SUSPICION: Hard feelings after catching Ohtani’s first Dodgers home run ball

SUSPICION: Hard feelings after catching Ohtani’s first Dodgers home run ball

Dodgers designated hitter Shohei Ohtani runs out a fly ball against the San Francisco Giants at Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles, on Wednesday.

LOS ANGELES – It all happened so quickly for Ambar Roman. A lifelong Los Angeles Dodgers fan, she watched as her husband dived to the ground with others in search of Shohei Ohtani’s home run ball at Dodger Stadium on Wednesday night.
Then Roman looked down, near her feet, and there it was. She picked up the ball, Ohtani’s milestone first homer with the Dodgers, and pumped her fist.

“Sitting in the pavilion, you always hope that you’ll be able to catch a ball,” Roman said last week. “But never in a million years would I have thought it would have been his ball.”

Within minutes, however, that storybook moment turned into a stressful and chaotic one that left Roman and particularly her husband, Alexis Valenzuela, feeling pressured and possibly swindled by members of the Dodgers’ security staff.

As is customary with a significant home run ball, there is a negotiation between the team and the fan who catches it. The fan will generally receive memorabilia and have a meet-and-greet with the player in exchange for a ball that represents a meaningful personal achievement.

In this case, though, Roman and Valenzuela say members of the Dodger Stadium security staff separated them, pressured her and left them little choice but to hand over the baseball for what they considered a lowball offer. The Dodgers initially dangled two caps signed by Ohtani in exchange for a ball that an auction house representative later said would be worth at least $100,000.

Roman said the hardball tactics by team officials included the threat of refusing to authenticate the baseball if she decided to take it home.

This was no trivial matter: A lack of authentication could significantly reduce the ball’s value, and place the onus on Roman to prove its authenticity.

“We’re not trying to extort anyone; it’s not that we’re money hungry,” Valenzuela said. “It’s just that it’s a special moment, it’s a special ball. I just think it’s fair for it to be equally rewarded.

“I was just disappointed that a team that I hold so dear pulled a, quote-unquote, quick one on us.”

They left the stadium with two signed hats and a signed bat and ball, a slight bump from the opening offer.

A day after Roman and Valenzuela told their story, the team invited the couple to an on-field experience at Dodger Stadium. Roman confirmed that they will be back Friday — her birthday — when they will be permitted on the field before watching the game from seats at the field club level.

The team also said it will review its ballpark processes for retrieving milestone baseballs.

Roman and Valenzuela are not upset about what they received (or did not receive) as compensation for the valuable baseball. Roman expressed more contentment, while her husband believes they could have been offered a fairer deal.

“They really took advantage of her,” Valenzuela said.

Dodgers fans on their feet as players are introduced at the team’s opening day game against the St. Louis Cardinals, at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles on March 28.

Soon after the ball landed, a dozen or more security officials came to the couple’s seats. Surrounding fans told the couple to be smart. Many told them not to give the ball up easily.

A security official told them they would “reward them” for catching the ball, according to the couple.

“There were a bunch of guys around her,” Valenzuela said. “They wouldn’t let me talk to her or give her any advice. There was no way for us to leave. They had her pretty much cornered in the back.”

Roman said of the situation: “They didn’t want him to influence my decision. At least that’s how I took it.”

“It was a little pressuring,” she added. “Especially because it was like, ‘I need you to give me an answer like right now. You got to make up your mind.’”

The initial offer of two signed caps left Roman flustered, but she did follow up by asking if there was anything else the team could include.

They offered a bat and a ball, which she said she felt pressured to accept.

Those items were brought into the room, and the Ohtani home run ball was taken away. The couple were told they would be escorted to their car, but eventually they decided to exit on their own after the game.

The Dodgers have a memorabilia store at the club level of the ballpark. It offers an autographed foul ball hit by Ohtani in 2021 for nearly $15,000, The Los Angeles Times reported Wednesday.

The price provides a barometer for the value of Ohtani’s first home run ball.

This ball’s value, at minimum, is $100,000, said Chris Ivey, director of sports auctions at Heritage Auctions. Heritage has experience evaluating Ohtani memorabilia. Ivey said the items that the Dodgers gave the fans would be valued at around $1,000 each.

However, they would need authentication to be sold, and the couple said they did not receive authentication or confirmation that Ohtani actually signed them. The Dodgers will now authenticate the couple’s merchandise when they return Friday.

Both Roman and Valenzuela are big Dodgers fans. They are 28 years old and live in Whittier, California. They met in college, work together at a pipeline company and will celebrate their first wedding anniversary next month. They had been excited to go to a game and buy tickets for the pavilion, a regular spot for them.

With it all said and done, they are happy that Ohtani has his ball.

They agree with the fans who are appreciative of their selfless gesture: He hit the homer. It’s his memento to have.

But the reality is also not lost that the ball is valuable. Valenzuela said he felt the team could have shown them the same type of affection that they have given the club for years.

“Where was the Dodger love that we see every day, every time we go,” Valenzuela said. “It just disappeared. We were kind of left stranded. It’s not necessarily that we wanted a million.

Just something nice. Take care of your fans. Especially when they got something that’s way more valuable.”

They wanted to feel as if they had more agency in the process. That they could have discussed it together. And that the team would have offered to authenticate the ball. They felt as if there was a planned and coordinated effort to get them to give up the ball without much discussion.

Nothing will take away how special it was to catch it. The moment, as captured on the Dodgers TV broadcast, was one of pure ecstasy for Roman and Valenzuela. He picked her up in his arms as fans around them celebrated.

That will always be an important part of this story. They love the Dodgers. They love Ohtani. And neither wanted to hold the ball hostage from one of their favorite players.

But what the cameras showed did not reflect the reality that the couple say followed.

“It’s something very important. I wouldn’t want the next person that this happened to to go through the same thing,” Roman said. “It wasn’t cool as a Dodgers fan. If it took for this to happen to me for them to change it, that’s great.”

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