ST. PETERSBURG — St. Petersburg businessman Cortney Taylor is putting the Rays' Willy Aybar in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Taylor, 40, was sitting in the leftfield stands with his father, John, during Game 7 of the ALCS on Sunday night when Aybar stepped to the plate in the seventh inning. The Rays were clinging to a 2-1 lead over the Red Sox when suddenly the younger Taylor saw history rocketing directly toward him in Section 143, GG, Seat 18 at Tropicana Field.
"I grabbed my dad's arm and said, 'This ball is right on us!' " said Taylor, a season ticket holder. He remembers a crush of bodies lunging for the ball, then falling forward into the seat in front of him — suffering what he later learned was a cracked rib. When he looked down, there was the ball, wedged in the seat. He quickly grabbed it and raised it in the air as the spectators around him began an impromptu celebration.
"Suddenly, people were picking me up in the air like it was a rock concert and cheering for me," he said. "It was the most adrenaline-filled, crazy, euphoric feeling you could imagine."
The home run was a landmark: a record 26th for teams in the ALCS. Taylor is an owner of the Mirror Lake Lyceum, an event venue in St. Petersburg, and a catering company. He got word through a Rays contact that he wanted to give the ball to Aybar, who offered a jersey and a bat. But then Taylor had another thought: What if it would be of interest to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y.? He called and got his answer: a most definite yes.
So Wednesday at 3 p.m. sharp, Taylor met Brad Horn, senior director of communications and education for the Hall, in the lobby of the St. Petersburg Hilton. Horn, on hand for the World Series, looked at the ball and was delighted. He took Taylor's ticket for further verification. And pending an examination of existing video of the ball landing in the stands by Taylor, followed by a ceremonial handoff, Aybar's monumental home run ball will be on its way to the Hall of Fame, immortalized in the midst of baseball's all-timers.
"It's great, because when a fan gives us something selflessly, it's a true example of what this game is all about," Horn said. "In this age where so many people want to place items like this on eBay or make a buck, this is a great gesture that captures the purity of baseball."
Horn says there are only a handful of Rays items in the Hall — mostly tied to Wade Boggs' 3,000th hit — so Aybar's ball will be a nice addition. He spoke with Rays officials Wednesday prior to Game 1 of the World Series, and they gave their blessing.
For Taylor, it has all been like a dream. "I hope that Willy will be thrilled," Taylor said. "He's going to be part of history."