gift from the defending World Series champions: a baseball in a plastic box signed by Jayson Werth, the outfielder who had hit the ball that Montforto caught and Emily threw. Montforto took the ball from Lauer and held it like a prize.
He didn’t hand it to Emily.