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Judge Watch, Frankie Lasagna and Homer No. 61: On an unusual night at the ballpark

TORONTO — Baseball writers in Toronto were rather displeased a few years back when the press box was moved from behind home plate to a perch way out by the left-field foul screen. The location paid off Wednesday on a historic night at Rogers Centre.
New York Yankees designated hitter Aaron Judge (99) rounds the bases after hitting his 61st home run of the season, a two-run shot, off Toronto Blue Jays relief pitcher Tim Mayza (58) during seventh inning American League MLB baseball action in Toronto on Wednesday, September 28, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

TORONTO — Baseball writers in Toronto were rather displeased a few years back when the press box was moved from behind home plate to a perch way out by the left-field foul screen.

The location paid off Wednesday on a historic night at Rogers Centre. 

With Aaron Judge one homer shy of tying the American League single-season home run record, a few scribes made regular jaunts from their work areas to the elevator down the hall. 

The goal was to quickly get down to the nearby outfield stands for each at-bat by the Yankees slugger, hoping they'd be near the fan who caught the baseball if Judge homered.

Elevator attendants would chuckle as the same media members would go up and down every 20 minutes or so during each game in the three-game series.  

Positioning was complete guesswork. Some reporters tried their luck at the 100 level near the bullpens while others would stand in the 200 level above. 

Catching the 61st home run ball could bring riches for a lucky spectator. Its value likely would have surpassed several hundred thousand dollars.

With that in mind, many fans arrived more than an hour before each game to stake out good spots in the standing-room areas.

The electricity in the outfield seating sections was palpable every time Judge stepped to the plate. Fans would get their baseball gloves out while others recorded the moment on their mobile devices. 

Judge managed a single in Toronto's 3-2 victory in Monday's series opener. He walked four times in New York's 5-2 win a night later.

The crowd oohed and aahed every time his bat made contact with the ball during the rubber match. Groans were heard when Judge took a base on balls.

In the seventh inning on Wednesday night, Judge finally delivered the moment everyone was waiting for. 

The unmistakable crack of the bat, launch angle and exit velocity left little doubt. Homer No. 61 gave the Yankees the lead in an eventual 8-3 win and moved Judge alongside Roger Maris in the record books.

While making his home run trot, an interesting side story was in full swing: where would the ball land and who would catch it?

Enter Blue Jays fan Frankie Lasagna, who bought a ticket in the front row of the 100 level for this very reason.

His eyes lit up when Judge made contact and the ball rocketed in his direction. Lasagna, 37, was one of three men in the front row with a decent chance of getting a glove on the ball. 

Wearing a baby blue Vladimir Guerrero Jr., jersey, Lasagna stretched over the short railing in an attempt to backhand the ball as it descended. 

Another fan, wearing a dark blue Toronto uniform, appeared to have the best chance of the trio. But he didn't quite bend down far enough to make the catch.

A third spectator, to the right of the two fans, was also fully stretched, but like Lasagna, was a few feet away.

The ball landed in the bullpen and was later handed over to Yankees reliever Zack Britton, who had walked over from the opposing bullpen. He gave it to the team's equipment manager for safe keeping until it was given to Judge, who presented it to his mother after the game.

The home run set off a mad dash among the scribes assigned to follow the sidebar story of the baseball's end point.

Upon arrival in the section, it wasn't hard to figure out who was close to catching it. Fans were still pointing to the area, many excitedly rehashing what had just transpired. 

Frustration was etched on the faces of some spectators who came close. A couple fans in the front row, clearly still reeling at the missed opportunity, declined to be interviewed. 

Lasagna, though, was keen to chat. Still buzzing from the moment, he sat down and weighed in on how he was just a couple feet away from a historic grab.

"It literally came within inches of my glove," Lasagna said Thursday afternoon. "I'll never forget that day."

It wasn't long before Lasagna's story — no doubt helped by his unusual surname, and the fact he happens to own an Italian restaurant in the city's west end — went viral.

A Twitter post by Canadian Press sports editor Scott Brown moments after the story hit the national wire led the social media charge. His tweet had generated over three million impressions by Thursday afternoon. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 29, 2022. 

Follow @GregoryStrongCP on Twitter.

Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press