<
>

Tracking Mookie Betts' first home run

7/3/2014
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

BOSTON -- When Chris Large bought tickets to Wednesday night's Red Sox game last month, he had no idea he would have the chance to renew acquaintances with an old adversary.

It wasn't until a week before the game, when Large received a text from a friend, that he knew a phenom prospect by the name of Mookie Betts had been called up to make his major league debut for the Boston Red Sox.

"[My friend] told me, 'Mookie just got called up,'" Large said. "And I was like, 'Whoa, I'm actually about to go to Boston, maybe I'll get to see him.'"

Large wasn't sure if Betts would remember him, but he sure remembered Betts -- and that was long before Large caught Betts' first major league home run Wednesday night.

Large says that, after his senior year of high school in 2010, he threw a four-hitter during summer league play in Nashville against a team including a then 17-year-old Betts, who had two of the hits.

A year later, Betts was drafted by the Red Sox in the fifth round of the 2011 draft. In two short years, he became the team's top prospect, completing a meteoric rise through the minor leagues by being called up to Boston on June 28.

Four days later, off to a 1-for-12 start at the plate and in search of his first hit at Fenway Park, Betts stepped up with A.J. Pierzynski on first in the fifth inning of Wednesday's game against Chicago Cubs reliever Carlos Villanueva.

It was then that Chris' sister Lindsey made a bold prediction.

"She said right before the at-bat, 'He's about to hit a home run,'" Chris said. "I said, 'What if I caught it?'"

Sitting in the second row of Fenway's Green Monster seats -- just to the left of the Sports Authority sign -- this was a legitimate possibility for Large. Betts dug in and took two balls from Villanueva before the right-hander pumped a fastball down the plate for strike one.

The next pitch, an 83 mph changeup, hung a bit too high. Betts turned on the pitch, pulling it out toward left field on a line high and deep enough to not only be his first Fenway hit, but his first career home run.

Large saw his chance.

"It came right to us," Large said.

"I saw it and I could tell it was coming over here. So I jumped up [to catch it] but I wasn't tall enough."

The ball caromed off the row above Large, bouncing forward with enough hang time for him to recover and make the catch ("It was kind of slow motion," Large said). Fenway Park staff approached Large to retrieve the ball, which he was more than happy to turn over.

"When we were talking about it I said, 'If I get it, it's his first home run. I'm glad to give it to him,'" Large said. "I didn't mind a bit."

Betts later validated the well-intentioned exchange.

"He said as soon as he found it he wanted to find a way to get it to me," Betts said. "I really appreciated that."

After he made the catch, Large was told he would receive a few signed Mookie Betts items and get the chance to meet Betts (or, in his case, see Betts again).

As clubhouse attendants brought Betts over to meet Large and his sister after the game, Large told Betts everything -- about getting the tickets early, his sister's prediction, their history -- all facts that Betts said he couldn't remember. Their meeting, however, was a moment neither will forget.

For Betts, it's the story of his first home run and the ball that he said will inevitably end up in the hands of his mother, Diana.

For Large, who met with Betts approximately 10 minutes before midnight, it's the birthday present of a lifetime.

"I'm about to turn 22 tomorrow," Large said Wednesday night.

All parts of one crazy story.

"For them to talk about it and it all kind of happened?" Betts said. "It's God working."

"It's the most unbelievable thing I've ever experienced," Large said.