If Mark Pallack was in the same spot now as he was 30 years ago, perched against the side of the B&O Warehouse in the blistering July heat, he still thinks he could make the same play.
“I’ve stayed in half-decent shape,” Pallack said. “Why not?”
The play in question: fighting off a barrage of other fans on Eutaw Street in hopes of grabbing Ken Griffey Jr.’s 465-foot Home Run Derby blast — which has, with time, become one of the most revered home runs in the history of the sport. On July 12, 1993, then-17-year-old Pallack won the battle. Around the All-Star break, every year, he’s reminded of the ball he kept for a couple of weeks, from a hit that is still considered the longest in Camden Yards history.
“It always brings a smile to my face,” Pallack said, remembering that day. “It makes me feel like a kid again.”
Pallack is 47, married with a 9-year daughter, but some parts of the day remain vivid. He remembers the feeling of all the people on top of him, security finally rescuing him from the bottom of the dogpile. He remembers being tapped on the shoulder by Orioles PR director Rick Vaughn, who extended an invitation to the clubhouse.
Vaughn’s offer was exciting, but Pallack had another request. His friend, Jim Gates, was his ride to the ballpark — he had to come down, too. At first, Vaughn was reluctant to let Gates accompany Pallack. After some convincing, they both got in.
That night, as is the case during all All-Star festivities, was not filled with just the best players in the country but celebrities as well. President Bill Clinton was one of the first people Pallack saw.
After passing Clinton and Michael Jordan, Pallack looked over and saw his heroes walk out from the showers, mesmerized as Kirby Puckett and Cal Ripken Jr. talked to reporters in front of him. Suddenly, all the attention turned onto him — the kid with the ball.
“It was maybe 15-20 people around me just asking me questions about how everything unfolded,” Pallack said, even more shocked that his other heroes, Baltimore Sun columnists Ken Rosenthal and John Eisenberg, were interested in his story. “And then Griffey came over and signed the ball for me and I talked to him for a minute or two.”
While Pallack was being peppered with questions, Gates roamed the clubhouse “like a kid in a candy store.” All the pair could do was laugh in disbelief on their way back home to Westminster in Carroll County, the signed ball in a plastic sandwich bag.
Pallack showed the ball to his mom and called his dad, who was working a late shift at Westinghouse.
“I called him up and said, ‘Hey, I caught this baseball that Griffey hit off the warehouse, I think it’s kind of a big deal,” Pallack said.
It was a big deal. The next morning, Pallack’s mom knocked on his door around 7 a.m. because WQSR wanted to talk to him on the phone. After the interview, he went to a convenience store a mile away with his dad, where his face was plastered on the front page of The Baltimore Sun.
Eventually, calls came from potential buyers too. But Pallack understood the importance of the ball despite keeping it in a plastic baggy for weeks. He fended off offers from the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, and buyers, opting to look for a place to keep the ball locally.
“The feeling, the civic pride and what the city represents for me and a lot of people, was a big part of wanting to keep it around here,” Pallack said. “It’s kind of a cool piece of history.”
The Orioles in conjunction with the Babe Ruth Birthplace & Museum struck a deal with Pallack, who loaned the ball to them in exchange for a baseball signed by all the American League All-Stars.
But neither of those balls was his favorite from the ones he collected at Camden Yards over the years. Pallack once finagled his way into box seat tickets behind the Orioles dugout.
That morning, Pallack informed his father that his wife was pregnant, unable to tell his mom, who died when he was 23. With his dad and wife next to him, he caught a foul ball — this time on the fly — and threw his arms to the sky.
“It was something for my mom. That was pretty cool,” Pallack said.
Oriole Park at Camden Yards was in its second season when Pallack caught the Griffey home run. He and his friends made the most of the new stadium, taking the Light Rail or driving to 30 to 40 games a year. Now, Pallack makes it to around 10 games a season.
Though the construction of both teams is completely different, the atmosphere at Camden Yards now reminds Pallack of the 1993 season.
“The excitement reminds me a lot of back then,” Pallack said. “I think people are going to start coming back more and more.”
And he’s still reminded about the catch he made. A few weeks ago, a friend sent Pallack a photo of him and family pointing to the plaque. When Gunnar Henderson supposedly beat Griffey’s record, he got some texts.
The next time Pallack is at Camden Yards, he’ll stop by the plaque if he walks through Eutaw Street. His name isn’t next to Griffey’s, but why couldn’t it be?
“That’d be pretty cool,” Pallack said about the possibility of including the person’s name who caught the ball along with the batter. “Millions of people have been in the stadium to see the Orioles play. They’re just as important as the players are.”