Why this Blue Jays lover caught a home-run ball and gave it to a young Yankees fan
Derek Rodriguez, 9, burst into tears when Mike Lanzillotta handed him the ball hit by Yankees star Aaron Judge
When Mike Lanzillotta caught a home-run ball in Toronto and handed it to a young Yankees fan, he had no idea the moment would blow up and touch the hearts of sports fans across the country.
Lanzillotta, a lifelong Toronto Blue Jays fan, met nine-year-old Derek Rodriguez and his dad at the ballgame on Tuesday, and promised him: "One way or another, we're getting you a ball."
Then everything came together in an "epic fashion," Lanzillotta said.
Not only did he catch a ball; he caught a home run hit by New York Yankees player Aaron Judge, Derek's favourite player.
Upon receiving the gift, the boy burst into tears and hugged Lanzillotta.
"I'm really excited. My dream is to meet Aaron Judge, and well, I'm really happy that I got the ball from his home run," Derek told the Athletic.
Lanzillotta spoke to As It Happens guest host Helen Mann about the heartwarming moment and its aftermath. Here is part of their conversation.
Tell me about young Derek's reaction when you handed him the ball.
Unexpected, for sure.
As soon as his hand touched that ball, you know, it became reality. And I think he was overcome and broke down, and he threw his arms around me. "Thank you so much." You know, "I love you."
I looked at him and said, "Hey, there's no crying in baseball, kid."
[Laughs] One of my favourite lines, too. Oh, my gosh, what did he say beyond that? Like, did he tell you what he was going to do with the ball?
He was speechless and he would not let it go.
And I said, you know, "When you're older, when you're my age, you're going to have a chance to do this for some kid as well. So you promise me that."
He said, "I promise. I promise."
Watch: Yankees fan, 9, brought to tears over home-run ball:
Now you say there's no crying in baseball, but how close did you come?
I was super close. Oh, my goodness. I'm a pretty emotional guy, too, so I'm surprised I didn't get the waterworks going. My heartstrings were tugged on for sure. But I think the adrenaline was just kind of kicking in and that prevented me from breaking down too.
[Here's what] Aaron Judge had to say when he heard what happened.
"That's what's special about this game, man. It doesn't matter, you know, what jersey you wear. You know, they're everybody's fans. Everybody appreciates this game, and that's pretty cool. I got to check out the video. That's special."
What do you make of that?
He says it perfectly. It's all for the love of the game. That's what it's all about. Doesn't matter what colour your jersey is. That's why we grew up loving the sport.
It's pretty humbling to have, you know, a professional athlete talk about you indirectly. But yeah, it's definitely a moment I'm going to cherish.
When did you become a baseball fan?
Oh, I was born into the game. Just growing up, my entire family were huge Jays fans, from my grandfather to my uncles and my mom.
I'm lucky to have met my wife, who's also a huge baseball fan. It runs in her family.
We're just trying to bring our kids along for the ride and hopefully keep these traditions going.
Why do you think people are so moved by this story?
Just reading some of the comments on social media, it's like people that weren't there or don't even know me, this has impacted their life so much. You know, I'm hearing, "Proud to be Canadian" and, you know, "We need more kindness in the world."
And I think just coming off the last couple of years of these lockdowns and COVID and it's just all negativity, and I don't know, I just think this is a really feel-good story and I think it has already has brought a lot of people together who don't even know each other.
I understand a number of teams have offered to show you their appreciation for this act of kindness, including the Jays. What are they offering?
So far, only the Jays have, team wise. So they actually gave us some tickets for tonight's game, which [I'm] extremely grateful for.
But I've received an outpouring of support from fans trying to get a hold of me through Facebook and Twitter, offering me tickets. There's this one gentleman who sent his colleague up to our section saying, you know, "My dad's at home watching this game. He saw what you did. He wants me to get your info so he can give you some tickets. He's a 30-year season ticket-holder member."
So I actually chatted with him last night after the game and he said in his 30 years as a season ticket-holder, he's never seen anything quite as spectacular as that. So he would like to meet me and, you know, maybe develop some form of friendship, which is awesome.
I had absolutely no idea it would blow up this big.
So you're going to be in the stands tonight using those Jays tickets?
That's correct. I will be.
Well, I wouldn't be surprised if we see you on the Jumbotron.
You know what would be better? If we got a win. Let's go!
Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from CBC Sports. Interview produced by Kate Swoger. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.