There has been much good news in the Philadelphia baseball world in the last year and some heartache. Add to that some hubris. Catching a home run ball is the dream of any baseball fan. Even more so when it is your first trip to a major league game. For 12-year-old Jennifer Valdivia, that dream came true at a Marlins-Phillies game on July 17th when Ryan Howard hit his 200th career homer at the fastest pace in Major League history.
Things went downhill from there. She was escorted, without her non-English speaking grandfather who was with her at the game, by a Marlins employee to meet someone from the Phillies organization. That employee told her that if she gave them the ball there and then, that she could come back after the game, meet Ryan Howard and have him autograph it and it would be returned to her. This is a twelve year old girl. She said yes.
After the game, Ryan never showed. A security guard showed up and handed her a different ball with Ryan's autograph. The family then spent the remainder of the season trying to get the ball back. The Phillies refused. They offered her VIP tickets to a game, instead. According to the lawyer for the family, he told them he would sue if they didn't return the ball by the end of the season. On Monday, the season was over and they hadn't returned the ball. He sued. They returned the ball the next day.
It is not clear what exactly happened when the little girl went to meet that adult representative of the Phillies. What is clear, is that she left without the ball. If the adults present had been responsible, they would have told the girl to call her mom and let them talk to her. They would have explained the situation and if the mom wanted to give them the ball, everything would have been fine. Instead, they took advantage of a child and gave themselves a black eye. Hubris is the only explanation for their actions. Did they actually think that they could claim that a 12-year-old would knowingly give that ball away for a generic autographed one. Would an adult? Did they think that no news media would pay attention to a story like this--especially once they filed suit. They thought they could get away with it. They were wrong.
They almost did get away with it. The Philadelphia Inquirer, perhaps taking homer-ism to another level, published this Mike Jenson piece that reported without attribution: "Valdivia gave the ball to Howard to keep -- before her family hired an attorney...who filed suit on Monday [asking] for 'in excess of $15,000.'" Way to bury the lead. Way to not focus on your hometown team's representative talking an unaccompanied minor into giving them something really valuable and cool. One comment on this piece said that by suing for the ball, Valdivia was being taught to "grown up and become a c***". Thank you bcstpete. What are your children being taught? People commenting on this post repeatedly called her a "brat". Others called their efforts to get the ball back extortion.
The worst piece by far, is this one by Todd Wright from NBC Miami. He baldly states: "It was never your ball, Jen." Some statements are hard to refute. This statement is not one of them. He completely ignores the fact that she was 12 years old as he claims--again without attribution--that she actually met with Howard, a claim that has not been made elsewhere. He then says that "The kid accepted the deal." in reference to the generic autographed ball being exchanged for the 200th ball. The entire piece makes Howard and the Phillies look like innocent victims of a runaway legal system. He also claims that "[The Phillies and Howard] would probably have won in court..." That is another refutable statement. No court in the land would declare any "deal" between an unaccompanied minor and the representative of a professional sports franchise (let alone a celebrity athlete) to be kosher. It's time for a block quote:
"Now usually, any victory over the Phillies would be cause for rejoice in South Florida, but this appears to be a bit out of line. What lesson are Valdivia's parents teaching their child by filing legal papers to get a ball back? it looks and smells a lot like greed.
It would have been a far better life lesson to congratulate the girl for being a good sport about it and understanding that the ball probably had far more emotional significance to Howard than to her family, which probably hopes to make a pretty penny off the historic ball at some point.
Instead, Valdivia and Howard are learning the lesson that seems to permeate everything in society today - to make money off of whatever you can, even if it means stepping on another person to do it."
Wow. Wright's desire to make a point about the evil lawyers and greed in society have driven him to ignore an adult taking advantage of a child and then an organization--composed of more adults--fighting to benefit from it? Why would the ball have more "emotional significance" to Howard, than to a 12-year old who caught it? This is the biggest thing that ever happened to her. This is not only bad reporting, bad logic and bad citizenship, it's bad writing. Who or what exactly should be doing the congratulating? and for what? Being a good sport?
I say we congratulate her (and her lawyer) for not letting the grown-ups get away with a fast one.
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