In the moments after the baseball had lodged in his glove, a white pearl smacking into the glove’s webbing at the edge of an 8-foot wall in right-center field, Caleb Humphreys turned back toward the field here at Kauffman Stadium and mimicked the catch that had just been beamed around the world.
He leaned his 6-foot-3 frame over the railing of Kauffman Stadium’s Pepsi Party Porch, pushed his glove out as far as it could reach, and laid it down a bit short of the padded top of the wall, a gap of about 18 inches.
“I tried to wait as long as possible to go down and catch it,” he said.
Five minutes earlier, in the bottom of the second inning, Humphreys hauled in the catch of this Kansas City postseason, snaring a solo homer from the bat of Mike Moustakas as the Royals clinched a second straight American League pennant with a 4-3 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays in Game 6 of the AL Championship Series. The catch guaranteed a run, nearly incited an international incident and made the bearded Humpreys — a 19-year-old community college student who works a part-time job at a nearby Gasmart — into a Kansas City cult hero — a Midwestern Jeffery Maier, with a little more facial hair.
“I wasn't going to bring it,” Humphreys would say, peering down at his Wilson glove.
Only 20 minutes earlier, Humpreys was here in the front row of a standing-room-only section, watching with his mother, Lisa, and little brother, Haden. They had planned this for weeks, purchasing playoff tickets for a family night out, a chance to see the Royals win the American League pennant for the second straight year. Yordano Ventura was on the mound. The Royals were one victory away.
And in the moments before leaving his home in Blue Springs, Humphreys had something of a premonition. A former high school pitcher, he hadn’t brought a baseball glove to a Royals game in seven years, he said. When you sit where he normally does, closer to home plate, where the net can come into play, there is little reason. The glove also comes with a certain stigma. Humphreys, who attended Blue Springs South High School, signed to play baseball with Northeastern Oklahoma A&M.
It didn’t work out, but Humphreys knows his way around a baseball field. And with his family slated to sit in the party porch, just to right of the 387-foot sign in right field, he felt a glove was necessary. So he snagged a cheap Wilson model and hopped in the car.
“One of those gloves that you go and buy from Wal-Mart,” Humphreys said. “It was the last thing I picked up on my way out the door.”
In the hours before the game, as the Blue Jays hit batting practice, Humphreys and his family found their seat. A few feet away, a Wichita native named Corey Cables stood behind Caleb and Haden and ribbed them about their gloves. If a ball comes out here, Cables told them, you’ll be the one catching it. Caleb Humphreys smiled.
“You see home runs coming, and they’re scary,” Cables said. “I told them: ‘You’re going to knock it down, and we’re going to pick it up.' "
The jokes would last until shortly after 7:30 p.m, when Moustakas stepped into the batter's box with one out in the second.
With the Royals leading the Blue Jays 1-0 , Moustakas saw a 1-2 changeup from Toronto ace David Price and crushed the offering to deep left. Off the bat, Moustakas thought the ball was in the gap. But he did not know if it had enough distance.
“I didn’t know if it was going to carry,” Moustakas said.
The ball took off like a missile, soaring toward the top of the wall in right field. From his spot in right field, Humphreys could see it coming. He was perfectly in line with its trajectory. He leaned forward, barely leaving his raised seat. As the baseball reached the top of the padding, Humphreys stuck his left arm out and snagged the ball on the fly, just inches from the top of the wall. On the field, the umpire signaled for a solo homer. Kauffman Stadium roared. But moments later, Blue Jays manager John Gibbons emerged from the dugout to issue a challenge. He wanted the umpires to look for fan interference.
As he sat in his seat, Humphreys insisted that he did not reach into the field of play or commit fan interference, which could have turned the homer into a ground-rule double. After an official review, the replay official ruled the home-run call stood, saying it could not be determined if Humphrey’s first contact with the baseball came over the field of play.
“I was pretty far back,” Humphreys said. “I was 5 inches back. I was back.”
In the dugout, the Royals watched the replay, and Moustakas viewed an aerial angle.
“On one of them,” he said, “it looks like it got over on the top view.”
In the moments after the play, as Lisa Humphreys’ phone blew up with text messages, Caleb sat in his seat and replayed the moment in his head. He saw the ball flying his direction, and he waited for the opportune moment.
“I saw it coming right at me,” he said. “And it just kind of happened, like: ‘This is Game 6 of the (ALCS), I played my baseball my whole life, I had a great time playing baseball, and for it to actually happen, and to get a home run ball …”
After securing the catch, Humphreys saw Toronto outfielder Kevin Pillar running his way, pointing up toward his seat. As the review, he said, his stomach began to roil.
“I was praying,” he said. “I was praying. When I saw Kevin (Pillar) run over and point, like: ‘He reached over,’ I was like, I really hope they don’t pull that away from me.”
Replay, of course, had a funny way of showing things the way people want to see them. On the Internet, Blue Jays fans broke down the play, frame by frame. On one angle, it appeared to show Humphreys’ glove below the top of the wall after making the catch. On another angle, it appeared that the ball reached Humphreys’ glove just above the top of the wall. Standing a few feet away, in the midst of a growing mob scene in right field, Cables said he believed Humphreys’ glove remained above the wall while hauling in the baseball.
“When he reached his glove, all I could see was his glove was above the wall, from my perspective,” Cables said. “So no, I did not think he went (over the wall) and picked it out.”
The moment invoked the memories of Jeffrey Maier, a then 12-year-old Yankees fan who reached out over the right-field wall at Yankee Stadium during Game 1 of the 1996 American League Championship Series. Maier had a glove and hauled in a fly ball from the bat of Derek Jeter. It was ruled a home run, the Yankees defeated the Baltimore Orioles and went on to win the World Series, and a New York legend was born.
On Friday, Humphrey was asked if he knew the name “Jeffrey Maier”. He did not.
When the story was brought up, he interrupted.
“Oh yeah!” he said. “Yeah, yeah, yeah.”
“When I saw the umpires get together, I got kind of worried,” he would add. “But after seeing it over here (on the scoreboard), I felt pretty safe.”
As the game forged on, Humphreys peered back over the wall, measuring the gap between the railing and the edge of the padding. He clutched his glove in his left hand, and the ball in his right, a gift on the night the Royals won the pennant.
“I usually sit over by the dugout, so I don't need it,” he said. “With these seats, right before I left, I decided I better bring it.
“I don't know. I guess I just had a feeling I might need it.”